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Arming Iraq: How George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan helped Iraq Develop their Weapons of Mass Destruction
December 13, 2002
By Christian Dewar

There are many ironies regarding the seemingly inevitable war with Iraq. Despite wide spread protests around the world, the bellicose draft-dodger who appears to have gone AWOL from the Texas National Guard is hell bent on retribution for his father's mistakes in the Gulf War. Unable to articulate a reason for going to war and apparently willing to alienate our closest allies by doing so, chicken hawks like Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Frank Gaffney are apparently ready to attack regardless of what the inspectors find or don't find. Osama has been forgotten even as Al Qaeda continues to claim responsibility for ongoing terrorist attacks.

The biggest irony aside from the fact that these men who avoided military service are so eager to spill blood is that Dubya would not be going to war in order to destroy Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction if his father had not enthusiastically sold them to Hussein in the first place. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons and provided the technology for Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear programs.

The reasoning of the Reagan/Bush administrations for arming Iraq was that while Saddam was certainly an odious human being, he could serve as the region's policeman. He might be a bastard, but he was "our bastard". At the time, Iraq was fighting a war with Iran and the United States was worried that a victory for Saddam's nemesis could result in the spread of fundamentalist Islamic regimes which would destabilize the region and block our access to the oil in the Middle East.

There was another more nefarious justification which was best espoused by the CIA's Ted Schackley in his treatise "The Third Option". Schackley believed that by arming two enemies to kill one another, neither would be able to acquire hegemony over the region and both sides would be weakened. Since we had armed Iran under the Shah, selling weapons to Iraq would counterbalance the power in the region. Arming Saddam would also serve to coax him away from the orbit of his Soviet sponsor.

Another irony, of course, was that while they were arming Iraq and providing their army with satellite images of Iranian troop movements, Oliver North and John Poindexter were selling American taxpayer financed missiles to the Iranian Islamic fundamentalists who held American hostages.

Of course, George Bush and James Baker were also oil men and they realized the vast quantity of black gold under Iraqi sands. There were huge profits to be made importing Iraqi oil. Saddam could help to insure the safety of oil tankers and protect them from Iranian attacks, ensuring a constant flow. Bush and Baker sought to have a billion dollar contract for the construction of an oil pipeline in Iraq directed to their friends at Bechtel, the occasional employer of George Schultz and Casper Weinberger.

They also envisioned the huge profits that could be made selling Saddam weapons. Saddam was spending around a billion dollars a month in his war with Iran. It was a feeding frenzy of buying and selling that made fortunes for the merchants of death.

When Jimmy Carter was in office, he had prohibited the sale of weapons to either Iran or Iraq. Reagan removed Iraq from the list of nations that sponsored terrorism. Iraq was now eligible for U.S. government loan guarantees which he needed as the costly war was bankrupting his country. Although shipping arms to Iraq was illegal, by keeping this information secret from Congress and the American people, they were able to do an end-run around the Constitution and the War Powers Act.

Alan Friedman is a respected journalist for the Financial Times who has won numerous awards for his correspondence. His book entitled, "Spider's Web: How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq" outlines the efforts of the Reagan and Bush administrations to supply Hussein with the most sophisticated weaponry.

According to Friedman, President Reagan's special Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad bearing a handwritten note to Saddam offering to renew diplomatic relations and to expand military and business ties. On November 26, 1984 diplomatic relations were restored. When Bush became president, he signed a waiver which said that prohibiting the sale of goods to Iraq were not in the best interests of the United States. Later, Bush signed a classified secret policy called National Security Directive 26 which encouraged U.S. oil companies to do business with Iraq.

Friedman writes that "Bush was to provide strategic battlefield advice to Saddam through intermediaries who were heads of state." While touring the Middle East, supposedly to promote peace talks, Bush discussed with the Egyptian president how Iraq could most effectively bomb Iranian troops. This information was to be relayed to the Iraqis The Reagan/Bush administrations provided Saddam with satellite photos of Iranian troop movements and later helped them create their own system for downloading this information themselves.

Friedman's book outlines how the Reagan/Bush administrations used criminal and corrupt banks such as the Atlanta Branch of the Banca Nazionale de Lavoro (BNL) to use American taxpayer dollars to assist Saddam and to export U.S. technology for "the Iraqi dictator's most cherished and lethal weapons projects." Money going for programs to arm Saddam were kept off the books and hidden from auditors.

According to Friedman, the Reagan administration sought to keep a low profile and avoid attention by using obscure U.S. government loan guarantee programs set up by the Department of Agriculture. These programs which were set up to help American farmers sell their produce overseas guaranteed the farmers would be repaid if the foreign buyer defaulted. One of these programs, the Commodity Credit Corporation was used extensively by the republican administrations to divert money to Saddam. These programs, of course, were financed by American taxpayers. By 1984, these U.S loans amounted to around $650 million.

The Reagan/Bush administrations were able to do this through fronts, cutouts and sham corporations, allowing for plausible denial. Deals were made to use Brazil as a transshipment point for these weapons. Jordan was used as an intermediary and a convenient false end-user destination. Saudi Arabia transferred hundreds of bombs to Iraq to use against Iran. Other countries were enlisted to arm Hussein.

