Washington, Oct. 1 (AP): Iraq’s bioweapons programme that President George W. Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from the United States two decades ago, according to US government records getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that UN weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program, CDC and Congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research.
The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile Virus.
The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. They were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate.
The exports were legal at the time and approved under a programme administered by the commerce department.
“I don’t think it would be accurate to say the United States government deliberately provided seed stocks to the Iraqis’ biological weapons programmes,” said Jonathan Tucker, a former UN biological weapons inspector. “But they did deliver samples that Iraq said had a legitimate public health purpose, which I think was naive to believe, even at the time.”
The disclosures put the United States in the uncomfortable position of possibly having provided the key ingredients of the weapons America is considering waging war to destroy, said Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd.
Byrd entered the documents into the Congressional record this month. He asked defence secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the germ transfers at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Byrd noted that Rumsfeld met Saddam in 1983, when Rumsfeld was President Reagan’s West Asia envoy.
“Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown'” Byrd asked Rumsfeld after reading parts of a Newsweek magazine article on the transfers.
“I have never heard anything like what you’ve read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it,” Rumsfeld said.
He later said he would ask the defence department and other government agencies to search their records for evidence of the transfers. Invoices included in the documents read like shopping lists for biological weapons programs. One 1986 shipment from the virginia-based american type culture collection included three strains of anthrax, six strains of the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and three strains of the bacteria that cause gas gangrene.