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2003-04-26 - 11:49 p.m.

The West’s role with Iraq during the Saddam era

[The following comes from a larger report called THE WEST’S WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND COLONIALIST FOREIGN POLICY, by Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain on 3 November 2002 for THE ASSESSMENT OF THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN BRITAIN. I personally remember some of these events and remember reading about some of this in newspaper articles of the time; however, please do not take my word, or the word of this writer (which could be biased), but instead do your own research into these matters for your own proof. This is just for educational and research purposes. ~Ravyne~]

Five years before Saddam Hussein’s now infamous 1988 gassing of the Kurds, a key meeting took place in Baghdad that would play a significant role in forging close ties between Saddam Hussein and Washington. It happened at a time when Saddam was first alleged to have used chemical weapons. The meeting in late December 1983 paved the way for an official restoration of relations between Iraq and the US, which had been severed since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

With the Iran-Iraq war escalating, President Ronald Reagan dispatched his Middle East envoy, a former secretary of defence under President Ford, to Baghdad with a hand-written letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a message that Washington was willing at any moment to resume diplomatic relations. The envoy was no other than Mr Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld’s 19-20 December 1983 visit to Baghdad made him thehighest-ranking US official to visit Iraq in 6 years. He met Saddam and the two discussed ‘topics of mutual interest,’ according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. ‘[Saddam] made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world,’ Rumsfeld later told The New York Times. ‘It struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Mideast problems.’ Just 12 days after the meeting, on 1 January 1984, the Washington Post reported that the United States, ‘in a shift in policy, has informed friendly Persian Gulf nations that the defeat of Iraq in the 3-year-old war with Iran would be ‘contrary to US interests’ and has made several moves to prevent that result.’

In March of 1984, whilst the Iran-Iraq war grew more brutal by the day, Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad for meetings with then Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. On the day of his visit, 24 March, UPI reported from the United Nations: ‘Mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers in the 43-month Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, a team of UN experts has concluded…Meanwhile, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, US presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld held talks with Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz [sic] on the Gulf war before leaving for an unspecified destination.’ The day before, the Iranian news agency alleged that Iraq launched another chemical weapons assault on the southern battlefront, injuring 600 Iranian soldiers. ‘Chemical weapons in the form of aerial bombs have been used in the areas inspected in Iran by the specialists,’ the UN report said. ‘The types of chemical agents used were bis- [2-chlorethyl]- sulfide, also known as mustard gas, and ethyl N, dimethyl phosphoroamido cyanidate, a nerve agent known as Tabun.’

Prior to the release of the UN report, the US State Department on 5 March 1984 had issued a statement saying, ‘available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons.’ Commenting on the UN report, US Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick was quoted by The New York Times as saying, ‘We think that the use of chemical weapons is a very serious matter. We've made that clear in general and particular ‘. Compared with the rhetoric emanating from the current administration, based on speculations about what Saddam might have, Kirkpatrick’s reaction was hardly a call to action. Most glaring is that Donald Rumsfeld was in Iraq as the 1984 UN report was issued and said nothing about the allegations of chemical weapons use, despite the State Department ‘evidence’ on the contrary. The New York Times reported from Baghdad on 29 March 1984, ‘American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name.’

A month and a half later, in May 1984, Donald Rumsfeld resigned. In November of that year, full diplomatic relations between Iraq and the US were fully restored. Two years later, in an article about Rumsfeld’s aspirations to run for the 1988 Republican Presidential nomination, the Chicago Tribune Magazine listed among Rumsfeld’s achievements helping to ‘reopen US relations with Iraq’. The Tribune failed to mention that this help came at a time when, according to the US State Department, Iraq was actively using chemical weapons. Throughout the period that Rumsfeld was Reagan’s Middle East envoy, Iraq was frantically purchasing hardware from American firms, sales legitimised by the White House. The buying frenzy began immediately after Iraq was removed from the list of alleged sponsors of terrorism in 1982. According to a 13 February 1991 Los Angeles Times article, ‘First on Hussein's shopping list was helicopters -- he bought 60 Hughes helicopters and trainers with little notice. However, a second order of 10 twin-engine Bell ‘Huey’ helicopters, like those used to carry combat troops in Vietnam, prompted congressional opposition in August, 1983…Nonetheless, the sale was approved.’

