US-approved exports may have aided Iraqi army, says report

Financial Times
June 20, 1991, p. 18

The US government approved exports to Iraq between 1987 and 1989 that may have helped Baghdad improve its weapons capabilities, according to a study by a Washington-based nuclear weapons expert.

Key areas that could have benefitted included increasing the range of Iraqi Scud missiles, improvements to anti-aircraft radar systems and enabling testing to be carried out at a nuclear weapons design laboratory.

Professor Gary Milhollin’s report which makes use of both publicly available and confidential Commerce Department records, details militarily useful US exports in those years that were part of $1.5bn of equipment and technology approved for export to Iraq between 1985 and 1990.

The Bush administration released a list of these exports three months ago. A senior Commerce Department official admitted at the time that up to six of the 771 export licences issued in the 1985-1987 period would have been banned by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a seven-nation agreement unveiled in April 1987. He said the “lack of specificity” in export regulations made it difficult to stop some shipments.

Prof. Milhollin made public yesterday a confidential copy of some of the export licence records. He said his analysis showed “that US export controls suffered a massive breakdown in the period preceding the Gulf war”. The Commerce Department last night declined to comment on the report.

The report cites an export licence approved in November 1989 for $140,000 of frequency synthesisers made by Hewlett Packard that can be used in in radar systems. When the Commerce Department made its list public in March it described the equipment as not restricted by export controls, although it said the export was destined for the Salah al-Din establishment, one of Iraq’s key military electronics factories.

A copy of the same Hewlett Packard export licence entry from the records prepared for internal use at the Commerce Department states that “according to our information the end-user is involved in military matters”. The entry said the products would be used “in calibrating, adjusting and testing” a surveillance radar system.

Prof. Milhollin claimed yesterday the Commerce Department deleted this statement before it made public the export list in March.