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Event.png Arms-to-Iraq (scandal,  arms deal) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Iraqi Supergun Section 1.jpg
Section of Iraq's Supergun (Project Babylon)
Date1980 - 1988
Typedeep event
Exposed byGerald James
Interest ofStephan Adolphus Kock
DescriptionA series of arms deals by UK companies during the Iran-Iraq War, when there was a UK government-endorsed UN embargo on such sales.

The Arms-to-Iraq affair concerned the exposure of government-endorsed sales of arms by UK companies to Iraq during a period when there was a government-endorsed UN embargo on such sales. The period coincided roughly with the 8 years of war between Iraq and Iran when Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. The revelations precipitated the Scott Inquiry, set up in 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which reported in 1996.[1] Much of both the report itself and the Inquiry's evidence remain classified.[2] The affair caused a major scandal which contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the then Conservative government of John Major and contributed to the victory of Tony Blair's Labour Party at the 1997 general election.

Following the first Gulf War of 1991, over the Iraqi invasion of neighbouring Kuwait, there was interest in the extent to which British companies had been supplying Saddam Hussein's regime with weapons and materials used to prosecute the war. Four directors of the British machine tools manufacturer Matrix Churchill were put on trial for supplying equipment and knowledge to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed, when it became clear that the company had been advised by senior government ministers and officials on how best to circumvent its own arms embargo. Several of the directors were eventually paid compensation. [3]

Involved companies

The most prominently involved company was Matrix Churchill.

Matrix Churchill

Full article: Matrix Churchill

Matrix Churchill was a company that produced machine tools in Coventry, England, that had been bought by the Iraqi government. According to the International Atomic Energy Authority, its products found in Iraq, were among the highest quality of their kind in the world. They were 'dual use' machines that could be used to manufacture weapons parts. As one of the Directors claimed to have been working for the intelligence services, the Ministry of Defence advised Matrix Churchill on how to apply for export licences of materials that could be used to make munitions in such a way that would not attract attention. The trial collapsed after Alan Clark admitted under oath that he had been "economical with the actualité" in answering questions about the policy on arms exports to Iraq.[4]

When Alan Clark was questioned at the Old Bailey by Geoffrey Robertson at the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial, Clark accounted for the discrepancies between his testimony and statements he had made previously. His response became notorious:

  • Clark: it's our old friend "economical"
  • Robertson: with the truth?
  • Clark: With the actualité. There was nothing misleading or dishonest to make a formal or introductory comment that the Iraqis would be using the current orders for general engineering purposes. All I didn't say was 'and for making munitions'.[5][6]

Walter Somers Ltd

Involved in similar fashion to Matrix Churchill - especially in connection with manufacturing parts for the Iraqi 'Super-gun'

Sheffield Forgemasters Ltd

Involved in similar fashion to Matrix Churchill - especially in connection with manufacturing parts for the Iraqi 'Super-gun'

Public Interest Immunity Certificates

The affair featured the copious use of the generally only infrequently deployed 'Public Interest Immunity Certificates'. This is a procedure whereby information alleged to be highly sensitive to "national security" is withheld from public disclosure. In this case it was used deceitfully to deny defendants access to documents and information which proved their innocence of charges brought against them by the prosecuting authorities. The certificates were issued by relevant government ministers and the overwhelming evidence is that the real motivation had little to do with 'National Security' and much to do with the attempted suppression of information embarrassing to the government.

