The NewRepublic

March 17, 2003

How Paris Armed Saddam





Kenneth R. Timmerman

In recent weeks, the normally somnolent United Nations has becomethe scene of furious bargaining and arm-twisting over a potentialsecond resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq. And,as followers of the United Nations know, while Washington has triedto line up support for the resolution, primary opposition has comefrom France. French officials have vowed that Paris is committed todisarming Iraq, though France prefers to continue with weaponsinspectors rather than to utilize force. "Together and in peace, wemust keep strong pressure on Iraq to attain the objective we haveset: the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," FrenchPresident Jacques Chirac said this week. Yet, while Paris claims itwants to disarm Iraq, France actually has continued arming SaddamHussein's regime &endash; right up to the present day. France isresponsible for nearly 25 percent of Iraq's imports, trade worthnearly $1.5 billion to French companies. The antiwar movement makesconsiderable hay of America's support of Saddam during the 1980s.What they overlook is that France has been providing equipment withmilitary uses to Baghdad for years.

It's no secret that France has significant oil interests in Iraq.According to Richard Perle, who heads the Pentagon's unofficialAdvisory Defense Policy Board, the French national oil giantTotalFinaElf recently negotiated a contract with Baghdad to expandIraq's huge southern oil fields worth an estimated $40 to $60billion. That contract can only come to fruition if Saddam remains inpower. "One can suspect that there is something there; that inbetween the real value of the contract and the cash value of thatcontract there is a certain amount of political support," Perle says."It's entirely possible that Saddam negotiated that deal because hethought that along with the revenues . . . . he'd get somethingelse."

TotalFinaElf has not publicly announced the deal mentioned byPerle, yet a former Iraqi trade official who recently defected toldme that Baghdad was seeking "to reward France through lucrative oilcontracts" for its political support. He also pointed out that Iraqiintermediaries regularly arranged payment from French oil companiesunder the U.N.'s oil-for-food program and that these oil firms sendsome of the cash to Saddam's inner circle. "Ten percent of contractvalue is regularly kicked back to Saddam Hussein and his sons, Udayand Qusay, for use in purchasing equipment for their illicit weaponsprograms," he said.

Worse than oil deals, Iraq turns to France for telecommunicationsproducts, pesticides, and other items ostensibly imported to rebuildIraq's civilian infrastructure but which cold be used for Iraqiweapons programs. Since 1997, the U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme(OIP) has catalogued Iraq's foreign contract in a database that showsa wealth of French deals.

For instance, a review of export-license applications cataloguedby the OIP reveals that, over the past four years, Frenchtelecommunications giant Alcatel has signed contracts worth more than$65 million to upgrade Iraq's fiber optic infrastructure, whichAmerican intelligence complains helps Baghdad evade electroniceavesdropping. During the Gulf war, most of Saddam's militarycommunications were carried over microwave relays, or more simply byradio, and were easily tapped by American intelligence from afar. Butfiber-optic landlines must be physically tapped into by agents on theground, putting these agents at serious risk. Fiber optics,accordingly, would provide the Iraqi regime with better security overits operational planning, allowing Saddam to more easily relay hisorders to commanders in the field in the event of war.

Over the same time period, many other French companies have madethe pilgrimage to Baghdad. French firms have supplied specializedpumps and other equipment that could potentially be sued for Iraq'scentrifuge or uranium-enrichment programs. Indeed, an October 2001intelligence analysis by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratoryindicated that Iraq was importing large quantities of equipment fromFrance and elsewhere that was specially coated to allow it to be usedwith highly corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas, which is used inuranium enrichment.

Meanwhile, French automakers Renault and Peugeot have signed dealsto supply Iraq with trucks, including tractor-trailers, that can bemodified and used to launch Scud missiles. The medical company KarlStorz Endoscopic France S.A. has inked a contract to sell Iraqlithotripsy machines, which can be used for treating kidney stones.But these machines also employ a high-speed krytron switch similar tothose used to trigger nuclear warheads, and, according to publishedreports, Baghdad sought to import an additional 120 "spare" krytronsthat might then be utilized in military programs. Indeed, former Iraqofficials say that an Iraqi intermediary named Faiz Nahab, who nowlives in Britain, has repeatedly sought to import banned equipmentfor Iraq's weapons programs under the guise of medical devices.

Given the potential dual use of items like the lithotripsymachines, the United States, using its power over sanctions on Iraq,has placed a hold on the Karl Storz deal. That deal, unfortunately,is hardly unique. A recent $40 million contract with the Frenchsubsidiary of the German company Siemens to supply unspecified"engineering services" to Iraq was put on hold by the Americanmission at the United Nations because of its potential to feeddirectly into Iraq's proscribed weapons programs. In fact, Washingtonhas placed holds on 93 French contracts because of their potential tobe utilized in producing weapons of mass destruction. Many times,including in the case of Karl Storz, the French government has simplyturned around and resubmitted similar contracts to the UnitedNations, which have gone through.

In private, French officials vigorously deny that commercialmotives are driving their alliance with Germany against using forceto disarm Iraq. Yet, even as the drums of war beat louder and theworld focuses on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, French firmshave continued their potentially dangerous trade with Baghdad.According to OIP information, in 2002 French agricultural-equipmentsupplies Dow AgroSciences and Levant Overseas Development Ltd.,signed deals providing Iraq with pesticides, a catchall category ofchemicals that American officials and nonproliferation experts pointout includes chemicals that are direct precursors of chemicalweapons.

If Iraq's past behavior is any guide, even more dangerouscontracts signed in secret may come out in the wake of a conflictwith the United States. Which is one more reason Paris would preferSaddam remain in power.


Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for INSIGHT magazine andauthor of the DEATH LOBBY: HOW THE WEST ARMED IRAQ