The Iran Brief®

Policy, Trade & Strategic Affairs

An investigative tool for business executives, government, and the media.

The Death Lobby: How the West ArmedIraq

by KennethR. Timmerman

Copyright © 1991 by Kenneth R. Timmerman. All rightsreserved.

Epilogue: How Prevent Another Iraq


It became clear once the guns fell silent from Operation DesertThunder that the Allies had put a severe check on Saddam's ambitions,but they had not blocked them altogether. Many more tanks, aircraft,and chemical weapons survived the Allied onslaught than hadoriginally been thought. Key Republican Guards units were kept inBaghdad to protect the regime's survival and fight another day. WhenSaddam wheeled around and ruthlessly suppressed Kurdish and Shiiterebellions in the north and south of Iraq, he had more than enoughweapons to do the job, including hundreds of tons of the deadlychemicals the Allies victoriously claimed they had destroyed on thefirst day of the war. The phosphoric acid and other chemical agentsthat the Iraqi helicopters dumped on the rebels had been manufacturedat a buried factory near Akashat and stored in secret undergrounddepots, thanks to German companies. The massacre was so ruthless thatmore than one million Kurdish civilians fled for their lives. Theypreferred to face uncertainty and hardship up in the mountains thanface certain death at the hands of Saddam.

One reason the Pentagon and the White House were caught short bySaddam Hussein's success against the rebels was purely technical.Bomb damage assessments and KH-11 satellite photographs showed thatthe Allied bombing campaign had almost totally destroyed Iraq's threemajor oil refineries, at Baiji, Daura, and Basra. Iraq couldn't turnits tanks and helicopters on the rebels, Joint Chiefs Chairman ColinPowell told President Bush, for one simple reason: they were out ofgas.

But Powell was wrong, and President Bush knew it. Or at least, heshould have. For many months, the Pentagon had been tracking theactivities of Iraq's western suppliers of dual-use technology, andhad compiled an extensive list of the sophisticated weapons plantsand other militarily useful facilities those companies had built inIraq. They knew, for instance, that Marubeni of Japan had suppliedSaddam with hundreds of buried fuel storage tanks which had escapedAllied bombardment, while a Franco-Italian petrochemicals consortiumhad built an entire underground diesel fuel plant just twenty milesaway from the heavily damaged Baiji refinery which was still capableof transforming an additional 31,000 barrels of oil each day intofuel for Iraqi tanks and helicopters. Kurdish refugees and Shiitevillagers thank the companies that built these plants--and theGermans who supplied Saddam Hussein's poison gas works--every day.

General Brent Scowcroft, the President's National SecurityAdvisor, told Jewish leaders in Washington on March 5 that thePentagon began to realize during the air campaign against Iraq thatit was facing a far more sophisticated enemy than originally thought."We'd knock out a command and control facility, and the next day we'dfind that another one had take its place. We'd hit that one, and he'dhave yet another backup," Scowcroft said. "The incredible expense andplanning he has put into building up his military capability isawesome."

Iraq was prepared to fight a major war well before it invadedKuwait, Scowcroft said. It had stockpiled heavy equipment inbomb-proof shelters deep underground. From French, German, andJapanese companies, Iraq had purchased massive quantities of"civilian" telecommunications gear which was used with great successby the Iraqi military. When the Allies moved into southern Iraq, theydiscovered thousands of miles of fiber optics communications cablesburied on both sides of the Euphrates, and dozens of automaticswitching units. (This equipment was so sophisticated that it wasbanned for export from Eastern European countries such asCzechoslovakia, but not to Iraq). Thanks to specialized softwareprovided by a major European defense telecommunications firm, SaddamHussein could still transmit orders to his commanders in the southdespite the heavy Allied bombardment. When the Allies started to movein on the ground, Saddam told his commanders to move out. The motherof all battles would be fought another day.

