AN "INCONVENIENT ATROCITY": THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK ON THE KURDS OF HALABJA, IRAQ BY SUSAN J.
SCHUURMAN BACHELOR OF ARTS HISTORY AND SPANISH CALVIN COLLEGE 1985
THESIS Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts History The University of New Mexico Albuquerque, New Mexico December, 2007
© 2007, Susan J. Schuurman
DEDICATION This thesis is dedicated to the victims of Halabja. May the dead rest in peace and the living receive the recognition and justice they deserve. And to Luci and Dodi, my most steadfast companions.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This thesis would not have been possible without the help of many people. Dr. Denise Natali, University of Kurdistan-Hewler, Arbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, started me on the right track with a brief but excellent reading list on the Kurds. My advisor and chair of my thesis committee, Dr. Patricia Risso, was a cheerleader extraordinaire, offering both academic and personal support. She, Dr. Noel Pugach and Dr. Enrique Sanabria, my thesis committee, made substantial recommendations to improve the text. Middle East analyst Joost Hiltermann provided professional encouragement at a crucial juncture. Reagan Presidential Library archivist Lisa Jones efficiently supplied me with photocopies of pertinent documents. Sophie Garvanian went out of her way to allow me to scan photographs from a book in her possession. New Mexico Historical Review (NMHR) colleagues Scott Meredith, Donna Schank Peterson, and Meg Frisbee provided much-needed help with the images, and Sonia Dickey repeatedly motivated me to stop researching and start writing already. Louise Ladd supported my graduate work by providing me with a desktop computer after hearing my sad tales of writing papers for our Middle East History class at the library after work. She also gave me moral support and showed me by example that a thesis could actually be brought from the theoretical realm to a tangible, loud thump-onthe-table reality. Greg George gave me invaluable assistance in the selection of a laptop that made writing the thesis much easier. I would not be here if not for the help of many people during my recent breast cancer treatment. I especially want to thank Dr. Ian Rabinowitz, my sister Kathy Sikkema, my brother Wayne Schuurman, Anna Christina Peterpaul, Sarah Payne, Kristen Bisson, Lorie Brau, Kristina Schauer, Spring Robbins, Kim Suina, Michele Brandwein, Pat and Louise. Dr. Durwood Ball, Cindy Tyson and the NMHR crew have also been there for me in so many ways. Both Durwood and my other employer, Field & Frame owner Alan Fulford, gave me the flexibility I needed to get through my treatment. Their support and that of others unnamed enabled me to recover sufficiently to tackle and complete this project. I’d also like to thank my family for their support, especially my mom, Nell Schuurman, who asked for frequent updates on my progress, and my sister-in-law Lois Schuurman, who in spite of her own current health challenges, found time to track my growing page-counts. Thanks also to my Iranian Kurdish family, including my biological father, Firouz “Phil” Sabri, who shared many colorful stories about the Kurds, sister and brother-in-law Sabrina and Reza Ameripour, who helped me out at just the right time, and Shahrzad Ameripour, who never failed to tell me how proud she was of my scholarly pursuits. Lastly I want to acknowledge the role model I had in attending graduate school in the first place. Ann Peterpaul showed me by her example that graduate study in the humanities was a worthwhile and achievable goal whether or not the degree could confidently be linked to getting a specific job after graduation. For nudging me to go back to school after a seventeen-year hiatus, I thank her.
AN "INCONVENIENT ATROCITY": THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK ON THE KURDS OF HALABJA, IRAQ BY SUSAN J. SCHUURMAN
ABSTRACT OF THESIS Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts History The University of New Mexico Albuquerque, New Mexico December 2007
AN “INCONVENIENT ATROCITY”: THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK ON THE KURDS OF HALABJA, IRAQ by Susan J. Schuurman B.A., History and Spanish, Calvin College, 1985 M.A., History, University of New Mexico, 2007 ABSTRACT On 16 March 1988, the Iraqi military attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja with chemical weapons, killing approximately five thousand civilians and injuring twice that number. Taking place during the ethnic cleansing campaign called the Anfal (1987– 1988), the attack on Halabja was one of forty poison gas attacks against the Iraqi Kurds but bears the dubious distinction of having the highest number of civilian casualties. The English-language literature on the attack includes media coverage, human rights reports, and an authoritative account by Middle East analyst Joost Hiltermann. I briefly discuss the history of the Kurds, who are spread over Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria and number approximately twenty-five million; the nature of the Ba‘athist government under Saddam Hussein; and the wider Anfal campaign against the Kurds. The story of March 16 is told from the point of view of survivors with emphasis on the experiences of women and children. I then evaluate media coverage of the attack and the responses from the U.S. government, the United Nations, and other actors. I conclude with an examination of which persons and/or entities have been held accountable for the attack, plus the long-term impacts on Kurdish survivors including how they memorialize the Halabja attack today. This study is based on English-language, written sources including reports by Human Rights Watch, the UN, U.S. government documents from the Reagan Library and Digital National Security Archive, and media reports. I argue that the Reagan administration not only failed to hold Iraq accountable for the attack on Halabja but actively worked to prevent others from sanctioning Saddam Hussein’s regime. The U.S. allied with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988) largely because it saw the Islamic Republic of Iran as a greater threat to Persian Gulf oil. Citing numerous internal memos, I argue that economic considerations outweighed human rights concerns when American foreign policymakers calculated how to respond to the attack on Halabja. My research differs from Hiltermann’s, which focused primarily on the military and political context, for its emphasis on women and children and the role Western companies played in supplying Iraq’s chemical weapons industry.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgments..............................................................................................................iv Abstract..............................................................................................................................vii Table of Contents...............................................................................................................vii Chapter 1: Introduction....................................................................................................1 Methodology and Argument.....................................................................................4 Survey of the Literature...........................................................................................5 Chapter 2: Background to Halabja................................................................................12 A Brief History of the Kurds..................................................................................12 The Ba‘ath Party in Iraq and Saddam Hussein.....................................................19 The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds................................................................24 Chapter 3: Halabja: The Event......................................................................................37 Nasreen’s Story......................................................................................................37 Other Survivors’ Stories........................................................................................42 A Clinical Assessment............................................................................................45 The Military Context of Halabja............................................................................51 Chapter 4: Media and Official Reaction to Halabja.....................................................57 Media Coverage.....................................................................................................58 U.S. Government Reaction.....................................................................................67 United Nations Reaction........................................................................................83 Other