Saddam Hussein, Donald Rumsfeld,
and the Golden Spurs
An interview with Jeremy
by David Ross
Z magazine, November 2002
Jeremy Scahill is an investigative journalist
who has recently written an article called "The Saddam in
Rumsfeld's Closet." He is a co-producer of "Democracy
Now," a nationally syndicated radio show. He has also provided
reports from East Timor, Yugoslavia, and Iraq for "Free Speech
Radio News" and "Democracy Now."
DAVID ROSS: You've recently posted an
article at zmag.org and counterpunch.org called "The Saddam
in Rumsfeld's Closet." Can you start from the top and explain
what you found in your research?
JEREMY SCAHILL: An article came out in
the New York Times on August 18 detailing what it calls an American
covert program during the 1980s that helped Iraq plan battles
at a time when U.S. intelligence indicated Iraq would use chemical
weapons against Iran. This follows my article on August 2 called
The Saddam in Rumsfeld's Closet, in which I wrote about the relationship
between Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld, the current U.S. Defense
Secretary. You have to go back some 20-plus years, to a time when
Ronald Reagan was president and the Iran-lraq war was escalating
dramatically. The United States was giving aid and weapons to
both Iran and Iraq with the understanding, as Henry Kissinger
put it, "that it's best to let them kill each other off,"
and, "oil is too valuable a commodity to be left in the hands
of the Arabs."
The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979
shook the foundations of power in Washington so the United States
began actively backing Iraq. In 1982, Ronald Reagan moved to take
Iraq off the list of nations that sponsored terrorism. That allowed
a floodgate of U.S. "aid" to go into Iraq. The Reagan
administration was actively encouraging manufacturers to sell
to Iraq and Saddam Hussein was aggressively buying everything
he could get his hands on from the United States. That included
the sale of helicopters that had been "demilitarized."
Ronald Reagan dispatched his special envoy
to Iraq with a hand-written letter from Reagan to be given to
Saddam Hussein, with a clear message that what Washington wanted
was to restore normal relations. They had been severed in 1967
during the Arab-lsraeli War. Iraq broke them off in protest of
So when this envoy arrived in Baghdad,
not only did he have a hand-written letter, but he also gave Saddam
Hussein a pair of golden cowboy spurs, as a present from Ronald
Reagan. He shook Saddam's hand, called him "Mr. President,"
and had a meeting that the Iraqi foreign ministry described at
the time as being about "topics of mutual interest."
That envoy, who began the process of restoring relations between
Washington and Iraq, a man who stood with Saddam Hussein in 1983,
was Donald Rumsfeld, the current U.S. Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld
was in Iraq as the U.S. was aggressively selling to Iraq, and
just a short time after that visit, some allegations started to
emerge about Iraq's use and possession of chemical weapons.
On March 5, 1984 (Rumsfeld's visit was
in 1983), the U.S. State Department issued a public alert, saying
that it had evidence that Iraq was using chemical weapons against
Iranian solders. A couple weeks after that report came out, Rumsfeld
was back in Baghdad, meeting with Tariq Aziz, then Iraqi Foreign
Minister. The day that Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad, the United
Nations issued a report saying that a team of UN scientists on
the ground in the front lines of the Iran-lraq war had determined
that chemical weapons had been used multiple times against Iranian
Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad when the
United Nations had said yes, we have proof from our scientists
that chemical weapons had been used against Iran and Rumsfeld
said nothing. He was in the prime position to address the alleged
Iraqi threat when it first emerged.
DR - According to an article in Covert
Action Quarterly a number of years ago, the U.S. government provided
the elements for Saddam's chemical weapons through the U.S. Agricultural
JS - Not only that, it was at a time when
the Reagan administration was faced with the prospect that the
American economy was in trouble and so he viewed the wealthy economy
of Iraq as an open market for U.S. corporations. It wasn't so
much a covert thing, there were companies in Maryland selling
components that were used to make chemical weapons. It wasn't
just the United States. It was German, French, and British companies-all
of the major western powers in Europe and the Western hemisphere
were bolstering Saddam Hussein's military capacity.
Western so-called democracies were major
supporters of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program. You can
also find receipts on the Internet from U.S. companies that sold
these chemical components to Iraq.
