10 Years Prior to the Iraqi Conflicts

In 1982, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department’s list of countries regarded as supporters of international terrorism. That action eliminated legal restrictions that would otherwise have prevented Iraq from receiving credit guarantees, enabling it to obtain credit for the purchase of US products and technology. The authorization enabled Iraq to obtain financing to import US food products, a significant benefit for a country that had experienced growing financial difficulties throughout the 1980s. Iraq’s economic difficulties resulted in part from its commitment to intensive and expensive civilian and military industrialization programs, a commitment which was maintained throughout and after the war with Iran.

The US government, fully aware that Iraq had active programs in the areas of chemical and biological warfare and missile development, was concerned about providing it with US technology. Nevertheless, a great deal of dual-use equipment and technology made its way to Iraq from the US throughout the 1980s, including missile research and information on explosives and propellants research and production. Iraq additionally procured tens of thousands of artillery projectiles and warheads designed to hold chemical agents through a convoluted and deceptive supply chain.

The Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs described the government of Saddam Hussein as “one of the most brutal and repressive in the world”, based partially on the use of chemical weapons on its own people. Throughout the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Reagan administration chose to give priority to maintaining US-Iraq relations over concerns about Iraq’s use of chemical warfare. In March of 1984, the United States publicly condemned Iraq’s almost daily use of chemical weapons. However, Iraq continued its use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces throughout the war.

The issue became more problematic for the Reagan administration, however, in the Spring of 1988, when Iraq engaged in poison gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds in the village of Halabja.¬†In August 1988 the Iraqi Government carried out a second wave of chemical attacks on Kurdish villages on the Turkish border, prompting the US Senate to pass the “Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988”. Intense lobbying of Congress by the Reagan-Bush White Houses and a veto threat from President Reagan convinced the Democrat-majority House of Representative to defeat the bill, citing expanding trade in rice and other grain between US farmers and Iraq, the desire to contain Iran, and unwillingness to antagonize Turkey.

The Bush administration became a particular focus of criticism because it followed its predecessor in making strengthened US-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 existing policy toward Iraq. The paper recommended assigning high priority to US-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 United States, and its “abominable human rights record.” These negative factors were contrasted with Iraq’s value as a financial market and its potential as a trading partner, and with the fact that it shared an interest with the US in containing Iran. Secretary of State James Baker personally intervened to promote strong ties with Baghdad, asking the Commodity Credit Corporation to increase its Iraqi funding by $1 billion during 1989.

On August 4, 1989, the FBI and other agencies raided the Atlanta branch office of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), one of Italy’s largest banks, whose shares were almost entirely owned by the Italian government. Informants had revealed that the bank had provided massive off-the-books loans to foreign countries, including Iraq. The loans had far exceeded the bank’s lending limits and were recorded in a parallel accounting system rather than in its official records. The branch office had not only handled a major portion of US agricultural credit guarantees for Iraq; it had also provided financing for exports of non-agricultural products.

In addition, the managers had signed a series of agreements obligating the bank to provide $1.155 billion in loans to Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military Production, a government organization that was in charge of Iraq’s efforts to obtain western technology for military research and development programs, including those involving chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and missiles. The total amount of unauthorized credit transactions between BNL and Iraq exceeded $5.5 billion, concealed by BNL employees through document falsification and fraudulent financial reporting. George Bush still signed National Security Directive 26, committing the administration to strengthened ties with Iraq.

Despite the commitment of the Bush administration to maintaining political and economic relations with Iraq, sustaining that relationship became increasingly difficult. On December 5, Iraq launched a rocket capable of conveying satellites into space, although the space launch vehicle failed in an intra-stage collapse. US officials immediately began to discuss increased efforts to control technology exports to Iraq, and also began discussion of Iraq’s efforts to expand its chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

It took Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 for President Bush to issue executive orders to freeze all Iraqi and Iraq-controlled assets in recompense for the state’s $2 billion in defaults. Five years later, Iraqi officials revealed a failed plan to liberate highly enriched uranium controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency from two reactors¬†at the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Center near Baghdad soon after the Kuwaiti occupation.

