1990-1999 | Arms exports | Backing dictatorships | Iraq

British company helps equip Saddam Hussein’s military

Alan Clark admitted being ‘economical with the actualité’ –
 Photo- Open Media Ltd. CC BY-SA 4.0 cropped via Wikimedia

17 July 1990

On 17 July 1990, just two weeks prior to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the British government granted Matrix Churchill, a Coventry based company, licenses for the export of machine tools to Iraq, with the knowledge that they would be used to manufacture artillery shells and medium range missiles. In 1992, a UN report drew attention to an additional concern that some of the machine tools the company exported possessed ‘technical characteristics required for producing key components in a nuclear programme.’1

In the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the First Gulf War, four directors of the company had been put on trial for knowingly supplying the military-use equipment, despite such exports being unlawful, but the trial at the Old Bailey collapsed in November 1992 when Alan Clark, previously Margaret Thatcher’s trade minister, admitted in court that he had been ‘economical with the actualité’ and had encouraged the company to ignore the likely use to which the machine tools might be put. The British government had not just been willing to look the other way but also to covertly help Matrix Churchill and other British companies prop up Saddam Hussein’s regime, despite assurances in parliament that no such equipment was being supplied. This at a time when, despite its appalling human rights record, the Iraqi dictatorship was still a favoured ally as a bulwark against anti-Western Iranian influence.2


  1. Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, Vintage Books, London, 2003, pp. 34-35 and ‘Lyell faces call to quit after grilling at inquiry,’ The Newcastle Journal, 25 March 1994, p. 7
  2. Mark Phythian and Walter Little, ‘Parliament and Arms Sales: Lessons of the Matrix Churchill Affair,’ Parliamentary Affairs, issue 3, July 1993, p. 293 and Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Iraq arms prosecutions led to string of miscarriages of justice,’ The Guardian, 9 November 1992, accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/defence-and-security-blog/2012/nov/09/arms-iraq-saddam-hussein

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