Scowcroft took great pains to explain why the Allied bombingcampaign had lasted so long (40 days and 40 nights). "We'd hit anammunition bunker, or a fixed military facility, and fly back thenext day only to discover that it was still operational," he said."The Iraqis had fitted these sites with special blow-out walls, sowe'd have to go back and hit the same target again and again." Theblow-out walls had been shipped in secret to Iraq by an Austriancompany, to equip a "university" research center. One member ofSaddam's Foreign Legion (the term Senator Jesse Helms used to referto the hundreds of Western companies which helped Saddam build hismilitary industries) called this: "Linking the special needs of theEast to the awesome talents of the West."

The responsibiliy for building Saddam Hussein's military powermust be shared among Iraq's many suppliers and supporters; but theweapons alone would not have transformed Saddam Hussein into aninternational threat. If any nation must be singled out for thisparticularly grave responsibility it is Germany, the same Germanywhich pledged after World War II never to become a threat to worldpeace again. Without the aid of German companies, and the support ofthe Bonn government, Saddam Hussein would never have been able tobuild a chemical weapons industry, nor would he have made suchstrides toward the atomic bomb and toward the development of a newgeneration of ballistic missiles, capable of delivering nuclearwarheads against any capitol in the region.



Proliferation policy in the U.S. and in other Western countrieshas yet to change in any significant fashion, despite a series ofhighly-publicized "initiatives" intended to calm the political stormthe deliveries to Iraq had raised. Once again, an American Presidentand his top policy-makers are using trade and aid to transform ThirdWorld dictators into American friends. Once again, a GermanChancellor has turned his back on the past. Like Merlin with hismagic wand, they vainly hope to turn the frog into a prince.

Regimes similar to Iraq's today exist in Syria, Iran andelsewhere, and have proven track records as proliferation threats.All have devoted immense resources to develop the chemical andnuclear weapons, and the long-range missiles needed to deliver themonto distant targets. These regimes do not need encouragement. Andyet, Bush Administration officials such as Reginald Bartholomew atthe Department of State, and Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher,continue to argue that careful coddling by Washington will bringthese dictators around, while American allies abroad are using asimilar rationale to justify multi-billion dollar sales of industrialplants and machinery to these countries, as well as arms.

This policy failed miserably in Iraq. And it will fail again.

The export control system throughout the Western world is in ashambles Big business lobbies systematically overwhelm theiropponents. Their policy is a purely economic policy:sell-anything-to-any-dictator-who-pays-cash. Curb the sales, theysay, and Americans (or Germans, or Frenchmen) will lose jobs. It'samazing how quickly the big guns get dragged out.

Professor Gary Milhollin heads the Wisconsin Project for NuclearControl, and has been crusading for years to convince the Americangovernment to adopt more effective proliferation controls to curb thespread of nuclear weapons technology and other weapons of massdestruction. For Milhollin and other experts, the Allied war againstIraq was brought on mainly by the lack of such controls. Preventinganother Iraq, Milhollin believes, will not condemn entire sectors ofthe U.S. export economy to death, but it will require selectiverestrictions targetting critical technologies, which the businesslobbies will continue to fight.

Milhollin discovered this last year, when he wrote a series ofarticles in the Washington Post and the New York Times, arguing thatplanned super-computer sales to Brazil and India were unwise becausethey would give those nations a ballistic missile capability. Nosooner had Milhollin's articles appeared, than "platoons ofrepresentatives from IBM and Cray have been visiting all of thepeople involved in this decision and all of the departments on acontinuing basis in their offices." Just so the record was clear,Milhollin added: "I don't get a chance to visit any of these peoplein their offices. The process is totally closed from the public. Thepeople who decide only hear one side of the case, the exporter side.Then after the export is approved, the very record of approving it isconfidential. " Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Steve Bryenagrees. "Corporate lobbying is a very one-sided process. There is notany public interest lobbying that I ever encountered or can recall.Basically, most of the dialogue occurs with companies that want toexport their goods."

