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National Observer Home > No. 41 - Winter 1999 > Article

Russia's Primakov and Iraq's Hussein: the World's Most Dangerous Political Partnership

Andrew Campbell

Dr. Yevgenni Primakov, until May 1999 Prime Minister of Russia, and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein probably constitute the world's most dangerous political partnership over recent years. This assessment is based on Primakov's personal and operational and political support for Saddam Hussein of Iraq (who is increasingly regarded by many intelligence analysts as the world's most dangerous man) for over thirty years.

Since emerging as an international political identity during the Gulf crisis in 1991 during which he attempted to undermine United States and Western strategic interests in favour of Saddam, Primakov has enjoyed relatively uncritical media attention in the west.

Primakov presents as an urbane and sophisticated cosmopolitan imbued with liberal tolerance. However, he has spent his life engaged in journalism, propaganda, disinformation, active measures and influence operations and intelligence management and organisation, as a communist party apparatchik.

Primakov's involvement in clandestine intelligence operations and activities has merged into his career path, as was undoubtedly intended. It is therefore virtually impossible to delineate his respective roles. A life long member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (C.P.S.U.) from 1929-1991 he ceased membership only after the 1991 coup, a characteristic and wily career move. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Primakov also speaks English but adopts tactical language difficulties (as in using an English interpreter) in response to difficult questioning.

Primakov's operational history began in the Middle East where he was deputy editor and Middle East correspondent attached to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's weekly newspaper, Pravda, from 1962 to 1970. It was during this period that Primakov first met Saddam Hussein.

Primakov and Saddam: The Ties that Bind

Given the longevity of the Primakov-Hussein relationship and its implications for regional and global security it is imperative to understand and critically examine their shared beliefs:

Primakov and Hussein share a visceral hatred of Western institutions and values, combined with a destructive envy of Western military power.

Both believe in conspiratorial conceptions of society and international politics.

Both regard the United States as the "main enemy".

Both are seasoned conspirators with extensive experience in clandestine organisations. Both have an abiding personal and doctrinal commitment to the destruction of Israel and Zionism.

Both share a commitment to terrorism as a legitimate political weapon.

Both have a particular interest in political intelligence, disinformation and clandestine operations and have had extensive experience in senior positions in intelligence organisations.

Both are hostile to liberal and democratic values and have been socialised into totalitarian values and organisations and spent their lives in totalitarian regimes.

The Soviet-Iraqi Intelligence Relationship

The relationship between Primakov and Saddam Hussein cannot be understood without an understanding of the Soviet Union-Iraq intelligence relationship which developed in the "second ba'athi regime". In 1971, Saddam Hussein assumed the vice-presidency of the Revolutionary Command Council. Russia's closest links in the Middle East were with Iraq. Two months after Saddam returned from Moscow, a fifteen-year Iraq-U.S.S.R. Friendship Treaty was signed in April 1972, with an increased supply of arms to Iraq and growing Soviet involvement in Iraq's rapidly developing oil industry.

At the end of 1973, Hussein and K.G.B. Chairman Yuri Andropov signed a secret liaison agreement between the K.G.B. and the Iraqi intelligence service. The K.G.B., under clauses in the Friendship Treaty, provided for the modernisation of Iraq's State Internal Security Service, the A.M.N., and included the provision of sophisticated interrogation and surveillance equipment, K.G.B./ G.R.U. training for Iraqi personnel in the Soviet Union and intelligence exchange arrangements and operational support and assistance by Iraqi personnel for Soviet intelligence agents operating in areas and countries in which the Soviets did not have diplomatic relations.

By 1977, K.G.B./Iraqi liaison was so intimate that Iraq was the only country in the non-communist world in which the K.G.B. did not conduct espionage. Further, in an unprecedented decision, the K.G.B. ordered all Soviet residencies to cease operations against Iraqi targets.

However, in 1979, Saddam Hussein started to imprison and execute many Iraqi communists and the K.G.B. residencies were ordered to reactivate their agent networks, which had been relegated to "confidential contacts". In September 1980, Iraq attacked Iran and began the Gulf War, and Moscow resolved to provide secret support to Iraq.

