POLE-Papers
POLE PAPER SERIES ISSN 1370-4508 Vol. 1, No. 5, December 1995

The Chemical Threat in Iraq's Motives for the Kuwait Invasion

by Jean Pascal Zanders

When the first Gulf War ended in August 1988, it was hard to discard the feeling that a new military conflict in the region was only a matter of years, half a decade at the most. Indications were abundant. When Iran finally accepted Security Council Resolution 598 calling for a cease-fire on 18 July 1988, it was Baghdad that sought to prolong the war by insisting on prior bilateral talks with Teheran. Meanwhile it launched its massive offensive against the Kurds in northern Iraq, using chemical weapons indiscriminately. The attacks continued well beyond the cease-fire date of 8 August and its formal signing on 20 August. The United Nations and outside powers in the region chose to ignore the Iraqi onslaught for fear of rekindling the war. As British Ambassador to the United Nations said at the time, the Security Council "didn't want to upset the applecart". The U.N. even delayed publication of a report detailing Iraqi use of chemical weapons until the negotiations with Iran were well under way. The attacks after Teheran's acceptance of Resolution 598 and the lack of an Iranian military response must have reinforced Baghdad's belief that it had won the war. The lack of international reproach must have convinced it that its chemical attacks were legitimate. Only, one was pretty certain that Iraq was to be a major player in the next Middle East War and Israel the adversary.

Economic motives for the Kuwait invasion

The first Gulf War placed such a heavy burden on Iraq's economy, that recovery would inevitably be a long and slow process. Indeed, as one economist put it in 1989, "Iraq has been turned into a 'military machine', with major consequences for the post-war period, as the readjustment to a more 'normal' life may prove too difficult". By the end of the seventies, Iraq had reached the peak of a sustained economic growth. Between 1978 and 1979 oil production rose 30% from 2.7 million barrels to 3.5 million barrels a day. Oil revenues increased a dramatic 97.2%. They surged from $10.8 billion in 1978 to $21.3 billion in 1979 and the first nine months of 1980 already accounted for $22.4 billion in revenues. When Iraq launched its offensive against Iran in September 1980, it possessed $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves. However, within the first days of the war, most of Iraq's oil producing and processing facilities were destroyed or damaged, leading to an average drop in productivity of 9.7% a year and an annual 12.7% loss of export revenues between 1979 and 1986. The economic damage, including military expenditure, GDP losses and uninvested capital, ran at an estimated $ 226 billion for 1986 alone. Moreover, Iraq suffered other economic setbacks during the first years of the war. The 1981-85 Five-Year National Development Plan that aimed at reducing Iraq's dependency on oil revenues as main supplier of foreign exchange and at increasing non-energy exports, failed completely. Instead of rising, the real value of non-energy exports remained at more or less the same level, however, given inflation, it declined too.

The focus on the depletion of Iraq's oil revenues as a consequence of the war hides the fundamental structural weakness of Iraq's economy: most of the productive output goes to meet final demand uses (export or domestic consumption) and is not sold to other industrial sectors. This absence of so-called 'feeder' industries and internal linkages has prevented the emergence of new or complementary industries, which would have contributed to an overall higher level of economic development. In the decade preceding Iraq's oil boom, productivity only increased marginally in sectors other than mining. In some areas such as crude oil and natural gas, electricity, water and gas, construction, and manufacturing, the input requirements for a particular output increased, thus leading to declining productivity. The for the Iraqi economy important sector of agriculture, forestry and fishery grew just under one per cent between 1960 and 1974. Moreover, Iraq is one of those Gulf Arab states that failed to extend their growth successes in improvements in human capital, another important factor for sustained economic development. Being a major arms-importing country and investing massively in domestic advanced weapons research, Iraq - in a pattern typical for non-arms producing countries - drew scarce resources away from growth enhancing investments in education, health, infrastructure, and so forth to fund expansions in the military budget. Here too, Baghdad thus failed to generate cross-productivity effects that would have supported long-term development.

