2003 December 18 Thursday
Where Iraq Purchased Weapons 1973-2002

The purpose of this post is to address one of the many mythical claims about the United States popularized by some Leftists who would have us believe that the United States is the cause of most of what is wrong with the world. The myth under examination here is the claim that the United States played an important role in arming Saddam Hussein. The data comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in the form of a table of the value of arms imported by Iraq from 1973 through 2002. (PDF format)

Figures are trend-indicator values expressed in US $m. at constant (1990) prices.

Note: The SIPRI data on arms transfers refer to actual deliveries of major conventional weapons. To permit comparison between the data on such deliveries of different weapons and identification of general trends, SIPRI uses a trend-indicator value. The SIPRI values are therefore only an indicator of the volume of international arms transfers and not of the actual financial values of such transfers. Thus they are not comparable to economic statistics such as gross domestic product or export/import figures.


Imported weapons to Iraq (IRQ) in 1973-2002

Country $MM USD 1990 % Total
USSR 25145 57.26
France 5595 12.74
China 5192 11.82
Czechoslovakia 2880 6.56
Poland 1681 3.83
Brazil 724 1.65
Egypt 568 1.29
Romania 524 1.19
Denmark 226 0.51
Libya 200 0.46
USA 200 0.46
South Africa 192 0.44
Austria 190 0.43
Switzerland 151 0.34
Yugoslavia 107 0.24
Germany (FRG) 84 0.19
Italy 84 0.19
UK 79 0.18
Hungary 30 0.07
Spain 29 0.07
East Germany (GDR) 25 0.06
Canada 7 0.02
Jordan 2 0.005
Total 43915 100.0

I made my own percentage calculations. Also, the original PDF document has the amounts by year but I extracted out only the final total column. Note that post-1990 sales listed under "USSR" probably refers to Russia or perhaps Russia plus former USSR states.

Given the US's position as largest arms merchant in the world the fact that it ties Libya for 9th place with only 0.46% of Iraq's total arms imports makes it obvious that the United States was not an important source of arms for Saddam's regime, that the US didn't even seriously try to be, and that US arms sales gave the US little or no leverage over Saddam.

In a report published in 1998 Anthony Cordesman places an even lower estimate on US arms exports to Iraq. See page 22 of this PDF which shows the US selling Iraq $5 million in arms in the late 1980s. Cordesman's report has many charts which also show just how far Iraq's economy fell during the war with Iran and afterward.

  • Iraq seemed to be on the edge of sustained economic development in 1979. It was a nation of 12.8 million people with a per capita income well in excess of $10,000 in constant $US 1994. However, its economy was dependent on oil wealth and construction and infrastructure oriented with massive distortions in the state and agricultural sector.
  • By 1986, the worst year of the Iran-Iraq War in economic terms, Iraq’s per capita income was down to $2,174, and its population was up to 16.2 million.
  • By 1991, the last year for which we have hard data on the Iraqi economy in market terms, Iraq’s per capita income was down to $705, and its population was up to 17.9 million. Iraq’s GNP in constant $1994 had dropped from $48.3 billion in 1984 to $16.3 billion.
  • Iraq’s current per capita income is probably under $1,000. The World Bank estimates that its population will climb from 21.0 million in 1995 to 24.5 million in 2000, 28.4 million in 2005, and 32.5 million in 2010.

US policy in the 1980s favored a stalemate in the Iran-Iraq war. But the US role in ensuring that outcome was very small as compared to the roles played by the USSR, France, China, and other countries in making sure Saddam's regime was not overrun. What intelligence and other assistance the US provided to prevent Iranian victory pales in comparison to the roles played by several other countries.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 December 18 11:33 AM  Mideast Iraq

Val said at December 18, 2003 2:16 PM:

Good post, Randall.

Curious Citizen from Sweden said at December 18, 2003 3:12 PM:

I am happy to have lost one of my false beliefs. I have always thought USA was the major arms exporter to Iraq.

