International

Documents show US backing for Iraq despite chemical-weapons use

Declassified papers reveal that Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran did not cost him US support

Iraqi soldiers pose in front of a bullet-riddled mural of Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, April 20, 1988.
Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images

As President Barack Obama considers a military intervention in Syria following allegations that its embattled government used chemical weapons against civilians, Foreign Policy published declassified CIA documents Sunday revealing that the U.S. government knew about Iraq's use of nerve gas against Iranian forces in 1988, but did nothing.

While it isn't a secret that the U.S. government aided Iraq's military to prevent an Iranian victory in the nearly decade-long war between the two countries, it is the first time that official documents reveal the scale of the United States’acquiescence to some of the largest chemical-weapons attacks in recent history, including the gassing of thousands of Kurds in Halabja, Iraq in 1988.

The CIA documents are part of a secret program where the U.S. government shared military intelligence with the Iraqi regime, detailing the positions of Iranian forces after they had discovered a hole in Iraqi defenses and were planning a strike. The information resulted in several chemical attacks on Iran and eventually forced the country to the negotiating table, FP reports.

American officials, including the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who supervised the program denied the attacks. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, told FP that the U.S. government was well aware of Iraq leader Saddam Hussein’s deadly intent.

"The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," he said.

Iraq's gas wars against Iran from 1981 to 1988 were frequently employed to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which happened without prior consent from the United Nations Security Council and under the guise of exposing Hussein’s stock of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1983, the U.S. government gathered evidence of Iraqi chemical weapon attacks as Iran was building its case for the U.N., but prevented the information from becoming public, according to FP.

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