In 1984, according to The LA Times, the State Department, in the name of ‘increased American penetration of the extremely competitive civilian aircraft market’ pushed through the sale of 45 Bell 214ST helicopters to Iraq. The helicopters, worth some $200 million, were originally designed for military purposes. The New York Times later reported that Saddam ‘transferred many, if not all [of these helicopters] to his military’. In 1988, Saddam’s forces attacked Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas from Iraqi helicopters and planes. US intelligence sources told The LA Times in 1991, they ‘believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs.’

In response to the gassing, sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the US Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most US technology. The White House threw out the measure. Senior officials later told reporters they did not press for punishment on Iraq at the time because they wanted to shore up Iraq's ability to pursue the war with Iran. Extensive research uncovered no public statements by Donald Rumsfeld publicly expressing even remote concern about Iraq’s use or possession of chemical weapons until the week Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, when he appeared on an ABC news special. Eight years later, Donald Rumsfeld signed on to an ‘open letter’ to President Clinton, calling on him to eliminate ‘the threat posed by Saddam’. It urged Clinton to, ‘provide the leadership necessary to save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the Weapons of Mass Destruction that he refuses to relinquish.’ In 1984, Donald Rumsfeld was in a position to draw the world’s attention to Saddam’s chemical threat. He was in Baghdad as the UN concluded that chemical weapons had been used against Iran. He was armed with a fresh communication from the State Department that it had ‘available evidence’ Iraq was using chemical weapons, but Rumsfeld said nothing.

Washington now speaks of Saddam’s threat and the consequences of a failure to act. Despite the fact that the administration has failed to provide even a shred of concrete proof that Iraq has links to Al Qaeda or has resumed production of chemical or biological agents, Rumsfeld insists that, ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ However there is evidence of the absence of Donald Rumsfeld’s voice at the very moment when Iraq’s alleged threat to international security first emerged - and in this case, the evidence of absence is indeed evidence.

The UK's role in the pre-Gulf War rise of Saddam is suppressed by the Government. In defiance of UN guidelines, Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s, and then John Major's in the 1990s, covertly approved arms sales to Saddam Hussein. These were used in the Iran-Iraq war, against rebel Kurdish villagers and to aid Saddam's nuclear programme. The report, by High Court judge Sir Richard Scott, revealed a web of conspiracy, intrigue and profiteering going to the heart of government. Major's Conservative government survived the 26 February House of Commons debate on Scott by a single vote; with several Tories voting with the Labour opposition. The origins of the scandal show that in the 1980s under the arms-export drive by Thatcher, her son Mark became an unofficial roaming salesman for British arms companies. Mark Thatcher earned himself an estimated $160 million in commissions in the process, including up to $40 million from a single deal with Saudi Arabia.

While sales to most dictatorial regimes caused no particular diplomatic problems [the only protests being from the political left], sales to Iran and Iraq were a different matter. This potentially huge market was stymied by the UN restrictions on sales to both countries, then in the middle of a war in which 1 million people died. The potential loss of the Iraqi market was keenly felt, between 1970 and 1990 Britain supplied the Saddam regime with a vast array of equipment, from VIP armoured cars to tank spares and sophisticated communications equipment. It is now known that British firms supplied weapons to both sides in the 1980’s by the simple device of sending them to intermediary countries, which then re-exported them. The British company BMARC, of which former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken was a director, supplied hundreds of light naval guns to Singapore, a country not renowned for the huge size of its navy. Those guns found their way to Iran. Favourite staging posts for Iraq-bound weapons were Oman and Jordan. In 1986 Swedish Customs discovered a European cartel, including British firms, supplying explosives via Jordan. However some have argued, as President Clinton did at his recent speech to the Labour Party Conference, that the West has made mistakes - that it has coddled dictators but this should act as a catalyst to clean up the situation by removing the Iraqi regime. This twisted logic may have impressed the Labour party delegates but they should not impress any aware observer who studies the current international political situation. Rather than learning from their past ‘mistakes’ in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the West in its so-called War on Terrorism still has as its allies the most odious of dictators.

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Ravyne Is Moving - Friday, Oct. 17, 2003
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