Baghdad achieved its remarkable economic growth at the end of the seventies as a result of a sharp rise of the export revenues of a single commodity, petroleum. The extra income was not generated by increased productivity, but by more favourable prices on the world market, a factor which was largely beyond the government's control. As in other oil-producing Arab countries, the government is the sole recipient of oil revenues. Since this income does not go toward the payment of the production factors, the government is responsible for channelling it into the economy through public expenditures. Given their large share of GDP, the central authorities exert a major influence on the direction of economic development by determining the investment factors. Perhaps not surprisingly, Iraq's economic sectors with the highest allocations - chemicals, rubber, oil refinery, machinery and equipment, other manufacturing, and services - were the ones with the highest output. In the area of defence in particular, this high degree of central organisation suited Iraqi wartime needs perfectly and was an important contributing factor to the for a developing country very advanced nature of the armament programmes. The system, however, again precluded the forging of strong linkages with other non-military industrial sectors and the whole enterprise depended on high crude oil prices on the world market. As one author noted, "changes in the volume of these earnings may have drastic effects on the productivity of the main sectors of the economy." Consequently, this "high dependence of the government on oil revenues as a main source of public expenditure may constitute a threat to the social and economic stability of the economy". In 1988, Iraq emerged from the war with part of its industrial base destroyed, many of its resources directed towards the war effort, and a sharply reduced income as a consequence of fallen oil prices. Moreover, the glut on the world market meant that the Iraqi leadership had even fewer opportunities than before to influence world prices. Its only opening was a renegotiation of production quotas within OPEC. However, the other Gulf Arab states, to which Iraq owed several tens of billion dollars as war debts, geared petroleum production to their respective economic needs, further compounding Baghdad's problems.

Table 1: Iraq - Military Expenditure 1975-1990

in million US$
(1988 constant prices)
as % of Gross
Domestic Product
19759.67511.7
19769.67510.7
19779.4899.8
19789.9168.1
19799.382(6.9)
198011.8726.3
198112.30612.3
198214.00718.4
198321.95224.3
198428.59629.1
198531.59026.0
198623.50624.2
198716.53124.3
198817.07323.0
198910.72020.0
19909.26820.0

Source: SIPRI Yearbooks 1985-1992 (World Military Expenditure)

The data for 1980-1990 were given by SIPRI in constant 1988 prices. The data for 1975-1977 were given in constant 1980 prices and have been converted in 1988 constant prices by multiplying them by factor 4.3056. The data for 1978-1979 were given in constant 1986 prices and have been converted in 1988 constant prices by multiplying them by factor 1.4276.
( ): Uncertain data.

The structural weaknesses of the Iraqi economic system had already surfaced during the early stages of the first Gulf war. In 1980, President Saddam Hussein announced that Iraq would strive for agricultural selfsufficiency. The goal was not exaggerated. Iraq has between Tigris and Euphrates some of the richest land in the world. However, during the war years, dependency on the outside world increased manifold. The deterioration in productivity followed mainly from the rising cost of the war; not a surprising development, since public funds, on which productivity depended, were increasingly diverted to the war effort.

Moreover, during the first five war years, the economically active population in agriculture declined from 30% to 24%. This rural-urban migration meant that fewer people had to produce for more, which proved beyond their capabilities. Dependency on the outside world was even more pronounced in other non-oil industrial sectors, where development relied to a large extent on imports. On the whole, the non-military import dependency averaged 2.9% of the Gross Domestic Product between 1973 and 1978, and rose to 32.5% between 1979 and 1985. Iraq's real weakness lay in the sharp fall of foreign exchange income and the resulting rising inability to sustain the high levels of import. In 1983 oil prices plummeted $29 a barrel, adding to Iraq's overall income problems. That year the country had reached its maximum production capacity, so the loss in revenue could not be compensated by higher output.

These figures do not yet take military expenditures into account. During the second half of the seventies Iraq's military expenditures stayed more or less level at $10 billion (1988 constant prices). They rocketed during the first half of the war, having tripled by 1984. Thereafter, against expectations, they dropped abruptly. By 1986, military expenditures were virtually halved and in 1990 they were back at the same level of the late seventies. (Table 1; Chart 1) However, these amounts gain real significance if set out as percentage of Iraq's Gross Domestic Product (Table 1; Chart 2). From 1975, year of signing the Algiers Accords with Iran, thus effectively ending the Kurdish uprising, until the beginning of the first Gulf war in 1980, military expenditure as percentage of GDP declined steadily. Since military expenditures in constant terms remained steady and started rising from 1979 onwards, this drop reflected the massive impact of Iraq's oil boom on the GDP rather than demilitarization. The damage to Iraq's oil industry during the first days of the war and the resulting loss of revenue caused a doubling of the defence burden in 1981, although in constant prices the war effort increased by 3.56%. In 1983 Iraq's oil production reached maximum capacity, allowing a doubling of military expenditures in constant terms by 1984. Still the lower world market prices resulted in a record defence burden for any of the war years (29.1%). From then onwards, the toll on the Iraqi society was heavy. Although defence expenditure dropped steeply, it remained above 20% of the GDP, indicating the country's economic collapse.

