Global Policy Forum

US Military Assistance to Saddam


Global Policy Forum
April 20, 2006

According to writer Craig Unger,

"The intelligence given to Saddam was not always "thin gruel," as [one former US official] puts it. At times, it was of considerable strategic use and came from the highest American sources--namely then Vice-President George H. W. Bush.

"As I reported in the New Yorker in 1992 (co-authored with Murray Waas) and in my book, House of Bush, House of Saud (pp73-75), in 1985 the Reagan Bush administration was trying to execute its arms for hostages deals with Iran when they ran into a problem: Iran didn't need any more weapons.

"At the time, Bill Casey reasoned that if Saddam escalated his air war, Iran would need the weapons and would finally be forced to make a deal. But there was another problem: Iraq was afraid to lose planes and didn't know where they should be bombing.

"So Casey turned to Bush and in the summer of 1986 the Vice-President made what was widely reported as a peace mission to the Middle East. Secretly, however, on July 30, 1986 Bush initiated the transfer of military intelligence to Saddam when he went to Jordan and told King Hussein to relay a message to Saddam that Iraq had to be more aggressive in bombing inside Iran. On August 4, Bush met with Mubarak in Cairo and repeated the message. In the past, Saddam had rejected US advice to escalate bombing, but now, in desperate need of US money and weapons, he began to comply. Meanwhile, the CIA fed highly classified tactical intelligence to Iraq. The US also supplied Saddam with technical equipment so Iraq could receive satellite intelligence assessing the impact of its air strikes.

"During the 48 hours after Bush's visit with Mubarak, Iraq flew 359 missions over Iran. Over the next few weeks, Iraqi planes continued to strike deep into Iran, bombing oil refineries, including the oil facilities on Sirri Island, 460 miles from the border, a daring feat for Iraqi pilots who were running out of fuel.

"In addition, to intelligence, there was money and [the] contention, [according to a former US official], that "the US aspect of Iraq's war effort...must be somewhere in the neighborhood of .0001% of the total" vastly understates the US role in helping Iraq. All told, the Reagan and Bush administrations provided Saddam with more than $5 billion in loan guarantees.

"Even after the August 1988 cease fire between Iran and Iraq, even after the State Department told James Baker that Iraq was working on chemical and biological weapons, and even after discovering that Saddam had a nuclear weapons program, President Bush pressed for a billion dollars in agricultural loan guarantees, and waived congressional restrictions on Iraq's use of the Export-Import Bank."

Craig Unger is the author of House of Bush, House of Saud (Scribner 2004)

As Professor Shaul Bakhash points out,

"The US did not 'merely' share intelligence with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq. The same day, or the day before Iraq launched its massive offensive on 18 April, 1987, and succeeded in taking back the Fao Peninsula, there was a serious military engagement at sea between Iranian and American naval forces. In hindsight, it seems amply clear that the US provoked the incident as a diversionary tactic as Iraq launched what proved to be its final and decisive offensive."

Shaul Bakhash is the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University

For more information see the following sources:

"Once Iraq was off the state terrorist list, export controls on dual-use technologies were less restrictive. As an example, the Iraqis were sold sixty Hughes MD-500 'Defender' helicopters, and then ten Bell Helicopters UH-IS, models which had been used extensively in Vietnam. And while Saddam's government promised these helicopters would be used for civilian purposes only, an eyewitness spotted at least thirty of them being used to train military pilots. Other helicopter sales followed, including forty-eight said to be for 'recreation' purposes, such as transporting VIPS, but which were also diverted to military uses." (With Friends Like These: Reagan, Bush and Saddam 1982-1999, by Bruce W. Jentleson, p. 44)

"In 1984, Italy's state-owned Agusta helicopter manufacturer sold $164 milion worth of helicopters to Iraq. The order was for military helicopters fitted out for anti-submarine warfare, but Rome had needed permission from Washington because the choppers were sold by Agusta Bell, which made them under license from Bell Textron in the United States. [Italian PM Guilio] Andreotti, when asked in 1993 about the sale of Agusta helicopters to Iraq, sat stiffly at his desk in Rome and confirmed with a terse 'si' that they had indeed been sold as part of a top-level understanding between President Reagan and Prime Minister Crazi to try to assist Saddam. 'Certainly the policy were all following at the time was a policy of great support for Iraq,' said Andreotti" (Spider's Web: The secret history of how the White House illegally armed Iraq by Alan Friedman, p. 85)

"The removal of Iraq from the state terrorism list also freed the Reagan administration to aid Iraq militarily in its war with Iran. The first concrete expression of this new freedom was the decision to sell Iraq sixty Hughes MD-500 Defender helicopters and ten Bell UH-1 helicopters, ostensibly for civilian purposes. It was a proposal that caused a serious division within the administration.

"The sale of 'civilian' helicopters has long been a classic way of providing military support to a favored state or ally in the face of congressional opposition, and the ploy had been used before by the Reagan administration -- with El Salvador, for example. Although exported as a civilian kit, the weaponization of a civilian helicopter requires only adding armored plating, strapping a frame to support the weapons to be attached, attaching the weapons, and ideally adding an electronic integration system, all of which takes a matter of hours. Even where they are not weaponized, the helicopters can quickly ferry troops to remote or inaccessible areas, and as such have an important utility.

"As the MOD's Lt Col Glasebrook told the Scott Inquiry: 'There is basically no difference between a military helicopter and a civilian helicopter except the color it is painted.' ...

"Although it was claimed at the time that the helicopters were needed to spray crops, it has been claimed since that they were used to spray Kurds with chemicals....

"Chris Cowley saw the American UH-1 helicopters in Iraq in 1988 while overseeing testing on the supergun program. He was being taken northwest of Baghdad by Iraqi officials as they continued to look for a suitable test site for the prototype. En route, they stopped off to refuel at a military base, where Cowley saw 'fifty or sixty' of them being worked on. They next time he stopped off at the base, they were gone. The Iraqi overseeing the supergun project, Brigadier Azzawi, told him they had 'gone south' (towards the Iran-Iraq War)." (Arming Iraq: How the US and Britain Secretly Built Saddam's War Machine, by Mark Phythian p. 43)

More Information on Iraq
More Information on US and British Support for Hussein Regime
More Information on the Historical Background to the Iraq Conflict


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.