French support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war

French support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war

French support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war was an important element to strengthen Iraq for the Iran-Iraq war. Starting in roughly 1975, leading up to the Iran-Iraq War, as well as the war itself, the greatest amount of military equipment came to Iraq from the Soviet Union, but France was probably second, and generally provided higher-technology equipment than the Soviets. citation
title = Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War
first = Kenneth R. | last = Timmerman
contribution = Chapter 7: Operation Staunch
url =
journal = Iran Brief

Motives for policy towards Iraq

While some countries that had exports to Iraq did so for simple commercial reasons, some countries had additional reasons of state for their exports. France and the Soviet Union, in part competing for Iraqi business, had such reasons. France had motives more complex than simple profit for supplying Iraq, and Iraq also had its own policy reasons beyond being able to pay for equipment with oil. Oil, however, was a major part of the relationship. Iraq supplied 24 percent of France's oil, until exports were suspended, in December 1980, due to Iranian damage to its oil industry. Shipments resumed in January 1981. citation
title = THE WORLD IN SUMMARY; In Iran-Iraq War A Bombing Run Down Memory Lane
first1= Milt | last1 = Freudenheim | first2 = Barbara | last2 = Slavin
journal = New York Times
date = 8 February 1981
url =
] France traditionally had strong ties with Arab countries, and wanted to continue those both for general reasons of state, as well as ensuring petroleum supply.

From the Iraqi standpoint, it was important to have Western sources of military supply, to avoid becoming too dependent on the Soviet Union. In issues including the Syrian role in Lebanon, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and having a nonaligned movement separate from the Western and Soviet camps, French and Iraqi policy differed. Baathist ideology was fundamentally anticommunist.

Iraq and the Soviet Union did not always have common political goals. Iraq and France, however, also did not always have common interests, but France was quite liberal in not tying arms sales to Iraqi actions, or other instability in the region. For example, France continued to openly trade with Iraq even when Iranian-inspired terrorists took French hostages in Lebanon.

Export controls

Many countries provide a level of policy control, because private exporters need government approval. In some countries, such as France, the government both controls a large segment of the military industry, and also decides on the propriety of export.

Arms exporting is part of the overall policy, originated under Charles de Gaulle, of France having an independent defense policy. French military manufacturing is a economically important sector, providing jobs and foreign exchange.

Since France has a significant commercial as well as military space program, the largest of any NATO country, it has an unusual competence in missile technology.citation
url =
booktitle = Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
title = Appendix III: Unclassified Working Papers
first = Keith | last = Payne
date = 23 March 1998
publisher = System Planning Corporation
contribution = The Missile Technology Control Regime--European Involvement and Compliance Issues

French export controls derive from two administrative decrees from the time of the Second World War, in which the government has exclusive control of importing and exporting military goods. At the time of the Iran-Iraq War, France was not under the Missile Technology Control Regime. The key export control decisionmaking is in a Cabinet-level committee made up of representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Industry, Finance, and Foreign Trade. Actual administration of licensing and enforcement is under the Customs and Excise Department of the Ministry of Finance.

The Defense Ministry is the key controlling organization -- specifically the Director of International Relations at the Délégation Générale des Armements (DGA). The DGA has a tradition of being a champion of French exports, for economic and foreign policy reasons.

Military training and advice

Iraq may have had some French and Jordanian military advisors in the defense to the Iranian attack, Opearation Jerusalem. The advisors were most effective with the regular troops rather than volunteers.

Iraqi Mirage F-1 ground attack pilots were trained by France. According to the U.S., "tactical changes accompanied the upgrading of equipment. On bombing missions the Iraqis started to use low-altitude attacks. Precision-guided munitions such as laser-guided bombs were used with increased accuracy." citation
title = United States Gulf War Air Power Survey
volume = IV: Weapons, Tactics, and Training and Space Operations
year = 1993
publisher = Air Force Historical Research Agency
url =

Air warfare

France had sold arms to Iraq during the 1966 to 1968 regime of Abd ar Rahman Arif, but increased its sales between 1974 and 1980. Purchases were generally high technology, including aircraft and missiles.citation
title = Iraq Military Ties Prior to the Iran-Iraq War
first = Photius | last = Coutsoukis
publisher = Information Technology Associates
url =

Iraqi air warfare doctrine was closer to French than Soviet. The Iraqis considered ground attack their most important air warfare mission, and put their best pilots into their Mirages, as opposed to their Soviet air superiority aircraft such as the MiG-25 and MiG-29.


