Monday, January 15, 2007

Where Did Saddam Get His Chemical Weapons?

This is a long and convoluted post. Sorry, but the topic is also long & convoluted...

"We all know" that Saddam got weapons from the US during the Iran-Iraq war. Anyone who goes beyond that theme knows that the US supplied some things such as civilian helicopters that were then used for military purposes and may have brokered sales and transfers of conventional military weapons to Iraq. The simple fact is that Iraq received less than 1% of its military imports from the US, and by far the bulk of Saddam's weapons came from the USSR, France, and China.

In recent comments at Iraqi Mojo, Iraqi American (Mojo) brought up something interesting:
'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 organs.

* Clostridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness.

* Clostridium tetani, a highly toxigenic substance.'

The link is to a William Blum article from 1998 that discusses the source of Saddam's WMD programs. More specifically, it uncovers US involvement in Saddam's WMD programs. I know, I know, by now this is not new to anyone. But something struck me about the quote... something made me wonder.

What triggered my curiosity was this quote as compared to Saddam's recent taped conversations regarding the use of WMD on the Kurds. If you recall t
he exchange, it went someting like this:
"I will strike them with chemical weapons and kill them all," a voice identified by prosecutors as that of Majeed, Hussein's cousin and a senior aide, is heard saying.
"Yes, it's effective, especially on those who don't wear a mask immediately, as we understand," another voice, identified as Hussein, is heard saying on another tape.
My recollection of the word "chemical" is what caught my memory. I recalled that most of the WMD Saddam actually used were chemical weapons like mustard gas, not biological weapons like Anthrax. Off to the 'net for more research.

First, I wanted to verify if my recollection was corre
ct, so I found this table listing Saddam's known use of WMD. I was mostly right: Mustard gas figures prominently, plus Tabun and nerve agents (like Sarin and VX).

My curiosity began pointing at the source of these weapons: if we gave Saddam bio weapons, did we also give him chem weapons? Or, maybe in general I wanted to know:

Where Did Saddam Get His Chemical Weapons?

As always, I asked Google first. The top six sites returned make the case that the answer is simply "America". Really? If that is the case, why are the bio weapons highlighted in Iraqi Mojo's comment section? If the US supplied chemical weapons, which were then used in the field, wouldn't this be more damning than if we supplied bio weapons that were not? My sampling of each of those six articles mention some variation of the 1994 Senate report & bio weapons.

OK, I wanted to know more. I returned to the Blum article mentioned above, and read the whole thing. He goes to great lengths to identify the sources a
nd extent of bio weapons transfers, and even gets into particulars about chem weapons:
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 filling equipment.
Specifically regarding chemical weapons, he states:

* Alcolac International, a Baltimore chemical manufacturer already linked to the illegal shipment of chemicals to Iran, shipped large quantities of thiodiglycol (used to make mustard gas) as well as other chemical and biological ingredients, according to a 1989 story in The New York Times.

* Nu Kraft Mercantile Corp. of Brooklyn (affiliated with the United Steel and Strip Corporation) also supplied Iraq with huge amounts of thiodiglycol, the Times reported.

OK, that's a bit of a smoking dispersal mechanism there.

How much are we talking about? How did it happen? His article does not say. He does say this about the source of his assertions: "According to a 1994 Senate report..." I went looking for this report. He does not cite the actual report's name in this article. However, in a
2002 "see-look-I-told-ya-so" piece, he makes identical assertions and cites the "
U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War," Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with Respect to Export Administration, reports of May 25, 1994 and October 7, 1994. Now that's something I should be able to find on the 'net. Sure enough, it is cited dozens of times in similar articles throughout the web. The report itself, however, is scarce. One of a very few places I was able to see it is here, but the navigation is clunky and there's no way to tell if it's complete or accurate.

In flipping through that report, I cannot fi
nd anything like the detail Blum provides, except for this:
" In October 1992, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which has Senate oversight responsibility for the Export Administration Act (EAA), held an inquiry into the U.S. export policy to Iraq prior to the Persian Gulf War. During that hearing it was learned that U.N. inspectors identified many U.S. - manufactured items exported pursuant to licenses issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce that were used to further Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons development and missile delivery system development programs."
So the specific facts of this look like they are actually contained in hearing testimony from 1992, and not in the cite's 1994 report. If I remain interested in this, I may seek out an official copy of the 1994 Senate report and/or the 1992 hearings. For now, I'll move on.

In the References section of the wikipedia article mentioned above, one of the sources is listed as the CIA's
"Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's MWD" from Sept. 30, 2004. This provides some excellent information about exactly how and when Iraq's chemical weapons program advanced.

