The irony of the world's stance on Syria's use of chemical weapons is lost on most of us, particularly Russia's reluctance to accept military intervention without a sanction from the United Nations. In researching another posting on the subject of chemical weapons earlier this week, I stumbled on a very interesting bit of history that I would suspect that most of us are not aware of or have forgotten. As usual, I'm using what I consider the highest quality sources for this posting; although it may appear that this comes from the "tin foil-hatted, conspiracy obsessed", in fact, the source for much of this posting is the CIA. While I definitely don't believe that governments and their agencies are always truthful, in this case, I see no reason for them to prevaricate.
Let's open with a 1990 quote from Saddam Hussein:
"By God, spare us your evil. Pick up your goods and leave. We do not need an atomic bomb. We have the dual chemical. Let them take note of this. We have the dual chemical. It exists in Iraq."
As I posted here, Iraq has a great deal of experience with chemical weapons (CW) during the protracted Iran-Iraq war that lasted from September 1980 to August 1988. I know it's hard to recall the reality of that decade but Iraq was considered to be a friend to the United States and as such, was the beneficiary of American technology and intelligence. One of those benefits, granted by corporations from at least three NATO countries, was the implementation of a chemical weapons program.
Fortunately, the CIA reveals the source of at least some these chemical weapons for us. Let’s start with some background on Iraq’s CW program.
Iraq first became interested in the use of chemical weapons in the early 1960s when it perceived that it was under threat from both Israel and Iran. The Iraqi Chemical Corps was established in 1964 and began to synthesize small volumes of CW agents in 19??. According to Global Security, during the 1960s, Iraqi junior Army officers were trained in chemical warfare by both Russia and the United States during the 1960s. It is these officers that were folded into the Chemical Corps. Oddly, the more Senior officers in the Iraqi Army favoured a defensive CW program whereas the foreign-trained Junior officers favoured both a defensive and offensive approach to CW. By 1974, the Al Hasan Ibn al-Haithem Research Foundation was founded and new laboratories were constructed near Baghdad. Al Hasan was intimately supported by the Iraqi Intelligence Service and was founded by Ghassan Ibrahim a captain in the Chemical Corps. The facility was closed and the organization was liquidated in 1978 because it failed to achieve its objectives as well as mismanagement and fraud. By the end of 1979, the Chemical Corps was reorganized and began to produce CW agents under the guise of testing defensive equipment.
When the war with Iran began in 1980, the Iraqis suddenly had motivation to expand the development of their CW program. This project, code-named Research Center 922 or Project 922 was initialized on June 8, 1981 with the objective of producing mustard gas, Tabin, Sarin and VX as well as white phosphorus munitions. Project 922 began construction of a 100 square kilometer CW research and production centre near Samaara. To maintain its anonymity, Project 922 was known to civilian Iraqis as a pesticide production company with a front company named the State Establishment for Pesticide Production (SEPP). The facility quickly began production of CW agents, producing 85 tons of mustard agent from 1981 to 1982. The facility produced 350 tons of mustard by 1985, growing to 900 tons in 1987. Between 1984 and 1986, Iraq produced between 60 and 80 tons of Tabun annually. By 1987 – 1988, Iraq produced up to 394 tons of Sarin annually.
Let's now look at who helped Iraq. As you will see in the State Department cable below, the United States (and likely its allies) were well aware that Iraq was using chemical warfare by March of 1984 (and likely quite a bit earlier).
1.) Egypt – during its early years, Egyptian scientists provided consultation and technology that allowed rapid development and production of CW stocks, particularly during the Iran-Iraq war. In 1983, Egypt modified the Grad 122mm Multiple Rocket Launch System to enable warheads to store chemical agents and exported these rockets to Iraq in 1984.
2.) Germany – West German businesses using East German designs supervised the creation of what was, at the time, the world's most modern and best-planned CW facility. Construction activity was particularly heavy during 1982 – 1983 with Germany's Karl Kolb, a German supplier of scientific instrumentation and components particularly for developing nations, building five large research laboratories, an administrative building, eight large underground bunkers for the storage of chemical munitions and the first production buildings. Karl Kolb described the production plants that it built as "general multi-purpose pilot plants" which provided both the company and the Iraqi government with plausible deniability since the buildings could and were used for both pesticide (civilian) and CW (military) development and production.
3.) Netherlands – two Dutch companies, Melchemie and KBS supplied Iraq with thousands of tons of chemicals that are considered to be the precursors to to production of CW including 1000 tons of thionylchloride, 100 tons of phosphor, 600 tons of sodium cyanide and 500 tons of thiodiglycol (TDG) between 1982 and 1985.
Here's what Iraq's CW infrastructure looked like before 1991 and Desert Storm:
Unfortunately, in the early 1980s (and even today), the world was (and still is) the "wild west" when it comes to trading of components and chemicals that can be used to develop and produce chemical weapons. Even Phillips Petroleum, owner of a small Belgian chemical plant, shipped 500 tons of thiodiglycol (TDG) to Iraq in 1983. While TDG is a multipurpose chemical that can be used for agriculture, it can also be used to produce mustard gas. To Phillips' credit, once they got word that Iraq might be using TDG to manufacture mustard, they refused a second order.
Now, let's look at what happened in March 1984. During that month, the United States refused to back a United Nations resolution condemning Iraq's use of chemical weapons even though by that time, there had already been at least three mustard attacks with more than 5000 casualties. The U.S. preferred to back a resolution that condemned the use of chemical weapons without mentioning Iraq by name as shown in this State Department cable:
Note that U.S. Diplomat requests of Iraqi diplomat Kizam Hamdoon that the nation halt its purchasing of chemical weapons from U.S. suppliers, "avoiding situations that would lead to difficult and possibly embarrassing situation. (sic)" and that while the U.S. government would be implementing licensing requirements on five chemical compounds for both Iran and Iraq, the U.S. "…does not want this issue to dominate our bilateral relationship nor to detract from our common interest to see the war brought to an early end." as shown here:
Now, let's look at the results of the use of chemicals by Iraq, keeping the above reticence in mind. During the war, once again according to the CIA, Iran suffered more than 50,000 casualties including more than ten thousand casualties and thousands of fatalities from the use of chemical weapons. This was an issue that was suddenly of importance to the United States as they prepared to invade Iraq during Gulf War 1. In a memo dated February 20th, 1991, the CIA notes the following:
Here is a listing of the implementation of chemical weapons by Iraq during the war and the results:
Iraq ultilized almost 19,500 chemical bombs, over 54,000 chemical artillery shells and 27,000 short-range chemical rockets between 1983 and 1988, consuming 1800 tons of mustard gas, 140 tons of Tabun and 600 tons of Sarin, mainly in the last 18 months of the war. I guess it's a good thing that there was no further embarrassment involved, isn't it.
While the world waits the military response to the Syrian chemical warfare issue, we can clearly see that the development of these weapons around the world can be laid at the feet of many nations. We know that North Korea and Iran are connected to Syria's CW program, however, as we can see from the information that I have provided on Iraq's CW program, it is a very, very complicated web of suppliers from many nations that are ultimately responsible for the development and production of chemical weapons. It's also interesting to see that, way back when, the United States was more concerned about being embarrassed by Iraq's purchase and use of chemical precursors from the U.S. than about their actual ongoing implementation.
Going back to the present stance of Russia on the issue of taking action against Syria; history really does repeat itself in one fashion or another. The only difference from one act of irony to the next are the players.
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