Two administrations, blinded by the economic potential of a solid US-Iraq relationship, supported Saddam despite well-documented involvement in humanitarian atrocities, corruption, and technological espionage. While I hesitate to assert that the United States “created” Saddam Hussein as he exists today, both administrations were naive in their machinations and in their support of his regime.

Author’s Note: Links to better sources and updated, more-legible documents were added during a 2012 revision.

16 Responses to “10 Years Prior to the Iraqi Conflicts”

  1. Gustav

    I think it’s completely wrong of the US to always be the strong power in the world. First you go into ‘Nam, then Kuwait, then Afganistan, and now your going for Iraq. Stop it. You say Iraq hs chem weapons. Well, if I say you’ve got mustard gas, then you’ll deny it, right? Well, what says Iraq isn’t telling the truth, except your propagandda?

    • JIM


      • Art

        I have to agree with Jim. We could all be talking German or Japanese right now if not for our involment [sic] in those conflicts. The war protesters forget that the freedom that they will have tomorrow will only be possible with the wars we fight today to protect those freedoms. I’m sick of paying taxes to support countries that hate us. Stop the money flow and let them find out who was helping to feed their children.

        • Deerender

          Hi I cant understand why their is so much opitspoion to capital punishment. Saddam was a 1st degree murderer and was convicted to be hanged. I has nothing to do with revenge. I work for an american company and the yanks here cannot understand why europe has this dysfunctional obsession with banning the death penalty. Most irish people I know are for it and think saddam got thru justice but he should not have been heckled.

  2. Rizlo

    Has everyone forgotten Spetember 11th? We have a president who is taking a proactive approach to homeland security. Our boarders [sic] were invaded by irrational people who have the conviction to show their resolve. Terror has to be supported by states and we have the empirical evidence to support financial links between Iraq and known terrorist groups. The U.S. is in a unique position because of its military power and economic prowess. It has assumed the role of a police force to aid in the promotion of world peace. People that challenge world peace are a threat to the entire global community. The rest of the world, as well as the American public needs to pull their heads out and support our troops who allow for YOUR freedom. As a veteran, I am disappointed in the bashing that our government is taking. Figure it out.

  3. Sean

    You cannot promote world peace by going to war. Even more so in the morass that is the Middle East. You cannot promote a stable, long-term peace by beating on those who oppose you. You do it by removing their motivation to hate you, not by providing it.

  4. Karmo D. Ville

    I am of the strongest support that the United States change the present regime in Badgdad. Reason being that if the US continue[s] to be too moderate in carrying out those principles of social justice, other nations will likely take advantage and decide to also engage in highly technological advancement that may one day lead us into greater chaos. If all goes well in Iraq as I expect it to, little nations will understand that even in the family there is a leader and definitely, you are suppose[d] to obey that leader as long [as] his quest is in the interest of the vast majority. On the other hand, Saddam Husseim with all the wealth he is accruing from oil, still [keeps the] majority of his people in bondage. I believe that such a person needs to be remove since his leadership is rather a rulership. America has remain the the best teachers of democracy. I do not see anything wrong with America supporting a certain nation at a particular time; I think that is an inborn tendency so long as your interest is embbeded. If you can clearfully study those cases wherein America supported a particular group, you will come to find out that it was at most in the interest of carrying forward their principle of democracy. That is, to free a particular group of people from cruel regimes that were only bend on surpressing the masses. Let us learn to imitate role models rather than feeling sorry for those who, if having the vast power that the United States [has] today, could instead use theirs to damage the world through segregatory practices, thus leading to forcing everybody to live in accordance with and believing in one doctrine.

  5. Petteri

    You are so convinced that US is going around the world freeing people. The Soviet Union was freeing Finland after its independence. For some reason Finnish people were not seeing it as freeing, but as an invasion.