Reptoid said at December 18, 2003 8:23 PM:

I was expecting to see the USA at the top of the list also, but the USSR/Russia being at the top of the list makes sense considering most of the weapons like the T-55 tanks, Mig fighter jets, etc. that we heard about in the war were Russian made. Russia lost a lot of business, no wonder they were so hellbent against the war.

Curious Citizen from Sweden said at December 19, 2003 2:21 AM:

Why were we so misinformed then? I mean, even Denmark exported (a little) more weapons to Iraq than USA did. I have watched some documentaries (produced in G Britain I think) in swedish TV and clearly got the idea that USA supported Iraq in the Iraq-Iranian war with large amounts of arms.

Randall Parker said at December 19, 2003 8:30 AM:

Curious Citizen, That is a very important question. The reason is ideological. It suits the purposes of anti-American leftists to find any way to create impressions about US foreign policy (and US domestic conditions for that matter) that cause people to have a critical view of the US. So the US is portrayed as Saddam's biggest supporter even though it was a communist country (more left-wing than the Western European leftists who hate us so) that was the biggest supporter and the biggest US critic in Europe (France) was the second biggest.

There are a lot of issues about which a subset of data can be presented in order to create a false impression of the truth. Another one I'm going to cover in the future is the history of US aid to Israel. I've argued with people who are convinced that the US played a large role in the founding of Israel. The truth of the matter is that early Israeli arms came courtesy of Joseph Stalin (who thought the leftists in Israeli could be used as allies against Western capitalists), the French, and other sources. Major US arms sales and US aid didn't start until well after the '67 war with the first really substantial aid starting around 1971 (I'll cover the reasons why when I make that post - it was a Cold War move).

There's also a set of fallacies about US support to Afghanistan and whether the US ever supported Osama Bin Laden (we didn't) and about how US aid to Taliban-era Afghanistan went (it actually went to food programs and the US was the biggest food aid supplier to Afghanistan).

I ought to make more posts on common fallacies in the future.

Invisible Scientist said at December 19, 2003 11:18 AM:

Randy and Curious Citizen from Sweden,

Please note that most American Arabs are Christians, while there is a much
higher percentage of Muslim Arabs, Iranians, and Turks in Europe. These
numbers are significant enough to influence elections in Belgium, Holland,
France and UK (but the 3 millionen Turken in Germany do not have voting
rights, due to the racist immigration laws there.) Europe accepted a lot
of Muslim immigrants and temporary workers, as well as illegal aliens
in order to fill the low paying jobs the regular citizens refuse to accept,
but this marriage of convenience, also made the rather exclusive, and
politely racist European elite worry about their own security.

Thus when the Ayatullah Khomeini came to power and threatened to export
an Islamic revolution, the European elite became interested in helping
Saddam Hussein to weaken Iran. The poison gas equipment was sold to Saddam
by German corporations, and the amount of German help was so massive (including
gas chambers to test poison gas on Iranian prisoners) that these could not
have occurred without the knowledge of German and other European authorities.
This German gas equipment was responsible for the deaths of many tens of
thousands of Iranians, finally helping Saddam to win the war against Iran.
After the Gulf War I, when the European and German weapon sales to Saddam
became so obvious, Germany was so embarassed that it went as far as donating
weapons to Israel in order to apologize.

Of course, finally the US oil companies got the blame for attempting to
keep the supply of oil stable and accessible, but the Europeans are
even more vulnerable to any tension in the Middle East, because they
are even more dependent on Muslim oil, in addition to the demographic and geographic
dependence, that is much less of an issue for the US.

And finally, it is my impression that the Muslims remember very well how
the Crusaders massacred the Arabs when they entered Jerusalem: they even
ate some dead Muslims when they were hungry after the conquest of Jerusalem.

In the final analysis, even though the European elite might want to
deflect pressure by pretending that the war is really between Islam and
the US-Israel allience, this surreptitious subterfuge and stratagem is
being done, precisely because the real tension will probably be between
Islam and Europe in the future.

Curious Citizen from Sweden said at December 19, 2003 12:37 PM:

Here is a recent (leftist) article about US support for Saddam, which gives a different image than the SIPRI numbers.