Iraqgate whistleblower

On Monday 16 November 1992, The Guardian published this letter from former diplomat Patrick Haseldine:[7]

As an ex-Foreign Office diplomat, formerly responsible for upholding the arms embargo against South Africa, I am not bound by the public interest immunity certificate signed by Tristan Garel-Jones and can therefore contribute some authoritative comment about Whitehall's export licensing procedure for dual purpose equipment.
The first point to make is that the lead department in such politically sensitive cases is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Each export licence application (ELA) is circulated by the DTI to other ministries. A doubtful ELA would require the FCO desk officer concerned (for Iraqgate it would be the Iraq desk officer) to prepare the submission under four headings: problem, recommendation, background and argument.
If the argument section is balanced in favour of the ELA and other ministries do not object, the recommendation will be for approval. The submission is then passed to the head of department, the superintending under-secretary and then for agreement by the FCO minister having geographical responsibility. In contentious cases and where Number 10 Downing Street has shown an interest, the submission would also go to the permanent under-secretary and to the private secretary (and thus to the Foreign Secretary).
In my view, it is inconceivable that John Major, as Foreign Secretary in 1989, could have been unaware of the Matrix Churchill export to Iraq. His private secretary then was Stephen Wall, who is now Prime Minister Major's foreign policy adviser at No.10.
I blew the whistle on Mrs Thatcher's handling of the Coventry Four arms embargo case in a letter to The Guardian in December 1988 and was told after an internal inquiry and eight months later in an FCO letter - signed by Stephen Wall - that I had been given the sack for doing so.[8]

On the same day, Patrick Haseldine was interviewed at the Clock Tower Café in Ongar by satellite link-up for Channel 4 News by Jon Snow and for BBC Radio 4's World Tonight by Robin Lustig. Because of that day's late announcement of the setting up and terms of reference of the Scott Inquiry, neither interview was actually broadcast.

Maggie's guilty secret

Maggie's guilty secret
Full article: Document:Maggie's Guilty Secret

One of the biggest secrets of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership was that during the 1980s she and her Cabinet authorised a long running and totally illegal operation to supply arms secretly to both Iraq and Iran, in contravention of UN resolutions and British law. Billions of pounds worth of arms were exported illegally. Parliament was lied to and British ministers, officials and businessmen made fortunes from the illicit trade before it was discovered and swiftly closed down.

The British cabinet set up a secret sub-committee to oversee the operation, with both the Home Office (MI5) and the FCO (MI6) ordered to support the illegal exports. Michael Heseltine, Geoffrey Howe, Willie Whitelaw, Francis Pym and PM Thatcher all gave the secret project government blessing. During the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial ex-Minister Alan Clark let the cat out of the bag revealing that ‘the interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better.’

Cover up

Full article: Scott Inquiry

The Scott Inquiry was convened to try to hide the truth of the Arms-to-Iraq affair.[9]


  • Cowley, Chris Blake, Robin - Supergun: A Political Scandal - publisher Arrow - ISBN 0-09-918781-7
  • Leigh, David - Betrayed: Trial of Matrix Churchill - Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 1993 - ISBN 0-7475-1552-2
  • Miller, Davina - Export or Die: Britain's Defence Trade with Iran and Iraq (Global Issues) - Northeastern University Press 1997 - ISBN 1-55553-285-3
  • Norton-Taylor, Richard Lloyd, Mark Cook, Stephen - Knee Deep in Dishonour: Scott Report and Its Aftermath - Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1996 - ISBN 0-575-06385-8
  • Phythian, Mark - Arming Iraq (Northeastern Series in Transnational Crime) - Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. 1996 - ISBN 0-304-33852-4
  • James, Gerald - In the Public Interest - Little, Brown & Co 1995 - ISBN 0-316-877190
  • Cowley, Chris - Guns, Lies and Spies - Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1992 - ISBN 0-241-13447-1
  • ISBN 0316877190 "In the Public Interest" - Gerald James. A devastating account of the Thatcher Government's involvement in the covert arms trade by the man who turned Astra Fireworks into a £100 million arms manufacturer.


