Saddam Hussein deputy invited Haughey to Iraq

Sat, Dec 31, 2011, 00:00

BAGHDAD TRIP:AN UNUSUAL invitation to Iraq for taoiseach Charles Haughey led the Department of Foreign Affairs to prepare a brief justifying the planned visit in October 1980, and flagging potentially difficult questions over its usefulness.

The invitation came in January 1980 from Saddam Hussein’s second-in-command Izzat Ibrahim just six weeks after Haughey became taoiseach.

It was also four months after, as revealed many years later during the Moriarty tribunal, Haughey as minister for finance had offered AIB a deposit of £10 million from an Iraqi bank owned and controlled by the Republic of Iraq (effectively Saddam Hussein).

A civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs described as “rather unusual” that the invitation be issued in a “casual manner” without any “advance soundings” and particularly because the Iraqi ambassador in London was about to visit Dublin.

In July 1980, the secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Noel Dorr, prepared a brief for the taoiseach’s office on potential difficulties, after meeting Haughey and secretary to the government Dermot Nally.

He said queries may arise as to why Haughey should single out a “distant and relatively radical country in the Middle East” for his third foreign visit as taoiseach (other visits being to France and Britain).

Haughey’s interest in the visit derived in part “from the fact that he has happened to develop contacts with it while he was minister for health and would like to build on this relationship”, Dorr noted.

Dorr warned that the taoiseac should keep in mind that the Labour Party “might try to focus again on accusations of tailoring our approach to the Middle East to serve certain business interests here”.

He said the best approach would be to “avail of the coincidence of the visit with the trade fair” (in Baghdad in October 1980) to provide a kind of “safety net” in case “the prospects for a successful visit appear unfavourable closer to the event”.

Dorr said the taoiseach’s agreement to visit Greece on the way would “soften the impact somewhat” of an isolated visit to Iraq.

“However, the proposed visit can be justified easily enough by referring to the potential for favourable economic relations with Iraq, its importance and interest for us as a potential oil supplier and its interest as a leading country of the region and leader in the Third World.”

Haughey told civil servants in several meetings that his reasons for going were to exchange oil for agricultural produce and machinery and to sign a co-operation agreement from which trade contracts would flow.

This was despite a clear report from the department of energy that it did not have any need for oil nor did it have room to store oil due to a glut in the market and was “not in favour of raising the oil question”.

Kenneth Thompson ofDthe economic division of the Department of Foreign Affairs seemed puzzled at the lack of mention of oil in a proposed co-operation agreement with Iraq, in a paper dated June 1981. Irish-made fishing protection vessels with helicopter landing pads were among the items being “explored” by Córas Tráchtála (the Irish Export Board) which might be of interest to the Iraqi army, according to notes of a meeting in the department of industry and commerce in September 1980.

There was puzzlement at the meeting over the suggestion that Iraq would be a “significant market” or “test case” for the export of fishery protection vessels “since its only coastline, in the gulf, extended some 10 miles”.

Beef and lamb were among the possible Irish commodities for export being proposed by the export board. Irish beef sales to Iraq proved controversial in later years when the beef tribunal found that Larry Goodman’s beef company had been abusing the government export credit insurance scheme by sending beef to Iraq, much of which was not Irish at all.

The Iraqis postponed the taoiseach’s visit in early September 1980 with the reasons becoming clear on September 22nd as it invaded Iran.