[News] Robert Fisk: He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with

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Mon Jan 1 12:19:10 EST 2007

Robert Fisk: He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him

World: Middle East
31 December 2006
By Robert Fisk

We've shut him up. The moment Saddam's hooded 
executioner pulled the lever of the trapdoor in 
Baghdad yesterday morning, Washington's secrets 
were safe. The shameless, outrageous, covert 
military support which the United States - and 
Britain - gave to Saddam for more than a decade 
remains the one terrible story which our 
presidents and prime ministers do not want the 
world to remember. And now Saddam, who knew the 
full extent of that Western support - given to 
him while he was perpetrating some of the worst 
atrocities since the Second World War - is dead.

Gone is the man who personally received the CIA's 
help in destroying the Iraqi communist party. 
After Saddam seized power, US intelligence gave 
his minions the home addresses of communists in 
Baghdad and other cities in an effort to destroy 
the Soviet Union's influence in Iraq. Saddam's 
mukhabarat visited every home, arrested the 
occupants and their families, and butchered the 
lot. Public hanging was for plotters; the 
communists, their wives and children, were given 
special treatment - extreme torture before execution at Abu Ghraib.

There is growing evidence across the Arab world 
that Saddam held a series of meetings with senior 
American officials prior to his invasion of Iran 
in 1980 - both he and the US administration 
believed that the Islamic Republic would collapse 
if Saddam sent his legions across the border - 
and the Pentagon was instructed to assist Iraq's 
military machine by providing intelligence on the 
Iranian order of battle. One frosty day in 1987, 
not far from Cologne, I met the German arms 
dealer who initiated those first direct contacts 
between Washington and Baghdad - at America's request.

"Mr Fisk... at the very beginning of the war, in 
September of 1980, I was invited to go to the 
Pentagon," he said. "There I was handed the very 
latest US satellite photographs of the Iranian 
front lines. You could see everything on the 
pictures. There were the Iranian gun emplacements 
in Abadan and behind Khorramshahr, the lines of 
trenches on the eastern side of the Karun river, 
the tank revetments - thousands of them - all the 
way up the Iranian side of the border towards 
Kurdistan. No army could want more than this. And 
I travelled with these maps from Washington by 
air to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt on Iraqi 
Airways straight to Baghdad. The Iraqis were very, very grateful!"

I was with Saddam's forward commandos at the 
time, under Iranian shellfire, noting how the 
Iraqi forces aligned their artillery positions 
far back from the battle front with detailed maps 
of the Iranian lines. Their shelling against Iran 
outside Basra allowed the first Iraqi tanks to 
cross the Karun within a week. The commander of 
that tank unit cheerfully refused to tell me how 
he had managed to choose the one river crossing 
undefended by Iranian armour. Two years ago, we 
met again, in Amman and his junior officers 
called him "General" - the rank awarded him by 
Saddam after that tank attack east of Basra, 
courtesy of Washington's intelligence information.

Iran's official history of the eight-year war 
with Iraq states that Saddam first used chemical 
weapons against it on 13 January 1981. AP's 
correspondent in Baghdad, Mohamed Salaam, was 
taken to see the scene of an Iraqi military 
victory east of Basra. "We started counting - we 
walked miles and miles in this fucking desert, 
just counting," he said. "We got to 700 and got 
muddled and had to start counting again ... The 
Iraqis had used, for the first time, a 
combination - the nerve gas would paralyse their 
bodies ... the mustard gas would drown them in 
their own lungs. That's why they spat blood."

