Declassified CIA Documents Reveal US Helped Saddam Hussein Knowing He Would Use Chemical Weapons


Credit: Iraqi state television/wikimedia

Recently declassified documents reveal the U.S. was willing to help Saddam Hussein in the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s, despite knowing that he had and intended to use chemical weapons.

From Foreign Policy:

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration's long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn't disclose.

The Obama administration is preparing for a military response to last week's possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. If the use of chemical weapons in Syria is confirmed by United Nations inspectors it will almost certainly prompt military action from some Western countries.

As horrible as the images of the recent suspected chemical attacks in Syria are the number of those killed by the attacks represent a small fraction of the number of people killed so far in the Syrian civil war. Since the beginning of the conflict over 100,000 people have been killed, but it is the suspected use of chemical weapons that is causing the widespread outrage and threats of intervention that have been seen in the last week. As John Glaser pointed out in The Washington Times, the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria does not alter the fact that intervention in Syria would be unwise. Most Americans agree, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll showing that U.S. intervention in Syria is less popular than Congress.  

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.

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  1. the U.S. was willing to help Saddam Hussein in the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s, despite knowing that he had and intended to use chemical weapons

    Why is this not at all surprising to me?

  2. That was back when chemical weapons were still cool.

    1. sweet!

    2. What happened to you, chemical weapons; you used to be cool.

      1. Remember when nuclear weapons were cool?

        Turned uncool for the exact same reasons.

  3. That’s still not the same thing as “US supplied Saddam with chemical weapons! Derp!”

    1. Yup. Nice bit of elision with the statement “the US supported Saddam Hussein”, as if we were best buds and it were not in the context of a dual containment strategy in which we “supported” Iraq and Iran to maintain the balance of power.

      Obviously it can be argued that our policy in the region was still wrong, of course but it is a bit different than what people with no historical knowledge claim was US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 80s.

    2. How about this one:…..help_x.htm

      1. “Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research.” And if we had denied them, various people would have claimed that we were killing babies by interfering with legitimate medical research.

        1. Would you like to buy a bridge?

        2. Equally, the same people – speaking as a class rather than as individuals – later told us “Iraq never had WMDs, Bush LIED!”.

          Sure seems like the evidence available keeps being that Iraq made the world – after the 1991 war – think it had reasonably advanced biological and chemical warfare programs that it didn’t really have anymore in a bit of brinksmanship that got out of hand, to Iraq’s eventual detriment.

          (Gotta keep the Iranians scared enough of your WMD programs to not invade, but keep the West appeased enough with belief you might not have them anymore to not invade, on the other side of the spectrum.

          A tough game, and one that eventually fails.)

          1. Iraq made a big effort to convince people they had WMDs, to the point of issuing atropine injectors to at least some troops. But one complicating factor is that their WMD expertise came from the Soviets, and one thing the Soviets taught them was how to hide the programs, make them deniable, etc. And there is some evidence that their WMDs went to Syria before the US invasion. So we still really don’t know for sure.

  4. Realpolitik has a tendency to bite you in the ass. I know some of that is necessary when you play the game of thrones, but maybe we should have, I dunno, standards?

    1. Standards are racist. Or something.


    2. Dwarf? You should have stopped at “Imp”. And yes, you will stand here and take it from me, unless you like to take it from my friend here.

      1. What the U.S. should’ve been and should be is Tyrion, slapping various Joffreys and telling them to behave properly.

        1. And what happened to the Imp after that? Oh man, we should just have a massive spoiler fest. Wouldn’t that be fun?

          1. You may do that, but my analogy begins and ends with the slapping.

        2. There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.

      2. “I made the bald man cry.”

    3. It’s not even realpolitick.

      Realpolitick would have been telling MI-6 to go jump in a lake when they complained that the Iranian PM was on the verge of getting access to Anglo-Iranian Oil’s books and find out just how badly the Brits had fucked them over on the contractual oil royalties, and could the CIA do them a little teensy favor and fuck over one of the U.S.’s allies from WW-2 since MI-6 couldn’t operate in Iran anymore.

