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This item is available on the Middle East Forum website, at http://www.meforum.org/article/563

"Thank you for everything. But do not stay."
An exchange with the late Nizar Hamdoon

By Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2003

Introduction by Daniel Pipes, publisher of the Middle East Quarterly:

I first met Nizar Hamdoon in mid-1985 when he was Iraq's immensely popular ambassador in Washington. He promoted the thesis that Iran had started the war with Iraq and bore the onus for its continuation, therefore the U.S. government should help Baghdad. Nizar made these points with a competence, reasonableness, and self-criticism rare in any diplomat, and extraordinary in one representing a brutal totalitarian thug.

Indeed, Nizar was probably the most skilled diplomat I ever encountered. He never once in my presence praised Saddam Hussein, denigrated the United States, or filibustered his regime's propaganda like the other Iraqi envoys. (What good would that have done with an American audience?) Rather, he granted most of his interlocutor's argument and disagreed only at the margins. Thus, he implicitly accepted the virtues of democracy, the existence of Israel, and the horrors of nuclear weapons. He then argued that to achieve these goals meant working with Baghdad, not against it, either by helping it defeat Iran (in the 1980s) or by lifting sanctions (in the 1990s).

Nizar's method brought him great success. During his glory years as Iraqi ambassador in Washington, 1984-87, he had a reach, a public presence, and an impact that fellow ambassadors could only envy.

With me, as with so many others unsympathetic to the regime he represented, Nizar went out of his way to establish a rapport. He telephoned on a regular basis and visited my homes, first in Newport, Rhode Island, then in Philadelphia. When my wife and I traveled to Kuwait in 1987, he arranged a side trip to Baghdad. He invited me to dinner at his Washington residence and hosted a bus full of my organization's board members at his mission.

Nizar disappeared from view after he finished his second stint in the United States (as Iraq's United Nations ambassador) in 1998. I idly wondered from time to time how he was faring as the war unfolded in March-April of this year; I did not know even if he was still part of the regime. So an e-mail I received on May 15, 2003, just two weeks after major hostilities in Iraq had ended, from "nizarhamdoon@yahoo.com" certainly caught my eye, as did its enigmatic text:

"Dear Daniel:

I have been here in NYC for a while under Chemo treatment. My cell phone if you like to call is 917-325-9252. I will be staying until first week of June.

Thanks, Nizar."

How did he get to the United States and how long had he been in New York? What would he reveal of his career and the regime he worked for now that Saddam Hussein was deposed? I had many questions built up over the nearly twenty years I had known him. Hoping to interview him for the Middle East Quarterly, I carried a list of twenty-eight questions and a tape recorder to our meeting on May 21 at (his choice) the Starbucks on the corner of 78th Street and Lexington in Manhattan.

We talked for nearly one and a half hours. I learned that he had had a medical emergency in March 2003, so he traveled without family to Amman, where ten days later he received a U.S. medical visa. He arrived in New York and underwent a chemotherapy treatment, then planned to rejoin his family in Iraq in early June. On arrival in New York, he told me, he moved into the Iraqi ambassador's residence (and his own home from 1992-98) on 80th Street, invited there by the then-Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Muhammad ad-Duri. When war broke out and ad-Duri fled the country, Nizar remained, inhabiting just one room, relying on a single local hire to take care of the place.

How could he travel to the United States when his regime was at war with the United States? Nizar said he was not at liberty to speak but would do so in time. The same applied to his experiences; I did not have a chance to ask any of the questions burning a hole in my pocket. But he did reply to several of my inquiries in a manner that amplifies the public remarks in the transcript that follows.

How could you, I asked him, a civilized person, represent the barbaric regime of Saddam Hussein? He pointed to two factors: fear and loyalty. Fear I understood, but loyalty? Yes, he replied, the ethic of loyalty is very deep in Iraqi society and even obtains in a case like this. He tried to explain but realized at a certain point I could not understand, and we left it.

Were you tempted to defect? No, he liked it in the United States but felt rooted in Iraq—the society, the food, the atmosphere—and would not want to live here.