Leading Russian foreign policy expert, Nikolai Shishlin, later adviser to Gorbachev, claimed that the arms supply route to Iraq was so carefully selected that it was virtually impossible to trace. Primakov played a complex role in this period; as journalist, envoy for Soviet leader Brezhnev, journalist, Arabist, propagandist, public and media commentator on Middle East affairs.

According to some reports, Primakov played an operational role in delivering funds to the Iraqi Communist party and at other occasions, to Saddam Hussein. Primakov has now changed roles. In the 1960s and 1970s, Primakov acted as a source of funds to Hussein. In 1997, Primakov was identified as the recipient of funds from Hussein.

Primakov's Support for Terrorism

Primakov was an ardent anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist through the 1970s and 1980s. As a broadcaster, propagandist and journalist Primakov was a fervent supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's use of terror. He viewed P.L.O. terrorism as "the general popular struggle for the liberation of occupied territory". He was opposed to the Iran/Iraq war as it diverted both countries from the "struggle against United States terrorism" and therefore assisted United States and Israeli strategic interests in the region. In June 1983, Primakov, in a move that preshadowed his later attempts at "damage control diplomacy", attempted to unite the warring P.L.O. factions in Lebanon and visited Syria as K.G.B. Chairman Andropov's representative to affirm Moscow's support for Yasser Arafat. In 1987, he declared correctly that the Soviets interest in the P.L.O. was its existing as "a mighty unified anti-imperialist force". Under the Brezhnev regime, Primakov was the "Middle East expert" and as such a significant K.G.B. asset.

Primakov and Saddam's Covert Payments

In 1993, a secret source in Moscow informed Western intelligence sources that Primakov, then head of the Russian intelligence service (S.V.R.), had received $1.2 million from Iraq. The information could not be verified. However, in 1997, Britain's G.C.H.Q. (Signals Intelligence) intercepted a bank transfer which detailed a U.S.$ 800,000 payment to Primakov, from Iraq Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. Although Russian spokesmen have heatedly denied this report it is reportedly widely accepted within the senior echelons of the C.I.A. that Primakov has long enjoyed financial benefits from his relationship with Saddam Hussein.

Saddam has ensured that he has personally benefited for his plunder of Iraq. Under a government expenditure list item appropriately called the "transformation account," money from state revenue has been paid directly to Saddam and his family. In 1978, the account contained 980 million Iraqi dinars, equivalent to U.S.$3 billion. In 1982, payment of $1.8 billion was transferred to Switzerland, ostensively in settlement of a state debt. The money was never paid to Saddam but was transferred to Saddam's half brother, Barzan-al-Tikrit. Primakov must have admired such deft handling of finances. 

Undermining the United States and the West: primakov and aid to Iraq

Primakov has played a crucial role in ensuring Russian aid to Iraq and in circumventing the United Nations embargo. In August 1995, the Israeli Intelligence service provided the United Nations with a detailed report which disclosed that a Russian export company had provided Iraq with gyroscopic or guidance devices which could improve the targeting of the Iraqi missile fleet. The report also stated that Iraq had concealed advanced missiles. In late 1997, Primakov was presented with a "complete dossier" on the activities of Russian commercial front organisations, which provided covert assistance to Iraq. He obliquely denied that "any state organisation was involved".

In 1998-99, Russia signed deals worth over one hundred million English pounds to reinforce Iraq's air defences, including overhauling Iraq's Mig jet fighters and restoration of its air defences. Primakov was a key figure in these deals. Although Russia officially ceased all arms exports to Iraq in September 1990, in compliance with United Nations sanctions, Iraq's squadrons of MiG 23, 25 and 29 jet fighters are still in service and its anti-aircraft launchers are still operational due to Russian technical assistance and a regular supply of spare parts and maintenance from Russian technicians and are used to attack British and United States planes.

Primakov has enjoyed unique access to Saddam Hussein. Yet there is no evidence that he has ever used his office and personal access to contain the Iraqi dictator, to restrict or prevent the development of his war machine, to restrict or prevent the development of his nuclear weapons programme, to restrict or prevent his use of chemical and biological weapons on his population, to restrict or prevent his programmes of development of weapons of mass destruction or to restrict or to prevent Russian companies from providing dual use equipment to Iraq which is capable of making biological weapons.

