20 things the U.S. did to help Saddam against Iran

During Saddam's imposed war on Iran from 1980 to 1988, the Western governments provided the Iraqi regime with chemical weapons and sophisticated military equipment as well as strategic supports.

By Fatemeh Mohammadi*

When in 1980 Saddam Hussain decided to stage a war against Iran, Iraq per se did not have the political will and military might required to launch an attack on the Iranian soil. It was actually the CIA and the Reagan administration(1) who encouraged Iraq to undertake an anti-Iranian offensive from 1980 to 1988(2). After the Carter administration's operation Eagle Claw, the CIA staged a failed coup with the help of Saddam and the remnants of the old Iranian  regime who sought refuge in Iraq with Saddam(3). This coup, known as Nojeh ou Nuzhih, struck a heavy blow to Iranian armed forces as several high ranking officials, who were complicit in this coup, were executed for treason(4). Saddam was even being counseled by Shah’s generals in estimating the Iranian armed forces and their defensive powers, which they evaluated to be meager because of the social upheaval and restructuring brought on by the revolution and US-backed sanctions(5).

At the beginning of the Iraqi assault on Iran in 1980, Saddam conquered many Iranian border cities. The Iranian army managed to push back Iraqi forces in 1982. In that year, after waves of victory for the Iranian forces, the superiority was clearly tilted toward the Iranian side and an Iraqi defeat looked imminent(6). An Iranian victory looked so dire to the American government that  they made the strategic decision to wholeheartedly embrace the terrorist government of Saddam in order to tilt the war against Iran.

US support for Iraq was not a secret and was frequently discussed in open session of the Senate and House of Representatives. On June 9, 1992, Ted Koppel reported on ABC's Nightline, that:

"Reagan/Bush administrations permitted—and frequently encouraged—the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use technology(7), chemicals, and weapons to Iraq.(8)"

Although the United States delisted Iraq from the state sponsors of terrorism in 1982(9), European and American companies(10) and administrations were already helping Saddam long before that(11). This move was taken despite the fact that the US government was already convinced that Iraq was involved in terrorism. Iraq received 200 million dollars’ worth of arms from America  between 1983 to 1990(12); all this for the purpose of defeating Iran.

Apart from US military aid to Iraq, there were also economic aids, since Iraqi oil exports had almost come to a halt, as had that of Iran's. While Iran was under US and European sanctions, which increased the volatility of Iran’s oil exports(13), Iraqi oil tankers were escorted under the American flag, by the American Navy past the Persian Gulf (14). Moreover, a five billion dollars(15) US loan was granted to Saddam in his war with Iran, in addition to over 680 million dollars for building oil pipes(16) and later one billion dollars of aid (17); all of which were spent on Iraqi military buildup. America's Central Intelligence Agency put a cover before Congress for a five billion dollar loan granted to Saddam by the Atlanta branch of Italian Lavoro Bank(18). All this support and assistance to Saddam ignored the fact that Saddam was financing terrorist organizations like MEK. The US credits offered to Saddam made Iraq the third-largest recipient of US assistance(19). As Rodney Castledean put it in 2011:

“During the Iran-Iraq War there is no question about it; the United States was an ally of Iraq, and gave Saddam Hussein several different kinds of aid to help him win the war.(20)”

Many American and European companies(21) were helping Saddam to build up its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programs from 1975 onward, as well as rockets and conventional weapons. According to leaked reports, Iraq’s WMD program consisted of nuclear(22), chemical and biological weapons(23) of mass destruction(24). These aids were apart from governmental aids. Later it was disclosed that American standards(25) were used in production of Iraqi biological weapons(26). The Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control (CDC) sent 14 agents "with biological warfare significance" to Iraq between 1985 and 1989(27).

France and Britain both had sold some arms to Iraq back in the 1960s, but between 1974 and 1980, Iraq started to purchase arms from different western countries. It started to acquire helicopters, antitank missiles, and high performance Mirage jet fighters from France. Other aids that the US administration offered to Saddam include counter-insurgency training, operational intelligence on the battlefield and weapons(28). 

The interesting fact is that the same Ronald Rumsfeld(29) who took a hawkish attitude toward Iraq and favored an attack post 9/11, was the person who went to Baghdad as Reagan’s emissary(30) for a handshake with Saddam(31). This move was taken in December 1983 and again in March 1984 because the “Reagan administration was afraid Iraq might actually lose” the war to Iran, according to US ambassador Peter W. Galbraith(32).

Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983

A month before this historic handshake, in November 1983, Iraq had already started to use chemical weapons against Iran and the US administration was well aware of that(33). According to the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which the Americans had ratified in 1975, states undertake that they will not use chemical weapons and agree they 'will exert every effort to induce other States' to do the same(34). Charles A. Duelfer(35) said in an interview:

“During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam used 101,000 chemical munitions, which was no secret. The U.S. once in a while would peep and say chemical weapons were bad, but at the same time we were giving Saddam intelligence that laid out where Iranian troops were massing. Then he would gas the living daylights out of them.(36)”

In reference to the Geneva protocol of 1925, Iran filed a United Nations draft resolution to condemn Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, but the US lobbied its allies at the UN to vote for a “no decision” stance against this resolution(37). Three years later, in 1988, Saddam also used chemical weapons against his own people, killing 5,000 innocent civilians, women and children in the Iraqi town of Halabja. As it turned out later, the US used to monitor the Iraqi army's messages on the use of chemicals in Halabja(38). The Reagan administration sought to obscure responsibility of this attack by falsely accusing Iran of being responsible(39). These accusations were levied while Iran had never developed or used such kind of weapons during this war or later on.