      1. We made a lot of mistakes during the Cold War out of a lot of twisted reasoning–if we don’t do this, the Soviets will do that, and we’ll all die!

        1. There was pretty good reason to believe the USSR was poised for takeover of Iran. Unacceptable, catastrophic outcome. It would have been worse than Cuba going red. Thank goodness Mossadegh was tossed out. ‘Blowback’ is a small price to pay.

          1. I understand the reasoning at the time, which was my original point–we did what we did because of the Soviet threat. However, I think there are some things we shouldn’t support, for a variety of reasons, in this case being so that when others use chemical weapons, we can’t be called out for our hypocrisy.

      2. You mean the same Brits that invaded Iran in 1941 with the Soviets and to oust the Shah who tried to get FDR to intervene on his behalf?

      3. You…you still believe the CIA was central to reinstating the Shah? Christ educate yourself already.

          1. My recollection is that we felt we had to, to prevent the Soviets from intervening. Geopolitics were a big, stinking mess back then. And our hands were far from clean.

            1. Yes, let’s please put this in the context that it was 1953, which was the same year that the Rosenbergs were on trial for giving away nuclear weapons secrets to the USSR, we were in a proxy war in Korea, and we’d just finished two simultaneous wars in which Persian Gulf oil was a key strategic resource.

          2. The guy that they kicked out was a hardcore Marxist. Had they done nothing, the bitch today would be how the Iranians hate us because the US abandoned them during the Cold War.

            The whole thing is ridiculous. First, the Mullahs didn’t run Iran initially after the revolution. The first post Shah Iranian President was Bani Sadr who was a moderate and a secularist. The Mullahs didn’t take over until later. So if the Iranians don’t like the Mullahs running their country it is their own fault not ours.

            Beyond that, would you please pick a fucking narrative. Half the time we hear about how the Iranian people love America and by stopping their nuclear program we are just making an enemy. The other half of the time it is how the Iranians hate us because of our evil actions in 1953 putting in the Shah. Which is it? It can’t be both.

            1. Also worth noting that Mossy’s approval ratings were dropping like a rock, largely due to the fact that he was establishing himself as an absolute ruler unaccountable to Iran’s rule of law, the king (who still had some legal prerogatives as constitutional monarch), and parliament. The Shah was also fairly popular at the time, and at the time of the coup was broadly supported. Oil nationalization was popular; the rest of Mossy’s agenda was not which is one reason that he started in on nationalist saber-rattling.

              The bigger problem was that the Shah didn’t know dick about running a country (he was popular pre-coup precisely because under him the monarchy rubber-stamped most of Parliament’s agenda) and allowed the sort of terror tactics that the populace rightly responded to negatively. It was not all that dissimilar to what happened to Tsar Nicolas II, in some sense. Nonetheless, it was at the time considered a relatively successful coup. Only in retrospect (and only after some poor ruling choices) was it reinterpreted as a suppression of nationalist aspirations.

              1. The problem was how the Shah ruled, not that we installed him. Had the Shah not been a complete moron and instead an effective ruler like say Pinochet was, history would look entirely different.

    4. Okay.

      What should the standards be?

      Remember that once they’re standards you have to either have no exceptions – or accept that they’re “more like guidelines”.

      Have fun with figuring out the former – or figuring out how the latter is different from what we’ve had since the beginning.

  5. 9% public support for intervention in Syria

    A few months from now, it won’t be anywhere near that much support, wait and see. This is not going to go well. We are being led by a gang of criminal idiots.

    This government does not represent the people, it represents itself, and it’s not very smart.

    1. So are you waiting for a Real TOP MAN who has popular support?

    2. We’ll like it once we find out what’s in it. ohhhhhh I hope it’s filled with banana cream!

      1. We already know what’s in it. Dead US soldiers, more dead everyone, and then another wonderful Arab Spring, in Syria this time. All for nothing.

