American officials and private weapons specialists say the list identifies 31 major foreign suppliers — including two based in the United States, both now defunct — as well as the exact chemicals and tonnages that were shipped to Baghdad.
The list, obtained by lawyers for ailing gulf war veterans, could be important as the veterans pursue lawsuits accusing some of the companies of responsibility for their health problems. The companies include several large eurochems chemical manufacturers, as well as the two American companies, Alcolac International of Maryland and the Al Haddad trading company of Tennessee.
The United Nations has insisted that it will not make the list public, fearing that disclosure would discourage the companies from cooperating with inspectors trying to understand Iraq’s capacity for making weapons of mass destruction.
The United Nations refused to release earlier versions of the Iraqi weapons declarations, which the government of Saddam Hussein was required to submit under terms of the cease-fire that ended the gulf war.
But The New York Times was able to confirm the identity of most of the companies on the latest Iraqi list after obtaining a copy of Iraq’s last chemical weapons declaration. That list was turned over by Iraq to the United Nations in 1996, and officials confirmed that Iraq’s new declaration included the same companies.
The list was obtained by Gary B. Pitts, a Houston lawyer who is representing thousands of veterans in a lawsuit against several of the chemical companies, alleging that the companies may be responsible for the veterans’ health problems. “This list gives us the goods on these defendants,” he said.
Of the 31 companies named in 1996, most are European, including 14 from Germany, 3 each from the Netherlands and Switzerland and 2 each from France and Austria.
Among the large European companies are two German conglomerates of the 1980’s: Preussag, which is now called TUI, and Hoechst, which has since been split up.
Spokesmen for both TUI and one of the successor companies of Hoechst said their major chemical units were sold off years ago; the spokesmen said they were convinced that Preussag and Hoechst had done nothing wrong in their dealings with Iraq.
The Iraqi declaration said that in 1982, Preussag provided Iraq with 30 tons of phosphorous oxychloride, a chemical used to make the deadly nerve gas sarin, and equipment for its chemical weapons laboratories. Hoechst is identified as the seller of 10 tons of phosphorous oxychloride.
Another German company, Karl Kolb of the city of Dreieich, and an associated company, Pilot Plant, were identified as major suppliers to the chemical weapons program. A spokesman for Karl Kolb said in a telephone interview that three employees who were prosecuted in the 1990’s for violations of German export laws involving Iraq were found not guilty of all charges.
“After a very elaborate court case, we were acquitted of these charges,” he said, adding that expert witnesses had found that equipment sold was “not suitable for chemical warfare production.” He noted that Pilot Plant had since gone out of business.
Alcolac, the Baltimore company, pleaded guilty in 1989 to federal export violations involving shipments of chemicals that could be used by Iraq to make mustard gas.
According to the Iraqi declaration, officials said, Alcolac provided thiodiglycol, the mustard gas precursor, while Al Haddad, the other American company, was the source of 60 tons of a chemical that could be used to make sarin.
There is no telephone listing for Al Haddad in Nashville, where it was based. News reports in the 1980’s identified the company’s owner as Sahib al-Haddad, an Iraqi by birth, who denied that he had shipped any chemicals to Iraq for use in weapons.
By sheer bulk, a Singapore-based company may have been the largest supplier of the chemicals used in the 1980’s to make chemical weapons, including 3,300 tons of a chemical that can be used to make nerve gas and 950 tons of an separate chemical used to make mustard gas and sarin.
Under the 1991 cease-fire agreement, the Iraq government promised to provide lists of the suppliers of its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Weapons experts and veterans’ groups have long advocated public disclosure of the lists, if only to make clear the need to tighten export laws.
“It is our policy not to reveal the names of suppliers,” said Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for Hans Blix, the United Nations’ weapons inspector. “There are many reasons why.”
Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, a Washington-based research group on weapons proliferation, said much of the chemical production equipment sold to Iraq in the 1980’s may still be available.
If the United States carries out its threatened invasion of Iraq, he said, “we’re likely to send soldiers in to find and destroy this equipment if it’s still there, early on.”
Mr. Milhollin said the foreign companies on the Iraqi list deserved to have their identities known. “If you look at the scale and frequency of the exports of some of these companies, it’s clear that they were deeply involved in Iraq’s chemical weapons program,” he said. “They must have known what was going on.”