You took risks in your subtle presentation of the Iraqi case—conceding certain points in order to gain credibility; was this approved by Baghdad? No, and it got him in trouble on occasions. He was constantly instructed to bluster like other ambassadors.

He then told me of a 20-page personal letter he sent to Saddam Hussein in 1995 in which he told his boss what was on his mind. Why would you send such a letter? Nizar did not offer an explanation. To his surprise, Saddam widely distributed the letter for discussion among the leadership and eventually sent Nizar a personally-signed 75-page letter. Why would Saddam Hussein spend a day writing you a letter, I asked incredulously? Nizar shrugged: "That's what he decided to do." In the response, among many other points, Saddam accused Nizar of sending a copy of his letter to the CIA. That should have been the end of your career, at the least, I asked; why wasn't it? Again, Nizar did not convincingly reply; he said that Saddam sensed his loyalty and sincerity and so did not punish him.

Nizar assured me that he had these letters; they and other documents formed an archive he would make public at the right time.

His career effectively ended in 2001 when a new Iraqi foreign minister pushed him out of the ministry. He was kicked upstairs to the president's office where he served former foreign minister Tariq Aziz. But it was a purely ceremonial job; Aziz's only foreign portfolio was dealing with the Baath parties abroad and other friendlies. As Nizar oversaw the North American desk, that meant he handled minor-league matters like the anti-sanctions group, Voices in the Wilderness. He spent two hours a day in the office, surfed the Internet there, and went home. But he received his old salary and benefits.

The fact that Saddam Hussein remains on the loose as we met meant that Nizar was both fearful and still burdened with a sense of loyalty to his old patron. In combination, these made him careful about what he said in public. But he raised the idea of giving a talk to the Middle East Forum, which he did on June 4, 2003. I believe it was his last public appearance. An edited text of his presentation and the ensuing discussion follows below.

Nizar Hamdoon died on July 4.

Nizar Hamdoon, 1944-2003

Nizar Hamdoon was born in Baghdad on May 18, 1944, to a Sunni family with roots in Mosul. He completed Baghdad College (a school run by American Jesuits) in 1960; at the age of fifteen, he joined the Baath party. In 1967 he received his bachelor's degree in architecture and town planning from Baghdad University and did his military service as an air force architect (1968-70). Hamdoon worked at the Baath party headquarters (1970-81), including a stint in Syria, and then served as undersecretary for culture and art in the Ministry of Culture and Information (1981-83).

In November 1983, he was sent to Washington to head the Iraqi interests section. He became Iraq's ambassador to the United States in November 1984 when the two countries resumed full diplomatic relations. (Iraq had severed them in 1967.) In 1988 Hamdoon returned to Baghdad to serve as deputy foreign minister, and in 1992 he was appointed Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations. He was recalled to Baghdad in 1998, and in 1999 became undersecretary of the foreign ministry. He retired from the service in 2001 after a shake-up in the ministry. Hamdoon died in New York on July 4, 2003, after a long battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His remains were returned to Baghdad for burial. He leaves a wife and two daughters.—The Editors

Iraq Needs America

Nizar Hamdoon: Militarily, the war was fought perfectly. Then the postwar period set in—a period that started during the same week the statue of Saddam came down on April 9. And now we are two months into the occupation, and we don't see any real progress. I think every Iraqi has started to feel the pressures and difficulties that are ahead of us.

Iraq was a theater where America displayed its power militarily. I think everyone is in agreement that America has the ultimate military force, which can accomplish any military goal anywhere in the world. But now it needs to display its power in other areas, which are no less important than military power. And there are areas that are more important, I believe, such as the display of American democracy. President Bush, and before him President Clinton, have called for democracy. Worldwide, people enjoy freedoms, above all the freedom of speech, and America is trying to offer this to the Iraqi people.

Iraq is a good candidate for democracy, from the perspective of its size, history, culture, natural resources and human resources. But if America misses the chance in Iraq to display this moral power, to display all its values, then there is no way a region like the Middle East is going to advance. If Iraq cannot do it, other countries can't, either because they are smaller in size, or possess fewer resources, or they don't have a capacity like Iraq, which is known as a cradle of civilization.

