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.


With great fanfare, President Bush declared victory against Iraqon February 27, 1991. By all appearances, Operation Desert Storm wasan overwhelming success. Saddam Hussein had been forced out ofKuwait, his armies were in a rout, and his dictatorship seemed doomedto certain death. America and its allies had once again shown that itwas possible to fight a just war and win.

But the fight against Saddam Hussein had little to do with theliberation of Kuwait, no matter how much President Bush and hisadvisors tried to focus publicly on that goal. It wasn't about jobs,as James Baker once argued, or even about oil. The United States andits allies had no choice but to combat Saddam Hussein on thebattlefield because of the greed of Western businessmen, themisguided analysis of the foreign policy establishment, and theincompetence of regulatory officials. Simply put, the United Stateswent to war to smash the death machine that it and its Western allieshad helped Saddam to assemble in the first place.

President Bush had acknowledged as much in his Thanksgivingaddress to U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, before the war against Iraqactually started. With every passing day, Bush warned, Saddam Husseinwas "one step closer to realizing his goal of a nuclear weaponsarsenal." The threat of an Iraqi nuclear weapon, designed and builtwith the help of Western companies and Western scientists, gave "areal sense of urgency" to the Allied deployment in the Gulf. Bushdidn't tell the troops just how close Saddam had come to the bomb(the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency had informed thePresident only a few days earlier that Iraq could assemble its firstnuclear weapon within three to six months). "But this I know forsure," Bush said: "he's never possessed a weapon he did not use."

Over the fifteen years leading up to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait,Western businesses and Western governments helped Iraq to assembleone of the most formidable arsenals ever seen in the Middle East.They sold tanks, supersonic fighters, chemical weapons, and ballisticmissiles. They sold Iraq the materials to make an atomic bomb.Together the companies, their bankers, and their supporters ingovernment formed a powerful interest group whose principle bond wasthe creation of a Middle Eastern Frankenstein. They all contributedin their own way to Saddam's death machine, and lobbied hard toprotect their Iraqi connection. The members of this death lobby mayhave competed fiercely among themselves, but they banded togetherwhen it came to defending Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was quick to take advantage of so much solicitude.After the Soviet Union decided to embargo arms deliveries to Iraqfifteen years before the invasion of Kuwait, he set up a masterprocurement plan with the sole aim of securing Iraq's independencefrom its foreign suppliers. At the same time he was building up hisconventional forces, he dispatched agents around the world topurchase the industrial tools and equipment necessary to manufacturean entire strategic arsenal, so Iraq could weather economic sanctionsand arms embargoes and live to fight another day. Throughout thisincredible military and industrial build-up, much of which occurredon the open market, never once did a red flag of warning go up in theWest. Only four months before the invasion of Kuwait, AssistantSecretary of State John Kelly told Congress that Saddam Hussein was a"force of moderation" in the region--just as his predecessors hadbeen saying for years. A more forthright statement of the truth couldbe found in corporate balance sheets: Iraq was a great market forFrance, Germany, Italy, Britain, Austria, and the U.S.. SaddamHussein was our creature, our monster. We built him up, and thentried to take him down.

This book is a cautionary tale of what can happen when monumentalgreed meets monumental ambition. It is the story of the many men,companies, and governments who helped Iraq transform itself from aninsignificant oil state into a regional superpower. It shows for thefirst time how we created Saddam Hussein step by step, piece by piece--through greed, willful blindness and monumental error. And ofcourse, it shows what Saddam intended to do with the enormous arsenalhe had assembled. Astonishing as it may seem now, Saddam seldom triedto disguise his true ambitions; yet the policy-makers and thelobbyists always managed not to hear. The confluence of interestsfueling the Iraqi arms build-up was too strong.

The Death Lobby aspires to present the big picture of whathappened in Iraq, and suggests ways of preventing it from happeningagain elsewhere. I have tried to respect as scrupulously as possiblethe actual order of events, so the reader can appreciate whatdecision-makers knew at any given moment, without the virtue ofhindsight. Saddam Hussein did not emerge from obscurity on August 2,1990 when he invaded Kuwait. The arming of Saddam was a fifteen-yearlove affair. And it was a world-class enterprise.

Paris, France

June 20 1991