The whole story of U.S. sales to Iraq
was openly talked about under the Reagan administration and at
the beginning of Bush, the Elder's administration. It wasn't something
that Washington was ashamed of. Remember, Saddam Hussein was considered
an SOB, but he was considered Washington's SOB.
DR - Why does the U.S. government want
to attack Iraq again ?
JS - When I was in Iraq this past May
and June, Iraq celebrated the 30th anniversary of its nationalization
of foreign oil companies. They celebrated it with a jolting announcement,
if you're an oil dictator in Washington. The country's oil minister,
Mohamed Rashid, announced on national television in Iraq (and
it was something that was carried all over the Arab world on al
Jazeerra and other outlets) that Iraq was going to begin oil exploitation
in two of the largest untapped oil and natural gas reserves in
the world-two fields in Iraq: one called West Qurnan and the other
called Majnun. These two fields had been allocated to two companies,
one a French and one a Russian company, but because of U.S. pressure
and U.S. sanctions, the Russians and the French never began drilling
in those oil fields.
So Iraq was not going to wait for the
Russians and the French to stand up to America. It was not going
to wait for a time when the sanctions were lifted. Iraq said that
they could nearly double their oil production in the next three
years. Iraq could theoretically surpass Saudi Arabia as the number
one producer of oil in the world. Already they're number two and
they're under economic sanctions.
Saudi Arabia, which is now being attacked
in the U.S. press by the government, has an enormous border with
Iraq. If that border was erased and the U. S. controlled those
two countries-the U.S. would control the world oil markets. Saudi
Arabia is now saying it doesn't want to provide the U.S. the use
of its airbases or its territories to attack Iraq. It's one of
the countries that is leading Iraq's normalization within the
Another reason is the way in which Iraq
has completely normalized relations with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and other nations throughout Africa. The
trend in the Middle East is to say, "Yes, Saddam Hussein
is a dictator; yes, he's a ruthless tyrant, but the people of
Iraq deserve to live."
So what the United States has done to
punish countries like Saudi Arabia is to begin floating stories
about how the Saudis support terrorism, how the Saudis are the
biggest enemy of America in the region. There was a meeting of
the Defense Policy Review Board, which is an advisory clique to
Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, headed by Richard Perle. They had a
meeting around mid-July and the story came out in the beginning
of August in which the RAND Corporation did a briefing on Saudi
Arabia, calling it the greatest threat to America in that region.
The United States is using the Iraq example
almost like a crucifix at the gates of Rome, to say that, if you
defy the empire, if you stand up against America, you will pay
a price, like the 5,000 to 6,000 Iraqi children who die every
month. Iraq is the crucifix of the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia
is aware of that, so I think it will be interesting to watch what
countries participate in a U.S. attack. Just in late June, new
satellite imagery was published by globalsecurity.org that showed
that the U.S. was building a massive air base and central command
center in Qatar. That's because the Prince Sultan Air Base has
been declared off limits by the Saudis to use as a base from which
to launch an attack on Iraq, so the U.S. is moving all of its
operations to Qatar and that will, I would imagine, become the
staging grounds for the attack.
DR - Whoever controls the oil of the world,
controls the world, basically. Is that true ?
JS - During the Yugoslavian bombing a
lot of people on the Left in America wanted to focus on the importance
of the Caspian Sea, which is one of the single greatest reserves
of natural gas in the world. There were plans to build a pipeline
through Yugoslavia, particularly Kosovo. While I think oil played
a significant factor in the Yugoslavia bombing, one has to be
much more cynical in analyzing U.S. foreign policy. Dominating
oil is a central aim of U.S. interests, but it's not the only
What the United Sates is doing right now
with its policy in Iraq, as well as in Palestine, is attempting
to create utter chaos in the Middle East. Look, if Saddam Hussein
takes a bullet in the head, which I think is extremely unlikely,
or is overthrown in a military coup or is hit by a "lucky
strike" by a U.S. missile, do you think that everyone in
Iraq is going to somehow rally behind whoever assumes power'?
The people in Washington-either they're incredibly ignorant of
the religious, ethnic, communal, and tribal makeup of Iraq, or
they're trying to create a massive bloody civil war in Iraq, on
top of what will undoubtedly be a large U.S. bombing campaign
In Iraq, you have three million members
of the Ba'ath party, Saddam's political party. Those people are
going to be attacked by their neighbors. There's going to be communal
violence. We saw that in 1991, when Bush the elder told the Shiite
Moslems in the south of Iraq after the Gulf War, to rise up against
Saddam Hussein. They slaughtered, tortured, hung, and executed
hundreds of people from the Ba'ath party in a three-day blitzkrieg.
