BERLIN, Oct. 7 -- As part of its stealth effort to evade U.N. sanctions and rebuild its military, the Iraqi government under President Saddam Hussein found that it had no shortage of people around the world who were willing to help. Among them: a French arms dealer known only as "Mr. Claude," who made a surreptitious visit to Iraq four years ago to provide technical expertise and training.
Mr. Claude worked for Lura, a French company that sold tank carriers to Iraq, according to documents recovered by the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. The mysterious Frenchman may have also helped the Iraqis attempt to acquire military-related radar and microwave technology, despite a U.N. ban on such trade with Iraq since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
_____In Today's Post_____
Former U.N. Inspectors Cite New Report as Validation (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Hussein's Aims, Capabilities Often Differed (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
U.S. Delaying Action on Violators of Iraq Sanctions (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
1,300 Oil Vouchers Begin to Tell Story (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Privacy Act, Order Shielded U.S. Names on List (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Other French military contractors came to Baghdad with offers to supply the Iraqi government with helicopters, spare parts for fighter aircraft and air defense systems after 1998, when U.N. weapons inspectors withdrew under pressure, according to a report issued this week by Charles A. Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector. The report cites evidence that contacts between the French suppliers and Hussein's government continued until last year, less than one month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
While not denying that the transfers took place, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, Herve Ladsous, said the accusations "were not verified either with the people themselves or with the authorities of the countries concerned," according to the Associated Press.
The French were hardly alone in helping Hussein to reinvigorate his military forces during the 12 years that Iraq was under strict U.N. sanctions. Arm dealers and military suppliers from the former Eastern Bloc -- Russia, Poland, Romania, Belarus and Ukraine -- provided critical assistance to Iraq as it tried to build a long-range missile program and other systems that weapons inspectors feared could have been used someday to launch chemical, biological or even nuclear attacks.
"It was well known within the U.S. government that individuals and companies were selling Iraq various kinds of prohibited items," said Gary Samore, a nonproliferation specialist in the Clinton administration who now works as an analyst for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
While the United States sought to shut down suppliers through diplomatic and other means, Samore said, it was common knowledge that Iraq was able to bypass sanctions by buying in small quantities and paying high prices, using a network of front companies in Jordan, Syria and other countries in the Middle East.
"The world is awash in conventional arms, and every time there's been an arms embargo on a country they've been able to circumvent it," he said. "It's much more difficult to buy more exotic technologies like nuclear weapons, but there are so many private dealers and corrupt state entities, especially in the former Soviet Union. The best you can do is slow down sales, obstruct them or make it more expensive."
Numerous other nations bought and sold on the Iraqi military shopping network, including such dictatorships as North Korea and the former Yugoslavia before the downfall of President Slobodan Milosevic. While some of the countries were politically friendly with or sympathetic to Iraq, the biggest motivation was usually money, according to Duelfer's report to the CIA.
"As long as the regime had enough cash to pay for these items, it really wouldn't have been too much of a problem to obtain these things and smuggle them in," said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East editor for Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments, a London-based magazine. "It just takes people with enough money and the ability to find the right contacts to get their hands on this stuff."
The Iraqi pipeline extended to four countries -- Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Ukraine -- that later sent troops to Iraq to join the U.S.-led military coalition.
In Poland, Iraqi intelligence officers helped set up a front company called Ewex, which obtained engines and guidance components for surface-to-air missiles from Polish scrap dealers and middlemen who scoured military surplus stockpiles for the parts, the report said.
U.S. inspectors estimated that Iraq bought about 280 engines from Poland from 2001 to 2003 with the intent of using them to equip a new missile that violated U.N. range limits. The engines had been removed from Polish missiles decommissioned after the Cold War.
Polish authorities arrested some Ewex executives in 2003 on charges of making illegal arms deliveries to Iraq. Purchasing documents confiscated later showed that many of the engines were funneled through Syria.