United Nations — Iraq’s 12,000-page declaration of its weapons programs lists American companies that provided materials used by Baghdad to develop chemical and biological weapons in the 1980s, according to a senior Iraqi official.
The public release of such a list could prove embarrassing for the United States and highlight the extent to which the Reagan and first Bush administrations supported Iraq in its eight-year war with neighboring Iran in the 1980s. U.S. military and financial assistance to Iraq continued until Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not name the companies or discuss how much detail the Iraqi declaration gives about them. The official said the American firms are named along with other foreign companies that provided arms and ingredients for making chemical and biological weapons to Iraq.
The declaration, which was submitted to UN weapons inspectors Saturday, was mandated under a new Security Council resolution that requires Iraq to declare and destroy all of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Iraqi leaders insist they no longer have any such weapons, but the United States and Britain accuse Hussein of continuing with a secret program to develop banned weapons – and have threatened to go to war to disarm Iraq.
Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, said Tuesday that he does not intend to release the names of foreign companies that provided material to Iraq. He said such firms could be valuable to UN inspectors as sources of information about Iraq’s weapons program. If the inspectors “were to give the names publicly, then they would never get another foreign supplier to give them any information,” Blix said.
A Bush administration official declined to comment on U.S. companies’ presence in the declaration, or the potential embarrassment if the list were made public. “The issue is not so much who the suppliers are. The issue is really Iraq’s program and making sure that Iraq declares what it has,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “We want companies to be able to provide information to the weapons inspectors. It’s important to find out what the Iraqis may have received.”
Other officials in Washington declined to comment. But U.S. officials have long acknowledged close military collaboration with Iraq while it was at war with Iran, which Washington viewed as a greater threat.
A 1994 report by the Senate Banking Committee concluded that “the United States provided the government of Iraq with ‘dual-use’ licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-system programs.”
This assistance, according to the report, included “chemical warfare-agent precursors; chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings; chemical warfare filling equipment; biological warfare-related materials; missile fabrication equipment and missile system guidance equipment.”
There is dissension within the council over the handling of Iraq’s declaration. Under a deal quietly worked out over the weekend, the United States received the sole copy of the dossier and supporting material that was intended for the council. Washington then made duplicates for the four other permanent council members: Britain, France, Russia and China. Blix said the other 10 rotating council members will get edited copies of the dossier by Monday, with any information that could help countries develop weapons of mass destruction excised by UN inspectors.
Arms experts say it is likely that companies from all five permanent council members sold materials to Iraq that were used to develop its weapons. “All the permanent five members are probably on the Iraqi supplier list. They all have advanced chemical and biological industries,” said Susan Wright, a research scientist at the University of Michigan and co-author of the book “Biological Warfare and Disarmament.”
Wright said the release of a supplier list containing American companies would embarrass the United States. “It would bring people’s attention to something that the Bush administration would rather forget about: that the United States was a supplier state to Saddam Hussein, even after it became clear that he was producing and using chemical weapons,” she said.
At the heart of U.S. and other foreign trade with Iraq in the 1980s were so-called “dual-use” materials, which have both civilian and military applications. Under the new Security Council resolution, Iraq had to account for all its dual-use programs and materials.
The 1994 Senate report found that the United States had licensed dozens of companies to export various materials that helped Iraq make mustard gas, VX nerve agent, anthrax and other biological and chemical weapons. The report also said “the same micro-organisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program.”
Shipments to Iraq continued even after the United States learned Hussein had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish villagers in northern Iraq in 1988, according to Senate investigators.
The U.S.-Iraqi relationship flourished from February 1986, when then-Vice President George Bush met with Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, Nizar Hamdoon, and assured him that Baghdad would be permitted to receive more sophisticated U.S. technology, until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Over that four-year period, the Reagan and Bush administrations approved licenses for the export of more than $600 million worth of advanced American technology to Iraq, according to congressional reports.
“The United States had a very different posture toward Iraq in the 1980s, when it was politically and militarily advantageous to use Iraq as an ally against Iran,” Wright said. “Our attitude toward Iraq has been opportunist, rather than principled.”
This article appeared on Newsday on December 13, 2002