1982: U.S. provides billions in aid to Saddam Hussein for weapons
to kill Iranians.
In 1982, the Reagan Administration removed Saddam Hussein’s
Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism, despite credible
information that Iraq was, in fact, still supporting terrorism.
The decision came as Iraq was on the brink of losing its war with
Iran which had begun in September 1980. At the same time, according
to the 1995 sworn
affidavit of Howard Teicher, a member of Reagan’s National
Security Council, Reagan pushed the United States directly into
the Iran-Iraq war:
In June 1982, President Reagan decided that the United States
could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran. President
Reagan decided that the United States would do whatever was necessary
and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran. President
Reagan formalized this policy by issuing a National Security Decision
Directive ("NSDD") to this effect in June 1982. I have
personal knowledge of this NSDD because I co-authored the NSDD
with another NSC Staff Member, Geoff Kemp. The NSDD, including
even its identifying number, is classified.
CIA Director Casey personally spearheaded the effort to ensure
that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles
to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war. Pursuant to the secured NSDD,
the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying
the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing U.S.
military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely
monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that
Iraq had the military weaponry required.
In December 1983, the United States stepped up its relationship,
setting up a meeting in Baghdad. The American representative was
Reagan’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld-now
George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense and one of the administration’s
leading war hawks. Rumsfeld met with Iraq’s foreign minister,
Tariq Aziz, and with Saddam Hussein himself, and delivered a personal
letter from Reagan to Hussein. The letter remains classified, but
notes on the meetings shed
Saddam at one point expressed "great pleasure"
at the letter, and Aziz quoted Reagan as saying "the Iran-Iraq
war could pose serious problems for the economic and security
interests of the U.S., its friends in the region and in the free
also reported in his affidavit that Rumsfeld brought an offer of
assistance from Israel:
The Israelis approached the United States in a meeting in
Jerusalem that I attended with Donald Rumsfeld. Israeli Foreign
Minister Yitzhak Shamir asked Rumsfeld if the United States would
deliver a secret offer of Israeli assistance to Iraq. The United
States agreed. I travelled with Rumsfeld to Baghdad and was present
at the meeting in which Rumsfeld told Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq
Aziz about Israel's offer of assistance. Aziz refused even to
accept the Israelis' letter to Hussein offering assistance, because
Aziz told us that he would be executed on the spot by Hussein
if he did so.
Twelve days after the meeting, the United States’ decision
that Iraq could not lose the Iran-Iraq War-as decided in the
1982 National Security Decision Directive-came to light in
the Washington Post. Three months later, in late March 1984, Rumsfeld
was back in Baghdad for another meeting with Aziz. The meeting took
place the same day the UN reported that Iraq was using chemical
weapons in its war
America was not deterred, and on November 26, 1984, President Reagan
met with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz at the White House to
re-establish diplomatic ties between the two
countries (Iraq had severed diplomatic relations in 1967 during
the Arab-Israeli War).
Perhaps Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction were not
an issue because they weren’t a surprise.The United States
was, of course, providing Iraq with advice and assistance. As the
New York Times reported in August
Though senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly
condemned Iraq's employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other
poisonous agents, the American military officers said President
Reagan, Vice President George Bush and senior national security
aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program
in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency
were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments,
tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage
assessments for Iraq.
More than simply helping Iraq unleash chemical and biological weapons
against Iran, the US got even more involved, as William
Blum wrote in 1998:
According to a 1994 Senate report, private American suppliers,
licensed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, exported a witch's
brew of biological and chemical materials to Iraq from 1985 through
1989. Among the biological materials, which often produce slow,
agonizing death, were:
• Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax.
• Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin.
• Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs,
brain, spinal cord, and heart.
• Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major
• Clostridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing
• Clostridium tetani, a highly toxigenic substance.
Also on the list: Escherichia coli (E. coli), genetic materials,
human and bacterial DNA, and dozens of other pathogenic biological
agents. "These biological materials were not attenuated or
weakened and were capable of reproduction," the Senate report
stated. "It was later learned that these microorganisms exported
by the United States were identical to those the United Nations
inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare
The report noted further that U.S. exports to Iraq included
the precursors to chemical-warfare agents, plans for chemical
and biological warfare production facilities, and chemical-warhead
The exports continued to at least November 28, 1989, despite
evidence that Iraq was engaging in chemical and biological warfare
against Iranians and Kurds since as early as 1984.