  6. Richard

    I guess the question comes down to whether or not a mistreated dog that unequivocably and unquestioningly loves its cruel and abusive master is better off placed against its will into foster care. Who is to say that the new home would be any better? At least the opportunity for a better life is provided. – RDL

  7. Pablow

    Sean, peace is great. Idealism is wonderful. Unfortunately, in this case, peace must be supported by going to war. I understand how someone might fail to understand such a necessity; however, we are dealing with a nation with a history of killing people who oppose its militant dictatorship (namely the Kurds and the Shiites in the ’80s and ’90s). That is how a dictatorship works, particularly the one in Iraq. (There is a link on one of the major news websites that shows a timeline of Iraqi regimes and their instability before the take over of Sadaam Hussein). That was the reason for the establishment of the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq; to stop the killing of the Kurds and Shiites. Anyway, I think that is sufficient support for showing the insane militant behavior of the current regime in Iraq. Back to the point about peace. We have come to an impass. There is a nation whose dictator openly oppresses its people and prevents uprising. (If you disagree with that statement, see just one article, supposing the Iraqis do not want Saddam out of power is a pretty ridiculous statement, so I don’t suggest making it, however if you do, I can expound further) Inactivity supports the growing strength of a dangerous tyrrany. As you should well know, 17 UN resolutions have yet to address the issue in Iraq. The man knows diplomacy and doesn’t care a bit for it. All it takes for him to slip through these resolutions, is a few lies and a few oil contracts to France/Germany. Not to mention the purchase of weapons from Russia (which is a violation of UN sanctions against Iraq, BTW). How convenient is it that these countries promote the largest opposition to this war? So let’s look at our options. Go to war, remove a dangerous, tyrranical regime, and free the Iraqi people (allowing UN forces patrolling northern and southern Iraq to go home as well as possibly the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia), or make more political actions which Saddam obviously has no respect for. Do you really want to wait until he has nuclear weapons and true leverage to demand whatever he deems necessary from Western nations (not to mention what might happen to [the] Israelis and what the Israelis would do in response), or until more innocent American civilians are killed? (Don’t be stupid and make the argument that Iraqi civilians are dying instead, because they were dying before this, and the number is certainly less that would be if Saddam was able to attack with weapons of mass destruction, and no moron would argue that if there were 2 groups of people dying, that the smaller one would be better, because in this case there is no magical miraculous no-one-dies option) On a final note, we attempted to “remove their motivation to hate us” by creating an oil-for-food program, but what exactly do you expect us to do more than that? Throw money at them? Give them power? THAT is what they dislike about the US, so how do you remove their motivation? Allow a tyrranical dictator to challenge the western world? Give them the technology to do so? What is wrong with freeing an oppressed people so that they may make their own decisions and revolt against their governments and have anti-war protests. (On a side note, I think the 2000-person anti-war protest in Afghanistan is more of an argument for this war than against it because before we liberated Afghanistan they weren’t allowed to have protests.) So, obviously, there is no magical peace option here. This is not a decision of war over peace. So the next time you are about to say that, think about what the choices really are. This conflict is NOT about choosing war over peace. It’s about choosing freedom over oppression.

  8. Richard

    Mostly, I agree. The US is not invading with the primary reasons being humanitarian ones. However, the citizens will eventually benefit. A regime that throws (or threatens to throw) children of its own citizens into whirring helicopter blades in order to force their parents’ cooperation and submission cannot justify its existence in the 21st century. – RDL

    • Sean

      What about a country that forces its citizens into burning buildings and blocks the path of rescue workers? What about a counrty that stands by and does nothing while they do? Do we get to invade Saudi ARabia and Amaerica next?

