Britain 'knew of Iraq arms route': Jordan warns against being made 'scapegoat'

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The Independent Online
JORDAN'S ambassador to Britain alleged yesterday that the Government knew and approved of an arms supply route to Iraq in the run-up to the Gulf war, in breach of its own guidelines.

Fouad Ayoub, the Jordanian ambassador in London, claimed that vital parts for Iraqi tanks were supplied by Britain to Jordan, which then passed them on to Iraq with Britain's knowledge. He said he would be prepared to give evidence to Lord Justice Scott's inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair, which starts next week, if Britain attempted to make Jordan a scapegoat. His allegations are supported by a former senior Foreign Office official.

The inquiry, set up following the collapse of the Matrix Churchill prosecution last year, will investigate breaches of British government guidelines banning the supply of defence or 'dual-use' equipment, which could be used for military or civil purposes, and breaches of export laws.

Mr Ayoub, speaking on BBC Radio's Special Assignment programme yesterday, said: 'It is no secret that during the years of the Iran-Iraq war many countries, including Western countries and Arab countries, were keen to see that Iraq's military capability remained undiminished.

'Jordan operated within this context and as such helped to purchase and send arms and equipment to Iraq. Those arms and equipment were financed by other Arab countries and done with the full approval of Western powers and other Arab nations.'

Defence equipment supplied to Jordan in 1985 under a pounds 270m deal signed by Margaret Thatcher was sold on to Iraq to update 200 British Chieftain tanks captured from Iran in the early 1980s. Spare parts for Chieftain armoured recovery vehicles were also sold directly to Iraq.

Mark Higson, a former Foreign Office official who oversaw export licences from defence equipment manufacturers and dealers, told the BBC of the Jordanian link: 'It wasn't as though we were deliberately trying to arm Iraq through a third country, but the fact that it was happening and we were aware of it might have been let to go by.' He said the Government knew that equipment that could be used for lethal purposes was going to Jordan and could be sent on to Iraq.

The Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, Menzies Campbell, said: 'These reports add to the already overwhelming evidence that the British government was a knowing party to the supply of arms to Iraq in the period before the Gulf war.'

Lord Justice Scott will question Baroness Thatcher and John Major over the guidelines on exports to Iraq, and also over their possible involvement in decisions relating to the traffic of arms and related material.