Thanks for an interesting question.
US relations with Iraq in the late 1980's were what one source below
calls 'cordial', but they quickly deteriorated in late 1989 and 1990,
and then, of course, collapsed all together with Iraq's invasion of
In large measure, it was Iraq's saber-rattling in the area --
threatening Israel, Kuwait and a few other neighbors with military
action -- that generated the most concern. It's human rights record
was also coming increasingly to light, and that added to the tensions
between Iraq and the U.S. There were also growing concerns about
Iraq's attempts at acquiring nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass
However, prior to the invasion itself, US displeasure with Iraq was
somewhat half-hearted, involving exchanges of words, but nothing in
the way of sanctions or full diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein.
I've provided below a few excertps from overview pages about Iraq --
several from government sources -- that put some of its modern history
in context. These are followed by some of the major headline stories
about Iraq in the 1989-1990 timeframe.
I trust this information fully answers your question. However, please
don't rate this answer until you have everything you need. If you
would like any additional information, just post a Request for
Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further, and I'm at
All the best,
Library of Congress Country Studies
A Country Study: Iraq
Iraq's ties with the United States developed more slowly, primarily
because the Baathists were antagonistic to the close United
States-Israeli relationship. Relations had been severed following the
June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, before the Baath came to power, but after
1968 the government became interested in acquiring American technology
for its development programs. State organizations were therefore
permitted to negotiate economic contracts, primarily with private
American firms. In discussing the United States during the 1970s, the
government emphasized, however, that its ties were economic, not
political, and that these economic relations involving the United
States were with "companies," not between the two countries.
Even though Iraqi interest in American technical expertise was strong,
prior to 1980 the government did not seem to be seriously interested
in reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States. The
Baath Party viewed the efforts by the United States to achieve
"step-by-step" interim agreements between Israel and the Arab
countries and the diplomatic process that led to the Camp David
Accords as calculated attempts to perpetuate Arab disunity.
Consequently, Iraq took a leading role in organizing Arab opposition
to the diplomatic initiatives of the United States. After Egypt signed
a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Iraq succeeded in getting members
of the League of Arab States (Arab League) to vote unanimously for
Egypt's expulsion from the organization.
Concern about the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and about the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan prompted Iraq to reexamine seriously the
nature of its relationship with the United States. This process led to
a gradual warming of relations between the two countries. In 1981 Iraq
and the United States engaged in lowlevel , official talks on matters
of mutual interest such as trade and regional security. The following
year the United States extended credits to Iraq for the purchase of
American agricultural commodities, the first time this had been done
since 1967. More significant, in 1983 the Baathist government hosted a
United States special Middle East envoy, the highest-ranking American
official to visit Baghdad in more than sixteen years. In 1984, when
the United States inaugurated "Operation Staunch" to halt shipment of
arms to Iran by third countries, no similar embargo was attempted
against Iraq because Saddam Husayn's government had expressed its
desire to negotiate an end to the war. All of these initiatives
prepared the ground for Iraq and the United States to reestablish
diplomatic relations in November 1984.
In early 1988, Iraq's relations with the United States were generally
cordial. The relationship had been strained at the end of 1986 when it
was revealed that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran
during 1985 and 1986, and a crisis occurred in May 1987 when an Iraqi
pilot bombed an American naval ship in the Persian Gulf, a ship he
mistakenly thought to be involved in Iran-related commerce.
Nevertheless, the two countries had weathered these problems by
mid-1987. Although lingering suspicions about the United States
remained, Iraq welcomed greater, even if indirect, American diplomatic
and military pressure in trying to end the war with Iran. For the most
part, the government of Saddam Husayn believed the United States
supported its position that the war was being prolonged only because
of Iranian intransigence.
Data as of May 1988
US State Department
Background Note: Iraq
The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) devastated the economy of Iraq. Iraq
declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved a weary return to the
status quo antebellum. The war left Iraq with the largest military
establishment in the Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing
rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The
government suppressed the rebellion by using weapons of mass
destruction on civilian targets, including a mass chemical weapons
attack on the city of Halabja that killed several thousand civilians.
Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, but a U.S.-led coalition acting
under United Nations (UN) resolutions expelled Iraq from Kuwait in
February 1991. After the war, the UN Security Council required the
regime to surrender its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and submit
to UN inspections. When the Ba'ath regime refused to fully cooperate
with the UN inspections, the Security Council employed sanctions to
prevent further WMD development and compel Iraqi adherence to
international obligations. Coalition forces enforced no-fly zones in
southern and northern Iraq to protect Iraqi citizens from attack by
the regime and a no-drive zone in southern Iraq to prevent the regime
from massing forces to threaten or again invade Kuwait.
Saddam's absolute and particularly bloody control lasted throughout
the Iran-Iraq War (1980?1988), which ended in stalemate, despite vast
quantities of western-produced weaponry; the al-Anfal campaign of the
late 1980s, which led to the gassing of thousands of Kurds in northern
Iraq, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 resulting in the Gulf War and
the UN imposed economic sanctions and no-fly zones which followed.
The al-Anfal Campaign was an anti-Kurdish campaign lead by the Iraqi
regime of Saddam Hussein between 1986 and 1989 (during and just after
the Iran-Iraq war). The campaign takes its name from Surat Al-Anfal in
the Qur'an, which was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Baathist
regime for a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish community of
The campaign, which began in 1986 and lasted until 1989, is said to
have cost the lives of 182,000 civilian Kurds, according to Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The campaign was headed by Ali
Hasan al-Majid, a cousin of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Anfal
campaign included the use of firing squads, mass deportation
(Arabization), rockets fired from helicopter gunships and chemical
weapons, which earned al-Majid the sobruquet "Chemical Ali". Some
allege the Halabja poison gas attack to have been part of Al-Anfal,
which is thought to have killed about 5,000 civilians, including
babies and children (though the incident occurred in the midst of
fighting during the Iraq-Iran War). The al-Anfal campaign also
involved the alleged killing and torturing of Kurdish families.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.
Throughout 1989 and into 1990, Hussein?s repressive policies and
continued arms buildup caused international criticism, particularly in
the United States, which had favored Iraq during the war with Iran.
Hostility against Israel increased, particularly after Israel?s
bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. Hussein accused
neighboring Kuwait in July, 1990, with flooding world oil markets,
causing oil prices to decrease and threatening Iraq?s attempts to
boost its war-torn economy. On Aug. 2, 1990, some 120,000 Iraqi troops
invaded Kuwait, and Hussein declared its annexation (see Persian Gulf
War). Foreigners in Iraq and Kuwait were held hostage but released
after a few months.
NEWSPAPER EXCERPTS AND HEADLINES:
U.S. Weighs Sanctions on Iraq Over Baghdad's Oil-Dispute Tactics
The New York Times, July 27, 1990
...The Bush Administration has started a wide-ranging review of
American policy toward Iraq and will consider new economic sanctions
and export controls as a result of Iraq's threats against two
oil-producing neighbors on the Persian Gulf, Administration officials
They said the State Department and the Pentagon were alarmed by the
tactics of President Saddam Hussein, who this month threatened Kuwait
and the United Arab Emirates with military action to force them to
reduce oil production.
''What's gone on in the last several days has reaffirmed the need for
a good, intensive look at Iraq,'' a State Department official said.
''We still think it's important to have a relationship - we need to be
able to talk to Iraq - but at the same time there may be some specific
areas where we'll want to be tougher with them.''
While the United States maintained official neutrality during the
eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, its policy gradually tilted
toward Iraq and, apparently in response, President Hussein moderated
his behavior toward the United States and his Arab neighbors in the
U.S. Deploys Air and Sea Forces After Iraq Threatens 2 Neighbors
The New York Times, July 25, 1990
Iraq Deploys Troops Near Kuwait Border Amid Dispute on Oil
The New York Times, July 24, 1990
WHITE HOUSE BARS IRAQ FURNACE SALE
The New York Times
July 20, 1990
The White House moved today to block the shipment of three advanced
industrial furnaces to Iraq because of concern that they will be used
on nuclear weapons-related projects.