Afterwards, Saddam Hussein's forces mercilessly crushed that rebellion
as Norman Schwarzkopf and his forces stood by.
If Saddam Hussein is taken out, there
will be numerous warlords of sorts, either generals, clan leaders,
or tribal leaders, who will be engaged in power grabbing and will
also threaten the stability of Saudi Arabia and potentially Kuwait.
Iran is very nervous about the prospect of Saddam Hussein being
assassinated or killed, even though Iran has actively tried to
get rid of him for many years.
DR - During Bush I rule, the U.S. government
destroyed the public infrastructure of Iraq. What sort of human
toll have these sanctions had on the people of Iraq?
JS - These sanctions are unprecedented
in world history. Never has a country been put under such severe
economic sanctions as Iraq has lived under for the last 12 years.
Iraq was a very modern country prior to the U.S. massacre that's
now referred to as the Gulf War, where the water treatment facilities
were targeted, where the entire public infrastructure of Iraq
At the time when there was proof, according
to Washington, which there isn't now, that Iraq had, or was using,
chemical weapons, our government had no problem. They would sell
Iraq anything they wanted. Now, Rumsfeld has provided us with
no evidence. Bush has provided us with no evidence, and they're
banning the sale of vitamin K. It's unconscionable.
DR - What can people do to stop the sanctions
on Iraq and the threatened invasion by the U.S. government?
JS - There are a number of things people
can do. I'm not a big fan of lobbying Congress. I think it's like
urinating in the ocean and hoping to find the urine somewhere
else again someday. It's not going to happen. But the tact of
the matter is, that Congress right now-not everyone, despite how
it looks in the media, is on board with this. In particular, the
members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should be targeted
and called and asked to hold honest and open hearings in which
people like Dennis Halliday, the former head of the UN humanitarian
program in Iraq, is called to testify. Also people like Hans Von
Sponeck, the person who followed and also who resigned his position
h, protest, calling the sanctions genocide.
The other is to get involved with groups
like the Iraq Peace Team. This is a coalition of groups spearheaded
by Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago based anti-sanctions
group. They are organizing delegations right now, going to Iraq-Americans,
British, people from all over the world-taking up residence in
anticipation of a U.S. attack on Iraq, to say "we are going
to stand with the Iraqi people if the United States attacks."
Also on Voices of the Wilderness website there's a great number
of resources and suggested actions people can take.
DR - Is there anything else you'd like
to add ?
JS - One of the things that's interesting
is why do articles like the one in the New York Times and in other
papers appear at this time? Why is it that people within the Pentagon,
who I'm sure have no problem with war and bombing, are very nervous
about what the Bush administration is doing?
What that indicates to me is that not
all is well in Washington. I think that it's very important to
connect the dots and ask why is it that some of the top people
in the military are leaking to the media war plans that are being
discussed in Washington? Is the use of a nuclear bomb being discussed?
Quite possibly. Israel is talking about it openly, saying, "If
the U.S. attacks Iraq, Israel will be a good soldier."
Shamon Perez, the Israeli foreign minister
who's referred to as a moderate, was on CNN this fall, saying
that the U.S. is waiting too long to attack Iraq and also saying
that if Iraq hits Israel with anything-a scud missile, a conventional
weapon-not nuclear, biological or chemical-Israel will consider
dropping a nuclear bomb on Iraq. I think the most likely country
to use a nuclear weapon in the next five years is not the United
States and it's certainly not Iraq. I think it's Israel.
People need to be very concerned about
Sharon that the U.S. has bolstered and built up. He has 200 nuclear
weapons and has his people on national and international TV threatening
to use them against Iraq. Bill Clinton has said, "If the
Iraqi army crosses the Jordan River, I'll die for Israel."
What is going on in this country? Why is everyone running to this
war game right now with this unquestioning support for Israel,
who is threatening to use nuclear weapons'? Can you imagine if
an Arab country threatened to use a nuclear weapon in a regional
conflict what would happen? It's incredible.
David Ross does a talk show on KMUD radio
in Redway, CA. He has worked on the Nader campaign, corporate
accountability, U.S. imperialism, and environmental issues.