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  •   How Saddam Built His War Machine – With Western Help

    By Glenn Frankel
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, September 17, 1990; Page A01

    LONDON -- It's a small, nondescript corporate headquarters nestled within a complex of anonymous office buildings on a quiet west London side street. But, according to Western defense sources, Technology and Development Group Ltd. is in fact a link in a secret international network that has supplied Saddam Hussein's Iraq with a vast array of Western arms and technology.

    Purchased by an Iraqi firm in 1987, TDG has acquired interests in high-tech European firms and has bought sophisticated machinery and tools that experts say have helped Saddam develop an ambitious arsenal of advanced, nonconventional weapons.

    During its eight-year war against Iran, Iraq became the world's largest retail purchaser of arms. But in recent years, it also has sought the technology to develop its own arms industry, both to free itself from dependence on foreign suppliers and to develop the kind of doomsday armaments -- nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles -- that would make Iraq the Arab world's dominant power.

    Experts say the development of Iraq's arms industry has its roots in the desire to lead the Arab world, as well as in Israel's humiliation of the Arab states in the 1967 Six-Day War. Saddam, whose Baath Socialist Party took power in Iraq the following year, saw the Israeli experience as a lesson in how a small but resourceful nation could become a regional superpower.

    He began to put his program into practice in the mid-1970s, secretly launching projects to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, intelligence sources say.

    Some of those weapons are already available and likely to be used by Iraq in any military showdown with U.S. forces. The bleak irony is that much of the technology and expertise that created those weapons was bought by Iraq in the West, sometimes by deception but often with the silent acquiescence of Western governments. Those sales continued even after Saddam's regime was accused of using chemical weapons against Iran and Iraq's own Kurdish citizens.

    W. Seth Carus, defense analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the combination of petrodollars and technological help from the West made Iraq a new phenomenon in the Third World. "Iraq is a unique case. No one's really done this before," he said.

    Everyone, it seems, took a slice of the Iraqi arms pie. The Soviet Union, France, China and Chile sold Baghdad much of its off-the-shelf weaponry. West Germany, France, Britain, the United States, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Brazil all sold the components, machines and tools -- much of it material with civilian as well as military application -- that are the building blocks of the modern Iraqi war machine.

    As a result, military and intelligence analysts say, Iraq can make some of its own chemical weapons, has a fledgling nuclear-weapons program that could produce a bomb in five years or less and is working on a long-range missile that would enable it to deliver such a bomb to Tel Aviv, Tehran or Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

    "This is a Frankenstein monster that the West created," said Hans-Heino Kopietz, Middle East analyst with Control Risks Group, a private security firm here. "We closed our eyes because some businesses wanted to make money and because Saddam was a useful tool against Iran."

    The size and scope of the Iraqi network is only now beginning to emerge as Western nations and the former Soviet bloc take stock of what they sold and transferred to Baghdad during the past decade. Some of it has become clear following arrests made here and in West Germany over the abortive attempt to smuggle nuclear triggering devices, the export of chemical warfare materials and the so-called supergun affair.

    But much remains concealed behind a web of dummy companies, false documents and middlemen. This article is based on court records from those cases, interviews with defense analysts and published accounts in Europe and the United States.

    Despite the fact that most Western nations adopted an arms embargo against both sides during the war between Iran and Iraq, Saddam's purchasing agents found it relatively easy to make deals. One of their first major purchases was for 200 155mm guns designed by Gerald Bull, Canadian-born architect of the legendary supergun. An informed Arab banking source said it was typical of many of Iraq's deals -- multinational, clandestine, yet monitored by several Western intelligence agencies that did nothing to prevent it.

    Bull, who was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in Brussels last March, designed the guns for South Africa's state-run Armscor munitions company, but they were built in Austria by Voest-Alpine, Austria's state-run steel and arms manufacturer. Jordan provided the letter of credit guaranteeing payment and the "end-user" certificate that purportedly ensured the weapons would wind up in Amman. Yet they were shipped via the Jordanian port of Aqaba directly to Iraq. Jordan, the banking source said, charged Iraq a "commission" on each gun and made a total profit of $60 million. The result: Iraq wound up with the most sophisticated artillery weapon in the world, one that experts say can be modified to lob chemical shells on U.S. troops in the gulf.

