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Who Armed Iraq?

The U.S. supplied chemicals, biological seed stock and weapons to the very same country it wants to disarm today.
 
 
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Before World War I, arms manufacturers were commonly called "merchants of death." As clouds of war gathered over Europe, the peace movement worked in vain to stop armament companies from producing explosives, torpedoes, mustard gas, machine guns, dreadnoughts, subs, destroyers, U-boats, howitzers, bombers and zeppelins.

Two world wars and countless regional conflicts have since ravaged the globe. The merchants of death are still in business. Iraq's Weapons Declaration underscores a tragic irony: The United States, the world's leading arms supplier, is taking the world to war to stop arms proliferation in the very country to which it shipped chemicals, biological seed stock and weapons for more than 10 years.

According to the December declaration, treated with much derision from the Bush administration, U.S. and Western companies played a key role in building Hussein's war machine. The 1,200-page document contains a list of Western corporations and countries -- as well as individuals -- that exported chemical and biological materials to Iraq in the past two decades.

Embarrassed, no doubt, by revelations of their own complicity in Mideast arms proliferation, the U.S.-led Security Council censored the entire dossier, deleting more than 100 names of companies and groups that profited from Iraq's crimes and aggression. The censorship came too late, however. The long list -- including names of large U.S. corporations -- Dupont, Hewlett-Packard, and Honeywell -- was leaked to a German daily, Die Tageszeitung. Despite the Security Council coverup, the truth came out.

A German company, for example, exported 1,000 ignition systems for Styx and Scud missiles capable of carrying biological and nuclear warheads.

Alcolac International, a Maryland company, transported thiodiglycol, a mustard gas precursor, to Iraq. A Tennessee manufacturer contributed large amounts of a chemical used to make sarin, a nerve gas implicated in Gulf War diseases.

Phyllis Bennis, author of "Before and After," notes that "the highest quality seed-stock for anthrax germs (along with those of botulism, E. coli, and a host of other deadly diseases) were shipped to Iraq by U.S. companies, legally, under an official U.S. Department of Commerce license throughout the 1980s." A Senate Banking subcommittee report in 1994 confirmed that shipments of biological germ stock continued well into 1989.

According to Judith Miller in "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War," Iraq purchased its seed stock -- its "starter germs" -- from "The American Type Culture Collection," a supply company in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

We tend to forget that the Reagan-Bush administration maintained cordial relations with Hussein in the '80s, promoting Iraq's eight-year war against Iran. Twenty-four U.S. firms exported arms and materials to Baghdad. France also sent Hussein 200 AMX medium tanks, Mirage bombers and Gazelle helicopter gunships. As Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage testified in 1987:

"We cannot stand to see Iraq defeated." The CIA, State Department, the central military command directing Middle East operations, were well aware of Iraq's biological-weapons efforts. Nevertheless, Iraq's applications were seldom denied.

The infamous massacre at Halabja -- the gassing of the Kurds -- took place in March 1988. Six months later, on Sept. 19, a Maryland company sent 11 strains of germs -- four types of anthrax -- to Iraq, including a microbe strain called 11966, developed for germ warfare at Fort Detrick in the 1950s.

The vast, lucrative arms trade in the Middle East created the groundwork for Hussein's aggression in Kuwait. Without high-tech weapons from the West, Iraq's wars against Iran and Kuwait would never have taken place.

The inspection process is spawning a host of questions about U.S. policy. Why aren't U.S. and European scientists, who invented and produced lethal materials for Saddam Hussein, subject to interrogations like their counterparts in Iraq? Are U.S. companies sending their deadly material to other dictators? Why are there no congressional hearings on the U.S. role in arms proliferation? And how many senators (like the voice of Connecticut's arms industry, Sen. Joe Lieberman) are taking contributions from the world's arms dealers?

The United States exports more weapons than all other countries combined, and Hussein is only one of many human rights abusers who purchased the means of terror from the West.

No despot, no monarchy, no medieval insurgency that can be exploited, no regime of terror seems to be off-limits to the sale of arms for profit.

From 1983-88, Siad Barre, the mad dictator of Somalia, received from the United States 155 howitzers, 20mm Vulcan air defense guns, light artillery pieces, mortars, anti-tank rocket launchers, a mass of firearms and ammunition.

By 1989, its precious desert water holes demolished, the impoverished country was in open revolt. When Siad Barre fled, he left the country in ruins,

and he left all his U.S. weapons behind -- the very weapons that enabled warrior clans to bring down U.S. Black Hawks and kill 70 U.S. and U.N. humanitarian troops.

On the edge of famine, Somalia today is still awash in U.S. weaponry, as 14- year-old children carry hand-me-down rifles through the streets of Mogadishu.

Notwithstanding pious talk about curbing arms proliferation, arms traffic is expanding under the administration of George W. Bush. The administration recently lifted the embargo on arms sales to contending nuclear powers -- India and Pakistan -- where riots, massacres, religious uprisings and border showdowns take place routinely.

The arms traffic may be very profitable for General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, but the arms traffic is deadly for developing nations.

Arms militarize the Third World, deplete local resources and -- despite low interest rates -- generate large debts and inflation. Loans for genuine capital investment generate increased productivity, enabling a nation to progress and repay the loan. Military loans and purchases have no such value. They divert resources from civilian production, from the growth economy, and they increase poverty.

Even before Sept. 11, historian Chalmers Johnson warned in "Blowback: Costs and Consequences of American Empire": "Arms sales are a major cause of a developing blowback whose price we have yet to begin to pay."

"Blowback," a term first used by the CIA, refers to the unintended consequences of covert policies. "In a sense, blowback is simply another way of saying that a nation reaps what it sows," Johnson wrote. "But so much of what the managers of the American empire have sown has been kept secret. Although most Americans may be largely ignorant of what was, and still is, being done in their names, all are likely to pay a steep price -- individually and collectively -- for their nation's continued efforts to dominate the global scene."

Is it moral to view social conflicts, hatred, fear, aggression, war and violence as a mere marketplace for high-tech business? And can we continue to treat the mechanisms of terror in terms of supply and demand?

George Orwell's brilliant essay on empire and nationalism applies directly to the mendacity of the Bush administration:

"Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them. There is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral color when it is committed by 'our' side ... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

It is time to measure human rights by one yardstick -- to hold the suppliers, not just the purchasers, of death accountable for their handiwork.

Paul Rockwell is a writer based in Oakland, Calif.