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Armed and Dangerousarticle1 March 1996Paul FootArguments about whether ministers should resign are not the main point of the Scott Report, says Paul Foot. The real dynamite is in the connection between government and the arms industry - and the level of deception involved
Document:Asil Nadir: another victim of the arms-to-Iraq conspiracy?articleDecember 2013Andrew RosthornCommentary on evidence suggesting that Asil Nadir is the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice in furtherance of the continued high-level cover-up of the 'Arms-to-Iraq' scandal through the 1980's
Document:Big Brother - One Man's Storyaccount1 January 2010Gerald JamesThe workings of secret, unaccountable government (The Deep State) of the UK. It functions, not only with callous disregard for the lives of those who get in its way but through Machiavellian manipulation of them - The sobering experiences of Gerald James.
Document:CIA Research Paper SW91-10076X - Intelligence SummaryResearch paperNovember 1991CIATranscription of the unredacted 'Intelligence Summary' (pages 22-26) of CIA Research paper SW91-10076X titled 'Project Babylon' which names two ex-SAS soldiers as having been contracted to eliminate Gerald Bull
Document:Gerald James 2007 FOIA Appeal Statementlegal document2007Gerald JamesGerald James' appeal statement in the matter of the UK government refusal to release documents which would support his allegations of SIS orchestration of events and people that resulted in the destruction of his company, Astra Holdings.
Document:In Defence of the Indefensiblearticle1997David GuyattA critique of the Scott Report on the illegal export of military equipment to Iraq through the 1980's
Document:Maggie's Guilty SecretarticleDecember 2013John Hughes-WilsonA brief resume of the Arms-to-Iraq affair by a former colonel on NATO's international political staff in Brussels. It revisits the abortive rescue of US diplomatic staff held hostage by Iran under President Carter, paving the way for the UK to supply arms to both sides in the soon-to-follow Iran-Iraq war in covert defiance of UN sanctions. The UK establishment has been engaged in a monumental cover-up ever since.
Document:Project Babylon and the still smoking Iraqi supergunarticle2 May 2014Andrew RosthornA startling account of the murky dealings of the British political establishment and security services surrounding the Arms-to-Iraq affair in general and the legal proceedings against Asil Nadir in particular
Document:Secret Justicearticle1 December 2013Martin TancockA forensic examination of the legal shenanigans surrounding the 2012 trial of Asil Nadir. It clearly demonstrates how all branches of the Establishment can close ranks in defense of the indefensible. When gross illegalities on the part of government and its senior members must be hidden in the alleged Public or National Security interest, then the police, judges, ministers and senior civil servants can be relied upon to do whatever is necessary.
Document:Stephan Kock - SpookarticleDecember 1994Mark PhythianA detailed look at the career of Stephan Adolphus Kock, one of the spooks at the centre of the Arms-to-Iraq and Pergau Dam scandals
Document:Whistler against the wind - Gerald Jamesprofile18 June 1995Cal McCrystalA profile of Gerald James, former Chairman of Astra Holdings and his battles against his appalling treatment by a corrupt system intent on hiding the dirty secrets of the Arms-to-Iraq affair.
File:CIA Research Paper SW91-100076X Redacted.pdfResearch paperNovember 1991CIARedacted CIA Research paper SW91-10076X titled 'Project Babylon' as it appeared on the CIA web site in July 2012
File:CIA Research Paper SW91-100076X summary.pdfResearch paperNovember 1991CIAUnredacted 'Intelligence Summary' (pages 22-26) of CIA Research paper SW91-10076X titled 'Project Babylon' and naming two ex-SAS soldiers as having been contracted to eliminate Gerald Bull
File:CIA Research Paper SW91-100076X un-redacted.pdfResearch paperNovember 1991CIAUnredacted CIA Research paper SW91-10076X titled 'Project Babylon:The Iraq Supergun' (pages 1-21)
File:Gerald James 2007 FOIA Appeal Statement.pdflegal document2007Gerald James
File:GeraldJamesStatements.pdflegal document2007Gerald James
File:LetterGeraldBull-PhilippeGlibert311089(2).pdfletter31 October 1989Gerald Bull
File:LetterGeraldBull-PhilippeGlibert311089.pdfletter31 October 1989Gerald Bull
File:TheBrusselsTrip.pdfletter6 March 1990Astra Defence Systems Ltd
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