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Context of 'August 13, 1981: Iraq Using Chemical Weapons Against Iranian Forces'

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The theocratic regime of Iran, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, halts all of Iran’s efforts to create either nuclear weapons or nuclear power plants. Under the previous regime, Iran had begun constructing a nuclear reactor in the city of Bushehr with the assistance of the German firm Siemens. However, Khomeini and his clerics view nuclear power and nuclear weapons as evil, and ban further work on the project. Iran will resume work in the mid-1980s when it learns that Iraq, its opponent in a long-running war (see September 1980), is working on its own nuclear weapons program, and suffers attacks from Iraqi chemical weapons (see August 13, 1981). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 212]

Entity Tags: Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini, Siemens

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

With support from Saddam Hussein, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, joins Iraqi troops in fighting against the Iranians (see September 1980). [US Department of State, 4/30/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003]

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Shatt al-Arab waterway.Shatt al-Arab waterway. [Source: CNN]Iraq invades Iran, officially beginning a nine-year war between the two countries, although Iraq insists that Iran has been launching artillery attacks against Iraqi targets since September 4. The overarching reason, according to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, is over control of the Shatt al-Arab, the geographically critical waterway between Iran and Iraq that empties into the Persian Gulf. (Iraq signed over partial control of the Shatt al-Arab to Iran in 1975, but reclaimed the waterway in 1979 after the fall of Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi; Iraq also has hopes to conquer the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.) The United States will provide covert military support to both Iran (see November 3, 1986) and Iraq (see 1981-1988) during the war. [Infoplease, 2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s, Iran-Contra Affair

The Reagan administration provides covert support to Iraq in an effort to prevent Iran from overrunning the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf. [New York Times, 8/18/2002; Nation, 8/26/2002; Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
bullet US Air Force officers are secretly deployed to Iraq to assist their counterparts in the Iraqi military. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
bullet The US provides satellite photography to Iraq revealing the movements of the Iranian forces. [Washington Post, 12/15/1986; New York Times, 8/18/2002 Sources: senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program, Unnamed informed sources interviewed by reporter Bob Woodward]
bullet The US provides Iraq with intelligence gathered by Saudi-owned AWACS operated by the Pentagon. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
bullet Iraq uses US-supplied military intelligence “to calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops….” (see 1984) [Washington Post, 12/15/1986]
bullet “[M]ore than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency…. secretly [provide] detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002]
bullet President Reagan and Vice President George Bush personally deliver military advice to Saddam Hussein, both directly and through intermediaries (see 1986). [Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 pdf file; Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
bullet The US closely monitors “third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq [has] the military weaponry required.” [Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 pdf file; Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
bullet According to the censured portion of Iraq’s December 7, 2002 declaration to the UN (see December 7, 2002) (see December 19, 2002), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories help train Iraqi nuclear weapons scientists and provide nonfissile material for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, United Nations, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, George Herbert Walker Bush, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ronald Reagan, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Defense, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Osirak nuclear facility.Osirak nuclear facility. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org] (click image to enlarge)On the order of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and after heated debate among Israeli leaders, Israeli warplanes strike the Osirak (also spelled Osiraq) Tammuz I nuclear plant at al-Tuwaitha near Baghdad, destroying it and dealing a severe setback to Iraq’s nuclear program. Israel claims it fears Iraq is building a nuclear weapon with which to strike it. Osirak is a French-made nuclear reactor, which is near completion but lacks any nuclear fuel, thereby raising no danger of any radioactive link. Ariel Sharon, concurrently Defense Minister and a proponent of the strike, later says, “This was perhaps the most difficult decision which faced any [Israeli] government during all the years of the state’s existence.” The Israeli government states after the strike, “The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing, whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.… Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people.” The reactor is slated to be completed by September, 1981, though it would be years before it could produce any nuclear-grade fissionable material. Iraq denies the reactor is developed to produce nuclear weapons, though the construction of the plant gives credence to claims that Iraq is more interested in building a weapon than generating electricity. (After the strike, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says, “Any state in the world which really wants peace… should help the Arabs in one way or another to acquire atomic bombs,” giving further credence to suspicions that Hussein wanted to build a nuclear weapon.) The Israeli strike follows up a September 1980 raid on the Osirak facility by Iranian warplanes (see September 30, 1980). Publicly, Iran and Israel are dire enemies, but Israel has begun secretly selling US-made arms to Iran as a way to counterbalance the threat posed by Iraq (see 1981). [BBC, 7/7/1981; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Institute for Strategic Studies, 5/1995] In 1984, Brookings Institution fellow Lucien Vandenbroucke will write, “Ironically, Israel’s raid may prove to be a brilliant tactical success achieved at the expense of the country’s long-term interests. Certainly, the attack set Iraq’s nuclear program back several years. But the strike also ushered in a de facto Israeli claim to nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, a move that in the long run generally promises to encourage the larger Arab world on the nuclear path.… In the decision-making process, Israeli fears and the propensity to rely on worst-case analyses seem to have prevailed. The advocates of the strike focused on the unreasonable, rather than the reasonable, aspects of Iraqi behavior, and thus even a limited prospect that Iraq might soon acquire a nuclear bomb became more of a risk than they were prepared to accept.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/1984]

