Regarding Victoria Clarke's Jan. 9 letter exonerating Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld from responsibility for participating in normalizing U.S.-Iraq relations in 1983:

Mr. Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad on Dec. 17, 1983, carrying a handwritten letter from President Ronald Reagan to Saddam Hussein, according to "Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq," by Alan Friedman of the Financial Times of London. In the letter, Mr. Reagan offered to restore diplomatic relations with the Iraqi regime and to improve military and business connections with the United States.

Howard Teicher, a former National Security Council official who traveled to Baghdad with Mr. Rumsfeld, is quoted in the book: "Here was the U.S. government coming hat-in-hands to Saddam Hussein and saying, 'We respect you, we respect you. How can we help you? Let us help you.' "

Saddam Hussein asked Mr. Rumsfeld to try to stop arms shipments to Iran. The United States went a step further by providing U.S. government-backed loan guarantees to Iraq, according to Mr. Friedman.

As we consider the president's urgent pleas to make war on Iraq, we need to understand that the United States supported Iraq in the 1980s and continued to aid it during the Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein was gassing Iranians on the battlefield and Kurds in Iraq, and when Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and the missile systems to deliver them.

TODD FINEBERG

Silver Spring