"By 1985, the U.S. provided 1.5 billion in military equipment to Saddam Hussein. For example, CIA director William Casey supplied cluster bombs obtained through an arms company called Cardoen, from Chile, then under the fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which the CIA had helped place in power. Such support continued through the end of the war with Iran in 1988."

AMac said at December 19, 2003 1:58 PM:

Curious Citizen,

Thanks for the Counterpunch hyperlink, it's very relevant. The assertion made there by Prof. Gary Leupp partly undermines Randall Parker's thesis of US non-involvement in arms sales to Iraq, if true. Although even his $1.5 billion figure for US arms sales would have to be seen in the context of ~$44 billion in total Iraqi purchases (SIPRI data that Parker quotes).

Leupp's lengthy article is on the polemical side, and only a few of his claims are documented (the one you quote not among them). From the relevant paragraph:

By 1985, the U.S. provided 1.5 billion in military equipment to Saddam Hussein. [2 sentences snipped] ... As late as September 1988, a Maryland company sent 11 strains of germs, four of anthrax, in a Commerce Department-authorized sale to Iraq. This was six months after the Halabja incident that generated outrage around the world.

Re: the latter incident, the American Type Culture Collection is a non-profit organization that archives biological material. It sends out samples in response to requests by researchers at universities, government and independent institutes, and for-profit companies, worldwide. The Google search "ATCC Iraq anthrax" brings up reports like this: "The ATCC sent two shipments of anthrax to Iraq in the 1980s. Three anthrax strains were in a May 1986 shipment sent to the University of Baghdad, which U.N. inspectors later linked to Iraq's biological weapons program. A 1988 shipment from ATCC to Iraq also included four anthrax strains." The scandal at the time was over the naivete of the ATCC and the laxity of the Commerce Dept.'s export license approval process. I don't recall any credible accusations that the US government or the ATCC had acted with the intention of supplying biological warfare materiel to Iraq. And the amount of money that changed hands would have been trivial, a few thousand dollars.

So the implication in Leupp's article that these ATCC transactions were part of a concerted effort to arm Iraq doesn't seem to withstand close examination. It doesn't raise the credibility of his broader charge that US arms sales were $1.5 billion rather than a few million dollars.

I emailed Prof. Leupp (gleupp@granite.tufts.edu) to invite him to respond here.

AMac said at December 19, 2003 3:41 PM:

$1.5 billion rather than a few million dollars should read
$1.5 billion rather than $200 million dollars.
My bad.

Randall Parker said at December 19, 2003 4:54 PM:

AMac, If Leupp's numbers were correct that'd put the US up at the level of about three and a half percent of total Iraqi arms purchases. The problem is that we'd then expect to see US sales via third parties showing up in the sales of the third party countries. Yet the SIPRI numbers show nothing for Chilean sales to Iraq.

As for ATCC sales to Iraq: Yes AMac, you are exactly right. The whole complaint about ATCC even after 9/11 was that there was little or no regulation on its sales worldwide. The US government was not using ATCC to help Iraq. The problem was that the US government simply wasn't watching ATCC sales at all. ATCC was viewed as a useful service for legitimate scientists to help them develop disease treatments. The government was naive and lax about the handling of dangerous pathogens. Biowarfare wasn't viewed as a major concern.

Bob Badour said at December 20, 2003 5:14 PM:

Invisible Scientist,

I politely suggest the myth that europeans will not do some jobs is both a left-wing fallacy and racist in origin.

Invisible Scientist said at December 23, 2003 1:46 PM:


That I have leftist tendencies, is a well known fact, but despite
this flaw in my character, my friends still tolerate my existence.

However, I KNOW the plight of the Turkish worker families in Germany.
Germans disdainfully imported the Turkish and many other "Auslanders"
in order to fill many low level jobs, but they refer to the Turks with very
derogatory words, such as "untermenschen". And one joke in Germany
was: " What's the difference between the Turks and the Jews? We're done with
the Jews, the Turks are next." The ghetto life of the foreign workers in many
European countries, is very sad for me to see.

