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The Lost Mystery of 'Iraq-gate'

By Peter Dyer
February 28, 2007

Editor's Note: On Dec. 30, 2006, George W. Bush and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq took their revenge on Saddam Hussein, dropping him through a gallow's trap door to his death dangling at the end of noose. The Bush family also was happy to know that a potentially troublesome witness was silenced.

In this guest article, Peter Dyer looks at the evidence and the unanswered questions of the Iraq-gate scandal:

Now that Saddam Hussein has been executed for the 1982 massacre at Dujail, the trial for a larger-scale slaughter involving poison gas in 1988 has all but disappeared from public view.

With Saddam’s death the opportunity for a full account of the tens of thousands of deaths in the so-called Anfal case appears to be lost, along with the opportunity for a frank public discussion of its historical context.
Such a discussion inevitably would have led to how Saddam Hussein’s development of dangerous weapons was enabled by Western powers, including the United States. Between 1985 and 1990, the Reagan and Bush I administrations facilitated Saddam Hussein’s massive and ambitious military industrialization effort.

Billions of dollars of financial assistance and sophisticated technology flowed from the United States to Iraq. The Reagan and Bush I administrations were aware that Saddam Hussein was using this aid to research, develop and/or manufacture chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

These were the conclusions of U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, in a statement published July 27, 1992: “Bush Administration Had Acute Knowledge of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Plans.”
This statement was reprinted in an Oct. 27, 1992, U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Report. The committee chair was Sen. Donald W. Riegle, D-Michigan. Riegle later revisited this subject in another report published on May 25, 1994.

Gonzalez’ conclusion was supported in Riegle’s 1992 report by a series of expert witnesses and government officials. They provided long lists of American technology and material licensed by the U.S. Commerce Department for export to Iraq and used by Iraq in the development of long-range missiles as well as weapons of mass destruction.

The expert witnesses – David Kay, Kenneth R. Timmerman and Gary Milhollin – agreed that while the United States was not Iraq’s principal supplier of arms or advanced production technology, the U.S. made a significant contribution to Iraq’s military buildup.

Also provided were the names of front companies that Saddam Hussein used to obtain nuclear technology as well as accounts of massive bank and other financial fraud which funded the Iraqi military buildup. Much of this activity continued until a week before Saddam invaded Kuwait in August of 1990.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said even though the evidence was clear that Saddam Hussein was spending so much on weapons he could not repay his debts, President George H.W. Bush and his administration continued U.S. economic aid to Iraq. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, Iraq defaulted on $1.9 billion in U.S. guaranteed loans.

Back Story

The story of U.S. aid to Iraq goes back at least to February 1982 when, 17 months after Iraq invaded Iran, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from its list of terrorist states.

According to Howard Teicher, an official on Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff, the reclassification had mostly to do with the goal of preventing Iraq’s defeat in the war with Iran.

While this policy change opened the way for American corporations to sell Iraq “dual-use” (military/civilian) material and technology, the United States formally maintained an official policy of neutrality by avoiding direct sales of weapons.

“One of the reasons that the United States refused to license or sell U.S. origin weapons to Iraq was that the supply of non-U.S. origin weapons to Iraq was sufficient to meet Iraq's needs,” Teicher explained in a January 1995 sworn federal court declaration.

“Under CIA Director [William J.] Casey and Deputy Director [Robert M.] Gates, the CIA made sure that non-U.S. manufacturers manufactured and sold to Iraq the weapons needed by Iraq. In certain instances where a key component in a weapon was not readily available, the highest levels of the United States government decided to make the component available, directly or indirectly, to Iraq.”

This history is relevant to the Anfal trial, the second of several trials originally planned for Saddam and other former Iraqi leaders.

However, just days before the Anfal trial was to resume with tape recordings of Saddam discussing chemical weapons, Saddam was rushed to the gallows and hanged for his conviction in the killing of 148 men and boys in Dujail after an assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982.

