WASHINGTON — In the last five years, U.S. companies sold Iraq--with government approval--advanced items ranging from computers to aircraft to bacteria, a government document released Monday showed.
The Commerce Department released an edited list that showed the U.S. government approved $1.5 billion in dual-use exports to Iraq from 1985 to last Aug. 2, the day Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. Dual-use items have legitimate commercial uses but can also be applied to weapons production.
"These were all legal sales, and they were a reflection of this nation's foreign policy," said a Bush Administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, at a briefing for reporters.
Asked if the technology could have been used by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces in the Persian Gulf War, the official said, "There is a good possibility that some of the items might illegally or covertly have been diverted to the military establishment."
While the United States approved 771 export licenses to Iraq, 362 others, valued at $469 million, were rejected, according to a Commerce Department statement.
The list does not name the U.S. companies selling items but does specify the Iraqi purchasers--including the Defense and Interior ministries, air force, atomic energy commission and several universities and scientific institutes. Many of these were bombed by the allies during the war because they were believed to be producing biological and chemical weapons.
The largest sales were of computers and aircraft. They included $8.7 million worth of computers sold to the Interior Ministry, allegedly for its personnel database, and $9 million worth of helicopters and engines, allegedly to be used to transport government officials.
An additional $8.2-million helicopter sale was earmarked specifically for the use of Hussein.
One aircraft order worth $13 million went to Iraqi Airways, while the Communications Ministry paid nearly $17 million for helicopters it said were to be used for spraying crops.
Commerce Department officials said that not all of the goods approved for sale got to Iraq. For example, they said that three sales of military trucks, totaling $1 billion, were approved but were not consummated because Iraq could not get adequate financing.
Last week, the White House announced new regulations on the export of materials that could be used to produce deadly chemical and biological weapons and on missile-delivery systems.