Actors...........................................................................................................91 Chapter 5: Accountability...............................................................................................96 The Iraqi High Tribunal.........................................................................................96 The Companies That Supplied Iraq....................................................................101 Long-Term Impacts of Halabja on the Kurds......................................................110 Chapter 6: Conclusion...................................................................................................121 List of Appendices..........................................................................................................125 Appendix 1: Photographs of Omar Hama Saleh and Infant.................................126 Appendix 2: Map of Kurdistan.............................................................................127 Appendix 3: Photograph of Adela Khanum of Halabja.......................................128 Appendix 4: List of Articles from 11 March 1970 Peace Accord........................129 Appendix 5: List of Names of Civilian Victims...................................................130 Appendix 6: Photographs of Corpses in Halabja.................................................132 Appendix 7: List of U.S. Companies Supplying Arms to Iraq.............................133 Appendix 8: List of U.S. Companies Linked to Iraq’s CW Program..................134 Appendix 9: Photograph of Halabja Memorial....................................................135 Bibliography...................................................................................................................136
Chapter 1: Introduction As U.S. President George W. Bush rallied support for regime change in Baghdad during the winter of 2003, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iraqi citizens in the 1980s began to crop up after a long hiatus and in a completely different context. Bush justified an invasion of Iraq with several factors, including disarming the dictator of his remaining alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), preventing such weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists (especially al Qaida, in the post-September 11, 2001 attacks environment), and punishing the regime for its past use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds. In particular, Bush cited an event in which the highest number of civilian casualties occurred: the attacks on Halabja, an Iraqi town of 70,000, on 16 March 1988, when as many as 5,000 Kurdish children, women and elderly men were killed and twice that number wounded. President Bush was not the first to use the attacks on Halabja as justification for the so-called Coalition of the Willing to invade Iraq in 2003. In January the U.S. State Department published a report, “Iraq: From Fear to Freedom,” in which Halabja looms large. Calling the lessons of Halabja an “ominous warning,” it paints a sympathetic picture of the suffering of the unprotected civilians. Only after the first wave of air and artillery bombardments had driven the inhabitants to underground shelters did the Iraqi helicopters and planes return to unleash their lethal brew of mustard gas and nerve agents. ... The inhabitants … had no preparation for the nightmare that descended upon them—and continues to wreak havoc upon the survivors and their offspring today.1
Like many observers of the Halabja incident, the authors of this report mistakenly refer to this town of approximately 70,000 people as a village. This distinction is important because the Anfal campaign (see chapter 2) targeted rural Kurdistan; thus, the attacks on the town of Halabja were not by strict definition part of the Anfal campaign. U.S. Department of State, International Information Programs, Iraq: From Fear to Freedom, 14 January 2003, 4. Although I accessed a hard copy, this report is also available at http: //usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/iraq/.
The poignancy of the Kurds’ plight is vividly recalled: “As the gas spread and animals died and birds dropped out of trees, the panicked families, many blinded by the chemical agents, gathered up hysterical, gasping children, tried to escape downwind.”2 While at the time, the report claims, it was assumed several hundred people died, further investigation had revealed the body count was in the thousands. The Iraqis, for their part, used the attack as a “testing ground.”3 Without citing their presumably still classified sources, the authors reveal that after the attack, Iraqi soldiers in protective gear divided the town into grids to study the effectiveness of the chemical weapons in terms of number and location of the victims. The State Department concludes that Halabja is a deadly portent of the future if Saddam Hussein is left in power. Two weeks after the State Department’s report was published, Bush gave his oftcited State of the Union address to the American people on 28 January 2003. In it he laid out the reasons Saddam Hussein was such a threat to the United States. Attention has focused on one particular line that drew much scrutiny: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”4 Without mentioning Halabja by name, Bush reminded Americans that Hussein’s WMD were no idle threat and that he had actually employed chemical weapons against his own people. “The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages—leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. … If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.”
Ibid. Ibid., 6. 4 This revelation became part of the investigation into the leaked identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, wife of American ambassador and Bush Administration critic Joseph Wilson. Office of the Press Secretary, “President Delivers ‘State of the Union,’” <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/2003012819.html> (accessed 27 August 2007).
In March 2003, in a more specific reference, Bush used the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Halabja attacks to deliver a radio address consolidating the considerable support his administration enjoyed for the imminent invasion only days away: This weekend marks a bitter anniversary for the people of Iraq. Fifteen years ago, Saddam Hussein’s regime ordered a chemical weapons attack on a village [sic] in Iraq called Halabja. With that single order, the regime killed thousands of Iraq’s Kurdish citizens. Whole families died while trying to flee clouds of nerve and mustard agents descending from the sky. Many who managed to survive still suffer from cancer, blindness, respiratory diseases, miscarriages, and severe birth defects among their children. The chemical attack on Halabja—just one of 40 targeted at Iraq’s own people— provided a glimpse of the crimes Saddam Hussein is willing to commit, and the kind of threat he now presents to the entire world. He is among history’s cruelest dictators, and he is arming himself with the world’s most terrible weapons. Listeners must have felt a wave of compassion for these victims as well as fear, perhaps, that such indiscriminate weapons could be targeted at Americans. The September 11 attacks were painfully fresh in the American psyche, having jolted the nation out of its false sense of protected isolation between two vast oceans just two years earlier. Bush vowed to back his belligerent rhetoric with action: Governments are now showing whether their stated commitments to liberty and security are words alone—or convictions they’re prepared to act upon. And for the government of the United States and the coalition we lead, there is no doubt: we will confront a growing danger, to protect ourselves, to remove a patron and protector of terror, and to keep the peace of the world. 5 Bush’s horrific interpretation of the Halabja attacks seems appropriate—a moral response to an immoral act. But this compassionate perspective on the events of 16 March 1988 contrasts sharply with the reaction of the U.S. government at the time they occurred. Just what took place on that fateful day in the Kurdistan region of Iraq? Who
Office of the Press Secretary, “President Discusses Iraq in Radio Address,” transcript of President’s Radio Address, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030315.html (accessed 27 August 2007).
are the Kurds, and what was their relationship with Baghdad, the Americans and the United Nations before Halabja? How do those relationships and that context help us understand the American and international reaction in 1988? What was the reaction of the media, the U.S. government, Iraq’s Arab/Muslim neighbors, and the United Nations? How did these actors justify their action or inaction? Who or what entities have been held accountable for the attacks, and how do Halabja’s survivors memorialize March 16, if at all?