So I think this is an opportunity for America to achieve success in the area of human rights and providing services, and whatever else the Iraqi people need. American officials tell us that it is up to the Iraqis—that they are doing their best, but that Iraqis are not always cooperative. I think the Iraqis need the assistance of the Americans after thirty-five years of this very difficult time.

Now, you find a lot of Iraqis demonstrating in the streets [against the occupation], chanting slogans. You cannot blame them, because in principle occupation is not a good thing. This is true for any country that has been through the experience, either in Europe or in the Arab world. Iraq itself was subjected to foreign occupation, which was also bloody, early in the last century.

But I think what is unsettling in the mind of the Iraqis is not the occupation, because everybody has known from the beginning that such an occupation will not last long. This is my understanding. I came to this country in February, before the war began, for some treatment, so I watched the events from here, but I was in Baghdad when the storm was gathering. I could still listen to my friends—good, genuine Iraqis. They want a short occupation, and they want Iraq to go through the process of democratization and respect for human rights. They all think that this occupation isn't going to last—not because it is unacceptable to them, but because America itself does not have the staying power, certainly not like Britain in the last century. Given the complications in a country like Iraq, this is also my own personal perspective on the staying power of America.

So the effort now is to accomplish the goals of the invasion—the liberation—as soon as possible so the Iraqis in the future can tell the Americans: We thank you for everything. We will share this and that with you, there is no problem in sharing anything of interest with the Americans. But do not stay. Let everybody else in the region see that America is not in Iraq for military occupation but is there to transfer its own values to the Iraqi people, and through the Iraqi people to the people of the region. This is what I thought the U.S. should do from the beginning.

Iraqi Pride

But unfortunately, having spoken of good intentions, I don't think they are shared by the top American officials—that is, the top people who are in charge of day-to-day decision-making in Baghdad. (That probably holds for Washington, too, but I am not familiar with the intricacies of the American political system.) One colossal example is the firing of 400,000 army personnel of all ranks. They are now in the streets, without any gainful employment, and this has affected their families. The average Iraqi family numbers at least six people, and they were tossed out, left without a source of income, and without pride, which for many Iraqis is more important than income.

Many people are prideful that they are members of the Iraqi army, which many people do not consider Saddam's army. They consider it to be the Iraqi army, which was created back in 1921 by King Faisal I. That is a source of pride, and when you throw them out, you are disgracing them. You are turning these people into terrorists and criminals, which is not in America's interests. And you are getting bad advice from the Iraqi exiles' groups, like the Iraqi National Congress and the clergymen. They say, "Those Baathists, we have to get rid of them." Okay, this is a very touchy matter for many people, but if you are in charge of the situation, you have to think it over carefully. Who exactly are these people? How many layers of them have to be removed? Over what period of time? How do you deal with their pride? How do you offer them a new society?

You are not going to change the society in Iraq by replacing those people with different people. The same people who served under Saddam will have to serve under a new government, with very few limitations on people who have committed crimes—and in a court of law you can deal with the criminals. For someone like [Muhammad Baqir al-] Hakim [since assassinated] and the other clergymen, and for so and so—I don't like to name names—who has spent the bulk of his life in London or Paris, this means nothing. All he wants is to get privileges for his party or his group, and let the country and Iraqi army go to hell. They are advising Ambassador [L. Paul] Bremer, who is under constant pressure to take measures that are not really good. Again, if we are looking forward to a future whereby every Iraqi may enjoy a new life, a better life, regardless of his past, then just execute the criminals and people who did bad things.

We are not very optimistic about the level of security that has been provided up to now. When the Americans came to Iraq, Arabs thought it would be only a question of weeks if not days until supplies came, the services were restored, the mobile systems were up and running, etc. I don't think anyone in the region really doubts America's ability to do this. I could be overestimating America, believing that in a very short time it can initiate a massive reconstruction effort for all the services for the Iraqi people.