Further, despite differences in the projected time frame, there is rare agreement between the United States Defence Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's Secret Intelligence Service that Saddam Hussein is working to construct a nuclear device.

Primakov is undoubtedly aware of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons development programme, at both a personal level from his relationship with Hussein and through his official capacity as former Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (S.V.R.). He must be understood to be aware that Iraq is believed to retain agents associated with anthrax, botulism toxin, the plant pathogen aflatoxin and ricin and there are suspicions that it retains agents associated with bubonic plague.

Iraq also retains 16 tons of "growth medium", a slurry like substance used to feed and grow enough biological agents to kill every man, woman and child in the world, several times over. Iraq also has the capacity to manufacture high explosive, chemical and biological warheads. Iraq also retains the missile capacity to deliver these agents.

Primakov must also be understood to be aware that Iraq is a key patron state of international terrorism that has supported the world's two most dangerous terrorists: bin Ladin and Abu Nidal. Primakov would undoubtedly be aware (as he has been a party to such deals) that Iraq conducts a clandestine arms procurement network which uses front companies in France, Jordan, Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria and the Balkans to purchase and transport weapons and materials.

Iraq's main intelligence service, the Da' Irat al Mukhabarat al-Amah or G.I.D., has trained terrorists to convert Iraqi embassies into terrorist operational centres by using diplomatic bags to transport weapons and explosives. Iraq Airways has also been used for operational cover, in clear contravention of the Vienna convention, international principles of air safety and international law and conventions.

 Primakov's Support for Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction

Iraq's threat to regional and global stability, and its weapons of mass destruction including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons have never been publicly criticised by Primakov. Nor has Primakov criticised Hussein's bizarre political and management style, which consists primarily of shooting real and imaginary opponents. It is not commonly known that Saddam, as a twenty-six year old revolutionary, was, in 1963, engaged as an interrogator and torturer in the Qasr-al-Nihayyah or "palace of the End" in which King Faisal and his family were murdered in 1965. Under the new Baath regime, the cellars of the palace were used as a torture chamber. In 1979, Saddam personally executed many of his former comrades of the R.C.C. (Revolutionary Command Council).

In his various official capacities as head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and as Russian Foreign Minister Primakov has never sought to restrain or publicly condemn Saddam's use of internal terror and terrorism. Primakov has never criticised Saddam's twenty-year programme to develop nuclear weapons and must be aware that Saddam will revive his nuclear development programme as soon as United Nations sanctions are lifted. Primakov must also be aware that it is possible to develop a nuclear programme in complete secrecy by dispersal of plants and compartmentalisation and counter measures against satellite surveillance.

Primakov has never criticised Hussein's use of chemical warfare agents against his own people. Between August 1983 and March 1988, Hussein used chemical weapons, mustard gas, tabur and mustard/nerve gas agents on at least ten occasions against Iranian/Kurdish target populations, with an estimated 26-28,000 casualties.

British intelligence assesses that Iraq has up to ten SCUD missiles capable of carrying chemical and biological weapons warheads; enough growth medium to produce over 16,000 litres more anthrax spores than has been acknowledged; 4,000 tons of chemical warfare precursor chemicals which are enough to produce several hundred tons of chemical weapons; and extremely large quantities of chemical weapons munitions and essential chemical weapons production equipment. Iraq may also retain undetermined amounts of bola virus, bubonic and pneumonic plague bacteria and the toxin ricin.

Iraq's allegedly "frozen" chemical, biological and nuclear programmes can be resurrected within a few weeks, if not sooner. Saddam believes that possessing a nuclear bomb will enable Iraq to match Israel, provide him with international status and ensure that he (Iraq) is the dominant and most powerful leader, indeed the hero of the Arab world. (Primakov as former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service would undoubtedly be aware that an estimated 12,000 people work in Saddam's nuclear programme).

Nevertheless, Primakov continued to act as an international publicist for the Iraqi dictator and attempted to broker deals for Hussein during arcs of crisis, as in the Gulf War and the controversy over Desert Storm in late December 1997. Every deal between Iraq and the West that Primakov has attempted to negotiate has, or would, entail a defeat for Western interests and the United States. Primakov's tacit support for Hussein demonstrates that he has a temperamental and political affinity with the Iraqi dictator that precludes criticism or suggestions of restraint.