At the time, the Iranians claimed that this 
terrible cocktail had been given to Saddam by the 
US. Washington denied this. But the Iranians were 
right. The lengthy negotiations which led to 
America's complicity in this atrocity remain 
secret - Donald Rumsfeld was one of President 
Ronald Reagan's point-men at this period - 
although Saddam undoubtedly knew every detail. 
But a largely unreported document, "United States 
Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use 
exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the 
Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War", 
stated that prior to 1985 and afterwards, US 
companies had sent government-approved shipments 
of biological agents to Iraq. These included 
Bacillus anthracis, which produces anthrax, 
andEscherichia coli (E. coli). That Senate report 
concluded that: "The United States provided the 
Government of Iraq with 'dual use' licensed 
materials which assisted in the development of 
Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-systems 
programs, including ... chemical warfare agent 
production facility plant and technical drawings, 
chemical warfare filling equipment."

Nor was the Pentagon unaware of the extent of 
Iraqi use of chemical weapons. In 1988, for 
example, Saddam gave his personal permission for 
Lt-Col Rick Francona, a US defence intelligence 
officer - one of 60 American officers who were 
secretly providing members of the Iraqi general 
staff with detailed information on Iranian 
deployments, tactical planning and bomb damage 
assessments - to visit the Fao peninsula after 
Iraqi forces had recaptured the town from the 
Iranians. He reported back to Washington that the 
Iraqis had used chemical weapons to achieve their 
victory. The senior defence intelligence officer 
at the time, Col Walter Lang, later said that the 
use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis "was 
not a matter of deep strategic concern".

I saw the results, however. On a long military 
hospital train back to Tehran from the battle 
front, I found hundreds of Iranian soldiers 
coughing blood and mucus from their lungs - the 
very carriages stank so much of gas that I had to 
open the windows - and their arms and faces were 
covered with boils. Later, new bubbles of skin 
appeared on top of their original boils. Many 
were fearfully burnt. These same gases were later 
used on the Kurds of Halabja. No wonder that 
Saddam was primarily tried in Baghdad for the 
slaughter of Shia villagers, not for his war crimes against Iran.

We still don't know - and with Saddam's execution 
we will probably never know - the extent of US 
credits to Iraq, which began in 1982. The initial 
tranche, the sum of which was spent on the 
purchase of American weapons from Jordan and 
Kuwait, came to $300m. By 1987, Saddam was being 
promised $1bn in credit. By 1990, just before 
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, annual trade between 
Iraq and the US had grown to $3.5bn a year. 
Pressed by Saddam's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, 
to continue US credits, James Baker then 
Secretary of State, but the same James Baker who 
has just produced a report intended to drag 
George Bush from the catastrophe of present- day 
Iraq - pushed for new guarantees worth $1bn from the US.

In 1989, Britain, which had been giving its own 
covert military assistance to Saddam guaranteed 
£250m to Iraq shortly after the arrest of 
Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft in Baghdad. 
Bazoft, who had been investigating an explosion 
at a factory at Hilla which was using the very 
chemical components sent by the US, was later 
hanged. Within a month of Bazoft's arrest William 
Waldegrave, then a Foreign Office minister, said: 
"I doubt if there is any future market of such a 
scale anywhere where the UK is potentially so 
well-placed if we play our diplomatic hand 
correctly... A few more Bazofts or another bout 
of internal oppression would make it more difficult."

Even more repulsive were the remarks of the then 
Deputy Prime Minister, Geoffrey Howe, on relaxing 
controls on British arms sales to Iraq. He kept 
this secret, he wrote, because "it would look 
very cynical if, so soon after expressing outrage 
about the treatment of the Kurds, we adopt a more 
flexible approach to arms sales".

Saddam knew, too, the secrets of the attack on 
the USS Stark when, on 17 May 1987, an Iraqi jet 
launched a missile attack on the American 
frigate, killing more than a sixth of the crew 
and almost sinking the vessel. The US accepted 
Saddam's excuse that the ship was mistaken for an 
Iranian vessel and allowed Saddam to refuse their 
request to interview the Iraqi pilot.

The whole truth died with Saddam Hussein in the 
Baghdad execution chamber yesterday. Many in 
Washington and London must have sighed with 
relief that the old man had been silenced for ever.

'The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of 
the Middle East' by Robert Fisk is now available in paperback

Copyright 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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