The Illegal Arms Trade – Iraq–Iran War 1980 – 1988 (Part 1)
It is broadly known that the west frequently change sides as and when it suits their economic goals or foreign policy. One also has to understand that the build up to such a conflict starts well before the war begins and can be in the planning stages up to around five years beforehand. The other issue that frequently stops such action going ahead is the justification or the reasons for going to war, which we have all observed prior to the Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan.
One can clearly see how Geo Politics plays a major role in all conflicts and how governments become greedy in order to place themselves as major players in a given region. This can involve forced regime changes, disputes over borders, attempts to obtain the resources belonging to another country or by creating false flag incidents to encourage conflict etc.
The United States and Britain have become experts at this sort of activity as a direct result of their experience at “Empire Building.” Unfortunately it was Saddam Hussain who decided that he should also improve his status in the region and at the same time hopefully acquire more land that was rich in natural resources. He had the full support of the west who played a major role in the war and who at the same time attempted to prolong it. The west, in particular the US, are well aware of the financial returns in keeping the war effort going. So let’s now look into this unnecessary war, how greed played a major role, the aftermath and the heavy loss of life on both sides. The war in actual fact achieved absolutely nothing.
The war began on the 22ndof September 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran and carried out an air and land assault. There had, in the past, been many border disputes with additional concern by the Iraq’s of Shia insurgency. It was Saddam Hussain who hoped to replace Iran as the dominant Gulf State. The attack was a failure in many respects as the forward progress was somewhat limited and was repelled by the Iranians within several months, who had regained most of the lost territory by June of 1982. The war continue on until the UN intervened and then stopped on the 20th of August 1988.
One very important aspect of this war was who controlled the Shatt al-Arab waterway which to the Iranians is known as the Arvand Rud. This vital oil export channel in the far north of the Persian Gulf is so important to both countries.
The objectives of Iraq’s invasion of Iran were:
- The control of the Shatt al-Arad waterway by the Iraqis
- The acquisition of the three islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs of behalf of the UAE
- Annexation of Khuzestan to Iraq
- To prevent the spread of the Islamic Revolution in the region in the region
The war cost many lives on both sides amounting to around half a million military personal and many civilians. The economic impact was also heavy on both sides. What was one of the most heroic events in this war was when a boy-soldiers of Iran, volunteered to run into the minefields in order to clear the way for the Iranian soldiers behind him. The Iranians were also hard-hit by the employment of chemical weapons and mustard gas by the Iraqi’s.
What this war did reveal was the extensive use of chemical weapons including mustard gas against Iranian troops and civilians. We may also recall that Iraq also used chemical weapons on the Kurds. It was ironic that the UN had stated that such weapons had been used but very carefully did not mention Iraq as the instigators.
The border disputes between the two countries goes back decades but the real issue from my perspective is the way in which the US and UK governments wanted to elongate this war for an indefinite duration. After all war is good business and feeds the military hardware and software industries of both countries extremely well. There is no doubt that the export of such products is one of the most single lucrative industries in the world.
It was during this war that President Ronald Reagan said that the US “could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran”, and that the United States “would do whatever was necessary to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.” It was President Reagan who pushed for a policy issuing a National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) to this effect in June, 1982. The Security Council passed Resolution 552 condemning attacks on commercial ships in the region. No doubt this would allow the west to continue its illegal arms trade which is was doing anyway.
It was obvious as to who was supporting who. The US as usual being the centre of attraction with only one mission in mind, to increase arms sales or get their hands on the huge reserves of natural resource….in actual fact is was both. Maybe we can all remember the role the US played during this war and how they attempted to isolate Iran. The US attacked Iranian oil platforms in retaliation for an Iranian attack on a US flagged Kuwaiti tanker. Later a USS warship hit and Iranian mine and then again the US Navy responded with surface attacks on many targets.
