Did the United States Supply Saddam with Biological Weapons in the 1980s?

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Aftergood is the editor of Secrecy News, a newsletter published by the Federation of American Scientists under the title, Project on Government Secrecy. Ms. Battle is a Middle East analyst at the National Security Archive.

Is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an evildoer? If not, then what is he doing shaking hands with Saddam Hussein?

An innocent person might be forgiven for asking such questions upon seeing a striking photograph of Rumsfeld making nice with the Iraqi dictator in 1983.

In a "debate" over U.S. policy towards Iraq that depends largely on facile slogans and self-dramatization, the Rumsfeld photograph is a discordant reminder that the official version of events is a partial account at best.

The photo is among the neglected resources of the not too distant past that were unearthed and published by the National Security Archive.

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The new National Security Archive collection, helps fill in gaps in the record, documenting U.S. partnership with Iraq in its 1980-88 war against Iran and the acquiescence of U.S. officials, including some current Bush Administration figures, in Iraqi abuses.

The documents show that during this period of renewed U.S. support for Saddam, he had invaded his neighbor (Iran), had long-range nuclear aspirations that would "probably" include "an eventual nuclear weapon capability," harbored known terrorists in Baghdad, abused the human rights of his citizens, and possessed and used chemical weapons on Iranians and his own people. The U.S. response was to renew ties, to provide intelligence and aid to ensure Iraq would not be defeated by Iran, and to send a high-level presidential envoy named Donald Rumsfeld to shake hands with Saddam (20 December 1983).

The declassified documents posted last week include the briefing materials and diplomatic reporting on two Rumsfeld trips to Baghdad, reports on Iraqi chemical weapons use concurrent with the Reagan administration's decision to support Iraq, and decision directives signed by President Reagan that reveal the specific U.S. priorities for the region: preserving access to oil, expanding U.S. ability to project military power in the region, and protecting local allies from internal and external threats. The documents include:

A U.S. cable recording the December 20, 1983 conversation between Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein. Although Rumsfeld said during a September 21, 2002 CNN interview, "In that visit, I cautioned him about the use of chemical weapons, as a matter of fact, and discussed a host of other things," the document indicates there was no mention of chemical weapons. Rumsfeld did raise the issue in his subsequent meeting with Iraqi official Tariq Aziz.

National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 114 of November 26, 1983, "U.S. Policy toward the Iran-Iraq War," delineating U.S. priorities: the ability to project military force in the Persian Gulf and to protect oil supplies, without reference to chemical weapons or human rights concerns.

National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 139 of April 5, 1984, "Measures to Improve U.S. Posture and Readiness to Respond to Developments in the Iran-Iraq War," focusing again on increased access for U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf and enhanced intelligence-gathering capabilities. The directive calls for "unambiguous" condemnation of chemical weapons use, without naming Iraq, but places "equal stress" on protecting Iraq from Iran's "ruthless and inhumane tactics." The directive orders preparation of "a plan of action designed to avert an Iraqi collapse."

U.S. and Iraqi consultations about Iran's 1984 draft resolution seeking United Nations Security Council condemnation of Iraq's chemical weapons use. Iraq conveyed several requests to the U.S. about the resolution, including its preference for a lower-level response and one that did not name any country in connection with chemical warfare; the final result complied with Iraq's requests.

The 1984 public U.S. condemnation of chemical weapons use in the Iran-Iraq war, which said, referring to the Ayatollah Khomeini's refusal to agree to end hostilities until Saddam Hussein was ejected from power, "The United States finds the present Iranian regime's intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government of neighboring Iraq to be inconsistent with the accepted norms of behavior among nations and the moral and religious basis which it claims."

"It would be nice... if prominent Bush officials acknowledged their past moral culpability," wrote the New Republic's Peter Beinart, who favors military action against Iraq, in the February 24 issue of that magazine. "Rumsfeld should have trouble sleeping at night given his role in abetting Saddam's crimes."

Obviously it was never Rumsfeld's intent to abet Saddam's crimes. That, in a way, is the point. A fuller account of the record of U.S. policy toward Iraq provides grounds for healthy skepticism about political ends and means, including the ability of the United States to militarily compel Iraqi disarmament without incurring significant unintended consequences.

