Arms from France
France became a major military supplier to Iraq after 1975 as the two countries improved their political relations. In order to obtain petroleum imports from the Middle East and strengthen its traditional ties with Arab and Muslim countries, France wanted a politico-military bridge between Paris and Baghdad.
Between 1977 and 1987, Paris contracted to sell a total of 133 Mirage F-1 fighters to Iraq. The first transfer occurred in 1978, when France supplied 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. In 1983 another twenty-nine Mirage F-1s were exported to Baghdad. And in an unprecedented move, France "loaned" Iraq five SuperEtendard attack aircraft, equipped with Exocet AM39 air-to- surface missiles, from its own naval inventory. The SuperEtendards were used extensively in the 1984 tanker war before being replaced by several F-1s. The final batch of twenty-nine F1s was ordered in September 1985 at a cost of more than US$500 million, a part of which was paid in crude oil.
In 1987 the Paris-based Le Monde estimated that, between 1981 and 1985, the value of French arms transfers to Iraq was US$5.1 billion, which represented 40 percent of total French arms exports. Paris, however, was forced to reschedule payment on most of its loans to Iraq because of Iraq's hard-pressed wartime economy and did so willingly because of its longer range strategic interests. French president François Mitterand was quoted as saying that French assistance was really aimed at keeping Iraq from losing the war. Iraqi debts to France were estimated at US$3 billion in 1987.
French military sales to Iraq were important for at least two reasons. First, they represented high-performance items. Iraq received attack helicopters, missiles, military vehicles, and artillery pieces from France. Iraq also bought more than 400 Exocet AM39 air-to-surface missiles and at least 200 AS30 laserguided missiles between 1983 and 1986. Second, unlike most other suppliers, France adopted an independent and unambiguous arms sales policy towards Iraq. France did not tie French arms commitments to Baghdad's politico-military actions, and it openly traded with Iraq even when Iranian-inspired terrorists took French hostages in Lebanon. In late 1987, however, the French softened their Persian Gulf policy, and they consummated a deal with Tehran involving the exchange of hostages for detained diplomatic personnel. It was impossible in early 1988 to determine whether France would curtail its arms exports to Iraq in conjunction with this agreement.
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