Methodology and Argument This thesis attempts to answer the above questions by examining Englishlanguage, written sources. I rely primarily on reports published by human rights organizations, archived U.S. government documents from the Digital National Security Archive and the Reagan Library, Congressional committee reports, UN documents, and media coverage. A more complete investigation (which was not feasible for this project) would have included oral interviews with still living survivors and access to Kurdishlanguage (Sorani) written documents located, among other places in the region, in the archives of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two major Kurdish political parties in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. After consulting my sources, I argue the evidence shows that at least three thousand Kurdish civilians, largely women and children, were killed as a result of chemical weapons dropped on Halabja by the Iraqi Air Force on or near the date of 16 March 1988; that the muted if not silent reaction by the international community in general and the Reagan administration in particular was an example of economic
priorities trumping human rights; and that, further, the U.S. government’s inaction and at times active steps to prevent a punitive response created an environment which fostered further deadly attacks on civilians. Whether such a posture can be defined as complicity in genocide is left for others to decide.
Survey of the Literature Not surprisingly for such a relatively recent incident (the 1980s are likely seen by most historians as “current events”), no historian has written a history of the chemical weapons attacks on Halabja, Iraq, in March 1988. Middle East analyst Joost Hiltermann, who currently serves as Deputy Program Director for the International Crisis Group, recently published the most in-depth treatment of the Halabja attacks to date in A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (2007). Thoroughly researched and well-balanced, Hiltermann’s work draws from his experience working for Human Rights Watch in the 1990s. He in fact is the author and/or contributor of several reports by either Human Rights Watch or its subsidiary, Middle East Watch, on the Iraqi campaign against the Kurds. His research involved hundreds of interviews with PUK guerrillas who participated in the battle for Halabja, Iraqi military officers, civilian victims of the attacks, and officials in the U.S. government, some of whom remain anonymous. Hiltermann uses Halabja primarily as a hook to talk about a larger picture: the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi regime in general and especially the U.S. response over a five-year period beginning in 1983, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq War, to 1988, after the ceasefire. He argues persuasively that the lack of a vigorous response by the U.S. government early on
gave a green light to Baghdad to proceed with chemical weapons use, and that those who were complicit with such use will never stand trial.6 Hiltermann expends a great deal of ink dissecting the debate over whether Iran also used chemical weapons on Halabja and proves convincingly that the evidence does not support this charge. He also goes into much detail about military strategy involved in the Halabja attacks as well as the broader topic of the Iran-Iraq War. His work privileges male voices in positions of authority, whether political or military; my focus will spotlight the experiences of women and children, where possible, and of unofficial actors rather than elites. I will also attempt to put names of individual persons on the faceless, nameless, monolithic statistic of the 5,000 victims. A source that I was unable to access but would prove illuminating on the broader Anfal campaign is an unpublished study by Kurdish researcher Shorsh Resool, who was last said to be working in London as an engineer.7 He meticulously compiled a list of 3,737 destroyed Kurdish villages and 16, 482 missing Iraqi Kurds based on interviews with tens of thousands of Anfal survivors; his tally of the names of persons killed at Halabja was at least 3,200.8 This study should be published and made widely available to researchers, if not for history’s sake then for any efforts at compensating victims and their families. Another work I was unable to access is a Kurdish-language publication devoted to the Halabja attacks written by the late Shawqat Haji Mushir, who, according
Joost Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 244. 7 Shorsh M. Resool, The Destruction of a Nation (London: Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, 1990), unpublished report. Resool’s work is cited by Hiltermann, Meiselas, Power and others. 8 Cited in Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), 27n8.
to Hiltermann, was killed by the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Islam in 2003.9 Mushir’s work should be translated into English to broaden its audience. One journalist in particular researched the Halabja attacks: Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a long article for the New Yorker magazine after traveling to the region and interviewing survivors fourteen years after the event.10 His sympathetic account, published in 2002, was quoted at length in the State Department’s 2003 report. He uses Halabja, the long-term health affects experienced by survivors, the Anfal, and the alleged al Qaeda connection to argue in favor of regime change. Despite his bias, the quotes from dozens of Kurds add to the written record about Halabja and the Anfal campaign. Several human rights reports include sections on Halabja but have not enjoyed a wide audience. Especially pertinent is one by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled Iraq’s Crime of Genocide: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (1995). Based on hundreds of interviews with Kurdish refugees, archeological evidence from mass grave exhumations, and the translation and analysis of tons of captured Iraqi secret police documents obtained after the 1991 Gulf War and Operation Provide Comfort when Western observers had unprecedented access to Iraqi Kurdistan. Based on these documents, HRW argues that “unequivocal evidence of Iraq’s repeated use of chemical weapons against the Kurds” exists and that this evidence is “sufficiently strong to prove [HRW’s] case against the Iraqi government as having the clear intent of committing genocide—in keeping with the language of the Genocide Convention of 1951.”11 Dozens
Shawqat Haji Mushir, Karasati Kimiabarani Halabja bi Hari 1988 (The Sad Events of the Chemical Bombing in Halabja in the Spring of 1988) (Suleimaniyeh: 1998). 10 Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Great Terror: Saddam Hussein Against the Kurds,” The New Yorker, 25 March 2002. 11 Human Rights Watch/Middle East Watch, Iraq’s Crime of Genocide: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 232. My study will not dwell on the question of whether or not the Iraqi regime was guilty of genocide, which is comprehensively covered by Samantha Power in “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2002). The
of the Iraqi secret police documents are featured in the original Arabic side-by-side with their English translations. This report provides a wealth of useful testimonies and background on the Ba‘athist regime framed around the objective of building a compelling case for subsequent war crimes prosecution. Other sources that refer to Halabja include Middle East analyst David McDowall’s A Modern History of the Kurds (2005) which remains the single most comprehensive history of the Kurds found in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the former Soviet Union; foreign correspondent Jonathan C. Randal’s After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? My Encounters with Kurdistan (1997), which traces his journey to the region in 1991; and former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Peter Galbraith’s The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End (2006) which discusses Halabja based on interviews with survivors conducted three years after the attacks took place.12 Writer/traveler Christiane Bird’s A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan (2004) discusses Halabja with particular emphasis on the longterm health effects on survivors, medical as well as psychological. Journalist Kevin McKiernan, in The Kurds: A People in Search of their Homeland (2006), assesses the lack of accountability for companies who sold the chemicals to Saddam Hussein’s regime which were used on the Kurds. Photographer Susan Meiselas, who encountered the Kurds for the first time when photographing skeletal remains at mass gravesite exhumations for
