Wednesday 4 September 2013

Chemical Weapons? No Problemo.

America's current fixation on Syrian chemical weapons contrasts vividly with the USA's lack of concern during Middle Eastern conflicts immediately prior to the year of the Lockerbie bombing (December 1988). 

In the late stages of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's, chemical weapons were used by Iraq against Iranian forces, against Iranian civilians, and also against Iraqi civilians. America accepted this as a necessary feature of weakening Iran and resisting Soviet influence in the region.

Indeed, the CIA provided NASA coordinates showing the positioning and likely movement of Iranian forces, so that Saddam Hussein's army could target their chemical weapons more accurately.

When the UN looked for solutions to the conflict, the US blocked all resolutions condemning Iraq.

Readers might note the references to Colonel Oliver North and Iran-Contra.  North's activities included the sale of weapons to Iran to enable them to fight a war against Iraq. The proceeds of those sales were then used to buy weapons for the anti-government contra rebels as America attempted to bring down the left-wing government of Nicaragua. An estimated 70,000 Nicaraguan civilians and government officials were killed.

North's "task force officer" (a title endowed by the US media) throughout the Iran-Contra years under President Reagan was a senior and much awarded CIA administrator who was, two years later, placed in charge of the CIA's Lockerbie investigation team.  

Many historically accurate accounts exist regarding this phase of US foreign policy, but remain forgotten or deliberately ignored by Western media.

Here are two of those accounts.

The first is explained by its title, and you are invited to follow the thread to this and connected articles.,1

The second - written in 1993 by Stephen R. Shalom -  is available on the internet (See below). For the sake, however, of the busy reader, we have pulled out this key section.

"Iraq responded to Iranian victories on the ground by making use of its advantage in technology: it escalated the tanker war, employed chemical weapons, and launched attacks on civilian targets. Iran retaliated by striking Gulf shipping starting in 1984 and launching its own attacks on civilians, though on a lesser scale than Iraq. Iran charged that the Security Council's handling of each of these issues reflected animus against Iran.

In 1984 the Security Council passed a resolution on the tanker war that was directed primarily against Iran's actions and made no reference to Iraqi conduct except to call for all states to respect the right of free navigation.<142>

On chemical weapons, the Security Council passed no resolution. The United States condemned the use of chemical weapons, but declined to support any Council action against Iraq.<143> The Council did issue a much less significant "statement" in 1985 condemning the use of chemical weapons, but without mentioning Iraq by name; then, in March 1986, for the first time a Council statement explicitly denounced Iraq. This, however, was two years after Iraq's use of chemical warfare had been confirmed by a UN team.<144>

In 1983 a UN team found that both sides had attacked civilian areas, but that Iran had suffered more extensive damage than Iraq. Teheran wanted the Security Council to pass a resolution that indicated Iraq's greater responsibility, but the Council refused to do so, and no statement was issued.<145> In June 1984 the Secretary General was able to get the two sides to agree to cease their attacks on civilians. Both sides soon charged violations, but UN inspection teams found that while Iraq was indeed in violation, Iran was not. By March 1985, the moratorium was over.<146>

At this time, jockeying for position with Moscow was still a crucial consideration for the United States. In a section of a draft National Security document that elicited no dissent, U.S. long term goals were said to include "an early end to the Iran-Iraq war without Soviet mediation...."<147>

Iran remained committed to its maximum war aims, a commitment not lessened by the fact that Oliver North, apparently without authorization, told Iranian officials that Reagan wanted the war ended on terms favorable to Iran, and that Saddam Hussein had to go.<148> But it was not just North's unauthorized conversation that encouraged Iranian intransigence; the authorized clandestine dealings between Washington and Teheran no doubt had the same effect.

In late 1986 the Iran-Contra scandal broke, forcing the U.S. to go all-out in its support for Iraq in order to preserve some influence among the Arab states jolted by the evidence of Washington's double-dealing. In May 1987, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy met with Saddam Hussein and promised him that the U.S. would lead an effort at the UN for a mandatory arms embargo of Iran; a resolution would be drawn up calling on both sides to cease fire and withdraw, and imposing an embargo on whoever didn't comply, presumably Iran. The U.S. drafted such a resolution, but the non-permanent members of the Security Council altered it to include the formation of an impartial commission to investigate the origins of the war, as Iran had been insisting, and to eliminate the mandatory sanctions. On July 20, 1987 the revised document was passed unanimously as Security Council Resolution 598.<149>

Iraq promptly accepted 598, while Iran said it would accept the cease-fire and withdrawal of forces if the impartial commission were set up first. The U.S. and Iraq both rejected Iran's position, asserting that Iran had no right to select one provision out of many in the resolution and impose that as a first step.<150>

The Secretary General then travelled to Teheran and Baghdad to try to work out a compromise and he made some progress. According to the leaked text of his private report to the Security Council, Iran agreed to accept an "undeclared cessation of hostilities" while an independent commission was investigating the responsibility for the conflict; the cessation would become a formal cease-fire on the date that the commission issued its findings. This was not an acceptance of 598, but an informal cease-fire might have meant an end to the killing as surely as a formal one. Iraq, however, insisted that "under no circumstances" would it accept an undeclared cease-fire.<151> Instead of seizing the Iranian position as a first step toward a compromise, the United States, in the words of Gary Sick, "pressed single-mindedly for an embargo on Iran, while resisting efforts by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to fashion a compromise cease-fire."<152"

For the full article, please click here.

The international banning of chemical weapons was agreed as far back as 1925.

Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph

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