Middle East

A POLEMIC
Germany's leading role in arming Iraq
By Marc Erikson

Expurgated portions of Iraq's December 7 report to the UN Security Council show that German firms made up the bulk of suppliers for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. What's galling is that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his minions have long known the facts, German intelligence services know them and have loads of information on what Saddam Hussein is hiding, and Schroeder nonetheless plays holier than thou to an easily manipulated, pacifist-inclined domestic audience.

If it's not the height of hypocrisy and opportunism, Schroeder's preemptive "no war. period" stance on Iraq and insistence on a "German Way" (Deutscher Weg) certainly come close. German Way? Haven't we heard that sort of talk before sometime, somewhere? But leave that be. It falls in the same category as Schroeder's former justice minister's comparison of US President George W Bush to Adolf Hitler in last summer's election campaign. Not only Schroeder and that unfortunate lady, but politicians elsewhere are of limited mental accountability when desperate about winning an election, and suffer lapses of speech and memory.

In 1991, Iraq fired dozens of Scud missiles at Israel and threatened to arm the missiles with poison-gas and biological warheads. Most of the contents of those warheads were made in Germany or made with the aid of German engineers and technology. In light of German history, can Herr Schroeder countenance the possibility of a future poison gas attack on Israel (or anyone else) facilitated by German know-how? Schroeder may not want to go to war. So be it. But he should regard it as his most solemn obligation to do his absolute damnedest to make sure that in the future "good Germans" don't once again stand there and say: "We didn't know."

Friedbert Pflueger, foreign policy spokesman of the main opposition Christian Democratic parties and an embittered critic of Schroeder's and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's Iraq policy, last Thursday accused the red-green coalition government of deliberately keeping the German and world public uninformed of BND (German foreign intelligence service) evidence and assessments on the continued existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). "If we trust our [intelligence] services, and I do, then we know that there exist weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," said Pflueger, and referred to a November 13, 2002, BND briefing of members of parliament's foreign affairs committee in which relevant information was disclosed. As a member of parliament, added Pflueger, he was bound by his secrecy oath not to pass on such information, but challenged Schroeder to make it public forthwith. This was necessary, he said, "so that Herr Schroeder cannot continue to spread the impression that the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is a figment of George W Bush's imagination". He said further that he would dearly like to know exactly how many different types of smallpox virus were in Iraq's possession as - during a November 13 budget committee meeting - Health Minister Ulla Schmidt had motivated her request for a several million euro allocation for the purchase of smallpox vaccine with reference to such Iraqi stocks. Well, Gerhard, why's your minister worried? Or do vaccine purchases fall into the category of economic stimulus for the pharmaceutical industry?

The reason the BND is well-informed of Iraqi WMD programs - nuclear, biological and chemical - is straightforward: since the early 1980s, it has monitored German exports of dual-use nuclear technologies, precursor chemicals for poison-gas weapons, and "pharmaceutical" products and equipment for biological weapons manufacture to the Middle East. Indeed, there are strong suspicions that it was a silent partner in a Hamburg front company, Water Engineering Trading or WET, which covered for and facilitated such exports. Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said in his January 27 report that tons of Iraqi chemical and biological agents and precursors were unaccounted for. Over the years, well over half of the precursor materials and a majority of the tools and know-how for their conversion into weapons were sold to Iraq by German firms - both prior to and after the 1991 Gulf War. The BND has the details.

In the summer of 1994, the BND conducted a major study to estimate the magnitude of the - as at that time - still undeclared and concealed Iraqi WMD arsenal, relying on sales records in its possession of post-Gulf War German, Austrian, and Swiss exports of technologies, sub-systems and strategic materials to Iraq. It concluded that these exports pointed to several specific weapons programs, ranging from ballistic missile upgrades to poison gas manufacture, which Iraq had not declared and UN inspectors were unaware of and hence, not surprisingly, had failed to discover. While the magnitude of the current (1994) Iraqi weapons program "is difficult to assess", said the BND, there is no doubt that "some of the material and equipment" has eluded discovery and certain projects "are being revived and run clandestinely".

In February 2001, the BND compiled a further report and intelligence chief August Hanning told Spiegel magazine that, "Since the end of the UN inspections [December 1998], we have determined a jump in procurement efforts by Iraq," adding that Saddam was rebuilding destroyed weapons facilities "partly based on the German industrial standard".

According to the report:
  • Iraq has resumed its nuclear program and may be capable of producing an atomic bomb in three years;
  • Iraq is developing its Al Samoud and Ababil 100/Al Fatah short-range rockets, which can deliver a 300kg payload 150km. Medium-range rockets capable of carrying a warhead 3,000km could be built by 2005 - far enough to reach Europe;
  • Iraq is capable of manufacturing solid rocket fuel;
  • A Delhi-based company, blacklisted by the German government because of its alleged role in weapons proliferation, has acted as a buyer on Iraq's behalf. Deliveries have been made via Malaysia and Dubai. Indian companies have copied German machine tools down to the smallest detail and such equipment has been installed in numerous chemicals projects. [Note that such Indian cooperation with Iraq is something of a tradition: during the Iran-Iraq war India delivered precursors for warfare agents to Iraq - and later was found to have delivered quantities of the same materials to Iran. Baghdad's middleman at the time, an Iraqi with a German passport, founded a company in Singapore expressly for this purpose.]
  • Since the departure of the UN inspectors, the number of Iraqi sites involved in chemicals production has increased from 20 to 80. Of that total, a quarter could be involved in weapons production.