story of how the secret documents were obtained, written by then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Peter Galbraith, is itself fascinating and dramatic. See U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Saddam’s Documents: A Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1992). 12 David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 3rd revised edition, (London: I. B. Taurus, 2005); Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? My Encounters with Kurdistan, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997); and Peter Galbraith, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Middle East Watch in 1991, has attempted to create a virtual Kurdish archive in book form and on the Web. Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997), cowritten with social anthropologist Martin van Bruinessen, features hundreds of photographs and excerpts from primary source material on the Kurds presented in a collage format. (She has also created a virtual Kurdish archive online.) Meiselas felt a special responsibility to acquire and preserve photographs from the Kurdish diaspora after her particularly intimate encounters with Kurds mourning their murdered relatives. One photograph (see Appendix 1) portrays a scene that has become iconic for its depiction of a man, Omar Hama Saleh, lying face down on the street, clasping an infant in his arms, both overcome by the poison gas that rained down on 16 March 1988.13 Finally, three other sources reveal in their own distinctive ways aspects of the Halabja attacks. The Iranian government’s War Information Headquarters produced a graphic and emotional report of the attacks within weeks after they occurred, taking full advantage of the incident’s propaganda value in the context of the waning months of their brutal eight-year-long war with Iraq. Iran had been petitioning the United Nations especially to take more vigorous action against Iraq for its repeated use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers. While the report’s text is dubious (religious zeal is attributed to the Kurds who welcomed the Iranian troops entering the town just prior to the chemical weapons attack), the photographs are useful for preserving a record of the hundreds of corpses lying in the street and the journalists who videotaped and photographed them in their frozen state.14
Christiane Bird, A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan (New York: Random House, 2004); Kevin McKiernan, The Kurds: A People in Search of Their Homeland (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006); and Susan Meiselas and Martin van Bruinessen, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (New York: Random House, 1997). 14 Islamic Republic of Iran, Supreme Defense Council, Bloody Friday: Chemical Massacre of the People of Halabja by the Iraqi Regime. (Tehran, Iran: War Information Headquarters, 1988). See Appendix 6 for two
Writer Mike Tucker, a retired Marine infantryman with a special operations background, advocates openly for an independent Kurdistan and interviewed dozens of Kurdish guerrillas known as peshmerga (“those who face death”) in Hell Is Over: Voices of the Kurds after Saddam. Their recollections preserve more of a collective memory, since they did not actually witness the attacks on Halabja itself. Kanan Makiya, author of Republic of Fear: The Inside Story of Saddam’s Iraq (1989), published under the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil, wrote an article on the Anfal which focused on the eyewitnesses of the atrocities at Goptapa in May 1988 two months after Halabja. An Iraqi Arab whose family left Iraq in 1972 because his father’s name appeared on a Ba‘athist Party list, Makiya has seen the captured secret police documents and listened to the audiotapes of Ali Hassan al-Majid (Secretary General of the Ba‘ath Party’s Northern Bureau, dubbed “Chemical Ali” by the Kurds). Makiya questions why so much attention has focused on the hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed during the creation of the state of Israel while so little scrutiny has fallen on the thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed by an Arab regime during the Anfal.15 There are sporadic mentions of Halabja in other works, but only in passing. In time, as the Kurdish question of autonomy versus independence becomes more pressing, more book-length historical works will certainly appear, written by Americans who are gradually becoming more familiar with the Kurds, and by Kurds themselves, as their society experiences the benefits of economic development and as literacy rates continue to rise.
photographs from this report. 15 Mike Tucker, Hell Is Over: Voices of the Kurds after Saddam (Guilford, Conn.: The Lyons Press, 2004); Samir al-Khalil, Republic of Fear: The Inside Story of Saddam’s Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989); Kanan Makiya, “The Anfal: Uncovering an Iraqi Campaign to Exterminate the Kurds,” Harper’s Magazine, May, 1992, vol. 284, no. 1704; and Kanan Makiya, Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1993).
The story of Halabja begins in chapter two with a brief history of the Kurds paying particular attention to their contentious relationship with Baghdad and onagain/off-again relationship with the Americans. I also detail the nature of the Ba‘athist regime under Saddam Hussein as well as Iraq’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds. In chapter three the story of the chemical weapons attacks on Halabja is told with emphasis on the experiences of Kurdish civilians, especially women and children, for whom the label “dissident” or “insurgent” seems most inappropriate. Chapter four covers the reaction by the media, the U.S. government, and the United Nations, as well as a brief mention of the response from officials within the Arab/Islamic world and other actors. Chapter five investigates issues of accountability: what international laws were violated, what companies sold Iraq chemical weapons or the means to make them, who or what entities have thus far been held accountable, and finally, what long-term impacts have Kurdish survivors experienced and how do they recall the Halabja attacks today. Finally, my conclusion, in chapter six, discusses implications for international law and human rights that can be drawn from the chemical weapons attacks on Halabja on 16 March 1988 and the world’s reaction to them.
Chapter 2: Background to Halabja “Let no one say that the Kurds are dead; the Kurds are still alive; never shall our flag be lowered!” — from the poem “Ey Raqib!” and the refrain to the national anthem of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds.16 Who are the Kurds? And why would Saddam Hussein and the Ba‘athist Iraqi government target them with such brutality? What is the Anfal campaign, and were the chemical weapons attacks on Halabja in 1988 part of it? This chapter will address these questions by looking at a short history of the Kurds, the nature of the Ba‘athist regime, and a description of the Anfal in order to place Halabja into its proper context.
A Brief History of the Kurds Kurds are often defined in the negative. They are not Arab, Turks or Persians— their neighbors who outnumber them. They do not have their own nation-state and are frequently called the world’s largest group of people without a homeland. They number approximately 25 million in the Middle East, but that is not a precise number because the countries in which they live have no interest in gauging an accurate population census of their defiant and sometimes rebellious minority.17 Geography and language play key roles in assessing an ethnic group’s distinctiveness. The Kurds are currently divided among four countries: approximately
Quoted in Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, 374. Raqib is Kurdish for enemies. This brief history of the Kurds relies largely on three sources: Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, Shaikh and State: The Social and Political Structures of Kurdistan (London: Zed Books, 1992); McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds; and Denise Natali, The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2005). For a feminist analysis of the Kurds, see Shahrzad Mojab, ed., Women of a Non-State Nation: The Kurds (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2001). For an ethnographic study of Kurdish women in the 1960s, see Henny Harald Hansen, The Kurdish Woman’s Life: Field Research in a Muslim Society, Iraq, Ethnografiske Kaekke no. 7 (Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet, 1961.)