The first Gulf war cost Iraq an estimated $452.6 billion. This, however, was only the monetary cost, and excluded "inflationary costs, the loss of services and earnings by the many hundreds of thousands of people killed, the depletion of natural resources, the postponement of crucial development projects, the cost of delayed training and education of the young people [...]. The sum also excluded "the cost of welfare payments to the hundreds of thousands injured in the war who are not able to contribute fully to the creation of wealth for the national economy". The war absorbed approximately 112% of Iraq's Gross National Product, leaving it with a $80 billion debt in 1988, of which one quarter was to non-Arab states. In the two years following the war, the Iraqi leadership, however, mismanaged its foreign debt and on the eve of the invasion of Kuwait, it owed an additional $10 billion to its non-Arab creditors (Europe, Japan, and the United States). During the first half of 1990 prices for crude oil dropped from $20 to $14 a barrel, causing Iraq severe fiscal problems, which the other Gulf Arab states were unwilling to finance.

Between September 1980 and August 1988 Iraq managed to expand its armed forces and inventory of major weapons systems considerably despite the losses incurred. On the eve of the war, the Iraqi Armed Forces consisted of around 242,000 personnel. By 1988 the total had increased to 1 million people under arms , and, despite some attempts to demobilize, it remained unchanged during the two subsequent years. Table 2 illustrates the Iraqi military buildup for some key weapons systems. Significantly, all four categories expanded markedly between the first and second Gulf war. In addition, Iraq managed to maintain or expand its defence industrial base and continued the development and production of extended-range versions of the Soviet Scud-B missile and its nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal.

Table 2: Iraq - Military Buildup
Weapon system 1980 1988 1989 1990
Main Battle Tanks2.7504.5005.5005.500
Armoured Fighting Vehicles2.5004.000+8.100+10.000
Combat Aircraft332500513689
Helicopters277[150]160489

Source: IISS, The Military Balance 1980-1981, 1988-1989, 1989-1990, 1990-1991.
[ ]: Army only; no information on Air Force; no information on war losses.

The basic question, as Kamran Mofid put it, is how could "a country which has lost much of its oil revenues and all of its foreign reserves and has gone through a seven year war end up with so much more military hardware than at the beginning of the war?" Early on in the war, other Arab countries, most notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, financed Iraq's war efforts to the tune of $1 billion a month. At that rate, they risked depleting their own financial reserves. Therefore, from 1982 onwards, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait began exporting approximately 300,000 barrels a day on behalf of Iraq. Under an agreement, Iraq was required to repay that oil and other loans in kind at some point in the future.

Other ways enabling Iraq to continue the war effort included attractive terms for loans from Western countries, easy rescheduling of payment procedures and extensive agricultural assistance. The US agricultural-credit programme, valued at $500 million in 1986, allowed Iraq to import a wide range of American produce. No other country had received such assistance. Defaulting on these payments would have left the American taxpayer to foot the bill, while Baghdad was able to divert more funds to purchasing weaponry. However, most Western loans were short-term, which, with plummeting oil prices, caused a snowball effect wreaking havoc on Iraqi finances.

To summarize, in monetary terms, the war cost Iraq $452.6 billion and left it with a growing debt of between $80 and $100 billion. Additionally, Iraq suffered an estimated $67 billion damages to infrastructure. --The opportunity cost, however, caused the Iraqi society the greatest suffering: money from other industrial sectors and services had been reallocated to the war effort. The structure of the Iraqi economy - few cross-linkages and investment based on governmental allocation of resources obtained from the export of crude oil - meant that other sectors of society had to undergo the consequences sooner than later. Indeed, in 1989 Iraq's economy showed a negative growth of 15%.

Already the day after the end of the first Gulf war Kuwait increased its production of crude oil resulting in a steep drop in world market prices to $15 per barrel. Each dollar per barrel less cost Iraq $1 billion a year. The $7 billion a year Baghdad risked to lose as a consequence of Kuwait's policy equalled the annual amount it needed just to service its foreign debts. After a new OPEC agreement on production quotas early in 1989 the price per barrel stabilised around $18. However, a year later, overproduction by mainly Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates caused the price to plummet to $14.

