Thursday, July 22, 2004

Do You Remember When....

In a previous post, I pointed out that of the seven charges that Saddam Hussein will eventually face from the Iraqi justice system, charges 1-5 occurred during, or before, the period which the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations had a close working relationship with Saddam Hussein. The seven are:

1. Killing religious figures, 1974

2. Killing political activists over 30 years (1974-Present)

3. Killing thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan, 1983

4. Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds, 1987-88

5. Gassing Kurdish villagers in Halabja, 1988

6. Invading Kuwait, 1990

7. Suppressing Kurdish and Shia uprisings, 1991

Viewing Hussein as an ally and bulwark against the spread of the radical Islam espoused by his neighbor, Iran, Reagan and Bush continued to assist Hussein throughout this period, despite his notoriously treacherous human rights record and continuous use of WMDs against his own people and the Iranians.

I thought I would take this opportunity to remind my readers exactly what the nature of this assistance was. A story appearing in the Washington Post two years ago which quotes, among other sources, Reagan administration officials and recently declassified Reagan administration documents, tells of assistance to Iraq in the form of military aid, economic aid, logistical support and intelligence and biological and chemical weapon precursors that continued even after the Halabja massacre.

The story of U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein in the years before his 1990 attack on Kuwait -- which included large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical and biological precursors -- is a topical example of the underside of U.S. foreign policy.

A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the "human wave" attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague. [emphasis added]

According to a sworn court affidavit prepared in 1995 by Howard Teicher, a former National Security Council official who worked on Iraqi policy during the Reagan administration, the United States "actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq had the military weaponry required." Teicher said in the affidavit that former CIA director William Casey used a Chilean company, Cardoen, to supply Iraq with cluster bombs that could be used to disrupt the Iranian human wave attacks.

To prevent an Iraqi collapse, the Reagan administration supplied battlefield intelligence on Iranian troop buildups to the Iraqis, sometimes through third parties such as Saudi Arabia. The U.S. tilt toward Iraq was enshrined in National Security Decision Directive 114 of Nov. 26, 1983, one of the few important Reagan era foreign policy decisions that still remains classified. According to former U.S. officials, the directive stated that the United States would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.

Although U.S. arms manufacturers were not as deeply involved as German or British companies in selling weaponry to Iraq, the Reagan administration effectively turned a blind eye to the export of "dual use" items such as chemical precursors and steel tubes that can have military and civilian applications. According to several former officials, the State and Commerce departments promoted trade in such items as a way to boost U.S. exports and acquire political leverage over Hussein.

And then there were these embarrassing revelations:

When United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, they compiled long lists of chemicals, missile components, and computers from American suppliers, including such household names as Union Carbide and Honeywell, which were being used for military purposes.

A 1994 investigation by the Senate Banking Committee turned up dozens of biological agents shipped to Iraq during the mid-'80s under license from the Commerce Department, including various strains of anthrax, subsequently identified by the Pentagon as a key component of the Iraqi biological warfare program. The Commerce Department also approved the export of insecticides to Iraq, despite widespread suspicions that they were being used for chemical warfare.

There were dissenting voices though, and not just from the usual suspects like the United Nations and the "do gooders" in the human rights organizations and the ICRC. These were policy makers inside the CIA and other governmental agencies.

It was a horrible mistake then, but we have got it right now," says Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA military analyst and author of "The Threatening Storm," which makes the case for war with Iraq. "My fellow [CIA] analysts and I were warning at the time that Hussein was a very nasty character. We were constantly fighting the State Department.

The sad fact is that aid continued to flow to Iraq even after the massacre in Halabja, that has given rise to the popular lament, and part of the justification for the war, "he gassed his own people."

Although U.S. export controls to Iraq were tightened up in the late 1980s, there were still many loopholes. In December 1988, Dow Chemical sold $1.5 million of pesticides to Iraq, despite U.S. government concerns that they could be used as chemical warfare agents. An Export-Import Bank official reported in a memorandum that he could find "no reason" to stop the sale, despite evidence that the pesticides were "highly toxic" to humans and would cause death "from asphyxiation."

Far from declining, the supply of U.S. military intelligence to Iraq actually expanded in 1988, according to a 1999 book by Francona, "Ally to Adversary: an Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace." Informed sources said much of the battlefield intelligence was channeled to the Iraqis by the CIA office in Baghdad.

The U.S. policy of cultivating Hussein as a moderate and reasonable Arab leader continued right up until he invaded Kuwait in August 1990, documents show. When the then-U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, met with Hussein on July 25, 1990, a week before the Iraqi attack on Kuwait, she assured him that Bush "wanted better and deeper relations," according to an Iraqi transcript of the conversation. "President Bush is an intelligent man," the ambassador told Hussein, referring to the father of the current president. "He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq."

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