Entity Tags: Brookings Institution, Saddam Hussein, Lucien Vandenbroucke, Menachem Begin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The official Iranian news agency claims that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces along the northern section of the Iran-Iraq border. [Vallette, 3/24/2003] By the end of the decade, some 100,000 people will die as a result of chemical warfare waged by the Iraqis. [New York Times, 2/13/2003]

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

According to some accounts, Iraq begins using chemical weapons against Iran at this time. However, Iran claims that Iraq’s use of these weapons began in 1981 (see August 13, 1981). [Shultz, 1993, pp. 238; Jentleson, 1994, pp. 48; Cole, 1997, pp. 87]

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Rumsfeld greets Hussein.Rumsfeld greets Hussein. [Source: Washington Note.com]US Special Envoy Donald Rumsfeld—formerly the Secretary of Defense and now the CEO of the pharmaceutical company, GD Searle and Co.—personally meets with Saddam Hussein for 90 minutes in an attempt to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq. Rumsfeld also discusses US interest in the construction of the Iraq-Jordan Aqaba oil pipeline [to be built by Bechtel (see December 2, 1983)]. [US Department of State, 12/10/1983 pdf file; Iraqi television, 12/20/1983; US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file; MSNBC, 8/18/2002; Newsweek, 9/23/2002; Washington Post, 12/30/2002; London Times, 12/31/2002; Vallette, 3/24/2003; New York Times, 4/14/2003] Rumsfeld does not raise the issue of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons with Saddam. [US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file] Rumsfeld also delivers a letter to Hussein from Reagan administration officials declaring that for Iraq to be defeated by Iran (see September 1980) would be “contrary to United States interests.” Rumsfeld’s visit represents one side of the somewhat double-edged US foreign policy in the region: the US has allowed Israel to sell US-made arms to Iran for use against Iraq (see 1981). By this time, the US has already started clandestinely providing arms to Iraq as well (see October 1983). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992] After his meeting with the Iraqi president, Rumsfeld meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. They agree that “the US and Iraq… [share] many common interests.” Rumsfeld briefly mentions US concerns about Iraq’s chemical weapons, explaining that US “efforts to assist [Iraq]… [are] inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us….” [US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file] On September 19, 2002, almost two decades later, Rumsfeld will be questioned in Congress about this visit (see September 19, 2002). [US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s, Iran-Contra Affair

Richard Murphy.Richard Murphy. [Source: Richard W Murphy.org]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy writes a potentially explosive classified memo about arming Iraq. Murphy, along with his boss George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, are strong proponents of supporting Iraq in its war with Iran (National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and two of his staffers, Howard Teicher and Oliver North, support arming Iran; the argument is causing deep divides within the administration). Murphy’s memo is so sensitive that its recipients are ordered to destroy it and to keep records of its destruction. Murphy suggests that the US can arm Iraq with “dual use” items—nominally civilian items that also have military use, such as heavy trucks, armored ambulances, and communications gear. Murphy also advocates helping Iraq build a new oil pipeline that will pump oil to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, on the Israeli border, which will allow Iraq to circumvent the Iranian blockade of Iraq’s Persian Gulf ports. Murphy also mentions the State Department’s desire to fund a number of projects in Iraq through the US Export-Import bank (EXIM), chaired by Reagan appointee William Draper. Murphy writes, in part: “Liberalizing export controls on Iraq: we are considering revising present policy to permit virtually all sales of non-munitions list dual use equipment to Iraq…. Egyptian tank sales: in the context of recommending ways to improve our relations with Iraq, Egypt has suggested that we provide it additional M-60 tanks beyond those we are now providing under FMS [Foreign Military Sales]. Egypt would use the additional M-60s to replace used Soviet T-63s, which it would sell to Iraq…. EXIM financing: [Under-Secretary of State Lawrence] Eagleburger has written EXIM director Draper to urge EXIM financing of US exports to and projects in Iraq…. Such major EXIM financing could boost Iraq’s credit rating, leading to increased commercial financing for Iraq. However, EXIM does not favor involvement in Iraq.” Murphy warns that Congress might begin sniffing around the State Department’s secret policy of arming Iraq. He advocates fobbing off Congress with background briefings that emphasize “our efforts to deter escalation and bring about a cessation of hostilities.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Export-Import Bank, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Lawrence Eagleburger, US Department of Defense, Robert C. McFarlane, William Draper, Howard Teicher, US Department of State, Richard W. Murphy

