The Netherlands & the chemical weapons of Iraq


In the nineteen eighties, Iraq frequently deploys chemical weapons, both during the war against Iran and against its own Kurdish population. The Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein, buys precursor chemicals for the production of these weapons mostly from companies in western countries. Dutch Melchemie and KBS in particular, are amongst the major suppliers of such chemicals. Furthermore, the by now convicted businessman, Frans van Anraat, had a central part in constructing Iraqi’s arsenal.

It is not before 1984, that the Dutch government submits a number of chemicals to export authorisation. A dogged struggle between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs precedes this submission to export regulation. As a result, the number of products ending up on the ‘blacklist’ is far smaller than was proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The export of a number of products that indeed can be used to produce chemical weapons thus continues. Minister of Foreign Trade, Frits Bolkestein, who visits Iraq in 1983, is a passionate opponent of a more comprising export scheme.

Iraq’s use of chemical weapons

In September 1980, the long war between Iraq and Iran starts. According to Iran, Iraq’s first use of chemical weapons goes back to November 1980. From July 1982 on, reports on Iraq’s use of chemical weapons multiply. In a later stage of the conflict, the deployment is directed more and more against civilians, both in Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan. The assault with chemicals weapons on Halabja in particular, evokes general outrage in the international scene. During the week of this attack, an Iraqi trade-mission visits The Netherlands; the Dutch government doesn’t breathe a word about the use of chemical weapons.

After the second Gulf War (1990-1991), Iraq is put under international surveillance and is forced to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. Although the check-ups meet with quite some difficulties, it seems that Iraq, by the mid-nineties, indeed did destroy its chemical weapons supply.


The Dutch government’s Iraq policy of the nineteen eighties shows a  disappointing image. In the face of the war, they do their utmost to maintain economic relations with the regime of Saddam Hussein as good as possible. On the pretext of neutrality, they prefer turning a blind eye on the atrocities committed by Iraq, as well as by Iran for that matter, during the conflict. In determining policies, Dutch economic interests prevail.

In the matter of supplies of chemical weapons precursors, the Dutch government starts acting only after the Americans draw their attention to huge orders placed by Iraq at Dutch companies. Until April 1984, large amounts of such materials were exported to Iraq without difficulty, even though the country’s production and deployment of chemical weapons is already known. After the American notification of Dutch supplies to Iraq, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs goes to great length to keep as limited as possible the list of chemicals to be submitted to export authorisation. As a result, several chemicals required for the production of poison gas, don’t end up on it, despite recommendations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Therefore, after April 1984, too, it is still possible to ship to Iraq materials fit for the production of chemical weapons.

Bolkestein in Iraq

In October 1993, Bolkestein, as Minister of Foreign Trade, visits the Baghdad International Fair. He also has meetings with the Iraqi vice prime minister Ramadhan and with several other ministers. By that time the Dutch government is already aware of Iraq’s use of poison gas. During his visit, Bolkestein signs an agreement between The Netherlands and Iraq, aimed at extending the possibilities for economic and technical collaboration.

Official records on Bolkestein’s visit to Bagdad state his request “to integrate advocacy of concrete Dutch interests within a setting of sympathy for the Iraqi people who have been suffering the consequences of war for the last three years. From the side of Iraq, there was a positive reaction to this. There was mentioning of Iraq now counting its friends and that, after the ending of the war, consequences would follow from this for the thus identified countries”.

In the early nineties, Bolkestein does adjust his opinions on the Iraqi regime, but within the framework of Dutch trade interests, he previously showed little difficulty shaking hands and concluding agreements with a company he now calls ‘sinister’.


Especially during the first years of the building-up of Iraq’s chemical weapon programme, virtually all required raw material and equipment originated from foreign, mostly western, countries. The United Nation’s secret ‘Full Final and Complete Disclosure’ (or FFCD) report of Iraq’s past chemical weapons program, is Iraq’s account of its chemical weapons, rendered to the UNSCOM in 1992, with some later updates. Included in the report, is a list of companies (as far as they were traced back) which supplied to Iraq.

In the case of two Dutch companies, it is firmly established that they delivered chemicals to Iraq, which, in all probability, have been used to produce chemical weapons. The two companies involved are Melchemie (Arnhem, now called Melspring) and KBS Holland (Terneuzen, by now called Bravenboer & Scheers). Furthermore, for many years, the now convicted businessman Frank van Anraat acted as (illegal) dealer in chemicals for Iraq’s chemical weapons program.


