Thatcher’s dealings with Iraq

In his April 14 paean to Baroness Thatcher, “‘Iron Lady’ is worth emulating,” Paul Gaysford advises Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to read her memoirs, “The Downing Street Years,” to fully grasp her own brand of conservatism.

In this 915-page volume covering her time as British prime minister, Thatcher does not once mention her government’s sales of arms and military equipment to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

As the 1992-93 Scott Inquiry into arms-to-Iraq uncovered, until the time Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Baghdad had been a profitable recipient of U.K. arms for over a decade.

From 1980 to 1990 under Thatcher’s Cabinet, the United Kingdom provided £3.5 billion in trade credits to Iraq. This support continued on either side of Saddam’s ordering the poison gassing of Iranian conscript troops in 1983-84, and of his own people in Halabja, Kurdistan, in 1988, killing 5,000 innocent civilians.

Trade export credits to Iraq rose from £175 million in 1987 (before Halabja) to £340 million after Halabja, according to a press release from the then Department for Trade and Industry. Five months after the Halabja massacre, Thatcher’s foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey (now Lord) Howe, noted in a report to Thatcher that with the August 1988 Iran-Iraq peace deal agreed, “opportunities for sales of defense equipment to Iran and Iraq will be considerable.”

In the months running up to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and with his record of poison gas use publicly known, Thatcher’s government sold Iraq three tons of sodium cyanide and sodium sulphide (used as nerve-gas antidotes), dual-use civilian-military equipment including Matrix Churchill machine tools, and plutonium, the key component explosive for nuclear warheads.

[As the former director of the European Proliferation Information Center (EPIC), London,] I find this unconscionable.

david lowry
surrey, england

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Starviking

    The only report into Plutonium exports to Iraq I can find detail extremely small amounts – in the micro curies range. David Lowry is being disingenuous not mentioning this fact. As for selling nerve-gas antidotes, so what? If the UK was selling nerve-gas that would be worth of criticism.

    • 8.6 tonnes of Uranium over 2 years isn’t enough for you?

      How about the depleted uranium, plutonium, thorium, thorium oxide,
      uranium acetate, zirconium and zirconium rod shown in the Department of Trade and Industry’s ‘Products Licensed for Export to Iraq’ document?

      It all comes down to ‘dual-use’ technologies as the article mentions, which allow one to bypass arms restrictions. You can’t send the whole weapon, but you can send the ingredients or parts with the false intention of using them for civilian purposes. Which is why the DTI approved thiodiglycol and thionyl chloride, which are both ingredients in poisonous gasses.

      • Starviking

        I was querying Plutonium, which is a different element from Uranium. Thanks for the other information, but was the Uranium weaponisable?

      • As long as the thing explodes, I don’t think it matters which particular radionuclide is responsible for the fission.

        I don’t know which particular isotopes they exported and in what concentrations. However the most common Urainium – 238 – is easily turned into Plutonium 239 by shooting it with neutrons.

        This is A LOT more practical, than purifying the U238 (of which less than 1% is U235 – what you need for a bomb).

        It’s all about bypassing regulations with ‘dual-use technology’ and arming puppets. A dictator is American’s dream, as it is a single man that has to be manipulated, rather than a constanty changing government.

      • Starviking

        Well the question is “will the thing explode?” Uranium-232 isn’t weaponisable. U-233 is difficult to weaponise. U-234 won’t fission. neither will U-236.

        Producing Pu-239 is anything but easy: the neutrons that start the process of converting U-238 to Pu-239 come from a nuclear reactor. The neutrons also produce Pu-240, which interferes with the fission process. It is very complicated and expensive to produce Pu-239 pure enough to make a bomb.
        By the way, I’m not criticising the Scott Inquiry. Dual-use technology must be watched closely, but exaggerated claims do not help that cause.

  • Ross West

    A little confused by the quibbling in the comments. Surely the simple point is that the UK sold huge amounts of weapons and material that could be made into weapons to Iraq. They did so even after it was well known that those weapons were being used to attack its own civilians. Then in barely a blink of an eye they turn around and justify an invasion of Iraq because they are using weapons against their own civilians and pose some made-up threat against the UK. This is just the standard stock-in-trade hypocrisy of the arms trade. The UK is hardly alone in this (for instance the US, France, Germany, Russian, China, Israel et. al.)