France sold first-line Mirage F-1 fighter-bombers to Iraq, as well as providing Super Etendard attack aircraft while the Mirage orders were being completed.

Mirage F-1

"Between 1977 and 1987, Paris contracted to sell a total of 133 Mirage F-1 fighters to Iraq." Sources differ as to when Iraq received the first F-1's; the Library of Congress said 1978 while the New York Times reported 1981.

According to the Library of Congress, France provided, in 1978, eighteen Mirage F-1 interceptors and thirty helicopters, and even agreed to an Iraqi share in the production of the Mirage 2000 in a US$2 billion arms deal. The Times said the first of the batch of Mirages were seen in Cyprus, where they were met by pilots arriving in a transport with Jordanian markings.

In 1983, another twenty-nine Mirage F-1s were exported to Baghdad. The final batch of twenty-nine aircraft was ordered in September 1985, with a pricetag of over US$500 million, part of which was paid in crude oil.citation
editor = Metz, Helen Chapin
contribution = Arms from France
url =
title = Iraq: a Country Study
publisher = Library of Congress
year = 1988

uper Etendard

France "loaned" Iraq five Super Etendard attack aircraft, equipped with Exocet AM39 air-launched anti-ship missiles, from its own naval inventory. These aircraft were used extensively in the Tanker War before being replaced by several F-1s.

The French foreign minister made light of the Super Etendard shipment, with a comment of ,"Five planes, more or less. What does that change?" Support for Iraq is consistent with Frenchpolicy and a resumption of Iraqi exports may enable Iraq to repay itsdebt to France.It is worth noting that Argentinia, during the Falklands War, used Super Etendards to deliver its five air-launched Exocet missiles, sinking two British ships.


France sold Alouette, Gazelle, Puma,and Super Frelon helicopters to Iraq. citation
author = Martinson, Martin J.
title = The Iran-Iraq War: Struggle Without End
publisher = Marine Corps Command and Staff College
date = 1 April 1984
url =
] Super Frelon helicopters were the SA 321H version, with a search radar and two Exocet antiship missiles.

Alouette and Puma, respectively were light and medium utility helicopters. Gazelles were primarily used in an antitank role, firing the French HOT antitank missile.

Both sides, in the Iran-Iraq War, used helicopters for close air support, reserving their fixed-wing attack aircraft for more distant air strikes. While the helicopters had little air cover in the desert, they learned to use cover near cities and in mountainous terrain.


French weapons sold to Iraq, in general, tended to be higher technology and more complex than the Soviet weapons bought by Iraq. The training in their use was considerably different, as the French weapons usually required more decisionmaking by the pilots, while the use of Soviet air-to-air weapons tended to be at the orders of a ground controller.

Exocet anti-shipping missile

Iraq also bought more than 400 Exocet AM39 anti-shipping missiles. This is the weapon that struck the "USS Stark", and for which the U.S. did not retaliate against Iraq.

AS30 air-to-ground missile

France sold Iraq at least 200 AS-30 laser-guided missiles between 1983 and 1986.

HOT antitank missile

The Euromissile HOT can be helicopter- or vehicle-launched. Comparable to the U.S. TOW, it is wire-guided and optically tracked.


Iraq bought the French Armat anti-radiation missile, a variant of the Martel anti-shipping missile. The Armat has a different niche than other ARMs such as the British ALARM missile and U.S. HARM. It has an especially large warhead, intended principally to destroy early warning and ground control radars, as opposed to being a defensive ARM intended to suppress air defenses deployed against aircraft penetrating them to strike other targets. citation
title = The Matra Armat
url =
first = Carlo | last = Kopp
journal = Australian Aviation
date = June 1997

Air defense

In 1981, Iraq bought 30 French Crotale surface-to-air missile fire units from Franceand updated to up 60 Roland fire units by the end of the war. citation
contribution = Chapter XIII: The Air and Missile Wars and Weapons of Mass Destruction
date = 9/26/2003
title = The Lessons of Modern War: Volume II, The Iran-Iraq War
url =
first = Anthony | last = Cordesman | authorlink = Anthony Cordesman
coauthor = Wagner, Abraham R.
publisher = Center for Strategic and International Studies
] Nevertheless, Iraq seemed unable to use these French missiles, or its capable Soviet SA-6 missiles, on more than an individual basis.