Last year, Senator Robert Byrd discussed the Reagan Administration's transfer to Iraq of biological agents including anthrax, bubonic plague and many others, and placed supporting documentation in the Congressional Record. He recalled an exchange he had at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 19, 2002:

I asked Secretary Rumsfeld:

Mr. Secretary, to your knowledge, did the United States help Iraq to acquire the building blocks of biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq war? Are we in fact now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sewn?

The Secretary quickly and flatly denied any knowledge but said he would review Pentagon records. I suggest that the administration speed up that review. My concerns and the concerns of others have grown. A letter from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, which I shall submit for the Record, shows very clearly that the United States is, in fact, preparing to reap what it has sewn. A letter written in 1995 by former CDC Director David Satcher to former Senator Donald W. Riegle, Jr., points out that the U.S. Government provided nearly two dozen viral and bacterial samples to Iraqi scientists in 1985--samples that included the plague, botulism, and anthrax, among other deadly diseases. According to the letter from Dr. Satcher to former Senator Donald Riegle, many of the materials were hand carried by an Iraqi scientist to Iraq after he had spent 3 months training in the CDC laboratory. The Armed Services Committee is requesting information from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense on the history of the United States, providing the building blocks for weapons of mass destruction to Iraq. I recommend that the Department of Health and Human Services also be included in that request. The American people do not need obfuscation and denial. The American people need the truth. The American people need to know whether the United States is in large part responsible for the very Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which the administration now seeks to destroy. We may very well have created the monster that we seek to eliminate. The Senate deserves to know the whole story. The American people deserve answers to the whole story.


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More Comments:

Eric D. Reavis - 11/7/2003

Now that the truth about this war has been exposed how do you feel about the administration lying to you! ha ah a

mike g. - 10/8/2003

correction-e-mail address should be as above.

mike g. - 10/8/2003

more a question than a comment,was'nt there a book titled "iraq-gate",not sure of author which attempted to point out george bush sr's plan to get military supplies and or funds into iraq via a backdoor circuitous route say italy?.would greatly apreciate correct title and author.thank you in advance!

Mike G.

Suetonius - 3/10/2003

"In the years before the 1991 Gulf War, France trailed only the Soviet Union as Saddam's biggest weapons supplier. Sales to Iraq of Mirage warplanes, Exocet missiles and other arms generated an estimated $5 billion during the 1980s. "

--"France in Position to Benefit in Post-Saddam Iraq Despite Opposition to War" Joseph Coleman, Associated Press Writer Mar 10, 2003

Thomas - 3/10/2003

Saddam didn't just have these chemical and biolgical agents, he used them on the Iraqi people and the Iranians in the 1980's and our government turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to their pain and suffering because he was our ally in our covert war against Iran. The end does not justify the means. I learned that in grade school. Once it does, you lose your moral compass and everything becomes relative.

Grace and Peace

Thomas - 3/10/2003

"That is why rogue regimes can't be "contained," and instead must be removed." You failed to mention that as it stands right now, with the "removal" plan in place to launch 3000 missles in the first 48 hours of the war, we will be doing more than removing a rogue regime, we will be killing thousands of Iraqi civilians. That is precisely why Pope John Paul and many other religious leaders have determined this war not to be a "Just War".

I can't believe you can justify the death of so many people so causally. I will ask people to pray for you.

Grace and Peace

Thomas Ford - 3/10/2003

I believe that Saddam needs to step down or be replaced. I believe he is as evil as many people purport him to be. That said, there are other things to consider.

The reality is that the Iraqi citizens are not living a stone age existence. We are just planning to bomb them back there. It is sort of like an unrefined time machine.They have a much greater degree of freedom than do the Saudi people. A case in point, Christians are able to practice their religion without impediment. There are many other freedoms the people enjoy that are not enjoyed by their Arabic brethren. These are some of the reasons that Osama bin Laden had targeted his regime as one that needed to be replaced with a much more fundamentalist one.

The bottom line is, we cannot forsake our integrity to achieve a desired end without putting our collective soul in jeopardy.

Our inability to put an end to the killing of millions of our children through abortion is a much greater danger to the United States than Saddam will ever be.

Grace and Peace

Heodotus - 3/8/2003

Alec's correct on the ease of production. Bleach and ammonia are stored on separate shelves in grocery stores to ensure that if they spill collectively they will not mix and form chlorine gas, a nasty WWI era agent. That's just the bottom of the barrel in terms of what can be produced; if you know what you're doing, you can use a college lab to make nearly any chemical weapon.