For years, Melchemie supplied Iraq with chemicals, including chemicals considered being precursors for the production of poison gas. According to a letter from the Iraqi State Company SEPP, until 1985, this involves in any case the following substances: 1000 tons of thionylchloride, 20 tons of potassiumhydrogenfluoride, 60 tons of phosphoroxychloride, 5 tons of hydrogenfluoride, 100 tons of phosphor, 150 tons of isopropylalcohol, 15 tons of pyridine and 30 tons of o-chlorobenzaldehyde. Except for one – phosphoroxychloride – all those transactions occurred without the obligation to produce an export licence. Nevertheless, Melchemie, at that time, should have known about the possible usage of these substances for the production of chemical weapons.

In 1984, at the time when a licence actually is needed for the export of phosphoroxychloride, Melchemie, in spite of repeated warnings coming, amongst others, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accepts an order from SEPP for the delivery of 60 tons of this material. The phosphoroxychloride is being shipped to Iraq via Italy, but after two 10ton loads, there is a sudden hold up in the delivery. Tipped by the CIA, the Economic Investigation Service (the present FIOD-ECD), raids Melchemie in 1985. Ultimately, the matter is taken to court and the company is sentenced to a fine of 100,000 Dutch guilder (¤ 45,000) and to a suspended one year close down of business with two years probation.

After the raid in 1985 and the conviction in 1986, Melchemie continued the supply of chemicals to Iraq. The secret FFCD-report explicitly mentions, by means of a supply-list, the company as supplier for Iraq’s chemical weapons programme.


In 1983, KBS delivers 500 tons of thiodiglycol (TDG) to Iraq. Afterwards, especially because of the unusual size of the order, the general assumption is that it was earmarked for the production of mustard gas. At that moment, the substance doesn’t yet figure on the list of products that require export authorisation. It also delivers other products that partly, at a later stage, do occur on the list. The FFCD-report mentions deliveries of at least 550 tons of TDG, 150 tons of thionylchloride and 600 tons of sodium cyanide in the period 1982-1984. The first two substances are precursors for, for example, mustard gas; the last one for hydrogen cyanide gas.

When, in February or March 1984, another substantial order for TDG is placed, it is turned down on the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other business between KBS and Iraq continues.

Written parliamentary questions in 2005 about the possibilities of criminal proceedings against KBS are met with denial by then Minister of Justice Donner. This is remarkable because, beforehand, it is unclear how much, at that time, KBS knew about the possible end-use of their product. It is that knowledge that happens to be a key issue in the legal proceedings against Frans van Anraat (see below).

Frans van Anraat

For many years, the Dutch businessman Frans van Anraat is the main supplier for Iraq’s chemical weapons programme. He takes opportunity of the gap created since 1984, by the new export legislation. In 1989, he is arrested in Milan, at the request of the American(!) authorities. He manages to escape to Baghdad while awaiting his trial. It will take almost another 15 years before he is being arrested after all. Much of the time in between, he allegedly leads a comfortable life in Bagdad, as a ward of the Iraqi regime. According to American customs, during his stay in Bagdad he continues his activities and purchases precursors for Iraq’s production of mustard gas and nerve gasses from abroad. In 1997 he is interrogated by UNSCOM.

With the American-British invasion in 2003 he leaves Iraq fearing for this life. The Dutch embassy provides him with a laissez-passer and he settles in Amsterdam.

Perhaps the Dutch government can not be blamed for failing to take action during the long period that Van Anraat was in Iraq, even though a sentence by default may have been possible. It is curious though, that, at his return, not the slightest obstacle is put in his way. Not only is he not taken into custody, but he allegedly even stays in an AIVD (Dutch general intelligence and security service) ‘safe house’ for a while.

Initially, it looks as if the Dutch judicial authorities actually abandon the case. Van Anraat, imagining being safe, partly due to the protection he enjoys by the AIVD, in certain interviews, admits supplying Iraq with chemicals for poison gas and knowing in the long run, how they were going to be used. The Public Prosecutor’s office then comes into action after all: Van Anraat is arrested and prosecuted, just before he is about to leave the country. The Public Prosecutor charges him with 36 deliveries with a total of 2360 tons of precursors for the production of chemical weapons.

On 23 December 2005, the court in The Hague, finds him guilty of “violation of the laws and customs of war”. According to the court, he knew, or at any rate, he should have known that the chemicals he was supplying, were to be used in the production of poison gas. The court also estimated that there was sufficient evidence to assume that the chemical weapons, produced from the substances supplied by Van Anraat, had actually been used by Iraq.

Complicity in genocide, however, was held not proven. In spite of this acquittal of the most serious charge, Van Anraat is sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, without probation, as the Public Prosecutor demanded. Van Anraat as well as the Public Prosecutor, appeal against the conviction. On 9 May 2007, the Court of Appeal will pronounce its sentence.