Analysis: How UK armed Saddam in 80s
Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:2PM
On September 22nd, 1980, the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein's regime launched a war on Iran.
This came following three weeks of border clashes between the Iraqi and Iranian military, which soon erupted into an all-out war. Iraqi military bombed several Iranian air and military bases, including Tehran's international airport. The war lasted eight years, at the cost of millions of lives.
Initially Saddam saw Iran as a weak target, as following the revolution the country was still finding its feet. Moreover, Iraq's superior military status gave it the upper hand in the war. However, soon after the war was launched, Iran surprised its invader as millions of voluntary young men joined the army and fought for the sovereignty of their country. This forced the Iraqi military to quickly withdraw from Iranian territories .
Although most super powers and other leading nations declared their neutrality towards this war, it soon became evident that the majority of western powers supported Saddam Hussein's attack on Iran, and Britain was one of them.
The United Kingdom was directly involved in arms trade with both parties during the war, however the British government kept a blind eye to evident illegal exports taking places between numerous British companies and Saddam Hussein's regime, making Iraqi clandestine procurement operations very active within the United Kingdom.
The UN Security Council had identified and listed 150 foreign companies whom supported and facilitated Saddam Hussein's program for weapons of mass destruction during the Iran-Iraq war. 24 of these companies were British.
This lead to the Scott Inquiry on British military sales to Iraq, which lasted 3 years and was under the direction of senior high court judge Sir Richard Scott. The Inquiry was set up in 1992, following the collapse of the Matrix Churchill Ltd and was a turning point for campaigners who were attempting to reveal details of the British government's support for Saddam Hussein.
Matrix Churchill was a company set up in Coventry in England heavily involved in the production and exportation of machine tools used for the building of military equipment used by Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, and following the war.
3 senior executives of the Matrix Churchill firm were charged in 1991 with deceiving the British government over the intended use of the machine tools when they applied for export licenses. Matrix Churchill defended itself by claiming that the British government knew exactly what the firm was doing, and as one of its directors claimed to have been working for the British intelligence services, the Ministry of Defence advised the firm on the best ways to apply for export licences without attracting attention.
The Scott Inquiry report of 1,806 pages exposed the British government's breach of British law and regulations on banning the exports of dual purpose materials and equipment to Saddam's Iraq. The Inquiry revealed the government's secret plan to supply Saddam with more weapons-related materials, even after the massacre of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam's Halabja chemical weapon attack.
Lord Scott also accused the British government of failing to disclose to parliament the decision it had made in adopted a 'more liberal policy on arms sales to Iraq while at war with Iran.'
It was revealed that Britain exported Thiodiglycol, a mustard gas precursor, and Thionyl chloride, a nerve gas precursor, all of which were used in an extensive chemical attack against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war by Saddam's regime.
As a result, Iran finds itself today one of the world's most afflicted country by weapons of mass destruction, and is only second to Japan.
During the war on Iran, the UK resisted any condemnation of Iraq's evident chemical weapon attacks at the UN Security Council. As a result, no resolution was passed to call against Iraq's use of chemical weapons, despite the fact that the majority wanted to condemn its use.
On March 21, 1986 the UN's Security Council recognised that 'chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces', however the UK remained adamant in abstaining to vote or condemn Iraq's chemical weapon's program. Ironically, in 2003, the UK used this very excuse to invade Iraq.