    The faking of end-user documents to aid Baghdad was standard procedure throughout the Iran-Iraq war, sources say. A senior Kuwaiti official, who asked not to be identified, said such certificates for U.S.-made arms were regularly filled in at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington. "Of course, the stuff was going direct to Iraq, and everybody knew it -- your government and mine," he said.

    There were many other deals in the early years of the war -- tanks, missiles and MiG warplanes from the Soviet Union; Mirage jet fighters and Exocet missiles from France; multiple rocket launchers and armored vehicle from Brazil; bombers, artillery and armored personnel carriers from China; antitank missiles, rifles, ammunition and Soviet-designed tanks from Poland. At the peak of the war in 1984, Iraq spent half its gross domestic product -- $14 billion -- on arms and defense, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

    By then, however, Saddam had shifted focus. Iraqi agents, aided by investment advisers in Switzerland, France and Britain, had begun a year earlier quietly buying into foreign companies specializing in technology and machinery with potential military applications. Eventually, sources say, the effort was concentrated in one government agency, the Ministry for Industry and Military Industrialization, and placed under the control of Hussein Kemal, Saddam's son-in-law.

    It was an extraordinary effort, according to witnesses, one that commanded priority within Iraq's centralized, wartime economy. Christopher Cowley, a British engineer who worked for Bull on the supergun project, described to BBC Television his visit to Iraq's Saad 16 missile-building complex last year.

    "It was absolutely brilliant," he recalled. "I've never seen anything in Europe that compared with that particular research facility {or} that had such superb equipment."

    The supergun affair demonstrates the sheer sweep of Iraq's European network. Private companies in seven European countries were contracted to build parts for the gun, but no one knew what any of the others were doing, and all deny they knew what the end product was.

    The Iraqis spent millions on the project, while governments turned a blind eye. When British customs agents finally moved in earlier this year to stop shipment, 44 of 52 gun-barrel sections had already been sent to Iraq -- enough to build two experimental weapons, experts believe.

    London-based TDG, which is still operating, is one part of the network, according to a British defense source. The British firm was bought in 1987 by Al Arabi Trading, a Baghdad-based company. One of its current directors, Safa Habobi, and a former director, Fadel Jawad Kadhum, are Iraqis who have been identified in the British press as top officials of the Nasr State Enterprise for Mechanical Industries, a key defense firm under Hussein Kemal's direct control.

    Shortly after its purchase, TDG bought a computerized machine tool that British sources say is capable of cutting aluminum sheets for outer shells of missiles. Later, the company reportedly purchased a consignment of uranium oxide and electronic vacuum tubes that can be used in firing mechanisms of nuclear warheads.

    TDG also bought pieces of other firms and purchased Matrix Churchill, a British engineering firm based in Coventry. Habobi also bought an 18 percent stake in a Swiss engineering firm called Schmiedemeccanica.

    The Swiss firm specializes in precision forging of high-technology components. At Frankfurt airport two months ago, German customs officials seized shipments of components from Schmiedemeccanica that investigators said were destined for use as part of a centrifuge system to produce weapons-grade uranium for Iraq's nuclear program. The company has said it was assured by Iraq that the parts were for civilian use.

    TDG ran into an obstacle last year when defense officials vetoed its efforts to buy Lear Fan, a Belfast plastics factory whose products could be used to manufacture nose cone and engine nozzle parts for long-range missiles.

    Officials at TDG did not respond to questions submitted in writing at the company's request. They previously have denied "any formal relationship" with the Iraqi government or involvement in military purchases. Matrix Churchill also has said its products are strictly for civilian use -- although it did maintain a display at the Baghdad arms-trade fair last year.

    The opposition Labor Party contends that Britain has failed to close down its portion of the Iraqi network by allowing companies like TDG to continue operating. A senior government spokesman insisted, however, that Britain had maintained tighter controls on dual-use exports to Iraq than most of its European neighbors and had lost lucrative defense contracts as a result.