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Tariq Aziz.Tariq Aziz. [Source: BBC]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, the author of a secret policy memo detailing the administration’s new and covert military support for Iraq (see January 14, 1984), meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, in Baghdad. Murphy later describes Aziz as wearing olive-green fatigues, clenching a Cuban cigar between his teeth, and sporting a pearl-handled revolver. Aziz welcomes the covert arms supplies from the US, and is particularly interested in the proposed construction of an oil pipeline to run from Iraq to Jordan, very near the Israeli border. However, mindful of the recent destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak by the Israelis (see June 7, 1981), Aziz insists that the US help finance the pipeline, both with government funds and private participation. Murphy agrees that the project is invaluable both in a geopolitical and an economic sense, and says he will so inform his Washington superiors. Murphy gingerly raises the question of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops (see 1982), but Aziz denies any such usages. Murphy doesn’t press the issue, but says that Iraq must, according to Murphy, “eliminate doubts in the international community by making their positions and explanations as clear and understandable to the international public as the allegations have been.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Richard W. Murphy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]The Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa publishes an article reporting that the US has been sending spare parts and ammunition for US-made jet fighters to Iran in return for Iran facilitating the release of American hostages held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (see September 15, 1985). It also reports that national security adviser Robert McFarlane and four other US officials, including his aide Oliver North, visited Tehran in September 1986 and met with several high-level Iranian officials, who asked for more US military equipment (see Late May, 1986). After the meeting, the report says, four C-130 transports airlifted the arms to Iran from a US base in the Philippines. The flight of the transports has never been confirmed, but the rest of the report is essentially factual. It is unclear where Al Shiraa got its information; the publication has close ties to Syrian officials, and it is possible that the Syrians leaked the information in order to destabilize any possible thawing of relations between the US and Iran, perhaps with an eye to increasing Syria’s own influence in Iran. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, quickly confirms McFarlane’s visit, but adds elements to the story that many from all sides of the issue find hard to believe, including claims that McFarlane and his companions used Irish passports to enter Iran, and were posing as the flight crew of a plane carrying military equipment Iran had purchased from international arms dealers. Rafsanjani claims that McFarlane and his companions brought gifts of a Bible signed by Ronald Reagan, a cake shaped like a key (to symbolize an opening of better relations between Iran and the US), and a number of Colt pistols to be given to Iranian officials. Rafsanjani says that he and other Iranian officials were outraged at the visit, kept McFarlane and his party under virtual house arrest for five days, and threw them out, sparking the following complaint from McFarlane: “You are nuts. We have come to solve your problems, but this is how you treat us. If I went to Russia to buy furs, [Mikhail] Gorbachev would come to see me three times a day.” US officials say that Rafsanjani’s embellishments are sheer invention designed to humiliate the US and bolster Iran’s perception around the world. They confirm that McFarlane, North, and two bodyguards did visit Tehran, but bore neither Bible, cake, nor pistols; they did stay in Tehran four or five days, and met with numerous Iranian officials, perhaps including Rafsanjani. The officials are unclear about exactly what was accomplished, though apparently no new deals were concluded.
US Arms Deals with Iran Revealed - Though Rafsanjani’s account may be fanciful in its details, the effect of the Al Shiraa report is to blow the cover off of the US’s complex arms-for-hostage deals with Iran. While Al Shiraa does not mention the hostage deal, Rafsanjani does, saying that if the US and France meet certain conditions—the unfreezing of Iranian financial assets and the release of what he calls political prisoners held “in Israel and other parts of the world,” then “as a humanitarian gesture we will let our friends in Lebanon know our views” about the release of American and French hostages. On November 17, Time magazine will write of the Al Shiraa revelation, “As long as the deep secret was kept—even from most of the US intelligence community—the maneuver in one sense worked. Iran apparently leaned on Lebanese terrorists to set free three American hostages… . But once the broad outlines of the incredible story became known, the consequences were dire. The administration appeared to have violated at least the spirit, and possibly the letter, of a long succession of US laws that are intended to stop any arms transfers, direct or indirect, to Iran. Washington looked to be sabotaging its own efforts to organize a worldwide embargo against arms sales to Iran, and hypocritically flouting its incessant admonitions to friends and allies not to negotiate with terrorists for the release of their captives. America’s European allies, the recipients of much of that nagging, were outraged. Moreover, the US was likely to forfeit the trust of moderate Arab nations that live in terror of Iranian-fomented Islamic fundamentalist revolutions and fear anything that might build up Tehran’s military machine. Finally, the administration seemed to have lost at least temporarily any chance of gaining the release of the missing six US hostages in Lebanon, or of cultivating the Iranian politicians who might sooner or later take over from [the Ayatollah] Khomeini.” [Time, 11/17/1986; New York Times, 11/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
'Cowboy' Operation in the West Wing - The arms-for-hostages deal is run from the National Security Council by a small group of NSC staffers under the supervision of North; the group is collectively known as the “cowboys.” A government official says in November 1986, “This thing was run out of the West Wing [of the White House]. It was a vest-pocket, high-risk business.”

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Al Shiraa, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

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