French support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war

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Starting in roughly 1975,[1] 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. [2]

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. [3] 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. [1]

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. Ba'athist ideology was fundamentally anticommunist. [4]

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 it openly traded with Iraq even when Iranian-inspired terrorists took French hostages in Lebanon. [1]

Military training and advice

Iraq may have had some French and Jordanian military advisors in the defense to the Iranian attack, Operation Jerusalem. The advisors were most effective with the regular troops rather than volunteers. [5]

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." [6]

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.[4]

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.[6]


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[1] 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. [3]

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 price tag of over US$500 million, part of which was paid in crude oil.[1]

Super Etendard

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

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 French policy and a resumption of Iraqi exports may enable Iraq to repay its debt to France.[5] It is worth noting that Argentina, during the Falklands War, used Super Etendards to deliver its five air-launched Exocet missiles, sinking two British ships.


France sold Aloutte, Gazelle, Puma,and Super Frelon helicopters to Iraq. [5]

Super Frelon helicopters were capable of launching Exocet antiship missiles.

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


Exocet anti-shipping missile

Iraq also bought more than 400 Exocet AM39 anti-shipping missiles.[1] This is the weapon that struck the USS Stark.

AS30 air-to-ground missile

France sold Iraq at least 200 AS-30 laser-guided missiles between 1983 and 1986.[1]

HOT antitank missile

The Euromissile HOT can be helicopter- or vehicle-launched. Similar to the U.S. BGM-71 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 BaE Systems ALARM and U.S. AGM-88 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. [7]

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 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. [8]

France sold Iraq, 100 French AMX-30 lightly armored main battle tanks, and a number of Panhard military vehicles. [5]

Weapons of Mass Destruction


An agreement to build a nuclear facility was signed with France on 17 November 1975. [9] 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.


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.[10] 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.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. (1988), Arms from France, Iraq: a Country Study, Library of Congress
  2. Kenneth Timmerman, Chapter 7: Operation Staunch, "Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War", Iran Brief
  3. 3.0 3.1 Freudenheim, Milt & Barbara Slavin (8 February 1981), "THE WORLD IN SUMMARY; In Iran-Iraq War A Bombing Run Down Memory Lane", New York Times
  4. 4.0 4.1 Coutsoukis, Photius, Iraq Military Ties Prior to the Iran-Iraq War, Information Technology Associates
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Martinson, Martin J. (1 April 1984), The Iran-Iraq War: Struggle Without End, Marine Corps Command and Staff College
  6. 6.0 6.1 United States Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. IV: Weapons, Tactics, and Training and Space Operations, Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1993
  7. Kopp, Carlo (June 1997), "The Matra Armat", Australian Aviation
  8. Moody, Jim (31 January 1991), "United States Arms Sales to Iraq: Excerpts of recent 60 minutes broadcast", Congressional Record: H836
  9. Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence Appraisal (June 1983), The Iraqi Nuclear Program: Progress Despite Setbacks, in Battle, Joyce, Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984, vol. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 82
  10. Ibrahim, Youssef M. (September 21, 1990), "Confrontation in the Gulf; French Reportedly Sent Iraq Chemical War Tools", New York Times