Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with Saddam during his visit to Iraq on December 19-20, 1983. Declassified papers leave the White House hawk exposed over his role during the Iran-Iraq war.
He visited again on March 24, 1984, the day the UN released a report that mustard gas and the nerve gas Tabun had been used by Iraq against Iranian troops. On March 29, 1984, the New York Times reported that “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.
On March 16, 1988, Saddam’s air force bombed the Kurdish town of Halabla with cyanide and nerve gases, killing thousands, part of a series of attacks on Kurdish towns and villages. That same year, the Dow Chemical Company sold $1.5million worth (£930,000) of pesticides to Iraq despite suspicions they would be used for chemical warfare.
With the 18th anniversary of the Halabja massacre looming, it is worth re-reading this 2002 article from The Guardian in London.
RUMSFELD ‘OFFERED HELP TO SADDAM’
Julian Borger writing in The Guardian, Tuesday December 31, 2002
The Reagan administration and its special Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, did little to stop Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s, even though they knew Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons “almost daily” against Iran, it was reported yesterday.
US support for Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war as a bulwark against Shi’ite militancy has been well known for some time, but using declassified government documents, the Washington Post provided new details yesterday about Mr Rumsfeld’s role, and about the extent of the Reagan administration’s knowledge of the use of chemical weapons.
The details will embarrass Mr Rumsfeld, who as defence secretary in the Bush administration is one of the leading hawks on Iraq, frequently denouncing it for its past use of such weapons.
The US provided less conventional military equipment than British or German companies but it did allow the export of biological agents, including anthrax; vital ingredients for chemical weapons; and cluster bombs sold by a CIA front organisation in Chile, the report says.
Intelligence on Iranian troop movements was provided, despite detailed knowledge of Iraq’s use of nerve gas.
Rick Francona, an ex-army intelligence lieutenant-colonel who served in the US embassy in Baghdad in 1987 and 1988, told the Guardian: “We believed the Iraqis were using mustard gas all through the war, but that was not as sinister as nerve gas.
“They started using Tabun [a nerve gas] as early as ’83 or ’84, but in a very limited way. They were probably figuring out how to use it. And in ’88, they developed Sarin.”
On November 1 1983, the secretary of state, George Shultz, was passed intelligence reports of “almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]” by Iraq.
However, 25 days later, Ronald Reagan signed a secret order instructing the administration to do “whatever was necessary and legal” to prevent Iraq losing the war.
In December Mr Rumsfeld, hired by President Reagan to serve as a Middle East troubleshooter, met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and passed on the US willingness to help his regime and restore full diplomatic relations.
Mr Rumsfeld has said that he “cautioned” the Iraqi leader against using banned weapons. But there was no mention of such a warning in state department notes of the meeting.
Howard Teicher, an Iraq specialist in the Reagan White House, testified in a 1995 affidavit that the then CIA director, William Casey, used a Chilean firm, Cardoen, to send cluster bombs to use against Iran’s “human wave” attacks.
A 1994 congressional inquiry also found that dozens of biological agents, including various strains of anthrax, had been shipped to Iraq by US companies, under licence from the commerce department.
Furthermore, in 1988, the Dow Chemical company sold $1.5m-worth (£930,000) of pesticides to Iraq despite suspicions they would be used for chemical warfare.
The only occasion that Iraq’s use of banned weapons seems to have worried the Reagan administration came in 1988, after Lt Col Francona toured the battlefield on the al-Faw peninsula in southern Iraq and reported signs of sarin gas.
“When I was walking around I saw atropine injectors lying around. We saw decontamination fluid on vehicles, there were no insects,” said Mr Francona, who has written a book on shifting US policy to Iraq titled Ally to Adversary. “There was a very quick response from Washington saying, ‘Let’s stop our cooperation’ but it didn’t last long – just weeks.”