I did not say that ALL Europeans are lazy and spoiled people who want to
exploit foreign workers. But given the high standard of living there,
the majority of Europeans would rather be unemployed than accept the jobs
the impoverished Middle Eastern and East European workers are eager to do.
This is the MAIN reason there are so many millions of Turkish and Arab workers
in Europe.

Bob Badour said at December 23, 2003 4:07 PM:

Well, it seems you agree with the racist origins of the sentiment.

The last time I was in Germany, I saw a man from Guetersloh sprawled in the road after riding his bicycle into a street sign at about 2am. A friend, who was likewise from Guetersloh, told me that after several minutes of listening to the man speak incoherently, he ruled out Russian, the Slavic languages and Dutch before he figured out the man was actually speaking German in the local accent. Even though this man was a Besser Wesser, I have difficulty imagining him being too proud to do any kind of work that would pay for his drink.

I suggest that had Germany not imported all these Turkish workers, plenty of Germans would be eager to do the jobs the Turks now do. I also suggest the most vocal racists are likely low wage earners who were displaced by the imported workers.

Ghetto life is sad everywhere. Have you ever considered the correlation between ghettos and unrestricted worker migration?

The unwillingness to do work in favour of receiving transfer payments is caused by left-wing economic policies and not by pride.

AMac said at December 23, 2003 10:19 PM:

Prof. Leupp appears to prefer writing for a less skeptical audience than this one. Or, CounterPunch screed on the subject of US arms to Iraq complete, he may have last-minute Christmas shopping to attend to.

Invisible Scientist wrote,
>...But given the high standard of living [in Europe],
>the majority of Europeans would rather be unemployed than accept the jobs
>the impoverished Middle Eastern and East European workers are eager to do.
>This is the MAIN reason there are so many millions of Turkish and Arab workers
>in Europe.

The point of contention with Bob Badour, if there is one, appears to exclusively concern the word "rather." Bob Badour just makes that sentence explict by identifying the preferred alternative: would rather be unemployed and cash generous welfare checks than accept many lower-pay or lower-status jobs. Middle Easterners and East Europeans make the comparison between these jobs and the much lower benefits of their home countries, at least until they, too, qualify for EU-style welfare.

Replace "European" with "US" and "Turkish and Arab" with "Mexican" if you wish. Randall Parker has made the simple point that absent legal or social sanctions, employers with low-skill labor needs will hire cheap foreigners with few legal rights in preference to hiring expensive citizens. The existence of a deep pool of very cheap labor is a disincentive to making capital investments in productivity--why bother? Illegal workers may have tragic stories to tell, but their presence gives unscrupulous employers a "free ride" in the form of large hidden subsidies from society at large.

Randall Parker said at December 23, 2003 10:45 PM:

AMac, Quite right. Also, it is my understanding that the unemployment rates for Muslims and some other immigrant groups in at least some European countries are quite high. I'm too busy to go digging for some references on this but I've read about very high unemployment and welfare recipient rates in at least some European countries for those granted "asylum" status - and there are large numbers who have been granted that status or are descendants of those granted that status.

Even in the absence of immigration to Europe there would be high native unemploymenr rates due not only to the welfare benefits but also due to work and wage rules that are effective deterrents to hiring marginally productive workers. Those rules work as disincentives for hiring immigrants as well.

Jed McCoy said at February 28, 2005 6:59 PM:

I'd just like to point out that the current(2005) administration of criminal activities in the White House has been supplying Saddam with Weapons of Mass Destruction while fully aware they were used to slaughter people.

Here is a short intro,

And here you can find the details:


As usual the right wing fascists attack the straw man they created to replace the argument opposition has made.
Even if it is shown US contributed less to the genocide than others, it doesn't excuse the actions of these criminals.
A lot of the highest ranking members of the Bush House are guilty of supporting a genocide as well as multiple other crimes.
WHy do you support such scum?

Happy punditry.

TallDave said at July 7, 2005 6:38 AM:

The problems with Ross' assertion, Jed, are

1) The whole argument seems to built on the idea Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam
2) under that definition most countres in Europe are guilty of genocide and so it becomes a meaningless charge

Proportionality and perspective are important. The US was a minor player.