half of all Kurds, 13 million, live in Turkey (comprising approximately 23 percent of Turkey’s population but, with double the Turks’ reproductive rate, a number that will certainly increase); about 5 million live in Iran; another 4 million reside in Iraq; and 1 million are in Syria. Half a million live in the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan and another half million live in Europe, mostly in Germany. Kurdistan (land of the Kurds), an imagined community if ever there was one, straddles these four West Asian nation-states. The name is not officially on maps but is a powerful image in the hearts and minds of Kurds (for a map of Kurdistan, see Appendix 2). The Kurds speak Kurdish, a language that is further divided into two groups: Kurds residing in Turkey (sometimes referred to as northern Kurdistan), Syria and the former Soviet republics generally speak Kurmanji, while Kurds residing in Iraq and Iran speak Sorani. In addition to these two overall language groups are dozens of dialects; furthermore, Kurds use three different scripts (Latin in Turkey, Arabic in Iraq and Iran, and Cyrillic in the former Soviet republics). Hence, one factor that would facilitate a nationalist movement—a people sharing one language—is somewhat more complicated in the case of the Kurds. Kurdish identity is also splintered because of the divisive nature of their tribal tradition. While the tribes’ influence on Kurdish society has diminished over the twentieth century due to state policies and economic changes over time, tribal leaders continue to hold a measure of authority especially in the context of village life. Identity is closely linked to the land and in particular the mountains, even among town-dwelling Kurds (the majority of Iraqi Kurds). A common saying is that the Kurds have “no friends but the mountains;” in fact, the remote and rugged ranges have provided many a safe
haven for the peshmerga. These mountains separated the Kurds from their more powerful neighbors—making assimilation, control, and tax collection difficult for ruling empires— and fostered the development of a distinct culture. Origin myths are another window into a people’s identity, and the Kurds tell several. One says the Kurds are descended from children who hid in the mountains to escape the child-eating monster Zahhak; another depicts them as offspring of King Solomon’s slave girls, fathered by the demon Jasad, who also fled to the mountains to escape from the angry king. A third claims that the prophet Abraham’s wife Sarah was a Kurd.18 The majority of Kurds are probably descended from Indo-European tribes that migrated westward across Iran during the second millennium BCE. The first recorded mention of the Kurds, as “Cyrtii,” occurred in the second century BCE and referred to mercenary fighters from the Zagros mountains.19 Traditionally semi-nomadic for centuries, Kurds in rural areas were known to change their residence twice a year, oscillating back and forth between the mountain pastures during summer and the plains during winter, their lifestyle dictated by the needs of the sheep and goats they tended. Farmers raised crops such as grains, cotton and tobacco but frequently did not own the land they tilled. In terms of religion, the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim; a small minority are Shi‘a Muslim, Christians and Jews. Before the Islamic conquest many Kurds were Zoroastrians; a small segment called the Yezidis remain today whose religion combines elements of the monotheistic faiths with Zoroastrian rituals.
McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 4. Another story of the origins of the Kurds claims they are the offspring of Alexander the Great’s soldiers who intermarried the local population on their way to India in the fourth century BCE. Interview, Firouz “Phil” Sabri, August 2002, Portland, Ore. 19 Ibid., 9.
One of the most famous Kurds and a celebrated hero for the Kurdish people was the twelfth-century victor over Richard the Lionhearted during the Crusades: Salah al Din (Saladin), who identified more as a fighter for Islam and founder of the Ayubbid dynasty than as Kurdish. Other luminaries from Kurdish history include the seventeenth-century poet Ahmad-i Khani whose poem Mem-u-Zin (Mem and Zin, often called the Kurdish Romeo and Juliet) celebrated for the first time the Kurds as a distinct group; he called them a “formidable yet oppressed people” cursed by their location between strong empires.20 Another is Sharaf Khan Bidlisi, author of the first history of the Kurds, the Sharafname, written in the late sixteenth century. His book tells the story of the rulers of Kurdistan from the perspective of a member of the elite.21 Kurds who have achieved legendary status more recently include a woman who lived in Halabja. We know details of the life of Adela Khanum, or Lady Adela, largely because of the writings of British traveler and political administrator Ely Bannister Soane.22 Adela Khanum (d. 1924) was born into an aristocratic Kurdish family in the principality of Ardalan, the major center of Kurdish culture in Iranian Kurdistan. She married Osman Pasha, head of the Jaf tribe in Halabja and set up her household in the Persian style with mansions and gardens around the turn of the century. After her husband died, she continued to lead, building a prison and instituting a court of justice of which she was president. She hired Soane as her scribe; probably due to his influence,
Ibid., 5. Sharaf Khan Bidlisi, Sharaf-name: Tarikh-e Mofassal-e Kordestan (Extensive History of Kurdistan), ed. Mohammed ‘Abbasi (Tehran: Ilmi Press, 1964). Cited in “The Making of Kurdish Identity: Pre-20th Century Historical and Literary Sources,” by Amir Hassanpour, in Abbas Vali, Essays on the Origins of Kurdish Nationalism, Kurdish Studies Series no. 4 (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2003). 22 See Ely B. Soane, To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise (London: John Murray, 1912).
Adela sided with the British during Shaikh Mahmud’s rebellion in 1919 (for a photograph of Lady Adela taken by Soane’s wife, see Appendix 3).23 Two other heralded Kurds are from a more recent time period. Margaret George, the most famous female peshmerga, fought alongside her father during the 1960s. Perhaps her religious status as an Assyrian Christian permitted her more freedom than Muslim women. Many male peshmerga carried a photograph of this “symbol of women’s participation in the Kurdish struggle” in their wallets. In the 1990s, Leyla Zana became a prominent figure and one of the most famous Turkish Kurds. Born in the Diyarbakir region of Turkey, Leyla married at age 14 Mehdi Zana, the local mayor, who was later imprisoned for political reasons. While he was in jail, Leyla, who could not read or write Turkish, taught herself enough to become the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991. She and other deputies were charged with separatism after speaking publicly in the Kurdish language, a crime for which she received a sentence of 15 years in prison. In 1996 she received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize. She was released in 2004 after ten years.24 In terms of their political history, the Kurds have consistently rebelled against strong central authority ever since Kurdistan was divided up by the Great Powers after World War I. This defiance played a critical role in Saddam Hussein’s treatment of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s. A discussion of the contexts for these rebellions helps to explain the contentious relationships the Kurds have experienced with the nation-states that have governed them.
