1990s >> 1991 >> no-1037-january-1991

Merchants of Death

Latest Pentagon estimates of casualties which would follow an assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait have now risen to at least 50,000 dead and five times that number injured.

Iraqi forces are now dug in behind two defensive lines inside the Kuwaiti border, with tanks buried in up to two feet of sand and extensive trench systems supported by mines, artillery and formidable anti-aircraft arrays. But these forces did not just appear from the desert sands. They were supplied to the dictator Saddam Hussein by 30 countries, and the three biggest were all permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, France and China. Others included Sweden and Switzerland, North Korea and South Africa.

The world system of arms production is driven by two main factors: the economic imperative to maintain industrial capacity perceived as strategically vital but commercially obsolete, and the buying of “friends” to protect trade routes, sources of raw materials and markets. The arming of Iraq – which began in earnest during the war with Iran – demonstrates the complete uselessness of programmes designed to control the arms trade by treaties. These are useless since they take no account of the incessant rivalries which arise from the anarchic global state system. When Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980 most military experts predicted the conflict would be very brief as both sides would run out of armaments within a fortnight. Instead there were well over a million casualties, and this sheer volume of firepower was only sustained by arms-producing countries competing with each other to supply weapons to both sides.

Who armed Iraq

Iraq does not have much of a military industry of its own. During the war its main suppliers were France and Russia. The principle motive of the Russian supply effort was to secure the state’s strategic interests in a region vital for raw materials but otherwise dominated by the West.

Russia supplied the bulk of the 2,250 T54’s and T55’s which now form the backbone of the armoured forces ranged against the USSR’s own marines. During the Iran/Iraq war Russia supplied £5.55 million – worth of military exports, including Tupolev bombers, Sukhoi and MIG fighters and Frog and Scud B missiles. Russia is also responsible for one of the biggest military threats now posed by Iraq in the event of a war – a long-range missile attack on oil installations using the 815km range Al’ Abbas surface-to-surface missile, one of two ballistic missiles developed by Iraqi engineers from the Russian Scud B. Loaded with chemical weapons, it is also within range of Tel Aviv in Israel, which Saddam has vowed to take down with him if he is forced into war.

In the case of France, the motive was both commercial and strategic. The French arms industry – like its UK counterpart – is not a commercially viable proposition, but is considered essential to protect the state’s long-term interests. It has to sell its production on world markets to survive domestically. The Iran/lraq war proved a boon for the French armaments industry. Sales to Iraq topped $5.6 billion, or 40 per cent of arms exports for the period of the war, including 328 Dassault Mirage fighters and 848 Exocet missiles which were used to devastating effect against Iran’s Karg Island oil installations.

Now the monster partly created by France has turned on its creators. France is considered a weak link in the military front line, with its pilots faced by Iraqi Force pilots in French Mirages, trained in France on French missile systems. One French Air Force officer was reported as stating that “in some cases Iraqi equipment could be even better. They know our battle methods and have tried them out against the Iranians”.

The British Connection

As for the smaller players in building up the Iraqi war machine, British salesmen have not been left too much in the shade. Although the British government had a policy of only selling “non-lethal” hardware, this was a fig-leaf which was soon exposed. In 1982, International Military Services Ltd, a company wholly owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), was given permission to repair British-made Chieftain tanks captured by Iraq from Iran (and now in the Iraqi front line facing British troops across no-man’s-land). Three years later 300 military landrovers worth £3 million and a large quantity of radar equipment said to be worth much more were sold to Iraq to “balance” the export of ships to Iran.

According to the Financial Times (31 March 1983) contracts for £250 million – worth of “defence related but non-lethal equipment” were signed in 1983, and in 1984 80 Iraqi Air Force pilots were trained at Specialist Flight Training Ltd of Carlisle. Iraq was on the MOD list of countries who received training from the armed forces or at MOD establishments every year of the war, and in 1986 a five-strong Iraqi delegation led by Director of Armaments and Supplies, Major-General Ibrahim Hammadi, attended the British Army Equipment Exhibition at Aldershot.

British firms also had a hand in building up Iraq’s chemical weapon capability. In 1981, with the active support of the MOD’s Defence Sales Organisation (now the De- fence Export Services Organisation) Primary Medical Aid Ltd of Fareham, Hampshire, sold 10,000 chemical protection kits to Iraq, in a deal worth $500,000. Such kits are essential protection for people employed in the manufacture of chemicals or the filling of shells, and this order was approved in spite of specific legislation – the Export of Goods (Control) Order – which prohibits the export of nuclear , biological and chemical warfare protective clothing.