Andrew Hvatum said at November 2, 2007 8:11 PM:

However, I KNOW the plight of the Turkish worker families in Germany.
Germans disdainfully imported the Turkish and many other "Auslanders"
in order to fill many low level jobs, but they refer to the Turks with very
derogatory words, such as "untermenschen". And one joke in Germany
was: " What's the difference between the Turks and the Jews? We're done with
the Jews, the Turks are next." The ghetto life of the foreign workers in many
European countries, is very sad for me to see

Uh, right. That's the most inflamatory BS I've read in a long while. I lived in Germany for two years (Zwei Jahren) and never heard anyone spout off the kind of racist drivel you've posted here. When you were in Germany, did you by chance spend the entire time hanging out with Neo-Nazis? If you really want to make some progress in dialogue you would go far to not invent lies and outlandish accusations depicting modern Germans as re-incarnated clones of Hitler; no wonder Turkish people have trouble in German politics, if they're using language like this...

Almost none of the Turkish peoples in Germany today came as part of the early guest worker program. The illeagal immigrants there today are by in large illeagal and work in illeagal jobs which undermine the union system of the German construction industry and so forth. This whole dipiction of Germany allowing in all these guest workers in the 1950s, and then refusing to grant them citizenship today (2007) sounds nice, but it doesn't make any sense at all, there's a fifty year gap there.

Secondly with an unemployment rate of over 12% please explain why it is that Germany requires Turkish immigrants to run their economy? The real problem is Germany's generous unemployment benefits, which prevent people from taking low wage jobs. The only people willing to take many of these low wage jobs are illeagal immigrants, because they do not get these benefits. Germany needs to fix this problem, because if they just gave all the Turks in modern Germany citizenship it would bankrupt the state, as all these immigrants would now get all these same generous benefits.

VVVcc said at March 9, 2008 6:22 AM:

I just wonder why do you think that SIPRI values are correct?

Citizen said at July 11, 2009 3:18 PM:

You are all missing the point. The US helped Saddam get WMDs. Russia sold conventional weapons to Iraq.
The former is illegal, the latter is 100% legal.

You are also looking the issue from a quantitative perspective. It doesnt matter who sold the most weapons.
It sure matters who sold the most dangerous and destructive weapons. I believe that the anthrax virus the US gave to Saddam is more dangerous than 1000 Russian tanks. I would argue that if Saddam had used every bioweapon the US gave him, he could have killed more people in a month than 100 MIGs could kill a year.

The US also provided vital intelligence to Iraq, in regards to Iranian targets. Which has a much higher value than selling him artillery and tanks.
In reality the role of the US was much more important than that of Russia.
It is known to those that have studied the war that both Iran and Iraq did not use their conventional weapons effectively and a lot of armored vehicles were abandoned on the battlefield when they were damaged of malfunctioned. Even if the Russians provided thousands of tanks that didnt have a big impact on the ground. Most materiel was wasted. For example most tanks were used as immobile artillery pieces becsause the crews lacked proper training to use them effectively (use sophisticated targeting systems) while manouvering.

One nuclear ICBM would have been more catastrophic than ALL weapons sold to Iraq by Russia.
And it was the US that provided Iraq with the means to develop such a weapon - not the Russians.

The Russians did not give any WMDs to Iraq. The US did. Also, SIRPI does not include WMDs in its database.

















US under Reagan and Poppa Bush sold WMD, WMD technology, and WMD expertise to Iraq.

