We smiled and smiled at Saddam

Share
Related Topics
It is a year since the British and American governments called off their four-day bombardment of Iraq, which was designed (and failed) to humble Saddam Hussein for his refusal to co-operate with the UN on arms inspections. The missile attacks were followed by a sporadic bombing campaign which has always looked more like a manifestation of frustration than a concerted attempt to put pressure on the Iraqi dictator. On Friday, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that sets up a new inspection programme and offers to suspend sanctions if Baghdad co-operates. Four members of the council abstained, and Iraq's immediate reaction was hostile.

How do you influence a man who is willing to let his people starve? There is no doubt that Saddam poses an intractable problem for the world community. But do not feel too sorry for the countries trying to curtail his ambitions. For this is a story about global capitalism, which bankrolled Saddam, and governments that turned a blind eye to crimes against humanity. This is not a cynical view. It is based on cold, hard facts.

The Ba'ath party, which seized power in Iraq in 1968, is a fascist organisation which celebrated its coup with public hangings. Once Saddam became President in 1979, he established a reign of terror. Thousands of Iraqis have disappeared or been murdered, torture is widespread and opponents have been assassinated abroad. Saddam is also a war criminal, who has used chemical weapons extensively - most notably at Halabja, in March 1988, when he gassed thousands of Kurds. So how did foreign governments respond to this ghastly record?

By making regular visits to Baghdad to promote trade. By lending money to Saddam, even when his economy was in ruins. In Britain, the Scott report revealed the frustration of government ministers who wanted to see guidelines on arms sales relaxed as late as 1990, even though the Foreign Office described Iraq's human rights record as "among the worst in the world". Now, from documents released in Washington under the freedom of information act, we have a dramatic glimpse of how top American businessmen conducted themselves towards this pariah state.

The scene is Baghdad, June 1989. At the American embassy someone is preparing a cable for the State Department in Washington, outlining a meeting of the anodyne-sounding US-Iraq Business Forum. But this is no piddling chamber of commerce. The forum has sent representatives of 25 American companies to Baghdad, including the presidents of Westinghouse, Brown and Root, Kellogg and Bell Helicopter. A senior American politician, Senator Percy, is also there. Together, the companies grossed $500bn in 1988, and they have been "warmly received". Saddam himself, dressed in a business suit, makes notes as delegation chairman Abboud (First City Bank of Texas) explains that the group represents the US banking, oil, construction and food production sectors.

If they were a country, boasts Mr Abboud, their total worth would make them the third largest economy in the free world. They are able to speak freely to senior administration officials and congressmen, and did so at the time of the sanctions legislation on chemical weapons in late 1988. Ah, that little matter of genocide - best get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Mr Abboud goes on to say that the forum hopes to double US exports to Iraq, currently worth $1.5bn, in two years. Suddenly, someone mentions torture. It is easy to imagine the sharp intakes of breath, especially as it comes from an unexpected quarter.

Saddam, observes the cable, "then made a curious excursion into the human rights field". So certain is the dictator of his audience's acquiescence, he brazenly announces Iraq "deserves credit from the whole world for its human rights record".

Nobody questions "this extraordinary assertion", as even US embassy staff characterise it in their report. The richest, most powerful men in America, probably the world, meekly allow this genial war criminal to lie in their faces. A few miles away, in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, torture is going on much as usual. But Saddam understands capitalism. Revealing an unsuspected sense of irony, he adds that one of the functions of Iraq's exemplary human rights record is "comfort money" - to make international investors feel better about dealing with him.

The tycoons are comfortable. That is why they are there, with their government's blessing. Their only anxiety is the President's refusal to restructure his debts. It will take another 14 months, and Iraq's fatal decision to invade Kuwait, for the West to change its tune on Saddam. When it comes, the alteration is abrupt. "I used to love him", as the Rolling Stones nearly said, "but it is all over now."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital