Understanding the US-Iraq Crisis

18 Julio 2005
Cover Understanding the US-Iraq Crisis

Understanding the US-Iraq Crisis
The World's Response, the UN & International Law
Phyllis Bennis
A pamphlet of the Institute for Policy Studies, January 2003

IV. The History of US-Iraq Relations

This Section:

33. Did Iraq ever use weapons of mass destruction? Did Iraq use them during the Gulf War? Did Iraq ever use WMDs against the US or US allies?

The Iraqi military used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians during the Anfal campaign in the 1980s. It also used them against Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war. All those uses of chemical weapons, whether against civilians or against enemy troops, violated the international chemical weapons treaty.

One former Iraqi officer, General al-Shamari, told Newsweek that he was in charge of firing chemical weapons from howitzers against Iranian troops, and that US satellite information provided the targeting information. A former CIA official confirmed to Newsweek that the US provided military intelligence to Iraq, including on chemical warfare. General al-Shamari now lives safely in the US, running a restaurant outside of Washington DC.

The Iraqi regime clearly knew that using such illegal weapons against targets of no interest to the West (such as Iranian troops or Kurdish civilians) would not result in serious consequences. They were right; the US continued licensing the shipment of biological seed stock and other WMD material to Baghdad even after Iraq's use of illegal chemical weapons became news.

But during the Gulf War Iraq never used chemical or biological weapons. They knew that any use against American troops, Saudis or Israelis would be met with devastating consequences. Israel threatened to use its nuclear weapons if attacked by Iraqi WMDs, although it was still operating under US-imposed constraints. The deterrence worked- the Iraqi regime never used WMDs against any US or allied target. The exposure of many American troops to chemical weapons toxins, possibly part of the cause of Gulf War syndrome, resulted from the US military's detonation of chemical dumps.

34. How did the US view Iraq before the Gulf crisis of 1990-91? Why did the US change its view of Iraq?

The US maintained a close alliance with Iraq all through the 1980s. In 1983, and again in 1984, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then the special envoy of President Reagan, traveled to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein and negotiate a renewal of full US-Iraqi diplomatic relations. Despite at least two face-to-face meetings, Rumsfeld never expressed to Saddam Hussein any US displeasure about Iraq's use of illegal chemical weapons. (The State Department claims Rumsfeld did mention it separately to Tariq Aziz.) In any case, Washington restored full diplomatic relations by November 1984, extending financial support, agricultural credits, military technology and intelligence, the seed stock for biological weapons, and political support to the regime in Baghdad, then, as now, led by Saddam Hussein.

In July 1990, only days before Iraq invaded Kuwait, US Ambassador April Glaspie met with Saddam Hussein and told him, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush that "we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." Some analysts believe Saddam Hussein interpreted this as a green light for Iraq to invade Kuwait. Whether it was meant to be a green light or not, what it wasn't was a clear statement that the US opposed such an invasion.

The US's position changed abruptly after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The invasion, a clear violation of international law, provided to the US an easy pretext for war. This war mobilization was a policy choice, not a policy necessity. Iraq was not, after all, the first Middle East country to invade and occupy a neighbor. Morocco remained occupying Western Sahara; Turkey had invaded Northern Cyprus and maintained a rump "Turkish Republic" there since 1974; and Israel continued its internationally-condemned occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. All those occupations are illegal, and like Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, they were all carried out by close allies of the US

But in 1990 Washington was responding to something beyond Iraq and Kuwait: the broader international situation and the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was about to collapse, leaving the US as the sole global superpower. Instead of announcing a peace dividend and a pull-back from its global military reach, the US decided to lead the world to war as a way of trumpeting its decision to remain a superpower, despite the lack of a strategic challenger. The alliance with Iraq was reversed, and the demonization of Saddam Hussein and all things Iraqi began.

35. How did US corporations help Iraq obtain weapons of mass destruction?

During its alliance with the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, Iraq had active programs producing chemical and biological weapons, and researching and working towards production of a nuclear weapon. These programs were actively and knowingly supported by US corporations and the US government, as revealed in 1994 House Banking Committee hearings. Those hearings revealed, among other things, that the American Type Culture Collection, a company outside of Washington DC, had provided Iraq with the seed stock for biological weapons agents including anthrax, botulinum, e-coli and many more, under license by the US Commerce Department.

