The so-called Douma chemical attack story is developing. Immediately following first reports of civilian casualties on April 7, the US-led bloc took a hard-core stance and accused the Assad government of being responsible for them. Nonetheless, the situation remains unclear as Washington and its allies have provided no proofs confirming these allegations.
While the Douma incident still has to be properly investigated, there is no secret that the US has some own skeletons in the closet.
A generation ago, the US military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks.
In 2013, the US magazine Foreign Policy (FP) published an article referring to the CIA files over the US assistance to the Saddam Hussein attacks. The text below is based on the FP’s article.
According to the FP in 1988, during Iraq’s war with Iran, the US learned through the satellite imagery that Iran exploited a hole in Iraqi defenses to gain a major strategic advantage. The US intelligence officials revealed location of Iranian troops to Iraq, awaring that Hussein’s military would attack with the chemical weapons, including sarin.
The Iraqis used the mustard gas and the sarin prior to four major offensives that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the US policy of securing the Iraqi victory would succeed.
These aforementioned chemical attacks were the last in a series of the chemical strikes stretching back several years that the US knew about and didn’t disclose. However, the US officials denied acquiescing to the Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein had never announced the use of the weapons.
The retired Air Force Colonel Rick Francona, a former military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes said:
“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” Francona told FP.
According to the CIA documents, the US had the evidence of the Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983.
At the time, Iran stated that illegal chemical attacks had been carried out on its forces, and was building a case to the UN. However, there weren’t enough evidence to involve Iraq, as the proof was in the top secret reports and memorandum of the US government. Then, the CIA declined to comment for this story.
The USA decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. Only if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. In the documents, the CIA said “Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons” use — even though the agency possessed it.
The CIA documents revealed that the US knowledge of how and when Iraq had employed the deadly agents. They show that the senior US officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks.
Top CIA officials, including the Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey knew about the location of the Iraqi chemical weapons. Moreover, they were told that Iraq was trying to make enough mustard gas to keep up with frontline demand from its forces. Iraq intended to buy the Italian equipment to speed up production of the chemical-packed artillery rounds and bombs. The officials knew that Iraq could use nerve agents on the Iranian troops and allegedly civilians.
Thus, the CIA was warned that Iran might launch attacks against the US interests in the Middle East. It means the US was completely involved in the Iraq warfare campaign.
“As Iraqi attacks continue and intensify the chances increase that Iranian forces will acquire a shell containing mustard agent with Iraqi markings,” the CIA reported in a top secret document in November 1983.
“Tehran would take such evidence to the U.N. and charge U.S. complicity in violating international law.”
Francona stated that the information he saw in 1984 clearly had showed that the Iraqis had used Tabun nerve agent against Iranian forces in southern Iraq. The CIA officials were told about the plans for launching next attacks, but for the US the Iraqi victory in the war was important.
The CIA noted in one document that the use of nerve agent “could have a significant impact on Iran’s human wave tactics, forcing Iran to give up that strategy.” In March 1984, the CIA reported that Iraq had “begun using nerve agents on the Al Basrah front and likely will be able to employ it in militarily significant quantities by late this fall.”
An interesting fact: The use of chemical weapons in war is banned under the Geneva Protocol of 1925, Iraq never ratified the protocol; the United States did in 1975. The protocol wasn’t passed until 1997.
The initial wave of Iraqi attacks, in 1983, used mustard agent. The US didn’t assist Iran in its attempts to bring proof of the illegal Iraqi chemical attacks. Hard evidence of the Iraqi chemical attacks came to light in 1984. However, it didn’t much concern Hussein from using the lethal agents. The Defense Department proposed an intelligence-sharing program with the Iraqis in 1986. According to Francona, it was nixed because the CIA and the State Department viewed Saddam Hussein as “anathema” and his officials as “thugs.” The situation changed in 1987, when the CIA satellites picked up indications that the Iranians were concentrating large numbers of troops and equipment in the East of Basrah.
In late 1987, the DIA analysts wrote a Top Secret Codeword report warning that the Iranian 1988 spring offensive was a chance of breaking through the Iraqi lines and capturing Basrah. The report warned that if Basrah fell, the Iraqi military would collapse and Iran would win the war.
The US President Reagan read the report and wrote a note to the Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci: “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.” The DIA was authorized to give the Iraqi intelligence services as much detailed information as was available about the deployments and movements of all Iranian combat units. The sarin attacks then followed.
According to the CIA, two-thirds of all chemical weapons ever used by Iraq during its war with Iran were fired or dropped in the last 18 months of the war.
By 1988, U.S. intelligence was flowing freely to Hussein’s military. That March, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq.
A month later, the Iraqis used aerial bombs and artillery shells filled with sarin against Iranian troop concentrations on the Fao Peninsula southeast of Basrah. It was a great success of the Fao Peninsula offensive.
According to Francona, Washington was very pleased with the result because the Iranians never got a chance to launch their offensive.
Francona visited the Fao Peninsula found the battlefield littered with hundreds of used injectors once filled with atropine, the drug commonly used to treat sarin’s lethal effects. Francona scooped up a few of them.
Later, Francona reported that the Iraqis used the sarin in massive quantities three more times in conjunction with massed artillery fire and smoke to disguise the use of nerve agents. Each offensive was successful, because of the increasingly sophisticated use of the nerve agents. The last of these attacks, called the Blessed Ramadan Offensive, was launched by the Iraqis in April 1988 and involved the largest use of sarin nerve agent employed by the Iraqis to date.