Alec Lloyd - 3/7/2003

I disagree.

I would wager you could synthesize basic chemical weapons from the materials found in any decent collegiate lab. An Iraqi pursuing a masters degree in chemistry should acquire all the "forbidden" knowledge necessary to being low-level production.

The fact is, large amounts of knowledge have legitimate civilian applications. There is no "red line" in science separating the "good" knowledge from the "bad."

I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the US willfully supplied Iraq either with chemicals or biowarfare agents. Since we dismantled our own programs 15 years before the Iran-Iraq war, there wasn't much to send.

Futhermore, Egypt had used chemical weapons in Yemen during the 1960s. Let us recall that this technology is 70 years old. Phosgene was invented in 1916.

I am not trying to downplay illegal activities, but my point is that the very openness of our education system (which is a good thing, by the way) will lead to certain amounts of technology transfers.

Again, if a third world nation asks the CDC for disease samples, we would most likely oblige.

It interesting to note that the Al Qaida operations chief recently captured in Pakistan was staying at the home of a high ranking UN microbiologist.

My point is not to blame the UN, but to point out that many of the educational organizations we have establish serve as unwitting conduits. No sinister motive need be imputed, to these transfers; they are perfectly rational and understandable.

That is why rogue regimes can't be "contained," and instead must be removed.

Rafael - 3/6/2003

I'm sorry but it does matter a lot. We cannot keep letting western governments cuddle up to dictators and tyrants when their help or natural resources are needed. This cuddling eventually blows back. The Sept 23, 2002, issue of Newsweek puts it in very good terms: "...the story of how America helped create a Frankenstein monster it now wishes to strangle is sobering. It illustrates the power of wishful thinking, as well as the iron law of unintended consequences..." (article titled "How Saddam happened"). The same wishful thinking and total disregard for "un-intended" consequences (some of which are sometimes easy to foresee) that always pervades a lot of the US's foreign policy.

This is not about Saddam circumventing export controls. This is about the US and British governments secretly helping Saddam Hussein obtain chemical and biological weapons, and turning a blind eye to his use of them against other people (our enemies at that time). Saddam was at that time the same monster he is today and the US government knew it. But it was all fine because he was "our monster" so there was no compunction or moral outrage about befriending him. This, with the participation of the same people (Rumsfeld, Chenney, etc.) that today go around expressing so much outrage at Saddam's immorality and talking everywhere about "moral clarity." Hypocrites, all of them! They are all people that have no problem violating the law or basic moral principles for the sake of ideology (the fight against communism), geo-political expediency, or money (or natural resources). I do not trust any of them with fighting a war in Iraq and getting rid of Hussein in a way that truly benefits Iraquis and the world (I don't deny that it would be nice to get rid of him). Bush, Chenney, Rumsfeld et al. will fight the war and get rid of Saddam, but in the process they will again compromise all moral principles and plant the seeds for more monsters that will haunt us in the future. For starters, they were ready to betray the Kurds just to get Turkey's help, and they have already reneged on the financial help that was promised to Afghanistan which is used as a "model" for the intervention in Iraq (the White House didn't request any funds for Afghanistan in its 2004 budget, which forced some embarrassed congressmen to add some small funds to the budget).

A good recent example of the same old story is the recent fines imposed on Hughes and Boeing for illegally sharing sensitive space technology with China. (http://edition.cnn.com/2003/BUSINESS/asia/03/05/china.boeing.reut/index.html)
Morality and the law are always sacrificed for the sake of money (in the case of companies) or geo-political expediency (in the case of governments).

Finally, I should say that you are exaggerating a lot by saying that foreigners are given full access to "our scientific secrets." Iranians and citizens of other "sensitive" countries do come to the US to study or engage in scientific research, but they are never allowed to work on secret or sensitive projects. The same is true of any other foreigner. I know of some chinese nationals that were removed from a research project at a university because the Department of Defense, which funds a lot of non-secret research at universities (through DARPA), decided that the project was becoming "sensitive." So, please don't compare the help Saddam got from the US and other western governments to Iranians or other foreigners that come to the US to study or do research. They are totally different phenomena.

Gus Moner - 3/6/2003

... and inconsistencies, we'll do what we please.

Alec Lloyd - 3/6/2003

The key element in this situation (one which I broached below) is the way in which an ordinary technology transfer can be viewed as something more sinister using the benefit of hindsight.