  9. paul whiting

    Most interesting. Alot of Americans and Brits are happy justifying this action with the argument that the Iraqis are benefiting from this more than anyone and ‘we’ are liberating them. People who talk about the Germans and the Japanese forget that the US refused to help until Pearl Harbour, and even refused to accept Jewish refugees so thats that argument. Am reading a biography about Saddam, not a sympathetic one, which mentions the CIA fund revolution in 1963, following which Bechtel were awarded a nice juicy contract. Guess who got a nice juicy contract last week ? Yup, Bechtel. The US (and others) have been playing Iraq (and others) for decades now. 9/11 was just a result of US interference. And the information flow to the general public means that they sit there thinking that our countries were right to do what they did but there isnt any excuse for this. No ‘defence of our people’, because there still are no chemical weapons, no ‘freeing the iraqis’ because there was no desire to protect them ever. If that were the case then what about China who we love so much despite their horrific human rights record. Regime change was just a smokescreen for another move to economically exploit a weaker country. However, just like 9/11, there will be a come uppance, and I hope I’m somewhere safe when it happens. We’ll see how long the troops stay in Iraq, we’ll see if they decide to execute ‘regime change’ in Syria and we’ll see how many Americans who opposed this war before it started revert to their anti war stance once they realise this was a ruse to line a few evil old båstård’s pockets (Rumsfeld is an evil looking old båstård). I hate when our soldiers have to go out and die for these båstårds to make more money. I’m afraid those of us who believe we were doing anyone a favour are really just asking to be told bedtime stories. Go out and do your own research, the truth is out there ;o) Fox Mulder

  10. michael klingensmith

    i believe that going to war for peace has many advantages and disadvatages. i am only 16 and I am supporting our troops, the troops that are dying for us. the people who dont support those troops are being selfish. put yourself in their position. if you were out in a foreign country and your comerades are dying and you heard that your friends at home are not supporting you and saying things like this is an effortless fight, how would that make you feel?

  11. DeWayne

    Prior to 1979 the Oil Cartel (prim. US Corp’s) were bleeding Iran of oil. In 1979 dictator Shaw developed cancer, dying in 1980, causing the Iran front-gov to collapse (we had reinstalled SOB in 1950s along with SAVAK Secret Police after Shaw was ousted in elections). President Reagan (1982) as front for the Oil Cartel then took Iraq off US “Terrorist Supporting Nation” list that was an effective Embargo of WMD-sales. Reagan/Bush also instrumental in Saddam getting many US-Corp Bio-Agent strains (for health reasons?). We even shipped US Agri-surplus to Iraq, which Saddam sold to enlarge his military (largest of Arab nations). Reagan & Bush then provided Top-Secret spy plane-satelite data, sitting back and watching Saddam poison-gas Iran (and) Iraq Villages of people. Our government then stopping by veto a UN investigation of this atrocity. This is a trend of Reagan/Bush bunch, who also stopped US-gov and UN from putting an Embargo on Aparthied (look it up). What the warmongers want everyone to forget, is that Saddam as with Muslim-Mujihadeem (Freedom Fighters) were essentially (every enemy) they today want our young children to die fighting. Does anyone remember the (pre-emptive) war to prevent “Mushroom Clouds?” Couldn’t call it a Police Action, now could we?

  12. Sean

    “peace must be supported by going to war” OK, can anyone actually explain to me how you do that? As for your other points, I’m sure many of the people in Iraq want Saddam out of power and support him only because they fear him. But I’m not convinced our invading a soverign nation is the best way to deal with this. (And let’s be honest. “Iraqi Freedom” is not the reason we went to war.) “Inactivity supports the growing strength of a dangerous tyrrany” but there WERE activities going on. Sure, searching and inspecting aren’t as much fun or as quick as dropping bombs. But they’re certanly cheaper and less destructive, aren’t they? And I could absolutely make the argument that Iraqi civilians are dying. Are you truly suggesting it is better for us to kill 100 so Saddam won’t kill 1000? What if we could prevent the 1000 without having to kill the 100? Wouldn’t THAT be a better option? And, finally, it is ABSOLUTELY a decision about war over peace. I suggest that the next time you are about to say there is no choice but war that you think about about it. Check your basic assumptions. Make sure you’re not starting part way down a path of thought. Too many people are NOT thinking this through, opting instead for the easier route of starting with square 5 by which point there really does seem to be only one path ahead.


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