Chemical Weapons, the US, Iraq and the New York Times

by William Blum

It was page one of the New York Times Sunday (August 18), picked up extensively by the international media, a featured story on America On Line. “Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas”, shouted the headline. Senior military officers revealed that the Reagan administration had provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance in waging decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The assistance was given at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraq had already employed chemical weapons and would likely continue to do so.

This of course raises obvious questions about the current Bush administration’s near-frenzied demonization of Saddam Hussein, particularly for his alleged chemical and biological weapons (CBW) threat. Readers can be forgiven if they think this is a revelation of some sort. It isn’t.

The story may add a new detail or two about the precise nature of US tactical assistance to the Iraqis, but the basic story has long been known. Strangely, the Times story leaves out the most significant part — the furnishing of chemical and biological materials by the United States to Iraq which markedly enhanced Iraq’s CBW capability. (There is one isolated line in the Times piece, almost at the very end, hinting at something of the sort: “Former Secretary of State Shultz and Vice President Bush tried to stanch the flow of chemical precursors to Iraq.”)

At the risk of sounding like I’m blowing my own horn, I must point out that I wrote a story on this very subject in 1998, which was published in several “alternative” magazines, distributed widely on the Internet to this day, and won a Project Censored award in 1999. As far as I know, the American mainstream media has never covered this story, and if the Times article is any guide, the censorship will continue.

Following is the crux of my article as published in 1998:

In his recent State of the Union address, President Clinton, in the context of Iraq, spoke of how we must “confront the new hazards of chemical and biological weapons, and the outlaw states, terrorists and organized criminals seeking to acquire them.” He castigated Saddam Hussein for “developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons” and called for strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention.

Who among his listeners knew, who among the media reported, that the United States had been the supplier to Iraq of much of the source biological materials Saddam’s scientists would require to create a biological warfare program?

According to a Senate Committee Report of 1994 [1]: 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. Amongst these materials, which often produce slow, agonizing deaths, were: Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax. Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin. Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord and heart. Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs. Clotsridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness. Clostridium tetani, highly toxigenic. Also, Escherichia Coli (E.Coli); genetic materials; human and bacterial DNA. Dozens of other pathogenic biological agents were shipped to Iraq during the 1980s.

The Senate Report pointed out: “These biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction.” [2] “It was later learned,” the committee revealed, “that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program.”[3]

These exports continued to at least November 28, 1989 despite the fact that Iraq had been reported to be engaging in chemical warfare and possibly biological warfare against Iranians, Kurds, and Shiites since the early 80s.


[1] “U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War,” Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with Respect to Export Administration, reports of May 25, 1994 and October 7, 1994.

[2] Ibid., May 25 report, pp. 36-47

[3] Ibid., October 7 report, p. 3

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir. He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com New Print Edition of CounterPunch Available Exclusively to Subscribers:

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