    3. This government does not represent the people, it represents itself, and it’s not very smart.

      Situations like this just expose the face behind the Machiavellian mask. The dems and repubs are like shirts vs. skins. Taking an anti-intervention position when the other guy’s in power and switching it up when their guy’s president. All the while, the realpolitik continues on.

  6. Is this really a surprise?

    You guys are aware that the UK and France used poison gas in WWI and the US allied with them too?

    1. IIRC Churchill vigorously argued that the brits should use poison gas against civilian populations in Iraq to bring the savaqes to heel.

      1. However the Brits ended up just bombing them into submission.

      2. That’s a bit of a myth. In the 20s Churchill was in favor of a form of non-lethal poison gas, which at the time was understood to be a more humane means to deal with localist revolts before it was understood what the medical ramifications of said gas were. At a later point Churchill withdrew his suggestion.

        However, he did really fuck up dividing the Middle East (he was on a commission to partition the ME into spheres favorable to British interests), so much so that it contributed to his ostracization from the party.

        1. Churchill and Tony Eden also engaged in regime change in Iran in 1941 which seems to have been placed down the memory hole for some reason.

          1. Iran was basically collateral damage in the war against Hitler.

            1. And Mossadegh wasn’t considered acceptable collateral damage in the Cold War. Gee I wonder why that is?

        2. “non-lethal poison gas?” So the movie Serenity?

          1. Apparently Churchill was referring to tear gas.

  7. As horrible as the images of the recent suspected chemical attacks in Syria are the number of those killed by the attacks represent a small fraction of the number of people killed so far in the Syrian civil war.

    Look Feeney, maybe you didn’t get the memo, but using chemical weapons to indiscriminately kill hundreds of people is a moral obscenity. Using conventional weapons to indiscriminately kill tens of thousands of people, on the other hand, is just another day at the office.

    1. It’s not how many people get killed, Hugh, it’s the way in which they get killed that matters. If it’s in an unfashionable way, well, we need to kill more people in a fashionable way to make up for it. Do you see the flaw in your logic now?

      1. So you’re saying the US should level the whole place with drones to ensure that nobody gets hurt?

        1. Well, obviously they should nuke it from orbit. Just to be sure.

        2. What we should do is come up with a nonlethal weapon that can be delivered by drones that serves to humiliate the target.

          1. We still got that neutron bomb lying around. THAT thing had potential.

            1. No, no, nonlethal. Like a gas that gives the targets really bad gas. For months.

              1. Sorry – I always miss “nonlethal”.


                *thinks hard*

                I got nothin’.

          2. Ravenous cloth-eating nanites?

            1. Yes, some sort of nude bomb might work.

  8. Imagine my surprise.

  9. Why is getting killed by poison gas any worse than being transformed to a bloody lace doily by shrapnel?

    1. Because, red lines have been crossed. RED LINES!

    2. I still like my metaphor: “being turned into mist by a minigun”

      1. errr – not really a “metaphor” – “description” is more like it

  10. There are a whole lot of good reasons not to intervene in Syria. But this is about the dumbest argument against one could possibly make. First, it is question begging. So what if the US supported Husein even though he used chemical weapons? Maybe the US was wrong to do so and should do the right thing now. Second, even if it weren’t question begging, it was 25 years ago. Circumstances are different now.

    I think going into Syria is a terrible idea that risks starting a world war with Russia and won’t accomplish anything at this point even if it doesn’t end in disaster. But I would like to think Reason can make more intelligent points than this. Or is it that anytime the subject relates to war and US intervention you just can’t help but make idiotic arguments even when you have the proper position?

    1. Indeed. I’ve noticed that libertarians like to make tu quoque arguments when it comes to foreign policy that they would find specious in any other context.

      1. I’ve noticed that libertarians like to make tu quoque arguments when it comes to foreign policy that they would find specious in any other context.

        No shit. Anti-War libertarians love using tu quoque arguments when it comes to opposing war.

