Military advisers' warnings on exports to Iraq ignored

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SENIOR civil servants ignored military advisers' warnings that British exports were being used by Iraq to set up a major arms manufacturing industry.

Iraq's capacity to wage war was greatly increased as a result of exports of British machine tools used to make missiles and munitions, the Scott inquiry heard yesterday.

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Glazebrook, a senior Army officer who monitored the exports, told the inquiry that fears of a committee of Ministry of Defence advisers were ignored. He wrote a report warning of the Iraqi build-up and the involvement of British machine tool companies in an effort to get ministers to change export regulations. The report was backed up by military intelligence.

Despite that, the committee's views were not accurately reflected by its chairman - an MoD defence sales official - in an aide-memoire to the former Minister for Defence Procurement, Alan Clark. Mr Clark's evidence last year led to the collapse of an Old Bailey trial of three executives of the Coventry-based Matrix Churchill machine tool firm, accused of evading export controls.

The Government set up Lord Justice Scott's inquiry to investigate claims of collusion by ministers and civil servants in defence exports which breached official guidelines and export control legislation.

Mr Clark was told that there were no MoD security or operational objections to the export of machine tools to Iraq. But Lt-Col Glazebrook told the inquiry yesterday that that did not represent the view of the majority of military advisers on an MoD committee set up to vet defence equipment export applications.

Although export guidelines announced in Parliament remained unaltered, civil servants changed the interpretation of them to suit British political and industrial needs, he said. Despite a declared position of even-handed neutrality Britain increasingly favoured Iraq over Iran.

He said that he was the Army representative on the advisory group. Navy, RAF, military intelligence and defence scientific and technical advisers were also appointed. Exporters were represented by the MoD's own export service officials who frequently opposed recommendations by the military advisers to block licences. The committee became known as 'the branch which likes to say no', he said.

Military advisers were concerned about the export of machine tools to Iraq in 1987. Although strictly not 'lethal', the equipment, including computer-controlled lathes, could be used to make munitions.

Despite military intelligence warnings that the lathes were to be used to make half a million artillery shells a year for the Iraqi military, licences were approved by the Department of Trade and Industry. It argued that although some lathes went to an Iraqi company known to supply munitions the advisers could not prove the equipment was for military use as the company also produced civilian goods.