    By contrast, critics contend West Germany allowed flagrant violations of its own laws against military exports. "It may be true that when it comes to Iraq, everybody's hands are somewhat dirty," Carus said. "But the people who exceeded it by order of magnitude were the Germans. Everything that showed up in Iraq -- chemical, biological, nuclear -- had a German element to it."

    West German officials say they are investigating 59 companies on suspicion of illegally exporting arms and technology to Iraq, 25 of them specifically for alleged supplies to the chemical-warfare program. Last month, seven people were arrested and charged with supplying parts and plans for Iraq's chemical-warfare facility at Samarra, 45 miles northwest of Baghdad, and intelligence sources contend German companies designed and built two of Samarra's plants. They were purportedly designed to make pesticides, but in fact manufacture small quantities of sarin and tabun, both nerve agents.

    Critics say Bonn was aware of charges of West German involvement as early as 1984 but did not launch an investigation until 1987. It took three more years for the first arrests to be made.

    Because Iraq is a closed society, now sealed off even more completely by United Nations sanctions, it is unclear just how much functional military power Saddam was able to buy or how quickly that power could erode.

    "He has no real industry to speak of, no raw materials; he can't make his own steel," said an exiled Iraqi financier. "He still has to import every single component. What he really owns is a huge weapons assembly industry, not an independent weapons industry."

    Others are not so sure. Some believe Saddam has stockpiled enough weapons, spare parts and ammunition to operate for months or years without a single shipment from the West. Christopher Foss, editor of the authoritative reference work Jane's Armor and Artillery, recalls how impressed he was at the military hardware and expertise he saw on display at the Baghdad arms-trade fair in April 1989. About 30 countries exhibited there -- and much that was on display then is part of the Iraqi arsenal now.

    Chemical

    Experts say that Iraq has the largest chemical weapons program in the Third World, developed entirely with the aid of foreign firms, especially those from West Germany. Iraq can presently produce up to 700 tons of chemical warfare agents per year, according to these estimates, but its capacity is expected to increase sizeably in the 1990s. There are at least two plants at Samarra where Iraq produces mustard gas and the nerve agents tabun and sarin; and two more at Fallujah, where Iraq reportedly is building a manufacturing complex for "precursors" -- the ingredients used for nerve gas. Experts say that Iraq also has built a research facility for biological warfare at Salman Pak.

    Nuclear

    Western intelligence sources disagree on how close Iraq is to developing a nuclear bomb, with estimates ranging anywhere from two years to two decades. Most agree, however, that Iraq is pursuing two routes: one using the weapons-grade uranium left over from the Osirak reactor bombed by Israeli warplanes; the other by constructing its own uranium enrichment facility using a centrifuge system. The Iraqis are reportedly building such a facility with help from West German, Brazilian, Pakistani and Chinese experts. They have been purchasing centrifuge components through their international network, including special cobalt magnets, pumps, tubes and an accelerator. Last March British Customs agents seized American-made nuclear triggering mechanisms designed for the project. To guard against another Israeli strike, the nuclear program is reportedly scattered at several industrial sites, including Al Qaim and Tuwaitha and the Saad-16 missile manufacturing site near Mosul.

    Missiles

    Iraq has developed and tested a number of missiles with limited success, most of them modified versions of the Soviet Scud-B, which has a range of 175 miles. The al-Hussein, a modified Scud with a range of 400 miles, was used against Iran in the 1988 "War of the Cities." The al-Abbas, a newer Scud derivative, was test-fired in April 1988 and has a 500-mile range. Last December, Iraq staged a partially successfully launch of the al-Abid space rocket.

    A key project is the Condor-2, a two-stage, solid fuel rocket with a 600-mile range that was a joint Iraqi project with Egypt and Argentina. Though their partners reportedly withdrew from the project under Western pressure, the Iraqis are still working on missile technology with the aid of a Brazilian team. French firms have provided electronic missile guidance systems, British firms the specialized tools to build missile shells and components and Belgian firms solid fuel and missile propellents.

    Missile reserach and development is reportedly done at Saad 16 near Mosul, al-Hillah, Fallujah, Karbala and Eskanarya, 80 miles south of Baghdad, where a mysterious explosion last August reportedly killed up to 700 workers.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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