The U.S. Knew Iraq Was Using Chemical Weapons, Helped Out Anyway

Recently declassified documents detail the CIA’s knowledge of Iraq’s chemical weapon program in the 1980s

The symbol for chemical weapons
The symbol for chemical weapons Wikimedia Commons

During the eight years of the First Persian Gulf War (or the Iran-Iraq War), Iraqi forces lead by Saddam Hussein developed and deployed chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin gas, against both Iranian forces and Iraqi citizens. And the U.S. knew about—not just suspected—Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, as recently declassified documents from the Central Intelligence Agency show.

Foreign Policy magazine, relying on a series of CIA reports that were declassified starting in 2007, and through interviews with former military agents, describes how America continued to support Iraq despite its chemical attacks:

It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.

This is not the first time revelations of this type have come to light: in 2002, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported on how much the U.S. knew about Iraq’s chemical weapon use and on how the U.S. supported Iraq with military information.

But the declassified documents laid out by Foreign Policy describe the period in more detail. The documents show that the CIA knew of Hussein’s prior use of chemical weapons and of Iraq’s continued capability to use them. As Foreign Policy reports, this knowledge did not prevent the U.S. from providing intelligence assistance, such as maps, satellite imagery and information on Iranian troop positions, during the late stages of the war—information that would be used to support chemical attacks on Iran’s troops.

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