In the lead up to the 1991 Gulf War President George Bush began comparing Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler. According to the president both men invaded their neighbors and ran cruel dictatorships. The inconvenient truth was that the U.S. and its allies wanted closer ties with Iraq for decades seeing it as an important Middle East power. As part of that policy the West sold Iraq the agents, technology and know how to build its chemical, biological, and nuclear programs. In the wake of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 these was a new round of reporting on just how eager the West was to arm the dictator it was now denouncing.
France was Iraq’s second largest arms supplier. While most of its tanks and small arms came from Russia, Baghdad liked to purchase its high-tech equipment from France. In 1975 Saddam who was then Iraq’s vice president made his first overseas trip to Paris to sign an arms contract. (1) From 1975-1987 France sold Baghdad 135 Mirage fighters jets, 140 helicopters, 200 AMX tanks, 900 Panhard armored cars, 1,800 Milan anti-tank missiles, 900 Exocent air to ground missiles and other equipment. Eventually, 1/3 of Paris’ arms exports were going to Iraq. France was also involved in Iraq’s nuclear program signing a deal in 1976 to provide a nuclear reactor, which was capable of producing plutonium from a bomb. Successive French governments thought selling weapons to Iraq was important to gain influence in the Middle East. It was so intent upon building this relationship that it had no problem advancing Iraq’s nuclear program.
The United States had an arms embargo on Iraq during the 1980s, but that didn’t stop it from exporting dual use equipment to Baghdad. During the Iran-Iraq War the U.S. decided to improve relations with Baghdad out of fear of Iran. In November 1984 the Reagan administration restored full diplomatic relations with Saddam’s government. (2) From 1985-1990 Iraq bought $730 million worth of high-tech goods that were used for Iraq’s nuclear, missiles, and chemical and biological warfare programs. One such example was American Type Culture Collection, which sent anthrax and four other viruses to Iraq. (3) The U.S. provided software that was used to develop Iraq’s Super Gun, technology and glass fiber for missiles, along with parts and equipment for its uranium enrichment program and centrifuges used to develop nuclear weapons. (4) During the Iran-Iraq War Washington had no problem with Iraq working on these programs as it wanted a counter weight to Iran. By the time of the Gulf War however, these programs were seen as a major threat to the region and America’s allies there.
Germany was another major contributor to Iraq’s WMD and nuclear programs. It was reported that German firms provided Iraq with 90% of its chemical weapons capabilities. (5) Plalto-Kuehn G.m.b.H. sold agents that were used in biological research. (6) Karl Kolb became the chief supplier of agents to produce nerve and mustard gas. It also helped build plants, which it claimed were for pesticide, but an investigation revealed that the company knew they were for WMD all along. Water Engineering Trading provided parts for the Muthanna facility that was Iraq’s largest WMD factory, and also helped build a nerve gas plant in Fallujah. (7) In 1987 it signed a deal to send 100 technicians to help with the facility. Gildemeister Projects, Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm, and H&H Metalform all helped build the Saad 16 plant that worked on both chemical and nuclear weapons. Saarstahl sold special metals to Iraq for its centrifuges, H&H Metalform sold lathes cut from special steel from, and magnets came from Inwako all for its nuclear program. (8) Iraq began its chemical, biological, and nuclear programs in the 1970s. It was completely dependent upon foreign know how and technology to develop them. Germany was one of the largest providers for all of those needs.
Without the West Iraq’s nuclear and WMD programs would not have been possible. It provided almost all of the raw materials to build these programs. When the Iran-Iraq War concluded in 1988 many of these ties were exposed, but Europe and the U.S. were more interested in seeking better ties with Saddam. When Iraq invaded Kuwait that all changed, and Iraq’s chemical, biological, and nuclear programs were part of the reason why Saddam was considered so dangerous. The media once again brought up that they were only possible due to the help of the west, but like in the 80s that didn’t seem to matter.
1. Kaplan, Bernard, “Arms deals return to haunt the French,” San Francisco Examiner, 9/7/90
2. Gugliotta, Guy, Babcock, Charles and Weiser, Benjamin, “The Ties That Blind,” Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 9/24-30/90
3. Bradsher, Keith, “Senator Says U.S. Allowed Export Of Lethal Viruses to Iraq in 80’s,” New York Times, 2/10/94
4. Sinai, Ruth, “Saddam arsenal got a lot from U.S.,” Associated Press, 11/1/92
5. Smolowe, Jill, “Who Armed Baghdad?” Time, 2/11/91
6. Kempe, Frederick, “Supplying Saddam Germans Had Big Role In Helping Iraq Arm, Internal Report Shows,” Wall Street Journal, 10/2/90
7. Pletka, Danielle, “Firms Sell Saddam, Qaddafi the Deadly Means to an End,” Insight, 11/26/90
8. Reichlin, Igor and Maremont, Mark with Kapstein, Jonathan, Levine, Jonathan, “Iraq’s Silent Allies In Its Quest For The Bomb,” Business Week, 1/14/91
American Experience, “The Persian Gulf War”
Borger, Gloria and Hedges, Stephen with Stanglin, Douglas, “When the enemy is us,” U.S. News & World Report, 2/18/91
Bradsher, Keith, “Senator Says U.S. Allowed Export Of Lethal Viruses to Iraq in 80’s,” New York Times, 2/10/94
Ehrmann, Eric and Barton, Christopher, “Who Helped Arm Saddam?” Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/91
Gugliotta, Guy, Babcock, Charles and Weiser, Benjamin, “The Ties That Blind,” Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 9/24-30/90
Kaplan, Bernard, “Arms deals return to haunt the French,” San Francisco Examiner, 9/7/90
Kempe, Frederick, “Supplying Saddam Germans Had Big Role In Helping Iraq Arm, Internal Report Shows,” Wall Street Journal, 10/2/90
New York Times, “How Iraq blazes a trail to nukes,” Sacramento Bee, 12/23/90
Pletka, Danielle, “Firms Sell Saddam, Qaddafi the Deadly Means to an End,” Insight, 11/26/90
Reichlin, Igor and Maremont, Mark with Kapstein, Jonathan, Levine, Jonathan, “Iraq’s Silent Allies In Its Quest For The Bomb,” Business Week, 1/14/91
Sinai, Ruth, “Saddam arsenal got a lot from U.S.,” Associated Press, 11/1/92
Smolowe, Jill, “Who Armed Baghdad?” Time, 2/11/91