Fueling the Iran-Iraq Slaughter

If you think you’ve heard it all in terms of U.S. imperialist hypocrisy, lies, manipulation, and mass slaughter-wait. There’s more.

Today the U.S. government is beating the drums for a preemptive war on Iraq. President Bush casually-dressed on his month-long Texas vacation, talks casually of “regime change” in Baghdad–a euphemism for a U.S. military assault that could cost tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.

The pros and cons of various battle plans–like an “inside-out” blitzkrieg on Baghdad with 50,000 to 100,000 U.S. troops and massive airstrikes-are publicly, and shamelessly, discussed in the media. And The New York Times reported (August 19) “the first tangible signs of a logistical buildup around Iraq.”

No evidence has been produced that Iraq can militarily threaten the U.S., or had anything to do with September 11. Yet those ruling the U.S. empire still demand Saddam’s head. Why? Because, they claim, the Hussein regime is trying to acquire “weapons of mass destruction”– and has shown a willingness to use them. Bush officials have repeatedly cited Iraq’s use of poisonous gas in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War as proof — and justification for an attack.

Now the Times has revealed that when Iraq’s government did use chemical weapons against Iranian forces and its own Kurdish population, the U.S. government was there – aiding and abetting!

The Times (“Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas,” 8/18/02) reported that, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the secret program, U.S. officials “provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war.”

It’s long been known that the U.S. gave Iraq satellite intelligence and other military support to prevent an Iranian victory. What’s new in the Times story is the extent of U.S. involvement: “More than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.”

This Pentagon program continued even when it became clear that the Iraqi military “had integrated chemical weapons throughout their arsenal and were adding them to strike plans that American advisers either prepared or suggested.” The obvious implication — not drawn by the Times — is that U.S. plans were shaped by the knowledge that Iraq would use chemical weapons. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward reported as much (12/15/86): in1984 the CIA began giving Iraq intelligence which it used to “calibrate” its mustard gas attacks against Iranian troops. An estimated 50,000 Iranians were killed by Iraqi gas warfare. (Bruce Jentleson, With Friends Like These – Reagan, Bush, and Saddam, 1982-1990, p. 77)

One DIA officer told the Times that the Pentagon “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas. It was just another way of killing people — whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference.” Another U.S. intelligence officer said, “The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern.” The Times continues, “What Mr. Reagan’s aides were concerned about, he said, was that Iran not break through to the Fao Peninsula and spread the Islamic revolution to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”

In other words, the U.S. rulers have no problem with chemical weapons and mass slaughter–so long as it serves their strategic interests.

The Times’ Revelations – Scratching the Surface

The Times’ revelations may be shocking, but they only scratch the surface of the enormously cynical, manipulative, and murderous actions taken by the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war. An equally sordid story could have been how the U.S. may well have helped start the war in the first place.

In early 1979, the Shah of Iran, the U.S.’s loyal Persian Gulf gendarme, was overthrown. The U.S. Embassy in Teheran was seized by militant students in November, and a month later, on Christmas eve, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan.

These developments shocked the U.S. establishment. They threatened to undermine its grip on the oil-rich Gulf, and possibly hand their Soviet rivals a major geopolitical gain. The U.S. counter-attacked, and one front (and there were many) seems to have been encouraging Iraq to invade Iran. The goals: weakening Iran and limiting its ability to undermine U.S. clients in the Gulf, while creating opportunities for increased American leverage in both countries and building up the U.S.’s direct military presence in the region.

Not surprisingly, Carter administration officials deny they gave Iraq a “green light” for its September 22, 1980 invasion. Yet there is evidence that they did just that. On April 14, 1980, five months before Iraq’s invasion, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, signaled the U.S.’s willingness to work with Iraq: “We see no fundamental incompatibility of interests between the United States and Iraq…we do not feel that American- Iraqi relations need to be frozen in antagonisms.” In June, Iranian students revealed a secret memo from Brzezinski to then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance recommending the “destabilization” of Iran’s Islamic Republic via its neighbors.

According to Iran’s president at the time, Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, Brzezinski met directly with Saddam Hussein in Jordan two months before the Iraqi assault. Bani-Sadr wrote, “Brzezinski had assured Saddam Hussein that the United States would not oppose the separation of Khuzestan (in southwest Iran) from Iran.” Journalist Robert Parry reports (Consortiumnews.com, 1/31/96) that in a secret 1981 memo summing up a trip to the Middle East, then-Secretary of State Al Haig noted, “It was also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through [then Prince, later King] Fahd.”

London’s Financial Times reported that the U.S. passed satellite intelligence to the Hussein regime via third countries, leading Iraq to believe Iranian forces would quickly collapse if attacked (they didn’t). So, while the U.S. media talks long and loud about Saddam Hussein the “brutal aggressor,” the U.S. most likely helped push Iraq into a long, bloody war.