To wit, the study of disease is hardly an uncommon phenomenon, nor would it be unusual for foreign medical experts to obtain samples of certain types of disease.

Even though Iran is considered a rogue state and under great scrutiny, we allow its nationals into our country and give them full access to our scientific secrets. Some take this knowledge home with them for the betterment of their countrymen, whilst others could put it to a more sinister use.

My point here is that even the most well-intentioned export controls can be circumvented in an age of international commerce and widespread data transfer. We cannot put the chemical warfare genie back into the bottle. This is why the least convincing argument for invading Iraq (to me, at least) is its weapons programs. I also find German and French culpability in building Saddam’s illicit arsenal less damning than their duplicitous diplomacy.

The lesson should be that certain actors cannot be trusted with modern technology. Since keeping an entire people in the stone age is not a viable option, nor is it morally defensible, the only alternative is to remove regimes that do not meet a reasonable standard of behavior.

Saddam’s past aggressions and the horrendous nature of his regime buttress this argument.

Call it half Wilsonian and half Realist. Both point to Saddam’s elimination.

Mr. Subliminable - 3/6/2003


Just how much of a devil Iran was at the time maybe gauged by the fact that we supplied Iran with weapons at the very same time that we supported Iraq. Furthermore, Eliot Abrams, one of the devils who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair, is now serving in the Bush administration.

This is an interesting lesson in American political theology. We can say absolutely whatever we want, and the devil with contradictions and inconsistencies.

Gus Moner - 3/6/2003

No one has said it was just us. However, it's us who are atacking along with the Brits. The French, USSR, and Germans also have had their fingers in the chemical pie in Iraq.

Herodotus - 3/5/2003

Britain's dirty secret
The Guardian (U.K.) ^ | 03/06/03 | David Leigh and John Hooper

A chemical plant which the US says is a key component in Iraq's chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985 behind the backs of the Americans, the Guardian can disclose.

Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production.

Senior officials recorded in writing that Saddam Hussein was actively gassing his opponents and that there was a "strong possibility" that the chlorine plant was intended by the Iraqis to make mustard gas. At the time Saddam was known to be gassing Iranian troops in their thousands in the Iran-Iraq war.

But ministers in the then Thatcher government none the less secretly gave financial backing to the British company involved, Uhde Ltd, through insurance guarantees.

Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was pressing for controls on such exports.

He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.

The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a strong plea from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain's image in the world if news got out: "I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover".

The Ministry of Defence also weighed in, warning that it could be used to make chemical weapons.

But Mr Channon, in line with Mrs Thatcher's policy of propping up the dictator, said: "A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good".

The British taxpayer was even forced to write a compensation cheque for £300,000 to the German-owned company after final checks on the plant, completed in May 1990, were interrupted by the outbreak of the Gulf war.

The Falluja 2 chlorine plant, 50 miles outside Baghdad, near the Habbaniya airbase, has been pinpointed by the US as an example of a factory rebuilt by Saddam to regain his chemical warfare capability.

Last month it featured in Colin Powell's dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council.

Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2 identifying it as a chemical weapons site were earlier published by the CIA, and a report by Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee, published with Tony Blair's imprimatur last September, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant "formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme".

UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant last December and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.

But until now, the secret of Britain's knowing role in Falluja's construction has remained hidden.

Last night, Uhde Ltd's parent company in Dortmund, Germany, issued a statement confirming that their then UK subsidiary had built Falluja 2 for Iraq's chemical weapons procurement agency, the State Enterprise for Pesticide Production.

A company spokesman said: "This was a normal plant for the production of chlorine and caustic soda. It could not produce other products".

The British government's intelligence at the time, as shown in the documents, was that Iraq, which was having increasing difficulty in obtaining precursor chemicals on the legitimate market, intended to use the chlorine as a feedstock to manufacture such chemicals as epichlorohydrin and phosphorous trichloride. These in turn were used to make mustard gas and nerve agents.

Paul Channon, since ennobled as Lord Kelvedon, was last night holidaying on the Caribbean island of Mustique. He issued a statement through his secretary, who said: "He can't object to the story. So he's got no comment."

Suetonius - 3/5/2003

Anthrax appears naturally in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. The disease stocks were part of a veternarian project.

