The Sarin On Our Hands In Iraq

by Brendan James

Declassified documents reveal that Saddam “relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence” when he deployed mustard gas and sarin during the Iran-Iraq war:

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We Chemical Weapons Iraq-Iran Waralready knew,” [retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona] told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

The disclosure obviously has relevance to our current moral posture on chemical warfare inside Syria:

If, as is looking increasingly likely, the U.S. does conduct a military intervention in Syria it is worth remembering that the U.S., while condemning the use of chemical weapons now, once supported a dictator knowing that he intended to use chemical weapons on his enemies, another example of how policy makers too often justify ugly and obscene policies in order to pursue what are considered desirable ends.

Chotiner insists our dirty hands in Iraq shouldn’t prevent action against Assad:

If anything, America’s previous support for Saddam Hussein made it more imperative that the country take some action to remove him. I certainly don’t think this was a sufficient reason to support a disastrous war, but it gives ammunition to the opposite case than the one that anti-war activists were making. The same argument cropped up when Mubarak lost United States support in 2011. Would it have been better to go on supporting him? …

This time around [with Syria], look for a similar focus. Haven’t we looked the other way during previous atrocities? Didn’t we previously reach out to Assad and try to make deals with him? And, given the latest revelations, how can America condemn the use of chemical weapons when we aided Saddam Hussein’s crimes? For these questions to have any merit, someone needs to explain why having previously aided an atrocity is a reason for ignoring the next one.

Meanwhile, Friedersdorf understands our assistance to Saddam as a lesson about government secrecy:

Most people in the Reagan Administration would’ve been mortified to stand in front of TV cameras and say, “I decided that we should help Saddam Hussein to kill Iranians with chemical weapons.” Forced to embrace that approach openly or not at all, policy may have been different.

But the policy never had to be explained to the American people or the world. The American personnel who carried it out never needed to defend their actions to a critical press or the public. Some people believe America did right back then. The rest of us should reflect on the lessons to take from our wrongs. Taking sides in a war like Iraq versus Iran almost inevitably meant sullying ourselves. Acting in secret all but guaranteed questionable actions would be carried out in our names. And hindsight hasn’t been kind to those who claimed our morally dubious acts were necessary.

(Photo: Victims of Iraq’s attacks on Sardasht with chemical weapons from Wikimedia Commons)