Helping to arm a country engaged in a bloody war is fun, but getting
your hands dirty yourself is even better. National Security Council
staff member Teicher revealed that President Reagan and Vice President
Bush did just this, directly involving themselves in the advising
For example, in 1986, President Reagan sent a secret message
to Saddam Hussein telling him that Iraq should step up its air
war and bombing of Iran. This message was delivered by Vice President
Bush who communicated it to Egyptian President Mubarak, who in
turn passed the message to Saddam Hussein. Similar strategic operational
military advice was passed to Saddam Hussein through various meetings
with European and Middle Eastern heads of state. I authored Bush's
talking points for the 1986 meeting with Mubarak and personally
attended numerous meetings with European and Middle East heads
of state where the strategic operational advice was communicated.
While most of the arms and machinery America helped Saddam Hussein
get his hands on came through intermediary countries, many others
were direct from the US. Among
them were more than 100 helicopters (some of which, the Los
Angeles Times reported, were used in gassing the Kurds in 1988).
Blum also reports that: "U.S. companies sold Iraq more
than $1 billion worth of the components needed to build nuclear
weapons and diverse types of missiles, including the infamous Scud."
After the gassing of the Kurds came to light, the United States
Senate unanimously passed sanctions against Iraq to cut off their
line to US technology. The move was squashed by the
White House, and among other internal reason given, declassified
documents show that such sanctions would hinder American companies
receiving "massive post-war reconstruction" contracts.
Indeed, the bulk of Iraq’s war machinery came from countries
other than the United States, but they still came with the US seal
of approval, and in many cases, direct US involvement. Teicher reported
on this, too, in his ’95
"I personally attended meetings in which CIA Director
Casey or CIA Deputy Director Gates noted the need for Iraq to
have certain weapons such as cluster bombs and anti-armor penetrators
in order to stave off the Iranian attacks. When I joined the NSC
staff in early 1982, CIA Director Casey was adamant that cluster
bombs were a perfect "force multiplier" that would allow
the Iraqis to defend against the "human waves" of Iranian
attackers. I recorded those comments in the minutes of National
Security Planning Group ("NSPG") meetings in which Casey
or Gates participated.
The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director
Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S.
origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq. My notes,
memoranda and other documents in my NSC files show or tend to
show that the CIA knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale
of non-U.S. origin military weapons, munitions and vehicles to
In 1989, George H. W. Bush took office as President of the United
policy on Iraq, not surprisingly, followed directly in the steps
The Bush administration became a particular focus of criticism
because it followed its predecessor in making strengthened U.S.-Iraq
relations a key objective, despite the fact that the end of the
Iran-Iraq war had eliminated a major rationale for this goal.
A transition paper prepared for the new presidency outlined the
conflicts that characterized U.S. policy toward Iraq. The paper
recommended assigning high priority to U.S.-Iraq relations because
of Saddam Hussein’s potential as a "major player,"
but reviewed persistent divisive issues, including Iraq’s
chemical weapons use which "aroused great emotions"
in the U.S., and its "abominable human rights record."
These negative factors were contrasted with Iraq’s value
as a market and its potential as a trading partner, and wit the
fact that it shared an interest with the U.S. in containing Iran.
The paper recommended that the new administration should begin
with a high-level message calling for further development of political
and economic relations.8
Secretary of State James Baker personally intervened to promote
strong ties with Baghdad. A briefing paper prepared for a March
1989 meeting between Baker and Iraqi Foreign Ministry Under Secretary
Nizar Hamdoon discussed Iraq’s active involvement in chemical
and biological warfare and missile programs, and recommended stressing
the sensitivity of Iraq’s chemical weapons use for U.S.-Iraq
relations.9 Hamdoom and Baker discussed Iraq’s wish for
medium-term Eximbank export credit guarantees, and Baker assured
him that he would take a personal interest in the question. (The
State Department later warned Baker that moving forward with the
credits would be problematic, given strong congressional opposition
to Iraq’s recent chemical weapons use.)10 In June, Baker
wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter to ask him to
increase the size of the CCC’s GSM-102 program by $1 billion,
to solve a problem "that has consequences for both U.S. foreign
policy and agricultural exports."11 Soon thereafter, the
Agriculture Department informed the National Advisory Council
on International Monetary and Financial Policies (NAC), an interagency
group responsible for approving economic programs involving foreign
countries, that Agriculture planned to offer Iraq $1 billion in
export credit guarantees for FY 1990.
Eximbank guarantees were provided through the Atlanta branch of
Banca Nazionale del Lavoro:
Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, relying partially on U.S. taxpayer-guaranteed
loans, funnelled $5 billion to Iraq from 1985 to 1989. Some government-backed
loans were supposed to be for agricultural purposes, but were
used to facilitate the purchase of stronger stuff than wheat.
Federal Reserve and Agriculture department memos warned of suspected
abuses by Iraq, which apparently took advantage of the loans to
free up funds for munitions. U.S. taxpayers have been left holding
the bag for what looks like $ 2 billion in defaulted loans to