It was during 1987 when the USS Vincennes, who was apparently on exercise? Shot down Iran Air 655 with the loss of all 290 passengers and crew on 3 July 1988. The US Government claimed that the airliner had been mistaken for an Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter whilst she was operating in international waters. The USS Vincennes feared that it was under attack, which later appeared to be untrue. It is clearly evident to me, as an ex radar operator, that the size of contact and the approaching speed could not have caused such an assumption. One can again clearly see double standards at work…..the US were very critical of attacks on civilian shipping targets but it was ok to shoot down an international flight.
In July 1988 Iraqi airplanes dropped chemical cyanide bombs on the Iranian Kurdish village of Zardan (as they had done four months earlier on their own Kurdish village of Halabja). Hundreds were killed at once, and the survivors are still suffering from a variety of physical and mental disorders. It has since been proven that the agent used on the Kurds and later on Iran was the deadly VX Gas.
The down side of such conflicts and the illegal arms trading is the final death toll and those involved and more importantly the deaths of many of thousands of innocent civilians. What made this war more horrific was the use of chemical weapons. So one should now focus on who provided the hardware, the munitions and the chemicals that were in total violation of the Geneva Convention and how do they get away with it when in most cases such conflicts create blockades or sanctions.
Prior too and during the Iraq – Iran war many illegal arms shipments were made along with some very high profile visits. That notorious villain Donald Rumsfeld was the US special envoy to the Middle East and met with Saddam in December 1983. As we know he later became the US Defense Secretary during the 2003 Iraqi war when everything suddenly turned 180 degrees and the US wanted Saddam out.
The smaller version of the Iraq Super Gun on location in central Iraq (North of Baghdad)
Designed by Geralf Bull and Built in England to fire WMD´s and CBW into Iran and Israel
The US and the UK in particular considered Iraq as an ally in stopping the Iranians from spreading their revolution. The US and the UK therefore supported Iraq with technology, intelligence and the sale of illegal arms, WMD´s and Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW), military equipment and satellite support. It was also another powerful man, by the name of Henry Kissinger, who stated “It’s a pity they both can’t lose.” Iraq, in particular, had a complex clandestine procurement network to obtain munitions and critical materials, which, in some transactions, involved 10-12 countries.
This rather complex web of deceit went by unnoticed. Iraq made extensive use of front companies, middlemen, secret ownership of all or part of companies all over the world, forged documents, concealed what it was receiving, the methods and the source of its supply chain. The procurement infrastructure was established in different countries. Some transactions may have involved people, shipping, and manufacturing in as many as 10 countries.
Some rather startling news also emerged prior to this war when it was disclosed that the US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig Jnr wrote a secret memo to President Reagan about the Previous President Jimmy Carter approving Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran with assistance from Saudi Arabia. British support for this war was also paramount, especially when the British allowed the Iraqi’s to purchase a British company to bypass the export control. This company was TMG engineering, later to be called Matrix Churchill who had operations in both the US and UK. The US Company with the same name was also purchased by the Iraqi’s. The Chairman of the group, which consisted of TDG, TMG, and Matrix Churchill was Safa al Habobi. Another member of the board was Fadel Jawad Khadhum. They were described as follows:
The Iraqi members of the boards of directors of companies in the group were in firm control of the companies’ day-to-day activities and sometimes authoritarian in their actions, one statement said.
The British government decided to allow most of Matrix Churchill’s sales to Iraq. As a result, a scandal erupted after the Persian Gulf War about the role of the British government in arming Iraq. Naturally much more had been going on before this event which never reached the public domain to any degree.
Iraq had a very strong tie with both France and the Soviet Union who were major suppliers of actual weapons and Iraq frequently put one up against the other for competition.
Singapore also supported Iraq during the Iran – Iraq War in discussions for land mines assembled there, as well as chemical warfare precursors shipped from Singapore, possibly by an Iraqi front company.
Part 2 of this mini series will continue with who supported Iraq financially followed by other articles on exactly what was sold and how it was sold.
Peter Eyre – Middle East Consultant – 15/1/2012