But, unfortunately, after two months since the end of the war, nothing has happened. On the contrary, more Americans troops are being targeted for many different reasons. The first reason is that Saddam Hussein is still alive; he is conducting some organized opposition; and he still has money. The second reason is the American behavior in certain areas of Iraq, like Falluja. These areas are very conservative, very tribal. If you tell someone, "This American soldier was staring at your sister," he will very easily believe that. They take it for granted that the Americans are insensitive to their situation. We have seen many actions, and I think some of it results from misbehavior. Americans could have done a better job in dealing with the communities, like the British did in Basra. I talk every two or three days to my family in Baghdad, and I get from them a sense that security is improving gradually. But we don't want the costs to be high—why pay such a price?

You will eventually have to provide the people with services. No Iraqi cares whether you give contracts to Bechtel or whatever; it is not our business. Nobody thinks the Americans are going to steal the oil; oil cannot be stolen, technically speaking. Okay, if America wants to have some control over the production, OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] already has a mechanism to control the supply and demand, and Iraq will have to be part of that. So there is no harm in securing America's role in the oil business or in the reconstruction of Iraq. But we want the top managers, we want the top businesses to take care of those projects. We do not want any second-hand overseers.

Iraq has been under duress for many years, particularly after the recent bombing. People dealt with it as a fact of life, and the human casualties were limited. But still the horror was something that I could not overlook, at least from the voices of my daughters, with whom I spoke from time to time. Now we need a stable and peaceful life, and we think America is the country that should help us. You have taken this responsibility upon yourself. Iraq didn't come and appoint America. It was your own decision to help Iraq and through Iraq to help the whole region.

I am ready to take your questions.

Saddam's Imprint

Daniel Pipes: I thought we might break the usual pattern and instead of having an open floor immediately, I will ask Lally Weymouth, who is perhaps America's most accomplished political interviewer, to open the discussion with Ambassador Hamdoon.

Lally Weymouth: Why do you think Saddam Hussein is still alive? Is this just your thinking? Do your family or people in Baghdad who have talked to other people tell you there is evidence that he is alive?

Hamdoon: I haven't seen any evidence or any information. But the violence has his imprint. I know his imprint.

Weymouth: What is his imprint?

Hamdoon: He is a master of underground work, in organizing underground opposition. There are no signs, no indications, no evidence that he is dead. Today I heard that they are trying to obtain his DNA from the bunker that was bombed, but up to now there is nothing. Until I see something tangible, I have to believe that he is conducting this whole thing.

Weymouth: So you think Saddam Hussein and his sons are directing the resistance against U.S. troops?

Hamdoon: More so Qusay, he could be effective.

Weymouth: And they could organize this underground system?

Hamdoon: Yes.

Weymouth: The hottest issue in the U.S. media is the issue of weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and Secretary Powell said we were going to war against Iraq because Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction. As you know, Saddam kicked out the inspectors in 1998. What happened in that time? Were weapons of mass destruction transferred to Syria?

Hamdoon: I don't know; it is an issue for you Americans to deal with. Iraqis have nothing to do with that; they don't care about it.

Weymouth: But you have incredible knowledge of these subjects.

Hamdoon: I don't think that there was [WMD] during the last few years.

Weymouth: Do you think Saddam Hussein destroyed them? Or do you think he just had precursors?

Hamdoon: He destroyed them in 1992.

Weymouth: If he destroyed them, why wouldn't he let the inspectors back in? Had he done so, he would still be in power today.

Hamdoon: That's his behavior. From the beginning, he used brinkmanship every time he went up against the U.S. or U.N. He would go to the brink of a crisis, then pull back, which was a very bad policy. Had he given everything up from the beginning, he would have been better off. The back-and-forth, the push-and-pull, did not help.

Weymouth: I heard that the French persuaded him that the U.S. was not going to attack. Do you think that is true?

Hamdoon: No.

Hamdoon's Role

Weymouth: When was the last time you saw Saddam Hussein?

Hamdoon: 1996.

Weymouth: And why haven't you seen him since then?

Hamdoon: Because I conveyed some bad—bad from his perspective—unacceptable ideas to him.

Weymouth: What did you say to him?

Hamdoon: I don't think this should be a subject of discussion right now. I am not going to reveal it, until maybe sometime into the future.

Weymouth: So you had an argument?

Hamdoon: Yes, arguments over policy, all about policy.

Weymouth: But he didn't kill you.

