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Who Armed Iraq?

A short history of the U.S. role in spreading weapons throughout the world

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 cover-up, 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, the State Department and 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 never would 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 to 1988, 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 and 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
Paul Rockwell is a writer based in Oakland, Calif.


Small Minded

What war has done—and will do again—to Iraqi children

If war could bring peace, the definitive battle would have been fought millennia ago, on a wide-open field, with sticks and stones and possibly spit.

Instead, today’s armies fight on with hard drives and software, with white noise and satellites, with specks on monitors erupting in flames. And smart weapons create the same images of disfigured women holding expressionless children—head too small for the hospital pillow, body too short for the bed.

War has never fit children.

I’ve been reading old newspapers lately, clippings with torn edges, dates marked in ink at the top. In the 1991 Gulf War, more than 59,000 tons of bombs were dropped monthly on Iraq. In Vietnam, 34,000 tons were dropped monthly. Vietnam doesn’t need a date to define it. Vietnam was the ’60s. Iraq was the ’90s. Everything else fell in between.

Modern weapons create the same heartrending images of heartbroken men digging through rubble, searching for home, for family. If Iraq really does have nuclear facilities, why is the U.S. planning to bomb them? The U.N. has a ban against attacks on nuclear sites. Cruise missiles, once en route, cannot be recalled. (In 1991, the U.S. bombed Iraqi reactors, exposing the civilian population to radioactive iodine.)

During the six-week assault on Iraq, 84,000 tons of bombs were dropped, the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. I need to repeat that: 84,000 tons of bombs rained down, the equivalent of five Hiroshimas—and children were the largest group of casualties. Many died of hunger and cold. At the Cukurca refugee camp, 86 died in three days.

In Iraq, U.S. forces introduced ammunition made with depleted uranium, a radioactive waste. At least 940,000 of those toxic, armor-piercing rounds were fired. Dr. Eric Hoskins, a medical doctor with 15 years of experience working in war zones, surveyed Iraq two years after the war as part of a Harvard Study Team. He estimates that 50,000 children died in the first eight months of 1991, many from the effects of spent rounds littering the ground. UN aid workers saw Iraqi children playing with empty radioactive shells. In Basra, a child was seen using them as hand puppets.

Today, the United States possesses almost three-quarters of a million metric tons of depleted uranium—even though a 1996 UN subcommittee defined arms containing it as weapons of mass destruction.

The mass destruction of Iraq’s water purification facilities hastened the spread of cholera and typhoid, and hastened the deaths of thousands of children. Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 54, prohibits the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of a civilian population, including food and drinking water. Near Baghdad, 12 million gallons of raw sewage spewed into the Tigris River hourly. Without access to television, radio or newspapers, families continued to rely on the Tigris for their drinking water.

As many as a quarter of a million Iraqi civilians died as a result of the Gulf War.

Dr. Hoskins recently returned to Canada after another assessment mission to Iraq. His team found that 500,000 Iraqi children are malnourished, and the country has only three months of medicine left. Now, with war looming once again, the children are more vulnerable than ever:

“While it is impossible to predict both the nature of any war and the number of expected deaths and injuries, casualties among children will be in the thousands, probably in the tens of thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands. . . . Iraq’s 13 million children are at grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma.”

In 1991, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney—then secretary of defense—directed one of the largest and deadliest military campaigns in history. The Washington victory parade alone cost more than $12 million. The attack began late on a clear moonless night, while children were sleeping. Laser bombs work best when it’s clear; they become confused in the clouds.

If any soldier can hear me, if any soldier can read this, in the name of God, realize why you have been called there. You have been called there to kill the children. What century are we living in? What have we become?

—Magie Dominic
Magie Dominic is author of The Queen of Peace Room, a personal exploration of violence in the second half of the 20 th century.

Between the Lines

Sex, Crime, and Times Union personals ads

Murder, a sex scam, and a trail leading back to a telephone chat-line ad. Blame it on Metroland.

That, apparently, is the thinking of some in the local media, notably the Times Union, which published a story on Friday (March 14) headlined “Sex scam linked to fatal attraction.” The reporter, Mike Goodwin, detailed the unfortunate demise of Daniel Jamison, who apparently was lured through a personals ad into a trap set by would-be robbers in Schenectady who killed him after he refused to hand over cash. In the second paragraph, Goodwin wrote that the perpetrators “met their robbery victims through a Quest Personals telephone chat line advertised in Metroland.”

What the story did not mention was that if readers had turned to page 2 of the Sports section of that same day’s Times Union, they would have found the same Quest Personals ad. In fact, Quest appears to advertise in the TU every day.

Both Goodwin and TU editor Rex Smith defended their paper’s failure to disclose its own connection with Quest Personals while connecting Metroland to the sex scam and murder. Goodwin said he heard that the robbers found the ad in Metroland from three different law-enforcement sources in Schenectady, though he later admitted that in two of those cases, he had named Metroland in his question.

According to Schenectady Police Department spokesman Lt. Pete Frisoni, Goodwin’s information is not necessarily accurate anyway. The statement involving Metroland, he said, “did not come from an official source here. During this investigation we have never said anything like that. That was not the official position of this department.”

Whether the offenders made their connection to Quest Personals from Metroland or the Times Union (the ads in each paper contain the same information), it is unlikely that it can be determined conclusively where the victim saw the ad (and Frisoni noted that he also has seen it on local television). Still, Smith said he saw “nothing inappropriate” in the TU’s singling out Metroland. And both he and Goodwin said they
didn’t know Quest Personals also advertised in the TU.

What happens when one newspaper is singled out for an alleged connection to a sex scam that leads to murder? Several news organizations phoned Metroland Friday for more information on the story; to a person, the callers had assumed from the TU story that the personal chat-line service was actually run by Metroland (Quest is a private company that merely advertises the phone number for the service it runs). And the reporters were surprised to learn that the chat-line ads also run in the Times Union. Meanwhile, conservative talk-show host Paul Vandenburgh apparently lambasted Metroland for running sleazy ads on his morning show on WROW.

Curiously, Goodwin also defended his story by pointing out that his wording did not actually state that the robbers/killers found the Quest ad in Metroland—just that the chat line is advertised there.

That would seem to undermine his and Smith’s logic as to why it was appropriate to shine the crime’s lurid light directly on Metroland, which is effectively what Goodwin achieved by not mentioning that Quest Personals advertises its chat line in other local media—notably in the Times Union, where you can find it every day.

—Stephen Leon



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