WASHINGTON -- As vice president during the Reagan administration, President Bush acted as an intermediary in sending strategic military advice to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at a critical point in the Iran-Iraq war, according to sources and classified documents.
The specific advice -- that Iraq unleash its air force against Iran -- was passed on during a trip to the Mideast by then-Vice President Bush in August 1986. Mr. Bush used Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to relay the message to Mr. Saddam, according to two Bush administration officials familiar with the incident.
At the time, the Reagan administration was maintaining a public posture of neutrality in the war while secretly assisting Iraq in an attempt to stop Iran and its spreading Islamic fundamentalism.
The Reagan and Bush administrations have admitted sending Iraq intelligence data about Iranian troop movements during the eight-year conflict. However, it has not been disclosed previously that the intelligence was augmented by military advice and that Mr. Bush played a personal role in conveying the advice.
The extent of Mr. Bush's personal commitment to assisting Iraq has attracted increasing scrutiny amid revelations that U.S. aid continued long after the Iran-Iraq war and extended into his own administration. Iraq received billions of dollars in U.S. food credits and retained access to sensitive technology until the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
A White House spokesman said he could find no information that Mr. Bush relayed the military advice to Iraq through Mr. Mubarak. In response to earlier stories in the Los Angeles Times about his role in executing Reagan administration policy toward Iraq, Mr. Bush has said he is proud of his actions and defended them as part of a strategy to contain Iran.
The U.S. advice that Mr. Saddam step up his bombing of Iran came in response to fears among Iraq's Arab allies and administration supporters that Iran was on the verge of winning the war in mid-1986, according to analysts and classified documents.
At about the same time that Bush relayed the military advice during a trip to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia shipped Iraq an undisclosed number of American-made, 2,000-pound bombs, according to a classified State Department cable.