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US helped as Saddam plotted chemical attacks, report says

David Teather, New York
Monday August 19, 2002
The Guardian

The US conducted a covert military campaign to help Iraq during its war with Iran, despite knowing that Baghdad intended to use chemical weapons in a number of battles, according to a report in the New York Times.

The report says the programme was carried out during the Reagan administration, at a time when the White House was publicly condemning Iraq for its use of lethal gas.

President George Bush and the his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, have repeatedly cited Iraq's use of gas during the 1981-1988 conflict as justification for a potential attack on the country.

The report quotes senior officers with direct knowledge of the secret programme.

The sources said that US aid was given in the form of critical battle planning assistance.

It has long been known that the US provided intelligence to the Iraqis from satellite photography to help them see where Iranian forces were massing against them.

But the highly classified programme is said to have involved more than 60 defence intelligence agency officers who secretly provided information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb-damage assessments.

The allegations may embarrass the secretary of state, Colin Powell, who was Ronald Reagan's national security adviser.

Through a spokesman, he described the report as "dead wrong".

During the war the US wanted to see Iran thwarted, fearing that it would overrun other oil producing states and possibly spread its Islamic revolution.

Frank Carlucci, a former defence secretary, said he understood that Iraq was given "general order-of-battle information, not operational intelligence". He added: "I did agree that Iraq should not lose the war, but I certainly had no foreknowledge of their use of chemical weapons."

The officers cited said that although Iraq did not share its plans to use chemical weapons, it had become increasingly evident that they were part of the nation's arsenal.

Colonel Walter Lang, who was a senior defence intelligence official at the time, said the defence intelligence agency and the CIA were "desperate" to make sure that Iraq did not lose the war with Iran. "The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern," he told the Times.

Another veteran of the programme said the Pentagon "wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas. It was just another way of killing people - whether by bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference."

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