By Larry Everest
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice recently told the BBC, “There is a very powerful moral case for regime change” in Iraq. On Thursday at the United Nations, President Bush made a similar case for an attack on Iraq, calling liberty for Iraqis a “great moral cause” and justifying a regime change on the grounds that “Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980” and “gassed many Iranians and 40 Iraqi villages.”
Future U.S. actions against Iraq will be guided by many considerations. We must not deceive ourselves that “morality” is one of them. During the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, the United States was deeply complicit both in Iraq’s invasion and its gas attacks.
Over almost a decade, the United States gave Iraq about $5 billion in aid and encouraged allies to provide it with billions worth of arms, including technology reportedly used in plants making mustard and nerve gas. According to a 1994 Senate Committee Report, U.S. firms also supplied Iraq with biological materials, including anthrax, botulism and E. coli bacteria.
On April 14, 1980 five months before Iraq’s invasion Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security advisor, signaled U.S. willingness to work with Iraq: “We see no fundamental incompatibility of interests between the United States and Iraq.”
According to Abul Hassan Bani-Sadr, then Iran’s president, Brzezinski met directly with Saddam Hussein in Jordan two months before the Iraqi assault. Journalist Robert Parry reported that in a secret 1981 memo, Secretary of State Al Haig noted, “It was also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.” Fhad was Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and is now king.
After Iraq’s invasion, the United States opposed punitive U.N. sanctions. Within two years it was directly aiding Iraq. “In the spring of 1982, Iraq teetered on the brink of losing its war with Iran,” stated Howard Teicher, a staff member to the Reagan National Security Council in a 1995 court affidavit. He said President Reagan decided to do “whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.”
Teicher said Washington provided Iraq with intelligence, advice and billions in credits, and made sure other countries helped supply weapons.
The U.S. military was complicit in Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish rebels. In August, the New York Times reported that a team of more than 60 officers from the Defense Intelligence Agency ”provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war.”
In 1986, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had been giving Iraq intelligence it used to “calibrate” its mustard gas attacks. Some 50,000 Iranians were killed or wounded by Iraqi gas warfare.
One DIA officer told the Times that the Pentagon “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas. It was just another way of killing people whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference.”
While aiding Iraq, the U.S. was also secretly encouraging Israel to ship arms to Iran, and then began directly supplying the Islamic Republic with U.S. weapons in 1985 as part of the infamous Iran-Contra affair.
In February 1986, Iran captured Iraq’s Fao Peninsula, scoring a major victory. In 1987, the New York Times reported that Iraqi officials believed that their defeat “was due to faulty U.S. intelligence.” Iraq detected Iranian troop movements, an Iraqi official said, but the United States “kept on telling us that the Iranian attack was not aimed against Fao.”
Indeed, the Times reported that “American intelligence agencies provided Iran and Iraq with deliberately distorted or inaccurate intelligence data in recent years.” The motive was captured in the headline: “Keeping Either Side From Winning.”
By mid-1986, the United States feared Iraq might lose, and its backroom dealings with Iran had collapsed. Washington increased aid to Iraq, encouraged it to “step up its air war” on Iranian cities, and directly intervened in the Gulf by reflagging Kuwaiti tankers and engaging Iranian vessels. It was during this time that a U.S. Navy vessel shot down an Iranian passenger jet, killing all 290 passengers aboard in an incident Washington called accidental.
In 1988-89, following an Iraqi gas attack that killed some 5,000 Kurds at Halabja an event Bush referred to at the United Nations U.S. aid to Iraq actually increased. In 1991, intelligence sources told the Los Angeles Times that American-supplied helicopters had been used in such chemical attacks.
President Bush appears on the road to another war, which in all likelihood will cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis. The U.S. record in the Gulf including its intimacy with the Hussein regime during the 1980s demonstrates that this war’s motives will include oil and empire, but certainly not morality.
Everest is author of “Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre.” He traveled to Iraq in 1991 and shot the video “Iraq: War Against the People.”