Meiselas and van Bruinessen, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, 378. Ibid., 378, 381.
Under the Ottoman system, from the sixteenth century to mid-nineteenth century, the Kurds were permitted a significant measure of autonomy; in Persia, under the Safavid rulers, the Kurds also experienced a period of political stability compared to earlier more chaotic times (e.g., the Mongol invasions). This relative independence vanished with the end of the Ottoman Empire. Ironically, the closest the Kurds have come to forming their own nation-state occurred during this unstable period, and an American played a major role in that situation. In January 1918, while the Europeans anticipating victory were trying to figure out how to redraw the maps of the vanquished Ottoman lands among themselves, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued his famous Fourteen Points; the twelfth point is wellknown by most Kurds today: “The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.”25 This promise of autonomy, never fulfilled, has not been forgotten by the Kurds. Another key document in Kurdish history is the Treaty of Sèvres signed on 10 August 1920 between the Allies (largely Britain and France) and the virtual puppet government they installed in Istanbul while Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk, or father of the Turks) waited in the wings. Articles 62 and 64 of this treaty promised the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region which would have the right to vote for independence within one year if the League of Nations thought the Kurds were “capable of such independence” and further stipulated that the newly formed state would include the Mosul vilayet (present-day northern Iraq).26 But this treaty did not
Quoted in McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 115. Ibid., 136-7. To read the complete text of the Treaty of Sèvres, articles 62 and 64, see pp. 464-65.
reflect the facts on the ground. Turkey regrouped under Kemal’s military leadership during its war of independence, and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 trumped the promises made at Sèvres, dashing all realistic hopes for an independent Kurdistan for decades. Each decade since has seen armed Kurdish rebellion of some sort.27 Shaikh Mahmud Barzinji and his army rebelled against occupying British forces off and on between 1919 and 1931 in the Sulaimaniya region of Iraq. There were three rebellions in Turkey within a thirteen-year period. The first rebellion in the newly formed republic took place in 1925 under the leadership of a charismatic sufi, Shaikh Said. The Mount Ararat rebellion followed from 1928–30. In 1937 and 1938, the Turks crushed a rebellion at Dersim by burning villages, killing thousands, and deporting most survivors to western Turkey. After this pacification, Syria became the center for Kurdish nationalists from Turkey. In 1932, the British, in an attempt to crush another rebellion, ordered the RAF to bombard the “eccentric” religious leader Shaikh Ahmad of Barzan (Iraq), forcing him and his men to flee to the mountains. His younger brother, Mulla Mustafa, surrendered after hiding out for a year, and was exiled. Mulla Mustafa Barzani rebelled again from 1943–1945 and then fled to Iran, where he supported another Kurdish rebellion before being exiled to the Soviet Union. Iranian Kurds formed the short-lived Mahabad Republic in 1946, a Soviet-supported experiment for which the leaders were summarily hanged when Russian protection disappeared.28
For more on these rebellions, see Meiselas and van Bruinessen, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, 64, 118, 192, 240. 28 The Mahabad Republic was declared by Qazi Muhammad on 22 January 1946 and fell on 15 December 1946. He was hanged on 31 March 1947. Iranian government forces also responded to the secession by closing down the Kurdish printing press, banning the teaching of Kurdish, and burning all the Kurdishlanguage books they could get their hands on. McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 241-45. The first history of the Mahabad independence movement was written by U.S. ambassador William Eagleton, who served as American consul in Tabriz, Iran, from 1959-1961, and later retired to Taos, New Mexico. See
Mulla Mustafa Barzani then formed the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), an alliance between urban nationalists and tribal chieftains, although his leadership was largely symbolic due to his Soviet exile until he returned to Iraq in 1958. This was a watershed year for Iraq, when a military coup led by Col. Abdul Karim Qassem (prime minister from 1958–1963) and the Free Officers overthrew the Iraqi monarchy and established a military dictatorship (labeled a republic in name only, as elections were not held).29 The Kurdish Revolt of 1961–1963 followed shortly after, led by Mulla Mustafa Barzani, although clashes continued between peshmerga and government forces until 1970. It was into this context of perennial rebellion that the Ba‘ath Party took control in Iraq.30
The Ba‘ath Party in Iraq and Saddam Hussein The 1960s were turbulent in Iraq in terms of central government. Qassem was overthrown in 1963 and succeeded by the Arab nationalist Ba‘ath Party government, which in turn was overthrown within less than a year. Abdussalam Arif assumed the presidency until 1966; another coup put the Ba‘ath back into power in 1968.31
William Eagleton, The Kurdish Republic of 1946 (London: Oxford University Press, 1963). 29 William L. Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 2nd ed., (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000, 318. 30 While the rest of the story privileges the history of Iraqi Kurds, two other figures ought to be mentioned in the context of twentieth-century Kurdish rebellions. In Turkey, the Partiya Karkari Kurdistan or Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fought a rebellion against the Turkish government from 1984-1999 led by the now imprisoned Abd Allah (“Apo”) Ocalan. In Iran, the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) was led by Western-educated Abd al Rahman Qasimlu until his assassination by Iranian agents in Vienna in 1989. 31 For the general history of Iraq, see Phoebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq, 2nd ed., (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004); Charles Tripp, A History of Iraq, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and Marion Farouk-Sluglett and Peter Sluglett, Iraq Since 1958: from Revolution to Dictatorship (London: KPI Limited, 1987). For works focusing on the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime, see Makiya, [al-Khalil], Republic of Fear; and Makiya, Cruelty and Silence.
The Ba‘ath Party had changed in the five years it had been out of power. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr (Iraqi president from 1968–1979) dominated the leadership. In 1964 he had appointed a young relative, Saddam Hussein, as secretary to the Regional Command, and tasked him with reconstructing the party. That same year, yet another coup attempt put Saddam and al-Bakr in prison, the former for two years. When they resumed power, one aspect of Iraqi politics remained the same: the Iraqi people continued to be denied representation in government.32 The Ba‘ath Party ideology was a combination of Arab nationalism and its version of socialism (what van Bruinessen calls statism).33 Most of the members of the regime were army officers with a disproportionate percentage being Sunni Arab. The emergence of a “dictatorship demanding obedience and using violence on a scale unmatched in Iraq’s history” was not a radical break with the past but a continuation of prior methods and values but to a greater extreme.34 Saddam Hussein headed up a militia that controlled the streets of Baghdad; the civil service and officer corps were purged; and public hangings created a sense of intimidation and crisis. The new regime at first reached out to the Kurds. Saddam Hussein himself, an unlikely ambassador for peace, traveled to Kurdistan and thrust several sheets of blank paper in front of Mulla Mustafa Barzani and asked him to write down his demands, saying he would not leave until they had signed a mutually acceptable agreement. The Peace Accord was issued on 11 March 1970, but within less than a year the agreement collapsed, and the Ba‘ath attempted to assassinate Mulla Mustafa’s son Idris.35 Four years later, Baghdad extended another seeming olive branch by creating the Kurdish
Tripp, A History of Iraq, 189, 192. Meiselas and van Bruinessen, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, 240. 34 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 194. 35 For a list of the demands, see Appendix 4.