Clayton E. Cramer - 3/5/2003

"We are thus being told that there can only be one great nation on Earth, it has already risen and all the other people of the world can be successful but never enough to be a great nation. Hegemony as the basic doctrine of international relations, with the rules being set by the hegemonic power."

Uh, no. No one is trying to prevent India from being a great nation, because it hasn't invaded two of its neighbors in recent years, nor has it engaged in chemical warfare against both neighbors and its own citizens. This attempt to portray Iraq as just another country trying to rise in the world is utterly false. It reminds me of the excuses made for the rearming of Germany by Hitler.

Gus Moner - 3/4/2003

I apologise to the readsers who read the above piece, for it was in responde to the mUnich Analogies article and I accidentaly posted it here.

Gus Moner - 3/4/2003

Mr Lloyd adds useful perspective to what the author said was not a definitive piece, but one to stimulate further discussion, and it has so far done so brilliantly.

Points 1, 2, 3, are on the mark. Regarding point four I’d disagree with the reason stated for Hitler’s covetousness. It was the geographical position jutting into Germany, combined with a dislike of Czechs, former subjects of his native Austria coupled with the presence of 3,000,00 Germans in Sudeten that were the true motivators. Germany would find the Czech Magigot Line a redundancy once Czechoslovakia was dismembered.

Item 4 is true, also. The fascist mentality was evident in nearly all the nations of Europe, with Hungary, France, Latvia, Spain, and even Poland, ruled by a general’s dictatorship, being prime captives. The UK was also subject to fascist influences. I cannot yet agree, nor disagree with the Islamic analogy. The contexts are dramatically different and the tribal nature of the people, coupled with the differing religious sects, make the latter less a monolith than Fascism, and less than we are led to believe.

I cannot agree with the commentary’s assertion of analogy with the peace movements today and then, however. In this case the tables are turned, the democracies being the aggressors and the powerful bullies, the other states the Poland’s and Czechoslovakia’s of today.

“The strongest part of the analogy is the mere fact that the US represents the same overwhelming force that Britain and France represented in 1935.” I agree.

As the Mr Lloyd says, Hitler and Mussolini were not pals at first. Italy prevented Germany’s initial assault on Austria in 1934, moving an army to the Bremmer pass as a deterrent, that like in Iraq today, worked.

“Weakness not only emboldens aggressors, it leads to the defection of marginal allies. Both lessons should not be lost”

I couldn’t agree more. However the applicability of the statement to today’s circumstances is minimal. The US and sidekicks are the aggressors, a point not lost on the rest of the planet. Therein the conundrum.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/4/2003

Your second question first, Mr. Czervikjr: The obvious answer is "No, they are not." And the logic of your question deserves comment, but not here. What should be said is that there are other, perfectly good reasons to denounce the Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor. Margaret Thatcher put it succinctly: "Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified. It represents a grave breach of international law."

I did not approve of the 1981 attack on on the Osirak facility, either--not that my disapproval means much. But let me pose this question: Does acquiescence in the 1981 bombing mean quiet encouragement of Israeli development of a nuclear arsenal, along with chemical and biological weapons, too, most probably? Despite the US and other nations' disapproval of the Israeli action, it seems to me that our stand on WMD proliferation has been contradictory on the surface, opportunistic in reality, and we'll pay the price when it comes due.

Gus Moner - 3/4/2003

The questions posed by Mr Safranski are quite irrelevant in the context of Western assistance in the development of wmd in Iraq, given the current circumstances. I’ll anyway comment on the hypothetical outcomes, mostly for fun. If Iran, a Shiite nation, would have won the war, it would perhaps have recovered the territories inhabited by Iraqi Shiites in the south and helped dismember the surreal collocation of peoples created by British imperialists after WWI. Iraqi Kurds would have probably demanded independence and fought for it, although Turkish intervention would have likely smothered it, and another conflict would have ensued, for the coveted oil resources in Kurdistan. This may have involved Syria and Iran, again. With their big neighbouring competitors busy, the Sunnis would have created a small, maybe even coherent state, conceivably having Saddam’s political descendants as leaders, although the borders would have been hotly contested and in the chaotic climate of dismemberment, conceivably even fought over. So, who knows what would have happened? No one. Iran would never have been able to menace other fiefdoms in the region and would improbably have been foolish enough to try, as implied in the question posed.

