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Saddam and Me: a True Story



The crimes of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen during the 1980’s have been in the news lately as their on-again off-again trial has resumed in Baghdad. Even though a court established under US military occupation has questionable legal standing and legitimacy, there isn’t much doubt that Saddam and others of the accused are guilty of serious atrocities against their own people as well as international war crimes in the attacks against Iraq’s neighbors. The use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers was particularly heinous.

But what none of the stories in the main-stream media seem to mention is that the Iraqi dictator could count on firm US government support when he was committing these crimes. The Reagan Administration went all-out to assist Iraq in its war with Iran after our man, the Shah, was overthrown. US Government and business officials — many of them recycled in the Bush II administration — shuttled to Baghdad, offering aid, intelligence support, and trade in “dual-use” civilian-military products, including chemical-biological weapons know-how and pre-cursor ingredients. The US worked tirelessly in the UN to shield Iraq from any condemnation or economic sanctions for its atrocities. Nothing better symbolizes this obscene alliance better than the famous “Handshake” of Donald Rumsfeld with the Iraqi dictator. (The whole sordid history, with key documents, is available in a comprehensive report: SHAKING HANDS WITH SADDAM HUSSEIN: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984, National Security Archive, February 25, 2003.)

Of course, US crimes in Iraq are not just old news. By any consistent legal standards ­ including the Nuremburg trials after the Second World War and the UN Charter ­ US officials from Pres. Bush down are guilty of punishable war crimes offenses. Nazis were hanged after 1945 for waging of aggressive war, indiscriminate killing of civilians and authorizing torture and mistreatment of prisoners, but it is unthinkable that any of our perpetrators will ever be brought to justice. See: When War Crimes Are Unspeakable by Norman Solomon, and Returning to the Scene of the Crime: War Crimes in Iraq by Noam Chomsky)

* * *

I don’t often write about my personal experience, but a dark secret must be confessed. I was an unwitting dupe of the US effort to prop up Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship!

SADDAM and Me ­ a true story. . .

When I was working as a machinist in the Marine and Steam Turbine Division of General Electric in Lynn, one of the last civilian projects we had in the early 1980’s was called simply “IRAQ.” Our job was to manufacture equipment for an electric power plant to be installed somewhere in Saddam Hussein’s Mesopotamia. The deal was financed, I learned later on, by a USAID program. I didn’t know much about Iraq in those days and the media wasn’t cultivating much hostility toward Iraq in the 1980’s. It was those crazy Iranian Ayatollahs we were supposed to worry about ­ along with the Nicaraguan Sandinista Communists pouring over the Rio Grande to invade Texas. Anyway, I was happy to work on a civilian project when most of the plant was rapidly morphing into an exclusive supplier for Reagan’s naval warship building program. (When I started at GE in the late 1970’s we had a large contract to build high-speed gunboats for Iran ­ but after the overthrow of the Shah the ships were eventually sold to Saudi Arabia. . . but that’s another story.)

Periodic lay-offs were a fact of life for workers at GE in Lynn. When the Turbine Division began to decline after 1985 I lost my job along with many other union members. But I was luckier than some. Because I had enough seniority, I was able to get another machinist job in the company’s Lynn jet engine department. Most of the work there was military ­ for attack helicopters and assorted fighter planes. One of our mainstays was the production of jet engines for Navy F-18 fighter-bombers. Many of these carrier-based aircraft were very effective in bombing Iraqi industry and infrastructure targets from US aircraft carriers during the First Gulf War. So, a few years later, I gained the patriotic satisfaction of knowing I had done my bit to help destroy the electric plant we had recently built for the evil Saddam Hussein.

Of course, by the time of the Gulf War in 1991 I had been permanently laid off from the shrinking Lynn plant. The IRAQ project was one of our last civilian jobs because shortly afterward GE licensed its turbine designs and manufacturing technology to companies in Korea and Japan. Soon the Lynn Turbine Division was permanently closed. Now Hitachi and Hyundai continue to make GE-designed power plants for the robust Asian market, paying a handsome royalty to the friendly corporation that “Brings Good Things to Life.” But the US turbine workers are history. (Light bulbs aren’t made here any more either. The company’s lighting production has moved to Mexico and plants in the former People’s Republic of Hungary, which were purchased at bargain-basement prices.)

Today GE is universally admired as one of the best-managed corporations in the world. Saddam Hussein may be facing war crimes charges in Baghdad, but GE’s fabled Chairman, Jack Welch, enjoys a kingly retirement in New York City — on a $9 million annual pension, with company-provided mansions and limos, plus a lifetime skybox at Yankee stadium. In Iraq, Welch’s company made handsome profits on both ends ­ Con-struction and De-struction. GE, and other corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton are once again cashing in on Iraqi cost-plus “Re-Con-struction” projects, including new power plants that never seem to actually deliver electricity to Iraqi homes.

A Triple Play! Don’t you just love Free Enterprise?

Now, ON TO IRAN! …

JEFF KLEIN can be reached at:



Jeff Klein is a writer and speaker on Middle East issues who travels frequently to the region.  An earlier version of this piece, with illustrations, can be found in his occasional blog: “At a Slight Angle to the Universe.” He can be reached at

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