Saddam’s execution on Dec. 30, 2006, meant that the former Iraqi dictator would not have the chance in court to explain how his regime obtained the poison gases that were deployed against the victims of Anfal, which means “spoils” or “spoils of war” in Arabic. [See's "Saddam's Well-Timed Execution."]

Six of Saddam’s lieutenants remain to be tried for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Anfal campaign, a series of massacres estimated to have killed 50,000 to 150,000 Kurds, involving widespread use of mustard gas and peaking in 1988.

In one of the most notorious attacks, mustard gas and nerve agents allegedly were used to massacre 5,000 people on March 16-17, 1988, in the Kurdish town of Halabja.

As horrendous and unprecedented in modern times as Anfal was, there has been very little media interest in it since the trial reopened after Saddam’s execution. With virtually no public discussion of Anfal, the chances are slim that light will be shed on the U.S. role in Saddam’s quest for WMDs in the 1980s.

However, Riegle's 1994 report lists materials licensed by the Commerce Department and shipped to Iraq from the United States between 1985 and 1990, leaving little doubt about U.S. assistance to Saddam.

On May 2, 1986 a shipment of several forms each of Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Clostridium botulinum (botulinum toxin) went to the Iraq Ministry of Higher Education.

Shipped on Aug. 31, 1987 to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission were two batches of Escherichia coli (E. coli).

A 1992 Defense Department report quoted by Senator Riegle said Iraq’s biological warfare program probably began in the late 1970s and concentrated on the development of two agents: botulinum toxin and anthrax bacteria. Large-scale production of these agents began in 1989 at four facilities in Baghdad.

Biological Weapons

Another destination for American biological toxins was al-Muthanna, Iraq's primary chemical weapons research, development, and production facility, according to Global

Thousands of tons of precursors, nerve agents and mustard gas were produced there. Al-Muthanna was also the initial location for Iraq's biological weapons program in 1985-86.

Al-Muthanna researchers investigated anthrax, botulinim toxin and others.

“Muthanna also conducted small-scale production of botulinim toxin [and] provided weaponization expertise to the biological weapons program, primarily chemical weapons munition technology and testing.” [See,]

On March 10 and April 21, 1986, two vials of botulinum toxoid from the Center for Disease Control were sent to al-Muthanna. Al-Muthanna received advanced U.S. technology and materials, either directly or through front companies.

In November 1989, the CIA provided the Bush I administration a list of bad end users known to be working on nuclear, ballistic missile and biological weapons projects.

This list, in Rep. Gonzalez’ words, “included most of the State Establishments and procurement fronts to which Commerce habitually granted licenses.”

Despite this, according to Gonzalez, the Bush I administration actually expanded trade with Iraq. In fact, Gonzalez said, out of a total of 771 export licenses granted between 1985 and 1990, 239 were granted by the Bush I administration during the 19 months between George H.W. Bush’s inauguration and Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

The most effective means of ensuring that exported sensitive dual-use technology did not end up in weapons projects would have been post-installation checks, i.e. on-site inspections.

But Gonzalez said the Reagan and Bush I administrations seemed unconcerned about ultimate uses and destinations.

“Out of the total 771 export licenses approved for Iraq between 1985 and 1990, only one post-installation check was conducted. Even then Iraq was warned well in advance of the visit,” Gonzalez said. And, he added, the inspectors neither spoke nor read Arabic.

In his July 1992 statement, Gonzalez asserted, ”Any claim that the U.S. may have ‘inadvertently’ helped to arm Iraq is a smokescreen to obscure the massive blunder that occurred during the coddling of Hussein.”

He added, “Once you understand the context of the decision to provide financial assistance and technology to Iraq, you will understand that it was U.S. policy to accommodate Saddam Hussein’s military ambitions.”

But the full story of how the Reagan and Bush I administrations fed Saddam’s appetite for weapons of mass destruction may never be known, since Saddam was sent to the gallows before he could say too much.

Peter Dyer is a machinist who moved with his wife from California to
New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at [email protected] .

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