Saddam's Hidden History
by Joel Bleifuss
In These Times magazine,
Saddam Hussein's career as a world political
figure is over; and a good thing that is. Yet with all the hoopla
surrounding the capture, one would never know that the Iraqi president
was once a dependable American ally.
Almost all of the instant histories that
filled the news pages and the airwaves after his capture ignored
the documented fact that throughout the '80s, Saddam was a key
U.S. ally in the Middle East. Consider the following:
* In 1959 the CIA put Saddam Hussein on
its covert operations payroll. The CIA wanted to assassinate then-lraqi
Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim, who was buying weapons
from the Soviet Union and putting Iraqi communists in positions
of power. To that end, the agency hired Saddam, then 22, and five
other men. The hit failed because Saddam began firing too soon,
wounding Qasim and killing his driver.
Qasim finally met his end in a Ba'ath
party coup in 1963. After the coup, the CIA provided the anti-communist
Ba'athists with a list of suspected communists, who were rounded
up and executed en masse. A former CIA official told the United
Press International's Richard Sale: "It was a bit like the
mysterious killing of Iran's communists just after Ayatollah Khomeini
came to power in 1979. A11 4,000 of his communists suddenly got
* On September 22, 1980, Iraq, under the
leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran, beginning a war that
lasted eight years and left an estimated 1 million dead. In April
1981, then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig visited the Middle
East and upon his return wrote a debriefing paper for President
Ronald Reagan in which he said, "It was also interesting
to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light
to launch the war against Iran through [Saudi then-Prince, now-King]
(Haig's notes, marked "top secret,"
were discovered by investigative reporter Robert Parry in the
documents from a congressional investigation into the Reagan administration's
contacts with Iran. They can be viewed at www.consortiumnews.com,
a Web site Parry founded. As a correspondent for The Associated
Press and Newsweek in the '80s, Parry broke many of the stories
now known as the Iran-Contra Affair. His chronicle of Saddam's
relationship with the United States, "Missing U.S.-lraq History,"
can be read at www.inthesetimes.com.)
* In 1982, the Reagan administration,
though officially neutral, began to fear an Iranian victory. In
a 1995 affidavit in a federal criminal court case, Howard Teicher,
a one-time member of Reagan's National Security Council staff,
said that in 1982 he helped draft a secret National Security Decision
Directive, signed by Reagan, to provide covert support to Iraq.
Teicher wrote, "The CIA, including
both CIA Director [William] Casey and Deputy Director [Robert]
Gates, knew of, approved of and assisted in the sale of non-U.S.-origin
military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq." The Reagan
administration also began providing Saddam Hussein's military
with satellite photos of the battlefield and dual-use technology
that Iraq used to build chemical and biological weapons. And the
Reagan administration allowed Iraq to buy computer software that
Saddam could use to track political opponents.
At a Senate hearing on September 19, 2002,
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.V.) asked Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld: "Did the United States help Iraq to acquire the
building blocks of biological weapons during the Iran-lraq war?
Are we in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we
have sown?" Rumsfeld, who was Reagan's special envoy to the
Middle East in 1983 and 1984 and who met personally with Saddam
on December 20, 1983, replied that he had "no knowledge"
of such U.S. assistance. Was that a lie?
The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs, after
poring through thousands of unclassified government documents,
wrote in a December 30, 2002, article: "The administrations
of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq
of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications,
including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such
as anthrax and bubonic plague."
* In 1986, then Vice President George
H.W. Bush encouraged Saddam, through Arab intermediaries, to strike
Iran harder, according to a November 2, 1992 New Yorker story
by Murray Waas and Craig Unger. Indeed, that year, the Iraqi air
force began to bomb civilian neighborhoods in Tehran and other
cities. The United States allegedly desired an intensified bombing
to make Iran more dependent on U.S. supplies of anti-aircraft
parts to defend their cities. Such spare parts were an integral
part of the Reagan administration's illegal arms-for-hostages
deal with Iran.
In his 1995 affidavit, Teicher wrote,
"In 1986, President Reagan sent a secret message to Saddam
Hussein telling him that Iraq should step up its air war and bombing
of Iran. This message was delivered by Vice President Bush, who
communicated it to Egyptian President Mubarak, who in turn passed
the message to Saddam Hussein." The Clinton administration
declared that Teicher's affidavit was false and then promptly
classified it as a state secret.
* In 1988 it became known that Saddam
Hussein had used his chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in the
town of Halabja. In response, a number of senators, including
Al Gore (D-Tenn.), introduced the "Prevention of Genocide
Act of 1988," which sought to impose sanctions against Iraq.
The act passed the Senate unanimously, but the Reagan White House
killed the bill in the House. Peter Galbraith, the former ambassador
to Croatia who worked in the Senate as an Iraq expert at the time,
wrote in the
Boston Globe Magazine: "Secretary
of State Colin Powell was then the national security adviser who
orchestrated Ronald Reagan's decision to give Hussein a pass for
gassing the Kurds. Dick Cheney, then a prominent Republican congressman
and now vice president and the Bush administration's leading Iraq
hawk, could have helped push the sanctions legislation but did
* In 1990, with Iraq's economy devastated
by the war with Iran, Saddam invaded Kuwait-but only after consulting
with the Bush administration. The State Department informed Saddam
that Washington had "no special defense or security commitments
to Kuwait." And later, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told
Saddam, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like
your border disagreement with Kuwait." Foreign Policy, in
its January-February 2003 issue noted that the "United States
may not have intended to give Iraq a green light, but that is
effectively what it did."