A leak in the German newspaper die Tageszeitung of some of the 8,000 pages that Washington deleted from Iraq's December 7, 2002, arms declaration provided further information. The deleted sections documented 24 US corporations, 55 US subsidiaries of foreign corporations, and a number of US government agencies that provided parts, material, training and other assistance to Iraq's chemical, biological, missile, and nuclear weapons programs throughout the 1970s and 80s, some continuing till the end of 1990. The US corporations include Honeywell, Rockwell, Hewlett Packard, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Bechtel, and more. US government Departments of Energy, Commerce, Defense and Agriculture, as well as federal laboratories at Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, were also involved.

A major front-page article in the Washington Post (December 30, 2002) further documented US support for Iraq's WMD programs, especially the chemical program, including trade in weapons and other military goods. The article also detailed the active involvement of Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, then a special envoy of President Reagan to Iraq, in reestablishing full diplomatic relations and improving trade and other economic ties that bolstered Washington's military support of Iraq.

Other Republican insiders were involved in shady deals that helped build Iraq's WMDs. In 1989, news broke of a secret $4 billion loan made to Iraq by a US branch of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) of Italy, which at the time employed Henry Kissinger on its Consulting Board for International Policy. Congressman Henry Gonzalez, chair of the banking committee, also noted that an executive of Kissinger Associates met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in June 1989 at a meeting in which the Iraqi leader apparently expressed interest in expanding commercial relations with the US "Many Kissinger Associates clients received US export licenses for exports to Iraq. Several were also the beneficiaries of BNL loans to Iraq," Congressman Gonzalez wrote in a letter to then-President Bush (senior). Iraq also used the BNL loans to attempt to buy difficult-to-manufacture nuclear weapons components.

36. What about Iraqi opposition groups? Are they funded by the US government?

Since the Gulf War of 1991, the US has supported and funded a small number of the more than 70 opposition groups that have functioned outside of Iraq. In the first years, the CIA provided most of its millions of dollars to two groups, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by the London-based fugitive banker Ahmad Chalabi (wanted in Jordan for embezzling $60 million from Petra Bank), and the Iraq National Accord (INA) made up largely of former military officers. In 1998, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, which authorized $97 million to support the opposition. The INC and INA, along with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (headquartered in Tehran), the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy (led by Sharif Hussein, a member of Iraq's old royal family), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and two smaller parties were chosen in 1999 as recipients of US financial backing. The Supreme Council, representing many Shi'a in southern Iraq and backed by Iran, immediately rejected US funding. Only three of the groups, the two Kurdish parties in the North and the Supreme Council in the South, have any presence inside Iraq.

Since that time, US confidence in the opposition has diminished, except among the Pentagon's super-hawks and some in the CIA. General Anthony Zinni, who headed US Central Command (including Iraq) for years throughout the 1990, and who in 2001 became President Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, said that bringing the opposition to power would turn Iraq into "a Bay of Goats," alluding to the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle.

During the first two years of the Bush administration, there were great efforts at unifying the fractious opposition. A high-profile mid-December 2002 conference in London was possible -barely-only after months of delay due to squabbles between groups on such issues as when and how to establish a government in exile. A key result of the conference was the demand that the US refrain from imposing a military occupation on post-war Iraq. But much of that demand seemed based on protecting the positioning of the Iraqi exiles themselves, most of whom appear to have little or no support inside the country. The conference agreed on a call for a "democratic, pluralistic and federal" Iraq, but there was little agreement about what that meant or how to get there.

By early 2003, the administration's hopes for the opposition seemed just about ended. Continuing disagreements over money, leadership and perks kept the opposition groups feuding and unfocused. Those in the administration favoring a direct (whether short-term or longer) US occupation of Iraq after a war seemed to have won the battle against those urging support for the opposition to create a government in exile even before a war begins. While exile "working groups" on Iraqi democracy and related subjects continue under State Department sponsorship, the role of the once-influential opposition had faded. [See also question 43]