As it stands now, half a dozen executive agencies aroundWashington are responsible for examining U.S. exports perceived topose a proliferation threat. More often than not, they do notcoordinate their activities, or share their information. TheDepartment of Commerce promotes U.S. exports, and regulates clear conflict of interest if there ever was one. When thewrong technology gets through to the wrong dictator, such as theConsarc furnaces which were nearly shipped to Iraq, Commerce spendsits time sniping at other agencies, trying to shift the blame.

A nine-month investigation into the flawed export control systemby the Commerce, Consumer, and Monetary Affairs Subcommittee of theHouse Committee on Government Operations, released on July 14, 1991,called for a total overhaul of the licensing system. [Footnote:"Strengthening the Export Licensing System," a report by the [asabove], Washington, DC, July 1991. House Report 102-137].Subcommittee chairman Doug Barnard, Jr (D-Ga), stated that theinvestigation "found that indeed Saddam Hussein's Iraq did receivematerials and technologies from the United States which aided thatoutlaw country in building dangerous weapons which it was ready touse against our troops. This was done in spite of a system of exportcontrols in place which was designed to protect the United Statesagainst precisely such a risk. In short, we found that the system wassorely in need of rehabilitation to avoid a repeat of the Iraqsituation."

The report criticized the licensing system as "inherentlyinefficient and ineffective... convoluted and confusing." It foundthat "too many government agencies are involved in the licensingprocess," that the "agencies' lines of authority are not clear," andthat the agencies "do not effectively share information." The secrecyof the system was castigated, including the justification used bymany exporters that the divulgation of their contracts could bedetrimental to them. "This clearly is not sufficient reason to hideexport licensing information from the public eye. On the other hand,there is a clear public interest in knowing how much of a particulardual-use commodity was sent to a particular country," the reportstated.

The committee recommended creating a single independent agencywithin the executive branch to handle all export licensing, includingnuclear-related items, dual-use equipment, and munitions, with theintent of avoiding inter-agency sniping and better ensuringaccountability -- both to exporters, and to the public -- byrequiring greater congressional oversight than today exists. Inadditional views appended to the report, Representative Jon L. Kyl, arepublican from Arizona, deplored the virtual exclusive of DefenseDepartment experts in export license review cases in recent years,and strongly urged that the proposed Agency for Export Administrationinclude Pentagon representatives. "It is absolutely critical thatnational security be the primary consideration in determining finalapproval or disapproval of an export license," he said.

Instead of becoming a political football tossed from agency toagency, proliferation controls in the U.S. should be centralized in asingle oversight and licensing office. One proposal currently underdiscussion is to establish a new Proliferation Agency in the WhiteHouse, as part of the National Security Council, and detail a DefenseDepartment technology transfer expert to head it. Not only will thisensure that the President retains authority over U.S. foreign policyquestions, which export licensing inevitably involves; it means thatthe President himself must account for future breaches in the law.The lack of accountability has been one of the biggest problems inthe current system.

But reinforcing strategic export controls in the United States isnot enough. Germany and France--just to name these two--have shownthat American allies abroad have even less concern for preventing thesale of strategic military technology to Third World dictators thanthe U.S. Department of Commerce. The only way to bring foreignviolators of proliferation controls to book is by imposing stricttrade sanctions. And yet, sanctions legislation passed by Congresshas been vetoed again and again by President Bush.

Saddam Hussein's death machine was almost exclusively built byWestern companies. The vast majority of the machine-tools, computers,and sophisticated test equipment he needed to build ballisticmissiles, bombs, bullets, and guns was provided totally legally bycompanies who applied for export licenses. A compilation of publicsources alone shows that 445 companies cashed in on this macabremanna, one-third of them in West Germany alone.

Until concrete steps are taken to curb this type of trade, the"new world order" President Bush is so keen on heralding in will turnout to be more death as usual.