WASHINGTON Saddam Hussein's loyalists may not be the only ones edgy about the prospect of a war crimes trial for the former Iraqi leader: Vexing questions also could surface about how much the United States helped Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran and whether it tried to stop Iraqi atrocities.
Among the questions that could arise in any such trial:
What did U.S. officials know about products shipped to Iraq that could have been used for weapons? What intelligence did they provide Iraq that could have been used for chemical attacks?
How hard did Donald H. Rumsfeld try to persuade Saddam Hussein to stop using chemical weapons against Iran? Rumsfeld, now defense secretary, met with Saddam and other top Iraqi officials during visits to Baghdad in 1983 and 1984, when he served as President Reagan's envoy.
Saddam and officials from his government could describe their dealings with Americans as they defend themselves from charges stemming from the Iran and Kuwait wars and the repression against Kurds and other Iraqis. The Iraqi Governing Council is creating a tribunal and some international jurists have called for a U.N. court.
''I don't think there's going to be much there that a leading Iraqi is going to be able to say, 'Hey, we had significant, witting cooperation from the United States government in our program of weapons of mass destruction,''' said Richard Murphy, head of the State Department's Near Eastern affairs bureau in the 1980s.
But testimony could provide embarrassing new details about American assistance to Iraq, what U.S. officials knew about Iraqi atrocities and what they did or didn't do to stop them.
''I think there will be a dramatic embarrassment factor for the U.S. government,'' said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archives, a foreign policy research center. Blanton and other analysts said the embarrassment could be even worse for countries with closer relations to Iraq, such as France.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Saddam's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, support of terrorists and human rights abuses became grounds for war. But in the 1980s, the United States had a more pressing concern: Iran.
After the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, U.S. and Arab leaders feared that if Iran defeated Iraq, Iran could threaten other countries in hopes of spreading its strict form of Islam.
Iraq was seen more favorably even though it started the war and Saddam was clearly a dictator. It was a secular nation, influential among Arab states. It had vast oil reserves and offered lucrative opportunities for U.S. businesses. The United States also wanted to prevent Iraq from becoming too close to the Soviet Union.
Many details about the U.S.-Iraqi relationship are already known through congressional investigations, court proceedings and declassified documents.
''I think most of the embarrassing stuff has already come out,'' said Geoffrey Kemp, a National Security Council specialist on Iraq under Reagan.
But the historical record isn't complete. Questions remain about Rumsfeld's visits, which came at a time when the United States already was well aware of Iraq's use of chemical weapons.
Declassified documents indicate that Rumsfeld did not raise the issue with Saddam in their December 1983 meeting, although Rumsfeld said he did raise it during a one-on-one meeting with foreign minister Tariq Aziz.
Rumsfeld returned to Iraq in March 1984 to try to smooth relations after the United States condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons. He was instructed to stress U.S. interests in preventing an Iranian victory and in improving relations with Iraq, despite the condemnation. What he told Aziz is unknown because notes of the meeting remain classified.
Aziz is now in U.S. custody.
David L. Mack, who held various top Middle East positions in the State Department in the 1980s and '90s, said he doubts Iraqis would have heeded any warnings not to use chemical weapons.
''In general I think there is a high degree of exaggeration about the degree to which we could have done anything about Iraqi bad behavior,'' he said.
During the war, the Reagan administration worked aggressively to prevent other nations from shipping arms to Iran, but did little to prevent conventional arms from going to Iraq.
Questions have been raised about whether the United States not only ignored foreign arms shipments to Iraq, but actually encouraged or even arranged them. A former National Security Council official, Howard Teicher, said in a 1995 court affidavit that the CIA made sure Iraq received weapons from non-U.S. manufacturers.
The affidavit was filed in the case of a company accused of illegally exporting to Chile material used in Iraqi cluster bombs. A defendant claimed the CIA had arranged the deal, but the court rejected the argument after viewing classified documents.
While prohibiting U.S. arms sales to Iraq, the Reagan administration allowed exports of products that could be used for civilian or military purposes. Questions remain about whether pesticides or helicopters were used to make or spray chemical weapons.
Questions also linger about whether the United States may have inadvertently helped Saddam's biological weapons program. U.S. officials have acknowledged that in the 1980s, the government and private companies sent to Iraq strains that could be used for biological weapons, including anthrax and the West Nile virus. Iraq claimed the samples were for medical research, but they were sent to sites believed to be part of Iraq's biological weapons program.
Perhaps the most sensitive issue is intelligence sharing.
U.S. officials have acknowledged providing intelligence on Iran, but what information they provided isn't clear. Teicher claimed in the affidavit that the United States provided strategic military advice to Saddam. In one example, he alleged that Reagan used then-Vice President George H.W. Bush to send a message that Iraq should step up its bombing of Iran.
Blanton said the biggest question is whether the United States provided intelligence that could have been used for chemical attacks against Iran. Top officials from that era deny that happened.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.