Saddam's chemical attack on Halabja,Iraq


Below is a brief outline on twenty different aids Saddam recieved from the United States on his war against Iran: 

A) Political support

1. US removed Iraq from list of State Sponsors of Terrorism; 1982.
2. US and its allies supported "no decision" at UN on Iraq’s use of chemical weapons; 1984.
3. Bush signed NSD 26 to ensure the security of Iraq; 1989.
B) Military Support

4. $1.5 billion worth of Pathogenic, toxigenic and other biological research materials were exported to Iraq; 1985-89.
5. US delivered 200 million dollars’ worth of arms; 1983-90.
6. CIA secretly directed armaments and hi-tech components to Iraq; 1985-90.
7. CIA secretly encouraged rogue arms dealers and private military companies to funnel arm to Iraq; 1985-90.
8. US based company, Alcolac International exported mustard gas to Iraq; 1987-88.
9. Almost 150 foreign companies supported Saddam Hussein's WMD program; 1975-91.
10. 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency provided logistic information to Iraq; 1987- 88.
11. US navy escorted Iraqi oil tankers while Iraq was targeting Iranian tankers; 1987-88.
12. Saddam's elite troops were trained in US; 1980s.
13. Iraqi helicopter pilots received training in the United States; 1980s.
14. The United States assisted Iraq through a military aid program known as "Bear Spares"; 1980s.
C) US direct attack on Iran while in war with Saddam

15. US directly attacked Iran by hitting Iran’s oil platforms; 1987.
16. US directly attacked Iran’s navy in unproportioned and unreasonable war; 1988.
17. US shot down Iranian civilian airliner in the Iranian territory; 1988.
D) Blaming Iran for Iraqi attack on Halabja

18. US blamed Iran for Iraqi attack on USS Stark; 1987.
E) Logistic Support

19. US spied on Iran with aircraft during operation Eager Glacier and delivered this information to Iraq; 1987-88.
D) Economic Support

20. US funneled $5 billion of American tax payers money to Iraq; 1985-89.



*Fatemeh Mohammadi has a M.A. in Public Relations and is well experienced in Iranian history. She also has articles in comparative history which are published by Tasnim News Agency and Cultural Heritage News Agency



1. Dobbs, M. (2015). U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup. Washington Post. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
2.,. (2015). Dozens of U.S. Items Used in Iraq Arms. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
3. Sasan Fayazmanesh (31 March 2008). The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment. Routledge. p. 37.
4. Mark J. Gasiorowski (2002), "The Nuzhih Plot and Iranian Politics", Int. J. Middle East Stud. 34 (2002), 645–666.
5. Rajaee, Farhang, ed. (1993). The Iran-Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
7. Those technologies with both military and civilian applications
8. ABC Nightline. July 1, 1992.
9.,. (2015). Context of 'February 1982: Reagan Administration Removes Iraq from Terrorist Sponsor List'. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
10. Peterson, T. (2002). Leaked report says German and US firms supplied arms to Saddam. The Independent. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
11. DIXON, N. (2004). How Reagan Armed Saddam with Chemical Weapons. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from

12. Ibid
13. Mohaddes, K. and M.H. Pesaran (2013), 'One hundred years of oil income and the Iranian economy: a curse or blessing', Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1302, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
14. Cordesman, A., & Wagner, A. (1990). The Lessons of Modern War - Volume II - The Iran-Iraq War – Chapter 14: The Tanker War And The Lessons Of Naval Conflict (1st ed., p. 1). Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from and see also: Kamalipour, Yahya R., and Nancy Snow. 2004. War, media, and propaganda: a global perspective. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
15. Baker, R. (1993). IRAQGATE: The Big One That (Almost) Got Away Who Chased it -- and Who Didn't. russbaker. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from,%20by%20Russ%20W_%20Baker.htm
16. Rodney Castleden. Conflicts that Changed the World. Canary Press eBooks. p. 436.
17. Op. cit. Baker, R. (1993)
18. Goodman, M. (2009). The CIA's History of Deception. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
19. Galbraith, P. (2015). The true Iraq appeasers - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune - The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
20. Ibid
21. For a comprehensive list of companies who aided Saddam against Iran see: op. cit. Goodman, M. (2009) and also see: Crogan, J. (2003). Made in the USA, Part III: The Dishonor Roll. L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
22. Timmerman, K. (2015). U.S. Export Policy Toward Iraq: An Agenda for Tomorrow. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
23. Lauria, J. (2015). Iraq Purchased Anthrax From US Company. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
24. Op. cit. Peterson, T. (2002). 
25. Second Staff Report on U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual-Use Exports to Iraq and The Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the War. (2015). Retrieved from or see: United States Senate. (2015). Washington. Retrieved from
27. Drury, T. (2015). Perspective: How Iraq built its weapons programs with a little help from its friends. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
28. Woodward, Bob. "CIA Aiding Iraq in Gulf War; Target Data From U.S. Satellites Supplied for Nearly 2 Years", Washington Post. Dec 15, 1986.
29. Battle, J. (2015). Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
30. Shuster, M. (2015). U.S. Links to Saddam During Iran-Iraq War. New York. from
31. MURPHY, J. (2015). U.S. And Iraq Go Way Back. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
32. Op. cit. Galbraith, P. (2015)
33. Cooper, R. (2013). CIA 'helped Saddam Hussein carry out chemical weapons attack on Iran' in 1988 under Ronald Reagan. Mail Online. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
34. ibid
35. He led the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) that conducted the investigation of the scope of Iraq's WMD
36. Kingsbury, A. (2009). Iraq, WMD, Bush and the Mind of Saddam Hussein: Hide and Seek by Charles Duelfer. US News & World Report. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
38. Pear, R. (2015). U.S. Says It Monitored Iraqi Messages on Gas. Retrieved 31 October 2015, from
39. Op. cit. Galbraith, P. (2015)