|Beyond that missing history of U.S.-Iraq relations, there's the secondary issue of cover-ups conducted by the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. |
Democratic sources say Clinton heeded personal appeals from the elder Bush and other top Republicans to close the books on the so-called "Iraqgate" investigation -- as well as probes into secret Reagan-Bush dealings with Iran -- soon after the Democrat defeated Bush in the 1992 election.
Some Democrats say Clinton agreed to shelve the investigations out of concern for national security and the country's unity. Others suggest that Clinton was tricked by the wily elder Bush with promises that a pullback on the Iran-Iraq investigations might win Clinton some bipartisanship with the Republicans in Congress, a tantalizing prospect that turned out to be a mirage.
Whatever the reasons, Clinton's Justice Department did bail out the Reagan-Bush team in the mid-1990s when more disclosures about the secret dealings with Iraq flooded to the surface. Perhaps the most important disclosure was an affidavit by former Reagan administration official Howard Teicher that was filed in connection with a criminal trial in Miami in 1995. The Teicher affidavit was the first sworn public account by a Reagan insider of the covert U.S.-Iraq relationship.
Teicher, who served on Reagan's National Security Council staff, traced the U.S. tilt to Iraq to a turning point in the war in 1982 when Iran gained the offensive and fears swept through the U.S. government that Iran's army might slice through Iraq to the oil fields of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
"In June 1982, President Reagan decided that the United States could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran," Teicher wrote in his affidavit. Teicher said he helped draft a secret national security decision directive that Reagan signed to authorize covert U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein's military.
"The NSDD, including even its identifying number, is classified," Teicher wrote in 1995.
The effort to arm the Iraqis was "spearheaded" by CIA Director William Casey and involved his deputy, Robert Gates, according to Teicher's affidavit. "The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq," Teicher wrote.
In 1984, Teicher said he went to Iraq with Rumsfeld to convey a secret Israeli offer to assist Iraq after Israel had concluded that Iran was becoming a greater danger. "I traveled with Rumsfeld to Baghdad and was present at the meeting in which Rumsfeld told Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz about Israel's offer of assistance," Teicher wrote. "Aziz refused even to accept the Israelis' letter to Hussein offering assistance because Aziz told us that he would be executed on the spot by Hussein if he did so."
Another key player in Reagan's Iraq tilt was then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, according to Teicher's affidavit.
"In 1986, President Reagan sent a secret message to Saddam Hussein telling him that Iraq should step up its air war and bombing of Iran," Teicher wrote. "This message was delivered by Vice President Bush who communicated it to Egyptian President Mubarak, who in turn passed the message to Saddam Hussein.
"Similar strategic operational military advice was passed to Saddam Hussein through various meetings with European and Middle Eastern heads of state. I authored Bush's talking points for the 1986 meeting with Mubarak and personally attended numerous meetings with European and Middle East heads of state where the strategic operational advice was communicated."
Teicher's affidavit represented a major break in the historical mystery of U.S. aid to Iraq. But it complicated a criminal arms-trafficking case that Clinton's Justice Department was prosecuting against Teledyne Industries and a salesman named Ed Johnson. They had allegedly sold explosive pellets to Chilean arms manufacturer Carlos Cardoen, who used them to manufacture cluster bombs for Iraq.