Russian Financial Interests and Iraq

Primakov views Hussein as a means of ensuring Russian national and commercial interests are maintained in Iraq and the Middle East. Primakov has had a vested interest in ensuring that sanctions imposed on Iraq are lifted.

Throughout 1998, Primakov engaged in personal diplomacy between Iraq and the United States to broker a deal, which would allow United Nations inspection of Iraq's facilities in return for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. Such deals provide Saddam with more time to develop his programmes for weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq owes Russia $7 billion dollars, which cannot be settled until United Nations sanctions against Iraq are lifted, and influential Russian oil and gas companies regard Iraq as a potential lucrative market. Significantly, Primakov has never urged Saddam to comply with sanctions or to permit adequate weapon inspections. He has however, consistently represented Saddam to his Russian constituencies, the United Nations and Western media as the victimised party.

The Implications of the Primakov Doctrine

The Primakov doctrine is based on the promotion of Russia as a great power which can act as a counter to the United States in creating a multi-polar world. However, Primakov's design for a multi-polar world has not been based on a renunciation of war planning and readiness. During his reign as Foreign Minister, Russia conducted, in October 1998, its first nuclear war games since the end of the Cold war, which has been interpreted as a demonstration of Russian opposition to N.A.T.O. intervention in Kosovo. Primakov has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic and has sought to undermine N.A.T.O. unity on the campaign against Milosevic.

Primakov is committed to destabilising Western interests, a legacy from his thirty-year period as a Communist party member, functionary and propagandist from 1961 to 1991 and his consistent anti-Western stance throughout his career. The "Primakov doctrine" in which Russia will intervene in regional disputes as a peace maker is explicitly designed to counter United States influence and interests.

Primakov also constructed a deal for Russia to sell Russian arms, including advanced anti-air S-300 missiles, to the Republic of Cyprus, which would increase Greek-Turkish tensions and intensify N.A.T.O. tensions as Greece and Turkey are N.A.T.O. members.

Under Primakov, Russia provided Iran with ballistic missile and nuclear technology. This assistance permitted Iran to develop and construct Shahab-3 intermediate range ballistic missiles, capable of striking missile targets throughout the Middle East, and enabled Iran to develop ICBM's and possibly nuclear weapons capable of attacking the United States. Under Primakov, Russia was recently conducting a $3 billion sale of modern weapons to Syria.

Primakov reportedly planned to upgrade Russia's Middle East status by supplying his friend, Syrian president Hafez-al-Assad, with Sukhoi-27 fighter-bombers, T-80 tanks and S 300 SOA missiles. Under Primakov, Russia was selling its most advanced military systems to China, thereby increasing China's capacity to intimidate Taiwan and counter United States influence in Asia. Russia has sold Sukhoi-27 fighters, guidance systems for ICBM's and uranium enriching equipment for building more efficient nuclear warheads and sea-launched supersonic cruise missiles for their Sovremenny class destroyers.

Primakov's Rebuilt Russian Power Base with Former K.G.B. Friends

Within Russia, Primakov moved to consolidate his power base by inserting former senior K.G.B. officers to strategic positions within the government. In September 1988, Yuri Zubakov was appointed head of the Government administration. Grigory Rapota, who has had not unrelated experience, was appointed head of the controversial army export agency, Rosvooruzhenie, established in 1993 to sell government arms abroad and allegedly heavily influenced by former K.G.B. officers on its staff. The former number three-office holder in the Russian intelligence service, Rapota has worked for the K.G.B. since 1966 in Western Europe and the United States.

The former F.S.B. (internal security) deputy chief, Victor Zorin, was appointed head of the Department of Special programs, and Nikolai Patrushev, a former F.S.B. official, was appointed head of the main Control Directorate. Vladimir Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, was appointed as first deputy chief of the President, responsible for the administration's relations with Russian regions. Colonel Yuri Kobaladze, an active measures expert and prominent K.G.B. FCD officer stationed in England throughout the 1970s and 1980s and former head of the Public Affairs office of the S.V.R., was recently named First Deputy Director of Russia's principal news agency ITAR-TASS.

