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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): Iraqgate: Saddam Hussein, U.S. Policy and the Prelude to the Persian Gulf War, 1980–1994

About this Collection

The collection brings together a wealth of materials which trace U.S. policy toward Iraq prior to the Persian Gulf War, as well as U.S. government reactions to revelations about the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) scandal and the secret arming of Saddam Hussein's regime. The set also focuses on the economic issues at play in the U.S. relationship with Iraq. Documents are derived from virtually every federal agency involved in U.S.-Iraq policy and the BNL affair.

The collection contains 1,900 documents representing nearly 10,000 pages of rarely-seen documentation from the highest levels of government.

Research Value of the Collection

It is only when scandals like Iraqgate occur that windows open onto the normally tightly held decision-making process of contemporary government. The congressional and media investigations that took place beginning in 1990 were largely responsible for forcing the executive branch to release voluminous material that otherwise would not have been made public for many years, if at all. One of the few positive consequences of the Iraqgate affair, therefore, is that scholars, journalists, and the American public now have access to a newly available portion of the historical record that will provide useful insights into how our government works, and in a time-frame close enough to the present to maximize the lessons to be learned when that government falls short of expectations.

Scholars and students in a number of fields of study will find much of value in this collection, including the following topics:

  • The presidency and presidential policymaking;
  • Cabinet-level government and decision-making
  • The foreign policy process, especially the influence of domestic political, economic, or legal concerns on policy-makers and their goals
  • Executive Branch-congressional relations
  • The role of Congress in foreign policy, including the nature and effectiveness of congressional oversight

Beyond these broad areas, the set has a great deal to say about specific U.S. policies and actions toward Iraq and its neighbors in the Persian Gulf. Naturally, it provides extensive detail on the financing of Iraq through U.S. government entities such as the Export-import Bank and the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corporation, as well as BNL-Atlanta. The set also offers substantial information on Iraq’s regular use of the world gray market in arms, and its plans to build viable nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. The documents show that a number of U.S. agencies had information about these issues early on yet their concerns about Baghdad's intentions were overruled by the State Department and other agencies which invoked overriding foreign policy and commercial interests.

Finally, the collection includes the most comprehensive available compilation of documents describing the investigations of the BNL scandal. Derived from a number of American and international sources, these materials tell a fascinating story about a subject that, sadly, has become all too familiar to the American public in recent decades: the investigation of possible illegal activities by government officials. Like the Iran-Contra affair before it, Iraqgate showed how difficult it can be to get to the bottom of high-level government activity when national security - or politics – come into the picture. The Interplay of these dynamics will be of unusual interest to students of government and law.