    The BND's warnings didn't stop with that report. In April 2001, Hanning told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Iraq was developing a new class of chemical weapons, reiterated his alert on Iraq's missile and nuclear programs, and said that several German companies had continued to deliver to Baghdad components needed for the production of poison gas. In March 2002, he told the New Yorker magazine that, "It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years." The German opposition parties' demand that the government make public what it knows is thus no irresponsible, idle, politically inspired chatter as the ruling Social Democrats and Greens charge. The irresponsible chatter and politicking is Herr Schroeder's.

    Houston, Texas, attorney Gary Pitts announced late last December that his firm, Pitts and Associates, would soon launch a class action suit on behalf of more than 3,000 sick Gulf War veterans against dozens of European companies accused of helping arm Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. Pitts said he had received a list of 56 international suppliers of equipment and raw materials necessary to make sarin, VX, mustard gas and other chemical agents from the Iraqi government. The list, brought back from Iraq by former weapons inspector Scott Ritter last September, proves identical to one included in a 1998 Iraqi chemical weapons declaration to the UN, resubmitted unchanged on December 7 and withheld from publication by the inspectors - along with other items - for reasons of "sensitivity". Withheld as well is a list of Iraqi nuclear technology suppliers originally contained in a 1996 declaration and also resubmitted on December 7. That nuclear weapons production details on uranium enrichment, detonation, implosion testing and warhead construction contained in Iraq's declarations should be withheld from all but the five permanent UN Security Council members may have some justification. That lists of suppliers for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons components are being withheld makes sense only if the UN inspectors want to save supplier countries and firms from embarrassment - precisely the embarrassment they should be exposed to to forestall future deliveries.

    The list in Iraq's 1998/current chemical weapons declaration contains 31 "major suppliers", 14 from Germany. The 1996/current nuclear suppliers list has 62 company names on it, 33 from Germany. As Iraq claims that since 1991 it has not engaged in WMD production, the lists name no post-Gulf War suppliers. Call it old news. So much the sillier that the UN refuses to make them public. But since the BND claims that deliveries did not stop at the end of the Gulf War as well as simply as a matter of record of German complicity in arming Iraq, the issue remains an urgent current concern.

    Leading the honor roll of chemical agents and production equipment suppliers (in this case nerve gas precursors and manufacturing) to Iraq is the German firm Preussag, now a subsidiary of Europe's largest travel agent and tour operator TUI - happy holidays! And Preussag has long been a firm dear to Schroeder's heart. In early 1998, when Schroeder was running for re-election as prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony which he had governed for eight years, he had the state buy 51 percent of Preussag's troubled steel division to the tune of US$500 million, claiming that 12,000 jobs were at stake. It was a characteristic Schroeder move: he knew that the Social Democrats would appoint him chancellor's candidate if he won in Lower Saxony. Win he did - first in Hannover, later in 1998 at the federal level to become chancellor. What did he know about the Preussag conglomerate's Iraq poison gas dealings? Don't ask.

    Included on the Iraqi suppliers' lists are other world-renowned (eg, Hoechst, Daimler-Benz, Siemens, Kloeckner, Carl Zeiss, Schott Glas, etc) and smaller German firms. Notable are Karl Kolb/Pilot Plant and WTB (Walter Thosti Boswau) who built and equipped Iraq's two major "pesticide and detergent" plants which, said a WTB employee, produce "detergents to exterminate two-legged flies" (Spiegel 4/1989, p 24). The WTB undertaking was supported by a credit guarantee for several hundred million German marks by Hermes, a German government export and credit insurer. Noteworthy also is Rhein-Bayern, which supplied Iraq with eight mobile toxicological labs housed in sand-colored, camouflage-painted Magirus trucks.

    Chemical agents? Biological agents? Machine tools and parts and materials for uranium enrichment and missile production? You name them and the Germans delivered them - and not only that: they supplied the plants and know-how for Iraq to make its own "pesticides" ("to protect the date harvest"), "vaccines" ("to eradicate smallpox and other contagious diseases"), and "x-ray machines".

    Karl Kolb told investigative reporters following up the Pitts and Associates law suit that it has done business with Iraq for 35 years, but had no connection to its weapons programs. Preussag claimed that accusations it had supplied precursor chemicals for Iraqi weapons were untrue. Schott Glas said it was "a manufacturer of glass and glass components, not of weapons".

    If Herr Schroeder had his way, one assumes, then that's where things would end. Happily, with some nasty American trial lawyers on the case, that's unlikely. And happily, though he tried once more in advance of last Sunday's state elections in Lower Saxony and Hesse to rally Germans to his party's cause with anti-Iraq war rhetoric, Schroeder was dealt a humiliating defeat in both states. He should have bought re-privatized Preussag once again. Even the most gullible of German voters saw through his miserable Iraq-war ploy this time around, blamed him for over 10 percent unemployment, and threw his candidates and party into the trash bin.

    (©2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
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