Autonomous Region in northern Iraq; however, the Autonomy Law of 1974 was sabotaged over a failure to come to terms over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, whose population is mixed between Kurds, Turkomanis, and Arabs. During this time, Mulla Mustafa began to find alliances outside of Iraq, among the Iranians, the Mossad (the Israeli secret intelligence service), and the CIA. This reliance on stronger but unreliable sources of support is a recurring theme in Kurdish history and one to which they are particularly vulnerable. American support via the Shah of Iran vanished, however, when Tehran and Baghdad signed the Algiers Agreement in 1975. In exchange for suspending all support for the Iraqi Kurds, Iran gained territorial concessions in the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had met with Mulla Mustafa Barzani in Tehran, later told critics that “covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”36 The suspension of U.S. aid to the Kurds is considered a moment of historic betrayal by many Kurds, added to the unfulfilled promises conveyed in Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Within weeks, more than 100,000 Kurds, fighters and their families fled from encroaching Iraqi forces, crossed into Iran and joined another 100,000 refugees that were already there.37 The Kurdish alliance with Iran would reemerge as a thorn in Baghdad’s side during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988). Saddam Hussein, who was born in the village of Tikrit, took over from al-Bakr in 1979 in characteristic strongman fashion. Two weeks after assuming the presidency, he announced the discovery of a plot against him and ordered the executions of twenty-two
This quote was made public when the Pike Report was leaked by Daniel Schorr to the Village Voice in 1975. U.S. President Gerald R. Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were accused of abandoning the Kurds and refusing to provide humanitarian aid, a charge to which Kissinger made his famous reply. Quoted in Meiselas and van Bruinessen, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, 279. 37 McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 338.
senior officials, five of whom were members of the Revolutionary Command Council.38 Up to 500 senior members of the party were executed soon after. Hussein proceeded to surround himself largely with provincial kinsmen from the Tikrit region.39 Thus, the Kurds were not the only segment of the Iraqi population to suffer under the Ba‘ath. Human rights reports, based on interviews and the writings of Iraqi exiles including Kanan Makiya, paint a chilling picture of life under Saddam Hussein. “Both the rule of the party and the cult of the leader [were] enforced by various secret police agencies, which instill[ed] the fear required to sustain the regime’s authority.”40 Those who refused to join the Party were reportedly banned from teaching or attending university and sometimes imprisoned. Members were forced to become secret informers. In 1979, all teachers who refused to join the Party were fired. 41 In 1986 a law was passed that made insulting the government or leader punishable with life imprisonment; if the insult was blatant, then the sentence was the death penalty. According to the U.S. State Department, currency exchanges were restricted and considered national security offenses with severe penalties.42 The government routinely used disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile to suppress dissent, whether it be from Kurds, or Sunni or Shi‘a Arabs. The State Department called Iraq’s human rights record “abysmal” in 1989, in reference to the preceding year.43 Iraq conducted secret courts, carried out collective punishments, and took out retribution against relatives. The death penalty was specified for “any person who
Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990), 50. Tripp, A History of Iraq, 222–24. 40 Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, 9. 41 Ibid., 11. 42 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988: Reports submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, and Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives by the Department of State (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1989), 1361. 43 Ibid., 1355.
propogates Zionist or Masonic principles or who joins or advocates membership of Zionist or Masonic institutions.”44 Freedom of the press was nonexistent. Few Western journalists had regular, unencumbered access to Iraq for nearly twenty years; the most talented writers and artists were co-opted by the state to produce propaganda and given housing and money in return. Freedom of movement was also severely restricted; not only was emigration banned but travel outside the country not permitted except for a favored few. Saddam Hussein liquidated senior officials within the regime and his major opponents: the Communists, the Shi‘a and the Kurds. Many Iraqi professionals, such as writers, journalists, teachers and doctors, were members of the Communist Party; according to exiles, the party was essentially wiped out between 1978–1980, as the Iraqi regime executed members in the thousands.45 One story conveys the regime’s extraordinary brutality to non-Kurds. A prominent Shi‘a family, the al-Hakim, was noted for its contributions in theology, law, medicine and science. Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, who had fled Iraq to Iran, made regular radio broadcasts from Tehran calling for Iraqi Shi‘i to rise up against the regime in Baghdad. In May 1983, between eighty to ninety male members of the al-Hakim family, aged 9 to 80, were arrested and executed in front of Mohammed Hussein alHakim, who was then sent to Tehran to warn if the activities did not cease, the other family members would be executed as well. He was then told to return to Baghdad or his three sons would be killed. He went insane and died in Tehran. The Iraqi government killed his three sons and seven others on 5 March 1985.46
Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, 28. Ibid., 52. 46 Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, 52-53.
It was within such a repressive context that the Anfal campaign was launched against the Kurds from 1987–1988. The United States would not come to their aid for fear of undermining NATO ally Turkey, which was faced with its own Kurdish insurgency in the form of the Partiya Karkari Kurdistan or Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The United Nations was not a realistic forum for Kurdish pleas, as Kurdistan is not a sovereign nation-state. Iraqi Kurds, perversely, were represented at the UN by the Iraqi (Arab) ambassador, who could hardly be expected to advocate on their behalf. The Kurds were on their own.