Notwithstanding, the line of questioning Mr Safranski raises does pose other interesting queries, and I’ll cover them as well. The nations of the world, or rather, except for the past 200 years or so, the myriad tribes and peoples who have trundled the earth have been, since time immemorial, in permanent and perennial conflict to establish their boundaries, secure their needed resources and control their strategic geographic interests. None of the conflicts, dating back thousands of years, have ever brought permanent or even significantly temporary peace, except for the interwar periods required to replenish and prepare the tribe for the next onslaught.

No war to end all wars has ever been successful. After literally thousands if not tens of thousands of years of conflict, hundreds of millions, if not thousands of millions, of violent deaths, mutilations, destruction, rape, starvation and mayhem, war has yet to be successful for long. No war to keep the peace, has ever kept it. Indeed, the amazing aspect of this issue facing us today is not that there may be a war. But that after the best education and most successful economies in the most advanced nations ever created, the leaders that have poured forth to lead their tribes have not learnt that elementary lesson.

Yes, incredibly as it may sound, our 21st century leaders have failed to grasp this basic reality. Only the total annihilation of an adversary, that is, their extermination, has ever brought everlasting peace, and that only to the exterminated. For the living victors merely lived to fight yet another war, against the next adversary. It was and remains the law of the jungle.

Recently, in the late 19th century and throughout the twentieth century nations, having come to realise the incredible cost of modern war, began to form some consensus limiting and regulating this grisly behaviour. A framework for mutual cooperation, rules for when war would be considered an acceptable, but last resort, with the peaceful resolution of conflicts as the basic precept of international relations began to be developed before and after WWI.

The question raised by the Anglo/USA action is whether the trend for peaceful conflict resolution can or should continue. We are being told that the doctrine that should rule international relations now is pre-emptive striking at potential enemies and that no nation should ever rise to pose a significant challenge to the USA’s current military and economic supremacy. We are thus being told that there can only be one great nation on Earth, it has already risen and all the other people of the world can be successful but never enough to be a great nation. Hegemony as the basic doctrine of international relations, with the rules being set by the hegemonic power. This brings us to the crux of Mr Safranski’s questions.

I, personally, believe that, much to my regret, the process of national development has war as a basic cornerstone of the method of establishing a nation. If Iran had won, nothing serious would have occurred to the USA. Another neighbouring nation would have risen and challenged it if it endangered their situation.

US interests simply do not exist in that area, and no intervention would have been required, contrary to the posit by the contributor. The natural course of events is that nations need trade to survive. Crude oil would have been sold to the bidders then, just as it is now. Or else, what use would their sacrifice have been for?

Perchance something good would have been the outcome, and this is my sincere belief. If we felt the impact of oil manipulation becoming expensive or supplies unreliable, we might have been led to favour the development of ecological alternative resources, sun, wind and hydrogen, for example. This would have led to a cleaner world, healthier lives and more coherent lifestyles.

Finally, the Iraqi crisis raises the following two, ultimate questions. Why must we control and protect natural resources that belong to other people? And, what is wrong with US policy that approximately 180 other nations can obtain their required oil without demanding to control the oil and place their puppets in power in those states, and the US cannot?

I recognise that none of these issues that I or Mr Safranski tried to pose goes to the core of the article, that the USA and other western states are part and parcel of the current situation regarding Iraq and its wmd. I’m sure other commentaries will get us there.

Joyce Battle - 3/4/2003

Ultimately, the U.S. did intervene aggressively, to protect the outflow of oil. Its increased military presence in the Persian Gulf in 1987-1988, including attacks against Iranian patrol boats and oil facilities, and the July 1988 downing of an Iranian civilian airplane by the USS Vincennes contributed greatly to Iran's decision to give up hostilities.

I believe that the U.S. should have vigorously upheld international law in regard to the war. U.N. resolutions called upon all states to refrain from all actions that could contribute to its continuation. The Geneva Protocol required all states to oppose the use of chemical weapons.

The war was perpetuated through enormous international sales of weapons to Iran and Iraq. The U.S. was officially neutral toward the war throughout its duration. It did not, however, oppose third-country arms sales to Iraq and provided that country with, at the least, military intelligence support, dual-use equipment and technology, and financial aid that helped Iraq purchase weapons from the international arms market.