Hamdoon: No, he did not. (Audience laughter.) He let me off.

Weymouth: But if I am not wrong, in the 1980s, you helped me interview Saddam Hussein, so you had a relationship with him in the 1980s?

Hamdoon: Yes, I did, off and on. But my main complaints to him were in the 1990s.

Weymouth: What were your complaints?

Hamdoon: I will not tell you. (Audience laughter.)

Weymouth: Will you go back to Iraq?

Hamdoon: Of course, where else would I go?

Weymouth: Aren't you regarded as a member of the Baathist regime?

Hamdoon: Of course, everybody who wanted to work had to be a registered member in the party.

Weymouth: So you are not worried that someone might kill you?

Hamdoon: Based on my contacts and my relations with some people, I believe that I'm not going to be [killed].

Weymouth: Do you have relations with "outside" people like Ahmad Chalabi?

Hamdoon: No, I do not.

Audience: You were here, in the United States, a representative of the regime, during those years when reports surfaced about massacres, genocide, and other brutalities carried out by the regime of Saddam. You had a high-ranking position in that regime. You also had the opportunity, unlike some of your colleagues, to quit and seek asylum. Why did you remain?

Hamdoon: I don't know, it is a good question—one that I have been asking myself, and one that my friends have also asked me. I am attached to the country. I have seen tens of Iraqi ambassadors quit over the years. They end up with political asylum sitting in Canada, England, or Paris. How have they helped their cause? That was one major factor: being attached to the country, I had to go to the end and see what happened. That was my decision. I always had a feeling that something similar to what has now happened would happen.

Iraq's Future

Weymouth: Is there anyone inside the country who can become a leader of Iraq in your opinion?

Hamdoon: Yes, but the mere fact that Saddam is still living, with the prospect of a comeback, has stopped many Iraqis from engaging in the political process of the last two months. Many people would be glad to participate. But now you turn on the television, and you find only exiles—like Chalabi—and the religious mullahs. Where are the other people? The intelligentsia of Baghdad is secular, but you don't see them; they are afraid. If I go back to Baghdad, I will not fear the Americans soldiers, but don't expect me to be outspoken, because no one wants to get his neck chopped. There are many inside Iraq—lawyers, doctors, people who have the respect of the Iraqi society—but they won't show up unless the situation is finally settled. Americans will have to help in that process.

Audience: How does one create a democracy in Iraq, given all of the problems?

Hamdoon: I don't think democracy is far from the Iraqi mentality. Iraq is a secular nation that has been under oppression for the last thirty-five years. There is now a tendency to democracy. All we need to do is regulate it, not only by giving instructions, but by doing the right thing. If you improve the state of the infrastructure, I think the process will go forward by itself. You don't need to impose democracy, and anyway there is no way you can impose it.

Audience: What about the fear that the Shi‘ites will take over?

Hamdoon: No, no. Most of the Shi‘ites are very secular. They do not want an Islamic republic similar to Iran. They want to live in peace and be respected. The British gave more power to the Sunnis over the Shi‘ites, believing that Iraq under (Sunni) King Faisal I would be more stable. The Shi‘ites have always thought of this as a historic injustice, as a grievance to be redressed. But the majority of the Shi‘ites are secular, in the sense of wanting a democratic system. They do not want clerical rule in Iraq. I have many friends who are Shi‘ites, even more than Sunnis. There is no problem with them.

Kuwait Revisited

Kuwaiti diplomat: What is your opinion of the invasion of Kuwait? You talked about the future of Iraq but you didn't talk about the past.

Hamdoon: If you go back to the 1970s, when Saddam came to power before the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq ordered a number of frigates and submarines from Italy. We are talking about $80 billion's worth. This went on for a few years until the Iraq-Iran war forced us to cut down. Why would Saddam sign such an agreement? If you look at a map, there is little space for such a naval fleet. It could not be launched from the twenty-five to thirty kilometers of Iraqi access to the gulf. So Saddam needed Kuwait. In my view, that was in his mind: take over Kuwait under some pretext, establish himself as a policeman in the gulf, and force America to deal with him as a big power. As for my opinion on the invasion, it was unwarranted and unnecessary.