BUSH AIDE OPPOSES SANCTIONS ON IRAQ
The New York Times
June 16, 1990
While strongly criticizing the Iraqi Government for its human rights
record and foreign policy, a senior Bush Administration official urged
Congress today to resist growing sentiment among legislators to apply
economic sanctions against the Government of President Saddam Hussein.
The official, John H. Kelly, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near
Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said sanctions would worsen the
American trade deficit without furthering United States interests in
the Middle East.
''It would be the American farmer and the American exporter who would,
in effect, be punished,'' he told the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee. ''The Iraqis would be able to purchase the same kinds of
goods and products elsewhere on the world market.''
But Mr. Kelly faced sharp skepticism from Republican and Democratic
members, who suggested that sanctions were necessary to demonstrate
Washington's displeasure with Iraq's use of poison gas and torture
against its citizens and with its threats to attack Israel with
IRAQ SAYS IT MADE AN ATOM 'TRIGGER'
The New York Times
May 9, 1990
President Saddam Hussein asserted today that Iraq had acquired a
secret American electronic device that could be used to detonate a
nuclear bomb and that it was now able to make the detonators itself.
If true, the Iraqi President's assertion means that an operation
failed in March, when the British authorities, working with the United
States, seized a consignment of American-made capacitors, or
triggering devices, bound for Iraq.
Referring to the seizure of the capacitors at Heathrow Airport in
London, President Hussein was quoted by Reuters as telling political
leaders in Baghdad, ''Only five days after the United States
announcement about the so-called nuclear triggers, our fighters at the
Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization succeeded in
producing similar capacitors to those so-called triggers.''
Iraq, in Retaliation, Ousts an American Envoy
The New York Times
April 10, 1990
Iraq announced today that it was expelling an American diplomat in
retaliation for the United States' expulsion last week of a United
Nations-based Iraqi diplomat linked to a plot to kill opponents of
President Saddam Hussein's Government.
The Iraqi press agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Baghdad
as saying that the ouster of the Iraqi envoy ''cannot be isolated from
the series of feverish campaigns to harm Iraq in such a way that
serves the aggressive goals of Israel.''
Iraq did not identify the American diplomat. The State Department
confirmed the expulsion and called it an ''unjust action,'' but did
not identify the American, either.
The move represented a further deterioration of relations between Iraq
and the West in recent weeks, including a threat by President Hussein
to use chemical weapons against Israel. Last week, a former driver for
the Iraqi mission to the United Nations in New York was indicted on
charges of plotting to kill two Government opponents who were in the
United States. An American official linked the expelled Iraqi envoy to
Last month, United States and British authorities broke up what was
described as a smuggling ring in which Iraqis sought to illegally
obtain devices that could be used as triggers for atomic weapons. Iraq
denied the charge. Earlier in March, Baghdad hanged a London-based
Iranian-born journalist on charges of spying.
Iraq Chief, Boasting of Poison Gas, Warns of Disaster if Israelis Strike
The New York Times, April 3, 1990
Denying Pleas, Iraq Hangs British-Based Reporter
The New York Times, March 16, 1990
Rights Group Assails Iraq for 'Ruthless' Repression
The New York Times, February 11, 1990
Halt Arms to Beirut Christians, U.S. Urges Iraq
The New York Times, June 25, 1989
That's about it. Prior to that date, almost everything is about the
Again, let me know if there's anything else you need.
search strategy -- Used bookmarked "country" sites, as well as
searches for headline stories about Iraq in various newspaper
Clarification of Answer by
04 May 2005 04:42 PDT
Thanks for the nice rating....much appreciated.
You're right...the weapons sales to Iran that became known as the
Iran-Contra affair certainly strained relations with Iraq.
Here's an overview of Iran-Contra:
and a somewhat more detailed timeline of key events in the US:
November 3: Lebanese magazine "Al Shiraa" reports that the U.S. has
sold arms to Iran. The Iranian government confirms the story. This
marks the beginning of Iran-Contra.