        When Obama uses one to defend the NSA then that is rightly considered terrible but when some libertarians uses it to defend Putin or Saddam or Assad or Chavez or Kim or however then it is okay.

        1. Step back from the phrase “pro-war libertarian” and see if you can make any sense of it.

          1. See if you can make any sense of “pacifist Libertarian” outside of rainbow puppy island where no one ever would take away your liberty.

            1. Build that strawman, John. Build it sturdy and high. And then burn it for all it’s worth.

              1. Strawman is calling me a “pro-war libertarian” when I all did was to attack anti-war libertarians for using fallacious arguments. Just like you just did.

              2. How is it a straw man? You are the one saying “pro war libertarian” is a no sequitur. If there can never be a pro war Libertarian, doesn’t that mean being a libertarian must mean being a pacifist?

                Just because you don’t like the implications of your own argument, doesn’t mean someone pointing them out is constructing a straw man.

                1. If there can never be a pro war Libertarian, doesn’t that mean being a libertarian must mean being a pacifist?

                  Huh? One can be fully willing to fight to defend oneself, but not advocate the initiation of force.

                  1. One can be fully willing to fight to defend oneself, but not advocate the initiation of force.

                    Yeah because that is so effective against an organized army. That would just make you a moron. You are better off admitting to be a pacifist.

                    1. You’re better off admitting you’re a retard John. No the only alternative to attacking anyone we dislike isn’t pacifism, you complete buffoon. Apparently all sense goes away when this topic comes up. Of course people can band together for defense voluntarily without someone coercing them into defending themselves, do you even listen to yourself?

          2. Don’t worry, NutraSweet, the WARBONER crowd just needs to whine a little more before they get tired and want their juice box and a nap. Playing armchair warrior is very tiring.

          3. “Pro-war” is a silly turn of phrase to begin with.

            Can anyone outside a hoary 19th-century imperialist trope really be characterized as wanting and loving war? It strikes me as similar to describing pro-choicers as “pro-abortion” or pro-lifers as “anti-choice” — neither faction would be accurately described or accept that slandering of their views and motivations.

            1. Can anyone outside a hoary 19th-century imperialist trope really be characterized as wanting and loving war?

              Haven’t you read anything by Cytotoxic in this thread?

              1. …that’s fair.

            2. How soon we forget the neocons of ten years ago.

          4. Perhaps “Anti-War” in this context refers to the odious “,” the twisted love child of Patrick Buchanan and Lyndon LaRouche.

            1. Yes, I personally have some serious problems with that brand of libertarianism (even if we were to remove the odious neo-Confederate nonsense from its editorialism).

          5. I can (assuming we mean “pro-war” as “accepts war as a sometimes-valid part of policy”, not “is for war all the time as the solution to any policy problem it can be applied to”).

            Please explain why it should be incoherent or nonsensical, rather than simple implying it.

            (Remember that the non-aggression principle applies to individuals, not States.

            States have no rights.

            Individual citizens of the states do, of course, but once they’re part of the state Apparatus and it’s violating other people’s rights, they’re as much a valid target as if they were doing so individually*.

            If actor A can, with libertarian justification, shoot/arrest/assault/annoy actor B in defense of actor C’s rights, it doesn’t matter if B is “a State”; it has no right to oppress C.

            And if actor A can’t, well, a libertarianism where oppressors are free from any threat unless their victims can fight back personally is a pretty cheap, shallow thing, and I reject it.

            It certainly isn’t obvious from first principles, and I don’t recall it as an axiom or derived principle in Hayek, Mises, Rothbard, or Nozick.

            * This is horrible, of course, if they’re forced into it with conscription, but the alternative – not firing on conscripts because they were forced into it – is even worse, since it encourages conscription and makes their army almost unbeatable.)

      2. Too many let their anti-US government focus distort their view of the world. Mendacity ensues.

    2. ‘Something bad happened decades ago so now you can’t do stuff’-what bankrupt peacenazis will resort to.