Weymouth: Was that your opinion at the time of the invasion?

Hamdoon: It was my opinion at the time. I couldn't stand up and say it. I was against it, but I didn't have the means to stop anything.

Second Kuwaiti diplomat: Ambassador Hamdoon, thank you for this meeting. We have nothing against each other, and as Kuwaitis we sincerely want to help the Iraqis. Regarding the missing Kuwaitis, do you have any information as to whether they are alive or dead in Iraq?

Hamdoon: Nobody knows. This was Saddam's secret. Obviously, with all the graveyards uncovered, something will emerge at some point from the DNA and other investigative means.

Weymouth: But you were very close to the regime. Of course, you didn't have any personal responsibility, but didn't someone tell you, didn't you hear anything through the grapevine, about the Kuwaiti POWs?

Hamdoon: Nobody was close to the regime. Only those people in the intelligence services, in the family, and in the tribe of the president are close to the regime. (And sometimes Tariq Aziz on some issues.)

Weymouth: Do you think the Kuwaiti POWs are dead or alive?

Hamdoon: I think they are dead. Saddam's cousins, including Chemical Ali [‘Ali Hasan ‘Abd al-Majid], were in charge of getting rid of all the Kuwaitis from the beginning.

Chemical Diplomat

Nizar Hamdoon's arrival in Washington in late 1983 followed by only a few months Iraq's first use of chemical weapons (CW) in the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq's CW use expanded rapidly, and in early 1984, Iraq became the first country to use nerve gas in modern warfare when it deployed the nerve agent tabun against Iranian forces at Majnun Island near Basra. Tehran began an international campaign to bring Iraq's CW use to world attention, which included sending CW victims for treatment in Europe. Baghdad mounted a counter-effort to discredit Iran's claims.[1]

It fell to Nizar Hamdoon, as Iraq's chargé in Washington, to persuade the State Department to block Iranian efforts to have Iraq condemned by the United Nations Security Council. The following excerpt from a declassified State Department cable, from March 1984, opens a window on Hamdoon's lobbying at Foggy Bottom.[2] In the meeting reported in the cable, Hamdoon demonstrated his forte, conceding small points to win his larger one.

Washington opposed Iraq's use of CW and banned Iraqi acquisition of CW components in the United States. It even issued its own public condemnation, much to the chagrin of Baghdad. But it worked to check international condemnation of Iraq at the U.N.[3] This was one of Hamdoon's most important diplomatic achievements, making the extensive Iraqi use of CW—which helped to save the Saddam Hussein regime from defeat by Iran's "human wave" assaults—less unacceptable. This success, however, may have had a high cost; one analyst has written that the international failure to punish Baghdad for deploying CW against Iran "most likely emboldened Iraqi decision-makers and may have contributed to a risk calculus that fostered Iraq's plans to invade Kuwait in August 1990."[4]

–The Editors

Confidential State 094420
Draf[t]ed by NEA/ARN [Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq desk, Near Eastern affairs bureau], M. Williamson
Approved by NEA/ARN Olmack
F[ro]m Sec[retary of State] Wash[ington] DC
Sent for action U.S. UN [mission] New York, March 31 [1984]
Subject: Chemical Weapons Meeting with Iraqi Chargé

1. Confidential entire text.

2. (Summary.) Iraqi COM [Chief of Mission] Nizar Hamdoon called on NEA DAS [deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs] [James A.] Placke[5] March 29 to present Iraqi views on UNSC [U.N. Security Council] consideration of CW use in Iran-Iraq war. He said Iraq would prefer UNSC presidential statement to resolution and listed three elements it should contain. Placke said USG [U.S. government] could accept Iraqi elements and presidential statement if that was consensus of UNSC. Placke informed Hamdoon that on March 30 USG would implement licensing requirements on exports to both Iran and Iraq of five chemicals that could be used in CW production. (End summary.)