The U.S. officially opposed third-country arms sales to Iran, and certainly (officially) did not itself sell weapons to that country. In 1983, it launched a high-profile program to discourage foreign arms sales. However, the fact that this declared policy did not end sales to Iran by close U.S. friends like Britain and Israel undermined the credibility of the U.S. position. U.S. delivery of intelligence, missiles and other armaments to Iran in 1985-1986 is, of course, another matter entirely.

The U.S. publicly opposed chemical weapons use in the Iran-Iraq war after 1983, but did not modify its policy of supporting Iraq, and took measures to prevent that country from being sanctioned in international fora (this included intervention to prevent Iraq from being specifically named as a perpetrator.)

No one can deny that it would be difficult for any country, including the U.S., to control the international arms bazaar. However, there was a publicly asserted international consensus during the Iran-Iraq war that all efforts should be expended to end the conflict. Through its current efforts to get international support for its planned attack on Iraq, the U.S.'s capacity for global persuasiveness is being very well demonstrated. These efforts have not been universally successful, but one cannot doubt the seriousness of the Bush administration's intentions.

No one can say how different policies implemented at any particular point in time would have affected the course of history, and my response to your question is leaving out many ancillory issues. However, U.S. policies that did not undermine its international credibility and the credibility of its declared stance opposing the proliferation of nonconventional weapons might have contributed to an earlier end of this war, and prevented the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iranian and Iraqi casualties in the process, without contributing to a clear-cut Iranian or Iraqi "victory", and might have dissuaded states in the region from further costly cross-border attacks.

(Thank you for your honorific -- I am not a PhD. -- my role is primarily that of an archivist.)

Alec Lloyd - 3/4/2003

Was it not US policy to provide disease samples to countries that requested them? While anthrax today is viewed as a weapon, is it not a naturally-occuring disease which is legitimately studied?

Basically, would not a US refusal to allow Iraq to study those diseases have been more noteworthy in the 1980s?

I know that in the early 1990s, Iranians students could study computers in the US. Is this also something part of a darker, more sinister picture?

I guess I'm asking at what point do scientific exchanges become weapons transfers? What government controls are our universities and public health systems willing to accept to prevent knowledge from being disseminated?

If there is a US policy on this, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks.

al czervikjr - 3/4/2003

>>Is it ever "correct" to supply a thug with bioleogical and chemical weapons precursors and quietly encourage Iraq's nuclear program (as I recall, the Reagan administration rebuked the Israelis for their attack on Baghdad's reactor.)

Mr. Leckie,

From your comment, I take it that you approved of Israel's preemptive attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor at the time it occurred (and not simply in hindsight)?

Are all countries who publicly expressed disapproval of the attack at that time also guilty of "quietly encouraging" Iraq's nuclear program?

mark safranski - 3/4/2003

What consequences would have flowed from an Iranian conquest of Iraq ? Would you have supported direct military intervention by the United States to prevent Iran from pushing into the Gulf states ? If not what alternative policies could have prevented that outcome given the context of 1983 ?

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 3/3/2003

These Second-World-War allusions and analogies are as wearying as they are inappropriate and false. At issue is whether pursuit of "national interest" in a region rich in a natural resource which we are wastefully dependent on laid the groundwork for our current crisis because we let loose our own monsters. Is it ever "correct" to supply a thug with bioleogical and chemical weapons precursors and quietly encourage Iraq's nuclear program (as I recall, the Reagan administration rebuked the Israelis for their attack on Baghdad's reactor.) Al-Qaeda is "blowback" in spades from that kind of "policy" and the Cold War, and so is Saddam. So, too, was the Iranian revolution, and it was Saddam Hussein, our guarantor of Mesopotamian stability in the Cold War, who was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq War.

"Correct" has about it--certainly did on the Old Left and now I guess the Right--a certain Orwellian rigidity; the end of the Cold War brought an end to what began in 1914 and we're now trying to clean up the mess and restore a neo-Edwardian status quo ante; even so, our behavior in the 1980s flowed from such western behavior as US and British warships in the Smyrna harbor doing nothing about a masscre of Greeks--together with nothing about the Armenian genocide--because of concern for old Ottoman lands'oil reserves. The closest "Churchillian" analogy to our current behavior is when the Great One was too drunk to do his own radio talks and--rather as Saddam uses doubles, we're told--actors gave them in his place.

Bill Maher - 3/3/2003

Of course we did. This policy was, at the time, correct. The U.S. did what Churchill did in Second World War. It made a deal with the devil to defeat another devil.