OPEC's inability to check its members and thus to guarantee high and stable oil prices on the world market left President Saddam Hussein with a triple problem.

  1. How does he relaunch the economy and development of his country?
  2. How does he meet the social needs of the Iraqi population, and in particular of those who have suffered badly in the war?
  3. How does he sustain the huge armed forces, equipped with sophisticated weaponry?

His greatest difficulty of all was how to address these three questions simultaneously with a bankrupt economy.

Political motives for the Kuwait invasion

The invasion of the emirate on 2 August 1990 followed a failed policy of coercion from which the Ba'ath leadership, in view of its other but intertwined political agendas, could not back down. The policy of coercion had two major thrusts. On the one hand, Iraq used formal diplomatic channels, such as OPEC, the Arab Cooperation Council, the Arab League and bilateral negotiations, to assert its leadership in the Arab world and thus to press for adjustments in oil production quota's. On the other, it struck populist pan-Arab themes so that the masses would pressure their governments to support Iraq's causes.

The drive for Arab leadership began soon after Saddam Hussein's usurpation of the presidency and his push to ostracise Egypt --for signing the Camp David Accords. Two years into the war with Iran, Iraq expanded the legitimation for the conflict by projecting itself as the defender of the Arab world from the Islamic revolution. Initially, Kuwaiti and Saudi financial injections in the had aided the Ba'ath leadership to organise daily life as normally as possible while increasing military spending. However, in 1982, after the two Gulf states had suspended their financial aid and started to sell oil on behalf of Iraq, Baghdad was incurring a sizeable opportunity cost as it had to divert more and more funds from social and economic projects to the war effort. ---Iran lent credence to the shifting legitimation by refusing the 1982 Iraqi peace offer and declaring the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein's regime as its primary war aim. Sudden harsh Western criticism over Iraq's persecution of the Kurds in the autumn of 1988 similarly led Arab states to rally to Baghdad's side.

Iraq's imagery of bulwark against Iran's religious expansionism - only too happily endorsed by the conservative monarchies during the war - was the foundation of its claim to Arab leadership and created an erroneous expectation that the Arab brethren would cancel the war debts. Any act to the contrary the Ba'ath leadership viewed as an insult. There were to be many after the 1988 cease-fire.

At a summit meeting in the Jordanian capital on 24 February 1990, which was supposed to celebrate the Arab Cooperation Council's first anniversary, president Saddam Hussein, in an acrimonious discourse, claimed Arab leadership. He noted the dwindling Soviet influence in world politics and concluded that the United States would be able to dictate oil prices to suit its own interests and Middle East policy, especially regarding a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was particularly terse toward Egypt, an American client state, apparently causing the Egyptian president to leave Jordan prematurely. However, fearing such an Iraqi move, Hosni Mubarak with the tacit support of the Gulf monarchies, had weeks earlier accepted an overture by Syria, which had supported Iran in the 1st Gulf war, to balance Iraq's military might. Saddam Hussein also turned on the oil-producing Gulf monarchies, whom he considered in the American sphere of influence, for their pricing policy. A week later, in a telephone conversation with King Hussein, he reportedly laid out the three issues that required immediate resolution:

  • the border dispute with Kuwait, especially as regards the large Rumaila fields, from which Kuwait was illegally extracting oil. On the eve of the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was to demand a payment of $2.4 bn in compensation.
  • the leasing of the Kuwaiti islands of Warba and Bubyan, which were vital to secure Iraq's unhindered access to the Gulf; and
  • the remission of the war debts.

