Saddam's old Western friends : Chirac and Rumsfeld


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BBC News : How Saddam could embarrass the West

A trial of Saddam Hussein would primarily bring forth evidence of his crimes, but he might also use the forum to remind the world that he once had his supporters outside Iraq - in the former Soviet Union, in the Gulf States and in the West.

Two current Western leaders in particular might find their names in the frame - the French President Jacques Chirac and the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But before considering their role, it is important to remember that Saddam Hussein's main supplier was the Soviet Union. He was sent its best equipment - Mig 29s, T 72 tanks, artillery, gunboats and Scud missiles.

And he did not pay for it all. Russia, the Soviet Union's successor state, is still owed billions of dollars.

French role

France, however, was also a major supplier. When he was prime minister in 1974, Jacques Chirac went to Baghdad to see Saddam Hussein, then the power in Iraq, though not yet the president.

The following year, Saddam Hussein went to France and Prime Minister Chirac showed him round a nuclear plant.

They negotiated the sale to Iraq of two French nuclear reactors. One of them was destroyed in an air raid by the Israelis in 1981 amid fears that Iraq was developing a nuclear weapon.

France also agreed to provide Iraq with 133 Mirage F1 jet fighters over a 10-year period. It is reckoned that during the 1980s, 40% of France's arms exports went to Iraq.

'My dear friend'

In 1987, a French paper published a letter written to Saddam Hussein by Jacques Chirac a few months previously. It began: " My dear friend."

It refers obliquely to "the negotiation which you know about" and to the "co-operation launched more than 12 years ago under our personal joint initiative, in this capital district for the sovereignty, independence and security of your country."

The French president has since said that, at the time, many governments supported Iraq in its war against Iran and that Iraq was seen as "progressive".

Indeed many other Western countries - including the United States, Britain, West Germany and Italy - also helped Iraq with equipment and expertise, both civilian and military, and with finance.

Iraq had invaded Iran in 1980 but the Iranians had held the advance and were striking back with human wave attacks. Iraq was known, by 1983, to have used chemical weapons to stop these.

A US State Department memorandum in 1983 stated: "We have recently received additional information confirming Iraqi use of chemical weapons."

President Reagan determined nevertheless that Iraq should be supported and he sent Mr Rumsfeld
to Baghdad with a personal letter from himself to Saddam Hussein.

Mr Rumsfeld had been defence secretary under President Ford and was then head of a private pharmaceutical company.

The minutes state: "Rumsfeld told Saddam that the US and Iraq shared interests in preventing Iranian and Syrian expansion."

There is a lot of talk about stopping Iranian oil exports.

The report also sums up Saddam Hussein's reaction: "Saddam Hussein showed obvious pleasure with the President's letter and Rumsfeld's visit."

There is no mention of Mr Rumsfeld having raised the issue of chemical weapons with Saddam Hussein, though he said he did in an interview with CNN in 2002.

Interesting revelations. So politicians haven't changed much over the last 30 years, in whichever country it is of the 3. Old friends are now all tearing each others apart.

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