November 13: In a nationally televised speech to defend against
charges concerning arms sales to Iran, Reagan admits sending some
defensive weapons and spare parts to Iran, but denies it was part of
an arms for hostages deal. "Our government has a firm policy not to
capitulate to terrorist demands.... We did not -- repeat, did not --
trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we." Polls show
that the American people do not believe Reagan.
November 21: Attorney General Meese is asked to conduct an inquiry of
the Iran affair to get facts straight.
November 22: Meese's office discovers the Iran-Contra connection. When
searching North?s office, they found a memo dated 4/4/86 from North to
Poindexter, which included an amount that to be sent to the Contras
from the profits of the Iran sales. North, who had spent the night
shredding papers, later called the diversion of funds, "a neat idea."
November 24: Meese tells Reagan that some proceeds from the sale of
arms to Iran went to the Contras. Reagan is visibly shaken and
according to Meese, surprised. He is aware that the diversion of funds
could mean impeachment for violation of the Boland Amendment.
November 25: National Security Advisor John Poindexter resigns and
Oliver North is fired. In press conference, Meese announces
Iran-Contra: $10m to $30m of profits from sale of U.S. arms to Iran
had been diverted to Swiss bank accounts for use by Contra rebels in
March 4: On national television, Reagan acknowledges mistakes on
Iran-Contra. "A few months ago I told the American people I did not
trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me
that?s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the
Tower Board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran
deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.
This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to
the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it
happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake." Reagan?s approval rating
rebounds to 51%.
May 17: A missile from an Iraqi warplane hits the U.S.S. "Stark,"
killing the 37 sailors onboard. The frigate is part of a naval task
force which was sent to the Persian Gulf to keep the waterway open
during the Iran-Iraq war.
and I found an article that explicitly discusses the scandal in terms
of US-Iraqui ties:
St. Petersburg Times
February 4, 1987
The Iran-Contra scandal's fallout in Iraq
...Wisam al Zahawie, Iraq's urbane deputy foreign minister, puts his
opinion about recent American policies a bit more diplomatically.
"We have no objections to the U.S. having relations with Iran,"
he said in an interview. "But we do object to the underhanded manner
in which it was done. The sale of arms to Iran goes against America's
declared policy of neutrality in the gulf war. It has created a
very strong element of distrust. It has shaken our confidence."
Confidence in the United States was perhaps never great to begin
with in Iraq, which in the past has been one of the most radical Arab
regimes, harboring terrorists such as Abu Nidal and rejecting any
notion of a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. But
Iraq's own protracted and bloody conflict with neighboring Iran,
and its hopes for economic development, have altered its foreign
policy calculations, drawing it closer to the West and to moderate
Relations with Washington, broken after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war,
were restored in November 1984 and American diplomats coming to
Baghdad in the following two years had a sense that something could
be accomplished. The U.S. staff expanded beyond the capacity of the
private house that was used as an embassy. Another building was
bought across the street, and an expensive conversion project was
The plastering and painting are nearly completed, but the mood at
the embassy is sober to say the least.
When a colleague wished the American ambassador, David Newton, a
happy new year at a party last month, Newton is said to have replied,
"It can't be worse than 1986."
Newton may have spoken too soon. On Jan. 9, the Iranians, newly
strengthened with American anti-tank weapons and spare parts for jet
fighters and antiaircraft guns, went on the offensive again, pushing
toward Iraq's second city of Basra in some of the bloodiest fighting
of the 6 1/2-year-old war.
Iraqi officials, whose initial reaction to the American arms sales
was muted, suddenly became more outspoken. The Iraqi foreign
minister, Tariq Aziz, called the secret shipments to Iran an "act
of aggression." Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yasin Ramadan said they
were "a poison dagger" aimed at the heart of Iraq.
Ramadan also accused Washington of providing deliberately
misleading intelligence data that he said helped the Iranians capture
the abandoned Iraqi oil port of Faw, south of Basra on the Persian
Gulf, last year.
American diplomats in Baghdad refused to comment on intelligence
matters. But sources in Washington have said that data from American
spy satellites has been given to Iraq since relations were restored
and that some of the information was altered as part of a devious
attempt to keep either side from winning the war.
Hope that does the trick.