For example, the short version:
Over a period of twenty years, beginning with a laboratory operated by the intelligence services, Iraq was able to begin and successfully undertake an offensive CW program which helped ensure the Regime’s internal and external security. By 1984, Iraq was operating a number of CW agent production plants, producing hundreds of tons of a range of weaponized agents annually, for use against external and internal enemies of the Regime. The program was supported by a complex web of international procurement, R&D, weaponization and indigenous precursor production efforts. Iraq fired or dropped over 100,000 chemical munitions against Iranian forces and its own Kurdish population during the Iran-Iraq war and then later to help put down the Shi’a rebellion in March 1991.
There's a nice timeline here, too.

What does this report say about this "complex web of international procurement"? This, for example:
"Project 922 subsumed the Chemical Corps al-Rashad CW efforts and their site 60 km northwest of Baghdad. Within months of its inception, Project 922 began construction at the site on what was to become Iraq’s main CW production and research center. West German businesses, using East German designs, supervised the creation of what was at the time the world’s most modern and best-planned CW facility under the cover of pesticide production.
  • Construction activity between 1982 and 1983 was intense. Iraq’s foreign contractors, including Karl Kolb with Massar for reinforcement, built five large research laboratories, an administrative building, eight large underground bunkers for the storage of chemical munitions, and the first production buildings. "
The report goes on to say:
"As production increased, Baghdad recognized that its dependence on foreign suppliers for precursors was a program weakness and took immediate steps towards self-reliance for precursor production. Iraq made plans to build three precursor production plants, starting in 1985, near the town of Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad."
So there is some very useful information there, but the CIA report does not specify western, and especially American, involvement in Saddam's WMD programs except for Germany's contribution and the general information provided there.

Wikipedia's article on
Iraq's WMDs gives a good rundown of the international contributions:
Another article I found has a nice graphic with some more information (click to enlarge):

Those are the relevant stats regarding chemical weapons exports specifically, but several more countries' contributions to Saddam's nuclear program are also highlighted, plus it says this about US exports:
The United States exported $500 million of dual use exports to Iraq that were approved by the Commerce department.
OK! That is a lot of sales to Iraq going on, and half a billion dollars from the US? Man, those 80s were wild!! Still, what exactly did the US sell, and why? The original comment from Iraqi Mojo about the Blum article mentioned chemical weapons specifically, so what about that?

Another wikipedia article helps a bit:
"According to Iraq's report to the UN, the know-how and material for developing chemical weapons were obtained from firms in such countries as: the United States, West Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the People's Republic of China."
Notice how the US is listed first? What's up with that? Well, the article lists quantities of CW precursors exported, and most are redundant with above, except for this:
That's a lot of DMMP and thiodiglycol (never mind that the latter incurred a fine). Compared to above, it's not so much, but US companies had their hands in the cookie jar. What about that $1/2 bn, and how did it happen?

The $1/2 bn.
This report, and elsewhere, point out that actually $1.5 bn was approved for export, but only $1/2 bn actually was exported due to contracts that fell through and then sanctions. But anyway, the report finds that:
  • The Commerce Department knew that millions of dollars' worth of sensitive American equipment would wind up in Iraq's missile and other military programs, but approved the licenses anyway.

  • The Commerce Department failed to refer missile technology export cases to the State Department and nuclear technology cases to the Energy Department, in violation of its own procedures.

  • Front companies for every known nuclear, chemical and missile site in Iraq bought American computers, with total American computer exports exceeding $96 million.

  • American machine tools may have helped build the SCUD missiles that hit Tel Aviv and killed U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

  • American radar components may have helped shoot down U.S. aircraft and develop long-range missiles.
Insight into the motivations are the well-known support of Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, greed, and simple mismanagement by the Commerce Department:

"Some critics see the main problem as a conflict between the Commerce
Department's twin roles as the government's chief trade-promotion agency and as
a regulator.


The study said the Commerce Department did not consult with the State Department, as required in federal regulations, before approving either of the radar-related sales.


Some department officials also have said they had no authority to block most of the sales after the State Department dropped Iraq from a watch list of countries supporting terrorism in 1982."

Blum's article has a telling quote on why so many export licenses were

"Though the government readily approved most sales to Iraq, officials at Defense and Commerce clashed over some of them (with the State Department and the White House backing Commerce). "If an item was in dispute, my attitude was if they were readily available from other markets, I didn't see why we should deprive American markets," explained Richard Murphy in 1990. Murphy was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs from 1983 to 1989."


So, my conclusions are:

  1. just as the US contributed to Saddam's conventional weapons arsenal in a small amount compared to so many other nations, so too we also contributed to his WMD programs.
  2. the international community, including the US, should be ashamed of itself for the WMD free-for-all in the 80s
  3. Saddam Hussein is dead
  4. Interestingly, of all the nations I mentioned above who contributed to Saddam's WMD programs, only these joined the Coalition of the Willing: the US, United Kingdom, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Spain.

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