Neil Mackay and Felicity Arbuthnot
Reports by the USA Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs - which oversees American exports policy - reveal that the USA, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.
The USA is the world’s greatest stockpiler and developer of weapons of mass destruction.
Classified USA Defense Department documents also seen by the Sunday Herald show that Britain sold Iraq the drug pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas, in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf war. Pralidoxine can be reverse engineered to create nerve gas. The Senate committee’s reports on ‘USA Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual-Use Exports to Iraq’, undertaken in 1992 in the wake of the Gulf war, give the date and destination of all USA exports. The reports show, for example, that on May 2, 1986, two batches of bacillus anthracis—the micro-organism that causes anthrax—were shipped to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education, along with two batches of the bacterium clostridium botulinum, the agent that causes deadly botulism poisoning.
One batch each of salmonella and E coli were shipped to the Iraqi State Company for Drug Industries on August 31, 1987. Other shipments went from the USA to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission on July 11, 1988 the Department of Biology at the University of Basra in November 1989 the Department of Microbiology at Baghdad University in June 1985 the Ministry of Health in April 1985 and Officers’ City, a military complex in Baghdad, in March and April 1986. The shipments to Iraq went on even after Saddam Hussein ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja, in which at least 5000 men, women and children died. The atrocity, which shocked the world, took place in March 1988, but a month later the components and materials of weapons of mass destruction were continuing to arrive in Baghdad from the US.
The Senate report also makes clear that: ‘The United States provided the government of Iraq with ‘dual use’ licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-system programs.’ This assistance, according to the report, included ‘chemical warfare-agent precursors, chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings, chemical warfare filling equipment, biological warfare-related materials, missile fabrication equipment and missile system guidance equipment’.
Donald Riegle, then chairman of the committee, said: ‘UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and [established] that these items were used to further Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programs.’ Riegle added that, between January 1985 and August 1990, the ‘executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think that is a devastating record’.
It is thought the information contained in the Senate committee reports is likely to make up much of the ‘evidence of proof’ that Bush and Blair will reveal in the coming days to justify the USA and Britain going to war with Iraq. It is unlikely, however, that the two leaders will admit it was the Western powers that armed Saddam with these weapons of mass destruction. However, Bush and Blair will also have to prove that Saddam still has chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities. This looks like a difficult case to clinch in view of the fact that Scott Ritter, the UN’s former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, says the United Nations destroyed most of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and doubts that Saddam could have rebuilt his stocks by now.
According to Ritter, between 90% and 95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were destroyed by the UN. He believes the remainder were probably used or destroyed during ‘the ravages of the Gulf War’. Ritter has described himself as a ‘card-carrying Republican’ who voted for George W Bush. Nevertheless, he has called the president a ‘liar’ over his claims that Saddam Hussein is a threat to America. Ritter has also alleged that the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons emits certain gases, which would have been detected by satellite. ‘We have seen none of this,’ he insists. ‘If Iraq was producing weapons today, we would have definitive proof.’ He also dismisses claims that Iraq may have a nuclear weapons capacity or be on the verge of attaining one, saying that gamma-particle atomic radiation from the radioactive materials in the warheads would also have been detected by western surveillance.
The UN’s former co-ordinator in Iraq and former UN under-secretary general, Count Hans von Sponeck, has also told the Sunday Herald that he believes the West is lying about Iraq’s weapons program. Von Sponeck visited the Al-Dora and Faluja factories near Baghdad in 1999 after they were ‘comprehensively trashed’ on the orders of UN inspectors, on the grounds that they were suspected of being chemical weapons plants. He returned to the site late in July this year, with a German TV crew, and said both plants were still wrecked. ‘We filmed the evidence of the dishonesty of the claims that they were producing chemical and biological weapons,’ von Sponeck has told the Sunday Herald. ‘They are indeed in the same destroyed state which we witnessed in 1999. There was no trace of any resumed activity at all.’
Neil Mackay is Home Affairs Editor at the Sunday Herald. Felicity Arbuthnot is a freelance journalist, who has specialised on the crisis in Iraq since the end of the last Gulf War.