Land warfare

Reproduced in the U.S. "Congressional Record", a CBS News interview with arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian gave details of his dealings with Iraq before, during, and after the Iran-Iraq War. Kroft. Sarkis says the equipment he sold to Iraq has been customized to withstand the heat and sand and dust of the Middle East. In particularly, he sold French 155mm self-propelled howitzers (i.e., artillery) to Iraq. He said its range (42 KM/25 Mi) was greater than the US equivalent, and perhaps more reliable because it was simpler, having no electronics or air conditioning to break down. Citation
journal = Congressional Record
title = United States Arms Sales to Iraq: Excerpts of recent 60 minutes broadcast
first = Jim | last = Moody
date = 31 January 1991
page = H836
url =

France sold Iraq 100 French AMX-30 lightly armored main battle tanks, and a number of Panhard military vehicles.

Weapons of Mass Destruction



An agreement to build a nuclear facility was signed with France on 17 November 1975. citation
author = Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence Appraisal
contribution = The Iraqi Nuclear Program: Progress Despite Setbacks
date = June 1983
contribution-url =
title = Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984
volume = National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 82
editor = Battle, Joyce
] France was to supply two Osirak reactors, each fueled with highly enriched uranium. The project was conducted by a French consortium called CERBAG, with the member companies Technicatome, Societe General pour les Techniques Nouvelle, Comsip Entreprise, Construction Navales et Industrielles de la Mediteranee, and Bouygues Offshores.

When France became concerned about Iraqi diversion of bomb-grade material, the French tried to convince the Iraqis to accept a much less enriched form of uranium. Iraq refused, so the French shipped the first reactor core in June 1980.

The CIA judged that France (and Italy) were unlikely to default on contracts, as they wanted to keep the good will of a major oil supplier. Iraq's leverage, however, was assessed as having less oil capability as a result of the Iran-Iraq War.

Maraging steel

Maraging steel is an exceptionally high-strength material that, in "Grade 350", is used in uranium enrichment centrifuges. Iraq obtained between 100 and 106 tons of this normally export-controlled substance, through a complex series of transactions, middlemen, and front companies.citation
url =
publisher = Institute for Science and International Studies
title = Recruitment of Key Foreign Players

The transaction started with a French businessman. In 1988, Adel Ali Ridha, an official of the Iraqi gas centrifuge, met a French dealer of the company 3F at the Saddam Establishment, a military manufacturing facility. It was making gas centrifuge components with assistance H+H Metalforming, a German company half-owned by Iraq.

The 3F representative probably was unaware of Adel's employer, and told him that his company made the needed grade of maraging steel. Approximtely a month later, the salesman returned to Baghdad, told Adel there were problems in getting a French export license, but volunteered to help find a supplier. On

On his next visit, the Frenchman brought maraging steel samples, but he would not disclose the supplier. Iraq with the assistance of H+H Metalform analyzed the samples and established the specifications needed for Iraq's centrifuges. After providing the results to the Frenchman, he returned with new samples, which met the Iraqi standards. The material passed Iraqi tests, and the French representative brought in a Pakistani middleman, in October 1988 with Muzhar Malik, who was based in Britain. Malik contracted with Eurocom Incorporated of Saudi Arabia, which he obtained from an Austrian firm Boehler Edelstahl. Maraging steel was not export-controlled by Austria.

The steel was shipped to Dubai and then to Iraq. Payment came from a Jersey Islands bank and from BCCI in the US.


Citing a "left-of-center" French magazine, "Le Nouvel Observateur", as the primary source, but also quoting French officials, the New York Times reported France had been sending chemical precursors of chemical weapons to Iraq, since 1986.citation
date = September 21, 1990
title = Confrontation in the Gulf; French Reportedly Sent Iraq Chemical War Tools
first = Youssef M. | last = Ibrahim
journal = New York Times
] The report cited a company called Protec S.A. was the key exporter for a group of French companies. President Francois Mitterrand was reported to have said he "knew of French companies that were breaking the United Nations embargo against Iraq. Mr. Mitterrand vowed to prosecute violators vigorously." An unnamed French official indicated that U.S. satellite photography was critical in determining the ultimate destination of the materials, but the photographs made available suggested that "much of the material" may have gone to a chemical weapons factory in Samarra. The chemicals, listed in Schedule 3 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, are considered to have legitimate dual-use applications, but are also known precursors of nerve agents.

It also mentioned Protec was allied to a German company, Karl Kolb, whose CEO was being held in jail by German authorities, during an investigation of illegal shipments. They worked with a third German company to ship manufacturing equipment to Iraq.

ee also

*Franco-Iraqi relations


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