3. UNSC draft res[olution] on CW: Hamdoon expressed strong Iraqi preference for statement by president of Security Council rather than UNSC resolution. Iraqis believed that resolution would be subject to many compromises and would cause "baloo" about CW issue, while presidential statement could be clearly drafted and could include CW as one of three or four elements. Iraq believed presidential statement should include: 1) mention of former UNSC resolutions on the war, including Res[olution] 540;[6] 2) strong call for progress toward ending war through cease-fire or negotiations; 3) reference to CW without mentioning any specific country. On latter point, Hamdoon referred to report of UN mission to Iran as precedent in not mentioning Iraq.[7] Hamdoon said statement should treat CW as "unqualified issue" and make general point of attempting to stop spread of CW use. Iraq would not be held responsible for continuing the war or specifically blamed. Hamdoon commented that Iraq felt this approach was not far from present UNSC efforts.

4. Placke emphasized firm USG opposition to use of CW. However, we agreed on desirability of continuing to call world attention to tragedy of the war and would support Dutch draft, including three points made by Iraq. USG would like to see something constructive come out of this UNSC effort. If consensus developed in favor of presidential statement, we could accept it as well. Our view is that it is important to take a position on findings of mission in Iran. Since the experts did not take a position on source, we would not press for that.

5. Hamdoon claimed that Iranians were upset about environment at UN and felt that all the forces in the world would like to see Iran defeated. It was their purpose to punish Iraq and not to talk of cease-fire or negotiations. Placke said Iran should take some satisfaction from fact that its complaint was acknowledged and that internationally-recognized experts had produced respectable findings. Hamdoon felt Iranians would not be satisfied with anything but military victory. Placke commented that this would not produce victory for anyone—only suffering.

6. U.S. chemical licensing requirements: Placke delivered U.S. position along lines of reftel [reference telegram outlining the requirements]. He informed Hamdoon that on March 30 USG would be implementing licensing requirements on certain categories of chemicals for exports to both Iran and Iraq. The requirements would be published in Federal Register on April 2. These would cover five chemical compounds we have defined as those most likely to be used in production of CW, particularly nerve gas. We absolutely resist being source of supply for anything that could contribute to production of CW. Placke mentioned two instances in which Iraqi shipping agents had sought to purchase such chemicals, and we had stopped the sale.[8] Procedurally, the five chemicals would be removed from no-control category and put under licensing requirements for both Iran and Iraq. Placke noted that same information should already have been communicated to Iraqi MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

7. We would ask GOI's [government of Iraq's] cooperation, Placke continued, in avoiding situations that would lead to difficult and possibly embarrassing situation. We will not license chemicals to either belligerent and believe it is in best interests of both USG and GOI if Iraq makes no further efforts to purchase these chemicals. We do not want this issue to dominate our bilateral relationship nor to detract from our common interest to see war brought to early end. Placke hoped Hamdoon would recommend that GOI take action on these requirements, so that no further consideration would be needed. Hamdoon responded that he was not informed about any chemicals provided by U.S. but believed it was in GOI's interest to consult to cooperate on chemicals, especially since Iranians have said they will produce chemical weapons. Placke said we have noted Iranian statement and reiterated that we will not sell chemicals to either side.

[1] Kenneth R. Timmerman, The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), pp. 143-9.
[2] Document at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/iraq54.pdf. The original cable is entirely capitalized; for convenience, capitalization of this excerpt follows conventional rules.
[3] "Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984," National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, no. 82, Feb. 25, 2003, at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/index.htm.
[4] Javed Ali, "Chemical Weapons and the Iran-Iraq War: A Case Study in Noncompliance," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 55.
[5] Placke, a State Department Arabist (prior service in Libya, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia), was deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 1982 to 1985.–Eds.
[6] U.N. Security Council Resolution 540, Oct. 31, 1983, reiterated previous resolutions calling for a comprehensive cease-fire and end to all military operations.–Eds.
[7] In early March 1984, the U.N. sent an international team of Western experts to investigate Iranian claims of Iraqi CW use. In its report to the Security Council, March 26, the team found that CW and tabun had "been used in areas of Iran," but did not name Iraq as the source.–Eds.
[8] In February 1984, a shipment to Iraq of a sarin precursor from a Nashville trading company was blocked at Kennedy Airport.–Eds.


This item is available on the Middle East Forum website, at http://www.meforum.org/article/563



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