This trade continued after the war with Iran was over. Seven months after the ceasefire 13 British companies, including British Aerospace, Racal and GEC, exhibited at the first Baghdad International Exhibition for military production. BAe shortly afterwards announced a £300 million deal for 50 Hawk aircraft and a local production line in Iraq. This was finally vetoed by the British government despite fierce opposition from the MOD and Department of Trade and Industry .They argued – quite validly – that if BAe did not get the order, then another country equally desperate to maintain a military aircraft capability, such as France, most certainly would.

This is, of course, precisely what did happen, with the Dassault/Dornier Alpha jet leaping to the front of the race to rearm a regime which had just been savaged by Amnesty International for torturing and .gassing its own people. Interestingly, Iraq also demonstrated a touching example of the truly international nature of the arms production industry by displaying at the Baghdad fair a French Mirage fitted with Russian missiles, and a Russian transport plane with French and British radar.

British companies have also been active, often with the covert support of the military -industrial bureaucracy, in building up Iraq’s indigenous arms production industry. The Supergun fiasco is the latest example. Of particular interest here is that the MOD and DTI both knew about the barrel sections – masquerading as pipes – fully two years ago, yet still granted export licences. Could this have anything to do with the fact that the Defence Export Secretariat – the MOD’s own arms export promotion agency – is an integral part of the “neutral” government body vetting arms exports, the Defence Exports Secretariat?

Despite the Supergun fiasco, as late as July last year – one month before Iraq invaded Kuwait – the newly-appointed British military attaché to Baghdad, Col A. J. Dobson, invited British firms wishing to do business with the Iraqi regime to a cosy briefing on the local opportunities for profitable trade.

Customs officers are now investigating Microwave Modules Ltd of Aintree, Liverpool over the sale to Iraq in December 1988 of surveillance equipment and remote controlled “spy in the sky” aircraft. In its defence the company has claimed that the DTI has always been aware of its dealings and has given them its tacit approval.

So much, then, for the major suppliers of Iraq. But there is also the increasing number of developing countries which are pulling themselves into industrialisation through building up defence industries which also must export or die. Two particular cases in point are China and Brazil, both of whom exhibited at the 1989 Baghdad arms fair.

Following the introduction of the Four Modernisations, the Chinese army has come under pressure to justify itself commercially by finding foreign markets for its military hardware. The effect of this has been a shift towards the familiar commercial/strategic imperatives which have traditionally guided Russian and Western arms suppliers.

During the Iran/Iraq war, China sold between $8-10 billion-worth of arms to both sides, and in July 1988 Deng Xiaoping was forced to admit that freelance marketeering to the Middle East by various military commanders was getting out of hand.

In the case of Brazil, arms production was driven by the same imperatives as the Chinese – to establish a viable domestic armaments industry through foreign sales and to pay back massive foreign currency debts. Production now includes fighter air- craft, helicopters, missiles, armoured vehicles and military avionics, Brazil is now the leading exporter of wheeled armoured personnel carriers to the Middle East. It has been a key supplier of rocket launchers, missiles and howitzers. Thus is exposed the hypocrisy of the United Front of All Peaceloving Nations against the Evil Dictator Saddam Hussein. These same regimes which now claim the moral high ground are the very same ones which have spent the last ten years at least arming his regime.

America too does not escape the charges of hypocrisy. When it looked as if Iraq might lose to Iran in the later stages of the Gulf war, the CIA supplied Iraq with military intelligence from satellite pictures of Iranian troop movements. Peace-loving Germany was the biggest suppliers of equipment subsequently used to fabricate chemical weapons factories.

Although the Iraqi gold-mine appears temporarily exhausted, the constant conflict generated by inter-state competition continues to open up new doors of opportunity for the sellers of arms. Last September the Bush administration made moves to supply Saudi Arabia with $20 billion-worth of military hardware, although this has now been scaled down to around $7 billion. Some wags on Capitol Hill have already dubbed it Outdoor Relief for the US arms industry. Not to be outdone, Israel has now put in a bid for “balancing” military aid, and so the endless militarisation of the Gulf continues.

British Aerospace meanwhile has compensated for its disappointments in Iraq with a huge deal to sell Tornado fighters to Saudi Arabia, although this might be threatened by the US offer. In anticipation of further fat profits the value of BAe shares has already increased by 10 per cent over this half-year, with defence accounting for 76 percent of the group’s trading profits.

Not far behind BAe was French defence minister Chevenement peddling the wares of his own aerospace industry .Visiting Saudi Arabia last August he baldly announced that France “would take advantage of the Gulf crisis to pursue arms deals with the kingdom…”

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