Supplying and Manipulating Both Sides

The New York Times could also have delved into how the U.S. helped arm both Iran and Iraq, and then manipulated them in order to make sure neither won a decisive victory. In 1983, one U.S. official declared, “We don’t give a damn as long as the Iran-Iraq carnage does not affect our allies or alter the balance of power.” (Dilip Hiro, The Longest War, p. 121)

By 1982, the war’s momentum had shifted to Iran, which was threatening Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. According to a 1995 affidavit by Reagan National Security Council staffer Howard Teicher (which the U.S. government demanded the court seal for “national security” reasons), “In the Spring of 1982, Iraq teetered on the brink of losing its war with Iran…. In June, 1982, President Reagan decided that the United States…would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.” (RealHistoryArchives.com)

Teicher states that after Reagan signed a secret National Security Directive in June 1982, “The United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing U.S. military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required.”

Anti-personnel cluster bombs were a U.S. favorite. “CIA Director [William] Casey was adamant that cluster bombs were a perfect `force multiplier,’ for Iraq,” Teicher states, and “the CIA authorized, approved and assisted Cardoen [the supplier] in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq.”

Over an 8-year period, the U.S. gave Iraq some $5 billion in economic aid, and encouraged its allies to provide Iraq billions worth of arms. The British sold Iraq tanks, missile parts, and artillery; the French provided howitzers, Exocet missiles, and Mirage jet fighters; and the West Germans supplied technology used in Iraqi plants that reportedly produced nerve and mustard gas.

The U.S. also directly supplied Iraq with biological weapons. Author William Blum writes that according to a 1994 Senate Committee Report, “From 1985, if not earlier, through 1989, a veritable witch’s brew of biological materials were exported to Iraq by private American suppliers pursuant to application and licensing by the U.S. Department of Commerce.” (Counterpunch, 8/20/02)

The deadly mix included anthrax, botulism, and E. coli bacteria. Blum adds that the Senate Report stated, “these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program.”

A Cynical Strategy of Tilts

During the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. cynically tilted to one side, then the other, to advance its overall agenda–which included trying to regain influence in Iran. A May 1985 CIA memo to Director Casey said, “Our tilt to Iraq was timely when Iraq was against the ropes and the Islamic revolution was on a roll. The time may now have to come to tilt back….”

The U.S. secretly encouraged Israel to ship Iran arms in the early 1980s, and then began directly supplying weapons to the Islamic Republic in 1985 as part of the infamous Iran-Contra affair. In September 1986, Reagan official Oliver North even promised Iran the U.S. could “bring our influence to bear with certain friendly Arab nations” to oust the Hussein regime.

Earlier, in February 1986, while these secret discussions were taking place, Iran scored a major victory by capturing Iraq’s Fao Peninsula. The New York Times (1/19/87) reported that Iraqi officials believed that their defeat at Fao “was due to faulty U.S. intelligence.” Iraq detected Iranian troop movements, the Iraqi official said, but the U.S. “kept on telling us that the Iranian attack was not aimed against Fao.”

In fact, “American intelligence agencies provided Iran and Iraq with deliberately distorted or inaccurate intelligence data in recent years,” the Times reported (1/12/87). The motive, captured in the Times headline: “Keeping Either Side From Winning.” Or, as Henry Kissinger coldly put it, “too bad they can’t both lose.”

In his book Veil – The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, Woodward sums up the results of this U.S. double-dealing: “Doling out tactical data to both sides put the agency in the position of engineering a stalemate. This was no mere abstraction. The war was a bloody one….almost a million had been killed, wounded or captured on both sides. This was not a game in an operations center. It was slaughter.” (p. 507)

Tilting Back Toward Baghdad

Fears of an Iraqi defeat and the collapse of the U.S.’s backroom dealings with Iran led the U.S. to tilt back toward Iraq. Woodward writes that in late 1986 “Casey had met with senior Iraqis to…encourage more attacks on Iran, especially against economic targets.” Teicher states that, “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 took place during the “war of the cities,” when many Iraqi bombing raids were directed against economic and civilian targets.

In 1988, after an Iraqi poison gas attack that killed some 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in northern Iraq, U.S. aid to Iraq actually increased. According to the Los Angeles Times (2/13/91), U.S. intelligence reported that American- supplied helicopters had been used in such chemical attacks on Iraq’s Kurds.


President Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has recently been on the stump arguing that the U.S. has a “moral case” for war on Iraq.

One only need examine the cesspool of deceit, manipulation and complicity in mass carnage that comprises the record of U.S. actions in the Iran-Iraq war to catch the stench of the “morality” guiding Rice and the rest of the U.S. ruling class. These imperialists thought nothing of encouraging and aiding a gruesome slaughter which, by most accounts, led to the killing or wounding of over a million Iranians and Iraqis.

The war the U.S. now threatens on Iraq would be equally criminal, enormously destructive, and motivated, as before, solely by concerns of empire and global domination. It must be opposed now, before it begins.


Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker newspaper and author of Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre. He traveled to Iraq in 1991 and shot the video Iraq: War Against the People. He can be reached at larryeverest@hotmail.com and his articles found at www.rwor.org.

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