Some days the hits keep on coming

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 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 Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

I don’t even know what to say to this. The more I learn about our involvement in the Middle East, the more I’m of the mind that the best thing the United States could do for the region is to just stay the hell out of it.

Well, that and start treating the people responsible for some of the things we’ve done in the region for the last 70 years not as senior statesmen, but as criminals.

2 thoughts on “Sigh…

  1. egag21

    So, let me get this straight, Iraq used chemical weapons in 1988 and then when we went to war however many years later with Iraq because they had chemical weapons we found none. This was major egg on the face for Bush and the whole “Bush Lied, People Died” bumper sticker philosophy was born.

    Because the Democratic party so strongly attacked Bush over Iraq they have no right or credibility to send this country into another war of any type for any purpose. The fact they’re even considering it is the very definition of hypocrisy. I agree with Chris, perhaps for different reasons, but we need to stay out of the Middle East.



    1. comradedread Post author

      Iraq also went through a forced disarmament after the first Persian Gulf war, after which the UN weapon inspectors rummaged through the country finding nothing. But the US govt. at the time of the second war either did not believe the inspectors or because Saddam was being cagey and didn’t want to fully admit he had nothing so as to look stronger than he was or we had alternative motivations for pushing us into war with Iraq, after which we found… nothing, much as the UN inspectors told us we would.

      There is hypocrisy here, but it’s mostly based on our facilitating and turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war because we favored Iraq at the time. The Reagan administration aided Saddam despite knowing what he was doing. Now we’re posed to start lobbing missiles into Syria because their genocidal dictator isn’t on our side.

      Sort of like how our secondary reason for invading Iraq was to replace a dictator with a democratic government, and the CIA just released papers confirming the long held suspicions that we overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to install a dictator.

      We’re making things worse over there. And it’s hard to see how firing off rockets that will likely kill more Syrians is going to make things better.



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