      Neither here nor there doesn’t begin to describe it.

    3. I don’t think this is the dumbest argument one could make. Droning up a huge amount of moral outrage over behavior that you previously condoned is the height of hypocrisy. Pointing out that all those who are wailing and screeching like banshees over Syria’s (alleged) use of chemical weapons were silent when our guy was doing it is a perfectly valid point. Kind of like pointing out to Tony how his guy is engaging in the same policies that he was all mad about before 2008.

      “it was 25 years ago. Circumstances are different now.”

      “The constitution was written over 200 years ago, times have changed” is the same sort of deal. Human nature hasn’t changed. Using chemical weapons is wrong or it isn’t. This whole “oh, it’s okay now, because these are different times” is bogus. Can we haul people off to camps and gas them now because the times are different too? I’m tired of these fair weather moralists who decide things are fine as long as it’s our guy doing it, or that “new circumstances” make previous odious behavior perfectly acceptable. That attitude is frankly responsible for more atrocities than any other.

  11. They were the enemy of our enemy. It was a good idea and the only thing ‘obscene’ about it was America’s failure to launch a full-scale ground invasion of Iran in 1980.

    1. Fight a country that large with Jimmy Carter’s military? Um, no thanks.

  12. War on Women continues, unabated

    How much longer are we going to tolerate this war on vaginas? Can’t the tax payers at least fund this poor womans measley 100k a year? When are vaginas going to finally be unchained?

    1. Hyperion – we’ll have to rewrite “The Story of O” if vaginas are unchained.

      1. I’ve never read that.

        1. I never…”read” it…either…

          1. Hedonist!

  13. “The president will be making an informed decision about how to respond,” Kerry said in brief remarks to reporters at the State Department. “But make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons.”

    Good thing the world’s most heinous weapons aren’t drones.…..story.html

    1. world’s most heinous weapons


  14. Most Americans agree, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll showing that U.S. intervention in Syria is less popular than Congress.

    So, how do most Americans feel about bombing Syria with Congressmen?

    1. You deserve War Criminal status for advocating that.

    2. “If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me dropping Congresstards upon you.”

      I don’t know that Americans hate Syrians that much.

      1. Who said anything about giving them chutes?

        1. I think that would actually be BETTER. Then we could watch the Syrians ruffians stone them to death.

          GREAT IDEA, Hyperion!

    3. If McCain and Graham are the first Congress Critters dropped on Syria, put me in the ‘yea’ column.

      1. If by “dropped”, you mean “shoved from a C-17 28,000 feet from the ground without a parachute”, I agree.

        1. Give them a parachute. Lets see their bodies being dragged through the street.

    4. I doubt many people support biological warfare.

    5. That would be weapons of mass delusion.

  15. This has been public knowledge for about 15 years. Back then, BBC Newsweek ran a long interview with a whistleblower who claimed that at the end of the 1980s the US even provided Saddam with chemical weapons to use against Iran. The US mainstream media never reported about that.

  16. The overall context at the time is important. Iran was a terror-supporting, theocratic, self-declared enemy of the US. Saddam was a mostly secular dictator who didn’t seem like much of a threat. A war between the two drained the two of them, but Iran was much larger and it looked like they might win, so we helped a Iraq a bit. It wasn’t a bad move or outcome as realpolitik goes.

    And as stated above, it has little to do with Syria today.

    1. Context doesn’t really help. Regardless of the reason, the U.S. essentially used chemical weapons by proxy against Iran.

      1. I don’t agree. You could say, perhaps, that we didn’t do anything to stop the Iraqis from using them, but that’s not the same thing.

      2. And it worked pretty well. Lots of dead on both sides.

  17. Chemical weapons is just an excuse. The U.S. just wants to get in on the killin’ before it’s all over. We need to waste a bunch of cruise missiles so we can order some more. I recommend buying stock in cruise missile manufacturers. You can bet your ass that most members of Congress are.

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