As Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was building up its chemical weapons arsenal with the help of a British firm, Margaret Thatcher’s government decided not to oppose it, fearing that otherwise it would be subjected to criticism.
In the 1980s Iraq, which was engaged in a brutal war against neighboring Iran, was seeking to boost its manufacture of chemical weapons. It succeeded, and numerous attacks resulted in estimated 50,000 Iranian deaths during the war and extra 50,000 deaths from prolonged effects of the weapons.
Iran, for its part, was never reported as using chemical weapons in the conflict. The disparity was a major factor in swaying public opinion against Baghdad.
In 1983, the British government learned about Saddam’s effort to produce mustard gas, but chose not to hamper it, partially because a British firm was involved, according to previously classified Foreign Office documents released this week to the National Archives in Kew, west London.
The company, Weir Pumps, supplied a number of pumps to an Indian contractor, which built a chemical plant in Iraqi Samarra. The plant was used to produce mustard gas, although the supplier ostensibly believed that the pumps would be used to make pesticides.