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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 December, 2003, 13:07 GMT
How Saddam could embarrass the West

by Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

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.

Victims of the Halabja gas attack
Saddam Hussein must still face his responsibilities
The trial might turn into more than an account of genocide, invasion, murder and massacre, dominant though that would be.

It could become a political event tinged with some embarrassment for countries and individuals who were once close to him.

Saddam Hussein's egocentric sense of history, largely centred around a vision of himself leading the Arab world as Saladin led it against the Crusaders, would surely tempt him to play to the gallery of Arab opinion.

In the process, he might raise the question as to why those who later opposed him once supplied him with technical, military and diplomatic muscle.

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
Mr Chirac denied that the "negotiation" meant a discussion about repairing Iraq's nuclear reactors.

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's Arab neighbours in the Gulf, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia among them saw revolutionary Iran as a threat and poured money into Baghdad.

US diplomacy

The role played by the United States turned out to be important diplomatically. And this is where Mr Rumsfeld came in.

Saddam Hussein after his capture
Saddam Hussein was once courted by the West
In the early 1980s, the bogeyman for the Americans was Ayatollah Khomeini. He had come to power in Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The United States had been humiliated by the seizure of its embassy and the holding of its staff as hostages for more than a year. This helped Jimmy Carter lose the presidency to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

With Iran seen as the danger, Washington turned to Iraq as the bulwark.

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.

Minutes of their meeting in December 1983 were taken by an American diplomat and later released in edited form under the Freedom of Information Act. They were published by the National Security Archive, a private research group.

Iran the motive

It is clear from the account that Mr Rumsfeld was concerned about Iran and that this was the motive for the American approach.

Saddam Hussein showed obvious pleasure with the president's letter and Rumsfeld's visit
US State Dept memo
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.

A report on another meeting, recorded that he did raise it with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, saying that "our efforts to assist were inhibited by certain things that make it difficult for us, citing the use of chemical weapons".

Diplomatic relations between the US and Iraq were restored in 1984.

Past alliances often embarrass governments.

If Saddam Hussein chooses to do so, he could use them to embarrass some of his current enemies.

Real point of trial

Not that it would diminish his own responsibilities. The London based organisation Indict, which has gathered evidence against Saddam Hussein and his associates, has published one eyewitness account of the dictator's personal behaviour.

It is a reminder of what the trial will really be about:

"One of the president's bodyguards brought 30 prisoners out. They were Kurds. The president himself shot them one after another with a Browning pistol.

"Another 30 prisoners were brought and the process was repeated. Saddam Hussein was laughing and obviously enjoying himself. There was blood everywhere - it was like an abattoir...

"Those who were still alive were eventually finished off by the security officers."

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