Primakov's Silent Support for Saddam

In 1991, Primakov reflected on his relationship with Hussein during the Gulf crisis of 1991, and expressed the salience of the Primakov-Hussein relationship when he recalled that he had "met Saddam many times when he visited Moscow and during my missions to Baghdad. Our relationship developed in such a way that I could talk to him without the diplomatic niceties. Saddam accepted such a style of conversation and it seemed to me that he liked it that way."

Primakov was being typically disingenuous. It is significant, however, that despite Saddam's public record as a murderer and torturer who has killed members of his extended family and used murder and terror to maintain his totalitarian dictatorship and chemical warfare against his own people, and Egyptian President Hosnu Mubarak's accurate description of him as a "psychopath", he has never been publicly criticised by Primakov.

The world's most dangerous political relationship took three decades to develop. Successive United States presidents have authorised the Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow Saddam Hussein, regrettably without visible success. However, publicising, disrupting or permanently dissolving the Primakov-Hussein relationship by whatever means necessary became an ethical and strategic necessity.

The most recent example of the enduring nature of the Primakov and Saddam relationship is Russia's secret $160 million deal to reinforce Iraq's air defences and upgrade squadrons of Mig fighters. Primakov approved this transaction in meetings with the Iraqi Deputy Premier, Tariq Aziz, in December 1998. The agreements were signed in Moscow on 13 January 1998. The deal was widely viewed as a serious threat to the United States and British warplanes that have monitored the "no fly" zone. (United States and British war plans control the "no fly" zones to protect Kurdish rebels and Shiite Muslim groups from extermination by Saddam.) The combined British and United States air forces have faced continuous assaults since December 1998. The deal is also a challenge to United States and British attempts to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and provides Saddam's regime with much-needed moral and propaganda gains.

Primakov approved the decision to provide assistance to Saddam which was organised by Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy Premier, and was a clear violation of the United Nations arms embargo on Iraq. As a senior British Foreign Office official commented to the media:

"It is almost beyond belief that a permanent member of the Security Council could authorise such a flagrant breach of the United Nations arms embargo. It indicates that Russian relations with Iraq have become a great deal closer since Mr Primakov became prime minister."

The Bodyguard of Truth

A crafted and modulated campaign a bodyguard of truth is necessary to inform Western publics, political elites and the media that the Primakov-Hussein relationship constitutes a clear and present threat to regional and global peace and stability and interests.

Saddam's long terms goals to possess weapons of mass destruction and dominate the Gulf region remain unchanged. A bodyguard of truth would publicly and truthfully identify Dr Yevgenni Primakov and Saddam Hussein as constituting the world's most dangerous political relationship.


Primakov's biography: A. Campbell, Yevgenni Primakov and the S.V.R., Australia and World Affairs, Winter 1994, and The New Soviet Central Intelligence Service: the Foreign Intelligence Threat, Australia and World Affairs, Summer 1992.

Soviet and Iraqi intelligence relationship: C. Andrew and O. Gordievsky, K.G.B.: The Inside Story, London, 1990; Al-Khalil, Republic of Fear, London, 1991.

Iraqi Payments to Primakov: Seymour Hersh: Saddam's Best Friend, The New Yorker, 5 April 1999; Washington Post, 29 March 1999.

Russian Iraq Air Defence Contracts: Daily Telegraph, 1998-1999.

Details of Saddam's use of C.B.W. against Kurdish/Iranian populations: British Intelligence (S.I.S.) estimates of Iraq's C.B.W. holdings, C.R.S. Issues Brief, Iraqi Chemical and Biological Weapons, Foreign Affairs Division, April 1998.

The Primakov doctrine and details of Russian aid and assistance to Iraq, Iran and China: A. Cohen, The Watershed in U.S./Russia Relations: Beyond Strategic Partnership, The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, No.1252, February 1998.

Primakov appointment of former K.G.B. officers: Primakov Tightens Grip on Russian Media, Strategic Enterprises Global Intelligence Update (U.S.), February 1999.

Iraq threat: Statement by Acting Director C.I.A. before the Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States, 5 February 1997.

Iraq's weapons of mass destruction: U.S. Government White Paper, 13 February 1998, Osma bin Ladin and Iraq, Iraq News, 10 February 1999.

National Observer No. 41 - Winter 1999