The following weeks Iraq provoked one crisis after the other with the West and Israel. On 15 March the British journalist Bazoft was executed on spying charges. A British nurse who was captured with him near a missile plant was imprisoned. Instead of listening to Western pleas for clemency Saddam Hussein rallied and obtained support from Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf emirates and many Arab organisations including the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League. Although formally the support was given on legal grounds of non-interference in Iraq's internal affairs, many a question was raised on why Baghdad was bent on creating a prolonged international issue. The object was double. On the one hand, the Ba'ath leadership projected the terror which ensured its domestic power onto the international arena in its bid for regional dominance. On the other, the incident allowed it to present itself as being victimised by the West, thus ensuring popular support throughout the Arab world. This double track Saddam Hussein continued in a speech on 1 April, which was widely interpreted as a direct threat to Israel (see infra). The main thrusts were a claim to Iraq's technological and military superiority, which offered a credible deterrent to Israel's aggression, and a decrying of Arab humility. Meanwhile he also championed the Palestinian cause, a move warmly welcomed by the PLO. Iraq's coercive diplomacy met its greatest success at the Baghdad emergency summit held on 28-30 May where, it seemed, the Gulf monarchies were forced to toe the Iraqi line. Among other things, it compelled the Gulf Arab states to view the immigration of Soviet Jews into Israel as a security threat and to face up to the political, economic or military consequences. The Palestinian issue featured high on the agenda and resolutions were adopted which might compel sanctions against any country hostile to Palestinian rights. The summit resolutions referred to a joint Arab defence pact, which envisaged obligations for Egypt too despite its Camp David agreements with Israel. Iraq also managed to discredit the United States as an honest mediator in the Middle East. -Baghdad thus succeeded in projecting itself as leader of the Arab nation by emphasising the Arab-Israeli conflict and in being accepted as Israel's counterweight in the regional balance of power.

President Hussein's victory was notwithstanding not an absolute success. He had mobilised Arab countries against the West regarding Iraq's internal affairs and in support of the Palestinian cause, but obtained no succour for his economic plight. He failed in convincing the other leaders that his war debts were pan-Arab debts. In an unscheduled closed meeting during the Baghdad Conference, in which the leaders were forbidden to bring in even their advisors, Saddam Hussein bitterly attacked Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for their oil policies and, meaningfully, never mentioned Israel nor the United States. He reportedly made it absolutely clear that he considered the situation an aggression with as sole purpose the enslavement of the Iraqi people. Some six weeks later, on 16 July, the Arab League met in Tunis. Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, handed a memorandum to the organisation's secretary-general, which amounted to nothing less than a declaration of war against Kuwait. Depicting the emirate's oil policy as a major crime against the supreme interests of the entire Arab nation and, in particular, as an intentional strategy to weaken Iraq, the document also accused Kuwait of having established an infrastructure inside the Iraqi border to extract oil from Rumaila. Kuwait had ignored any call since the beginning of the year to find a negotiated solution. The memorandum concluded by calling for aid comparable to the US Marshall-plan to rebuild the Iraqi nation. Thereafter, the rhetoric escalated and a final attempt to diffuse the crisis at a meeting in Saudi Arabia on the eve of the invasion ended acrimoniously. For seven months the domestic economy, oil prices and the border dispute over Rumaila had dominated Iraq's political agenda with all stratagems geared to a single goal.

The second thrust consisted of the Ba'athist leadership's public posturing and direct appeal to the Arab masses over the heads of their governments, an extra effort to shore up pan-Arab support against the recalcitrant Gulf monarchies. Threats against Israel, vocal support for the Palestinian cause, open defiance of the West and the United States in particular, and the evocation of pan-Arab emotions all served Saddam Hussein's single goal: finding a solution to Iraq's economic collapse. As will be discussed below, Iraq's chemical arsenal and other unconventional weaponry played a crucial role in making Hussein's populist claims credible. The real question was whether Israel was the actual object of the threats.

Legitimising chemical weapons

Any threat with chemical weapons Iraq made had to be taken seriously. It possessed a proven capability and had demonstrated the political will to employ such weapons in defiance of international laws of war and humanitarian law. By the end of the first Gulf war it had developed a variety of delivery means, including, it was widely believed, a warhead for a ballistic missile giving it the potential to strike at non-contiguous countries or distant heartlands. In a framework of nuclear deterrence developed in the East-West context, many viewed Iraq's armament drive as a quest for a chemical first-strike capability. Rhetoric from Baghdad was thus interpreted accordingly.

The first Gulf war ended in an ambivalent way. While the international community was edging Iran and Iraq closer to the negotiating table during the summer of 1988, it sacrificed the moral authority of the 1925 Geneva Protocol to preserve the peace process. In May 1987, the Security Council had adopted Resolution 612, which envisaged the immediate investigation of allegations of chemical warfare by one of the warring parties and offered guarantees to prevent repetition. The second part remained dead letter, especially as regards claims of use by Iraq's Kurdish minority. On 26 August 1988, six days after the cease-fire had been called, the Security Council again condemned the use of chemical weapons in the analogous Resolution 620, but failed to name Iraq. September 1988 was to prove a crucial month for developments in the next couple of years. On the 16th, Iraq refused a United Nations investigation team access, defying Resolution 620. This induced the United States to sound out other countries on an international conference on chemical warfare, without singling out any one state. Fear was great at the time that the disarmament negotiations in Geneva would falter.

