THE fifth estate: The Forgotten People
The U.S./Iraq Alliance> Printer Version
March 26, 2003
As hundreds of thousands of American soldiers bear down upon the regime
of Saddam Hussein, it is hard to imagine another era, not so long ago,
when the Americans and Iraqis were allies.
In those days,
they had a mutual enemy: Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. The Iraqis had long-standing
disputes with Iran and the Americans were still smarting over the seizure
of American hostages in 1979. Ronald Reagan sent a special envoy to forge
an alliance. His name was Donald Rumsfeld.
December 1983 Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad to send a message
of friendship to Saddam Hussein.
ago, each side had something the other needed. The Americans wanted an
ally in the Middle East and Iraq needed food, money and military supplies.
There was just one problem. According to Dr. Stephen Bryen, a Pentagon
official in charge of monitoring technology exports, the Reagan administration
was aware that Iraq was using chemical weapons in its war against Iran.
This was against the Geneva
Convention which outlawed the use of chemical and biological weapons
early as 1983 the Reagan Administration was already well aware that
Iraq was using chemical weapons in its war against Iran. According to
U.S. intelligence on an ‘almost daily basis’. But that wasn’t
all. There were also intelligence reports the Iraqis were using chemical
weapons in the north of their own country, in the battle against the
Kurds. But the White House did nothing."
Dr. Bryen was
responsible for ensuring that American technology didn't end up in the wrong
hands. He says that by the 1980s, it was obvious that Saddam was building
weapons of mass destruction using equipment from the West.
Stephen Bryen worked to stop the sale of U.S. technology to Iraq.
Iraqis were looking to use the U.S. as they were using Western Europe
to acquire equipment and technology for their military forces, and if
we’re dumb enough to sell it to them, they were happy enough to
Sale of Technology to Iraq
Although official U.S. policy prohibited military sales to Iraq, the Commerce
and State departments pushed to sell the Iraqis 'dual-use' items which
could have both civilian and military purposes like trucks, computers
Richard Murphy, a top State Department official (Assistant Secretary of
State for the Near East Bureau) remembers that the pressure to sell was
there was pressure to sell and there was the argument, if the contract
doesn’t go to an American you can be darn sure it’s gonna
go to a German, British, French manufacturer and trucks were one example.
Civilian helicopters were a dicier decision. Could they be turned into
the equivalent of an attack helicopter?"
U.S. approved the sale of helicopters to Iraq which may have been
used by the military.
from the Pentagon, the U.S. approved the sale of 100 helicopters to the
Iraqis who claimed they would be used as agricultural sprayers. Dr. Bryen
says many were transferred to the military, perhaps to be used in chemical
know, we don’t like that, that’s a very dangerous thing,
and of course Halabja is a perfect example of what you do with helicopters
filled with chemicals."
requested 1.5 million vials of atropine - the antidote for nerve gas -
to protect Iraqi soldiers from chemical weapons. The State Department
supported the sale even through nobody had nerve gas except the Iraqi
Dr. Bryen raised the red flag and Iraq was not allowed to purchase the
drugs. But according to documents recently released by the Iraqis themselves,
several U.S. companies provided chemical and biological components to
Iraq during the 1980s which were used to develop weapons.
Iraq also received billion in loans and credits to purchase American food
and goods - more than almost any other country. It left Saddam free to
spend his hard currency on more weapons.
Reaction to the Attack on Halabja
Kurdish city of Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons on March
But after the chemical attack on Halabja in 1988 (read
more) the truth seemed too sinister to ignore.
Senate staffer Peter Galbraith drafted legislation - the Prevention
of Genocide Act - that imposed harsh economic sanctions on the regime.
Billions in loans and agricultural credits would be cut off. America would
no longer purchase Iraqi oil which accounted for one quarter of Iraq's production.
And all U.S. exports to Iraq would be suspended.
Although the bill passed through the Senate in only one day the powerful
farm and business lobbies warned that the legislation would only punish
the Americans trading with Iraq.
When the Bill reached the House of Representatives, the provisions to remove
agricultural credits and end bank loans were removed. Eventually the Act
was caught up in Congressional bureacracy and died before it was passed.
a Blind Eye Towards Saddam
Although the U.S. government officially denounced the gassing of the Kurds,
it was business like never before with Iraq. After 1988 business with
Iraq actually increased. By 1989, Iraq was given American agricultural
guarantees worth $1 billion. Iraq was the largest importer of U.S. rice
and the 2nd largest participant in the agricultural credit program.
a decade, the American government turned a blind eye towards the
afterwards, believing that the U.S. would let him get away with murder
again, Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait to claim the oil rich
emirate as an Iraqi province.
Peter Galbraith says that the U.S. seriously under-estimated Saddam Hussein.
would not be here today in a 2nd Gulf War against Saddam Hussein if
he had understood and if he had been made to understand that his behaviour
would have consequences."
CBC: the fifth estate - The Forgotten
Attack at Halabja
- The U.S. Iraq Alliance
One Man's Battle to Stop Iraq
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