***Iraqgate, 1980-1994 National Security Archives

***The Riegle Report
U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Gulf War

***Made in the USA, Part III

***IRAQGATE; United States Illegally Armed Saddam Hussein
This is an interview with the journalist who broke the IraqGate story and Archive documents

Iraqgate: Confession and Cover-Up

Iraqgate: The Illegal Arming of Iraq by the US and UK

US supplied anthrax to Iraq

Report: US supplied the kinds of germs Iraq later used for biological weapons

Iraq War: WMD capability and disarmament

The Corporations That Supplied Iraq's Weapons

Leaked report says German and US firms supplied arms to Saddam

US helped Iraq develop its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Middle East Report 234: Democracy, Deception and the Arms Trade

Saddam Hussein: Made in the USA

Items sent from the U.S. during the Reagan and Bush Administrations that helped Iraq's non-conventional weapons programs and that were shipped to known military industrial facilities include:

Computers to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons;[59] machine tools and lasers to extend ballistic missile range;[60] graphics terminals to design and analyze rockets;[61] West Nile Fever virus, a known potential BW agent, sent by the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control (CDC);[62] the agents for botulism, tetnus, and anthrax.[63]

One study lists 207 firms from 21 countries that contributed to Iraq's non-conventional weapons program during and after the Iran-Iraq war. E.g., West German (86); British (18); Austrian (17); French (16); Italian (12); Swiss (11); and American (18).[64]

Throughout the U.S. exports to Iraq, several agencies were supposed to review items relevant to national security or that could be diverted for a nuclear program. The reviewers included the SD, DOD, Energy Department, Subgroup on Nuclear Export Coordination (included representatives from Commerce Dept., Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the intelligence community, and DOD).
Sometimes CD did not send items to reviewers. On other occasions, reviewers objected, and CD still approved the items. Stephen Bryen, Deputy Under Secretary of DOD for Trade Security Policy during the second Reagan Administration, claimed that the DOD objected to 40% of applications that CD actually sent to DOD for review. Compare with a 5% DOD objection rate to dual-use technology applications for export to the U.S.S.R. during that same time period.[66]


[58] Stuart Auerbach, "$1.5 Billion in U.S. Sales to Iraq", Washington Post, 11 March 1991.
[59] Sub-committee on Commerce, Consumer and Monetary Affairs of the House Committee on Government Operations, "Strengthening the Export Licensing System," 2 July 1991.
[60] Committee on Government Operations, House, "Strengthening the Export Licensing System", 2 July 1991, section "National Security vs. Export Promotion: Sales to Iraq," para. 16.
[61] Auerbach, "$1.5 Billion in U.S. Sales to Iraq".
[62] Committee on Government Operations, House, "Strengthening the Export Licensing System".
[63] Cole, p. 85. Cole cites U.S. Senate, a report by chairman Donald W. Riegle, Jr., and ranking member Alfonse M. D'Amato of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and Their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War, May 25, 1994, pp. 39-41.
[64] Cole, p. 82. Cole cites Kenneth R. Timmerman, The Poison Gas Connection, (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1990) p. 46.
[65] Kenneth R. Timmerman, The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), pp. 202 and 410 n5.
[66] Jentleson, p. 62, Jentleson cites U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs, "Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL)," Hearing, 102nd Congress, 1st Session, 9 April 1991, p. 79.

From [ www.casi.org.uk/info/usdocs/usiraq80s90s.html ]

Lets see Mr.Parker try to refute this. I would love to get some comments on the Iran-Contra affair as well, which is very relevant to the discussion.

Damon said at November 20, 2009 7:39 PM:

Typical misinformed Righty propaganda. It's common knowledge in the world (backed by fact) that CIA Rumsfeld sold Saddam WMDs in the 80s. Do your homework.

ExGeeEye said at November 24, 2010 7:55 AM:

But of course, by the time we got there in 2003, Iraq had no WMDs.

Moderation said at January 23, 2013 1:04 PM:

Nice post citizen. I had started to work on the same sort of thing until I read your post. There is far more information to include than simply how many weapons or their dollar value. The originator of the table misses the point. Most of what the U.S. did was intentionally NOT to supply weapons directly, but rather to supply everything else to allow and teach Iraq how to make their own AND to have U.S. weapons shipped to Iraq from other countries that buy them from us. A not-so-elaborate attempt at covering things up! To the righty originator.....stop the rhetoric, look at the facts and please convert. I am so tired of so many years of my life wasted on conservative rhetoric about the economy and capitalism and the military. BLA BLA BLA...I am a moderate and I ask you/implore you to think for yourself and not just believe something.

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