The ambiguity developed along two tracks. On the one hand, Israel interpreted the lack of response from the international community as a source of justification for the Arabs to pursue chemical armament programmes. On 20 July 1988 Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned Arab countries not to use chemical weapons against Israel, or they would be hit back a hundred times harder. This followed Israeli threats in January to take out Syrian chemical weapons facilities, and low-level practice bombing runs in April, which US intelligence sources interpreted as preparations for the attack. Later, the international press widely reported civil defence exercises. Although Arab countries, and in particular those neighbouring Iraq, felt uneasy about Iraq's military might, the Israeli deterrence rhetoric and hints of nuclear retaliation probably caused them to close ranks, at least at the declaratory level. President Saddam Hussein would eventually exploit Israel's susceptibility to external threats in his bid for Arab leadership.

The second track of ambiguity follows from the joint Arab, Soviet, Western, and US support for Iraq against the exportation of Iran's Islamic Revolution. The unfolding of the debate between the US Congress that favoured strong sanctions against Iraq and the Reagan Administration who opposed it, contributed to the widening rift between the Arab and Western world. Western criticism and accusations stunned the political leaders in Baghdad, who issued strong denials about chemical warfare against the Kurds. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz stated that Iraq "respects and abides by all provisions of international law and international agreements accepted by the international community", which also included the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Other Arab states expressed grave doubts about the US motives for suddenly accusing Iraq while keeping quiet for years. They also praised Iraq for her renewed commitment to the Geneva Protocol. These countries based their appraisal to a large extent on comments by Turkish doctors and officials that they had not seen victims of chemical warfare amongst the thousands of Kurdish refugees in Turkish camps. The Arab group in the United Nations protested against the dispatch of a UN investigative team to northern Iraq, claiming that this is interference in the domestic affairs of an Arab member of the United Nations. Baghdad quickly seized the opportunity and applauded the Arab support as an "important qualitative move in contemporary Arab life". The stance would enable the Arab nation to face the dangers threatening its existence and the Iraqi victory "had laid down the basis for a new Arab state after years of deterioration, disintegration and absence of Arab solidarity". Baghdad portrayed the criticism as yet another American-Zionist plot.

In two seemingly contradictory ways, the Reagan Administration was to reinforce Iraq's linking of chemical weapons and pan-Arabism. First, while the debate over sanctions against Baghdad was raging, the Americans began expressing their concern over a large chemical weapons production plant near Rabta in Libya. In this way, they allowed the Iraqi leadership to portray Libya as yet another victimized Arab country. Second, the Administration strongly opposed the sanctions proposed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The State Department welcomed Iraq's vow to abide by the 1925 Geneva Protocol although earlier it had issued a statement, saying that sanctions were premature and that it preferred strong international diplomatic pressure. Press reports, however, also mentioned the strong US economic interests in Iraq. Agricultural exports had increased to about $1 billion plus $1.8 billion credit guarantees authorised by the government. Iraq also purchased about $100 million worth of goods with potential military applications. Precisely at that moment, Secretary of State Shultz was in Baghdad accusing the Iraqis of waging chemical warfare against the Kurds. A similar incident was to occur in April 1990, when the State Department opposed trade sanctions after Iraq had repeatedly threatened Israel with chemical attacks.

This confusing approach towards Iraq was to continue right up to the invasion of Kuwait. By the end of September 1988, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had voted sanctions following a damning report from Congressional staff members who had visited the Kurdish refugees in Turkey. However, both chambers failed to reach agreement on the final wording of the bill before the recess. President Reagan, who was firmly opposed to any sanctions, thus did not have to veto it. Despite promises to the contrary, the bill was not reintroduced the next year. Another episode sending out confusing signals were Pentagon claims that most of the Kurds killed in Halabja in March 1988 fell victim to Iranian rather than Iraqi chemical attacks. Initial assertions first appeared in the press at the end of March and early in April 1988. Further reports, quoting a Pentagon study, gave more detail in May 1990. President Hussein, who one month earlier had threatened to burn half of Israel, could not have missed the political impact. The United States cast doubt on Baghdad's responsibility for the attack which worldwide has come to symbolize Iraqi war atrocities. Together with the American repeated refusals to impose economic sanctions against Iraq for its chemical weapons use and threats, the fresh assertions must have increased the Iraqi president's belief in the legitimacy of possessing these weapons.


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