The U.S. Government sent sophisticated technology directly to the Salah al-Din military factory which, among other things, built radar that was used to shoot at U.S. airplanes during the Gulf War. The land mines that we helped Saddam procure are still a threat to our forces if we invade.

The United States helped a factory in Chile to develop cluster bombs for use by the Iraqi air force, never mind that the U.S. had an arms embargo against Pinochet's government. High ranking American intelligence agents provided them with the blue prints and necessary materials. This factory sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of these weapons to Hussein.

The American company International Signal and Control (ISC) manufactured proximity fuses for artillery shells which were sent to South Africa and then routed to Iraq with the knowledge of U.S. intelligence.

Companies like American Steel received multi-million dollar requests from the Iraqis for weapons including radar, tanks and missiles, all in violation of the 1976 Arms Export Control Act which required State Department approval.

CIA contractors brokered deals for billions of dollars worth of weapons for Iraq. One such asset, Sarkis Soghanglian claimed the administration was aware of his sale of 45 Bell helicopters to Saddam.

Dow Chemical wanted to ship pesticides that acted like nerve gas on humans. Sidewinder components were transshipped through Italy to Iraq.

The gassing of the Kurds in 1984 by Iraq pilots, presumably flying these helicopters did not deter the administration which turned a blind eye towards Saddam's excesses. The administration then sold Iraq $220 million worth of trucks. They continued to provide backing for Saddam even after they knew he was developing a nuclear capability. Iraqi scientists were even brought over to the U.S. to attend symposiums on nuclear programs sponsored by Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. Warnings by government employees about this dangerous program went unheeded. Whistle blowers were fired.

These are only a few of the examples which Friedman describes in his book. Other American allies also became involved in this feeding frenzy. The French sold Saddam around three billion dollars worth of equipment that could be used for creating a nuclear bomb as well as conventional weapons such as missiles and helicopters.

The English which had an official policy of neutrality sent missile components to Iraq at the same time that they were providing Iran with artillery shells. According to Friedman, this was done with the understanding of Margaret Thatcher who thought that England should exploit Iraq as a lucrative market for their lethal aid. They also provided the infamous Dr. Gerald Bull with components to build his super cannon for Saddam. Bull was later assassinated, probably by the Mossad.

Reagan also sought the help of the Italians in arming Iraq. They obliged him by selling Saddam weapons and the components for his nuclear program at Osirak. They built labs for the Iraqi atomic commission and trained his scientists and technicians so that they could extract plutonium . The Italians signed a $2.65 billion dollar contract with the Iraqis to build their navy. In 1984, Italy sold $165 million worth of helicopters to Iraq

Many of the Italian arms deals were done with the assistance of the BNL bank. They financed a deal for $225 million worth of land mines manufactured by a company partially owned by Fiat. These were a still a hazard for American troops during the ensuing Gulf War. The Fiat subsidiary also sold missile components to Iraq.

Another irony is that this policy of assisting the Iraqi dictator in acquiring the technology for WMD, Saddam was emboldened to invade Kuwait. Given hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons and dual-use technology as well as battle strategy plans, he thought that he had the green light from the Bush administration. Our ambassador to Iraq, April Glasspie, made it clear that any dispute among Arabs was of no concern to the the United States.

Like Manuel Noriega who had once been of use to George Bush, Saddam had out lived his usefulness. His declarations that he now possessed weapons of mass destruction and his bellicose posturing could no longer be ignored. Saddam was demonized. Public relations firms were brought in to sell the war to the American people. The Gulf war ensued. The story of how Reagan and Bush had armed Iraq was hidden and covered up. Low ranking employees of the BNL Atlanta branch were scapegoated. The architects of the scheme got off free.

At the time, this campaign was proclaimed a great military victory with few casualties among the coalition forces, never mind the estimated one hundred thousand Iraqis who died, including many civilians. In retrospect, the victory appears to be a Pyrrhic one.

Ultimately, this secret policy of the Reagan/Bush administrations, like the Iran-Contragate scandal, resulted in "blowback", the unintended consequences of their illegal and unconstitutional actions. American weapons that we provided to Iraq were used against our own troops in the Gulf War. The chemical and biological weapons that we helped Saddam create may be one of the causes of the Gulf War Syndrome which affects perhaps 200,000 veterans and has killed over seven thousand. American troops will be once again exposed to the 300 tons of depleted uranium shrapnel which appears to be causing high rates of cancers in Iraq. The UN weapons inspectors who will be searching for the Weapons of Mass Destruction that we helped Hussein create will also be exposed.

George W. Bush says that our enemies hate us for our freedoms and our democracy. But the secret policies of the Reagan/Bush scandals and their cover-ups served to erode that democracy. Now, as the United States is preparing to go to war, this administration is using the fear of our citizens as an excuse to rob us of our rights. George W. Bush and his administration are stealing our democracy from us. This is something that neither Bin Laden nor Saddam could do and that may be the greatest irony of all.

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