The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds47 The rebellious nature of Iraqi Kurdish leaders and peshmerga played a critical role during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980–1988. The war began when Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, right after abrogating the Algiers Agreement and claiming the Shatt alArab waterway between the two countries as entirely under Iraqi sovereignty.48 KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) peshmerga, under the leadership of Masud Barzani (Mulla Mustafa’s son) and Jalal Talabani, respectively, allied with Iranian forces off and on during the eight-year war, drawing Iraqi military forces away from the key front in the south near Basra. In 1983, for example, KDP units aided Iranian troops in the capture of the border town of Haj Omran. Saddam Hussein’s retribution came in the form of the abduction of between 5,000 and 8,000 Barzani males aged 12 and over; they have never been seen again and are believed to have been transported to the south of the country,
The most authoritative source on the Anfal and prelude to Anfal are the reports by Middle East Watch, which were based on over three hundred interviews with survivors and analysis of 14 tons of Iraqi documents brought to the United States under the auspices of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1992. This short synopsis on the Anfal relies on Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993). 48 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 233.
executed, and buried in mass graves. In 1986 the PUK made a formal political agreement with Tehran after negotiations with Saddam collapsed. In March of 1987, Saddam Hussein granted his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, the secretary general of the Northern Bureau of the Ba‘ath Party, special powers to deal with the Kurds. To quote al-Majid, or “Chemical Ali” as he is known to the Kurds, his objective was to “solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs.”49 The Iraqi regime employed dozens of euphemisms in its written documentation; saboteurs was the term for Kurdish guerrillas (peshmerga) and civilian sympathizers, although, as we shall see, even young children, obviously unable to express a political point of view, were lumped together with dissidents under this term. Al-Majid spent two years, 1987-1989, focused on this task. The Anfal campaign was just the final operation during this period. The broader campaign against the Kurds, which Middle East Watch and other observers, including the Iraqi High Tribunal (see chapter 5), have called genocide, included the following human rights violations: • mass summary disappearances and executions of between 50,000 and 100,000 non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children and sometimes entire populations of villages • widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB or Sarin, against more than 40 Kurdish villages, killing thousands of civilians, especially women and children • the destruction (using bulldozers and teams of engineers who painstakingly dismantled electrical wiring and other infrastructure to erase any hint a community had prior existed) of more than 2,000 villages and at least a dozen towns in Iraqi Kurdistan,
Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq, 4.
referred to in Iraqi documents as having been “burned,” “destroyed,” “demolished” and most chillingly, “purified” • the systematic destruction of civilian structures by Army engineers, including all schools, mosques, wells, and electricity substations in targeted villages • looting of civilian property and livestock on a vast scale by Army troops and pro-government militia • arbitrary arrest of all persons found in the designated “prohibited areas” (manateq al-mahdoureh), despite the fact they were on their own land • arbitrary jailing and warehousing, under conditions of extreme deprivation (little food, water, shelter, or clothing), of tens of thousands of women, children, and the elderly, without charge or cause other than their presumed sympathies for the Kurdish opposition, many of whom died of malnutrition and disease • forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of villagers who were trucked to government settlements without provision for housing, clothing or food, and forbidden to return to where their villages stood under penalty of death.50 This two-year effort by al-Majid included “shoot-on-sight” orders to kill any human being or animal found in the “prohibited areas,” an expansive swath of Iraqi Kurdistan.51 In essence he emptied the Kurdish countryside and ethnically cleansed rural Kurdistan in addition to targeting some Kurdish towns. His reign of terror culminated in the six-month long Anfal campaign, which took place between 23 February 1988 and 6 September 1988.
Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq, 4–5. Middle East Watch, Bureacracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its Own Words (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1994), 68–69.
“Anfal” was the code word used by the Iraqi military for a specific series of military actions during 1988. Before the Iraqi government used the term in this twisted way, Muslims knew “Al Anfal” as the name of the eighth sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, meaning “the spoils of war.” Verse one reads: They ask you (O Muhammad) about (things taken as) spoils of war. Say: “(Such) spoils (of war) are for Allah and the Messenger (Muhammad): So fear Allah, and settle the differences between yourselves (with fairness): Obey Allah and His Prophet (Muhammad), if you do believe.”52 One interpretation of this passage says that “booty taken in battle should never be our aim in war” and that no soldier has an inherent right to it. Further, booty belongs to God, or the community or the cause, and there should be no disputes about its division, as they interfere with “internal discipline and harmony.”53 The passage is meant to promote good relations among the Muslim community and to reduce friction based on greed for material possessions. The application of a traditionally religious concept to the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Kurds and genocidal campaign against unarmed civilians and seeing human beings as mere booty to be divided up among the vastly better armed Iraqi armed forces, is seen as particularly perverse and an abuse of the Qur’an to many observers. The Anfal campaign had eight stages. The First Anfal (23 February 1988 to 19 March 1988) targeted the Jafati valley (named after the Jaf tribe) near the Dukan Lake dam northwest of Suleimaniyeh, and included the siege of Sergalou (“upper valley” in Sorani Kurdish) and Bergalou (“lower valley”). Iraqi Defense Ministry orders from 23 February refer to a Revolutionary Command Council decree to begin “village
Interpretation of the Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an: A Simplified Translation for Young People, trans. Dr. Syed Vickar Ahamed, (Elhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc., 2003), 153. 53 A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary (Brentwood, Md.: Amana Corp., 1983), 414.
purification.” PUK peshmerga were in the area, but both guerrillas and civilian villagers were targeted with chemical weapons. One PUK fighter recalled, There were thousands of people, many living in tents. I myself was injured, my face became black and my skin was painful. I had trouble breathing. But these were mild symptoms; others who were closer to the point of impact had severe blisters. Some men suffered from swollen testicles. The number of casualties is unclear; a PUK commander estimates that 28 people were killed and 300 wounded.54 The Second Anfal took place between 22 March 1988 and 1 April 1988, a mere three days after the First Anfal terminated. This stage targeted the nahya (district) of Qara Dagh, a thin line of jagged mountains flanked by lowlands south of Suleimaniya. Qara Dagh was fertile country; small farms grew winter wheat, barley, tobacco, rice, okra, peas, green beans, tomatoes, melons and grapes. But the beauty and bounty of the land did not protect the Kurds who lived and farmed there. Chemical weapons were fired from rajima (truck-mounted artillery), herding the fleeing villagers and peshmerga into the arms of troops as well as jahsh. Literally translated as “donkey foal,” jahsh was the term used by Kurds for members of the pro-government Kurdish militia whom the Iraqis called the fursan. These troops oscillated between collaboration and defiance— sometimes following orders and implementing anti-Kurdish measures in exchange for the license to loot and other opportunities for material gain, and other times coming to the aid of their fellow Kurds.55 This second stage saw the first use of mass disappearance of people who were captured or surrendered. A pattern began to emerge of the disappearance of teenage boys and adult men; this stage also included the disappearance, especially from Germian, of
Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq, 97, 99. Ibid., 162.
women and children, including nursing infants. Eighty villages across Qara Dagh lost hundreds of people. An eighteen-year-old young man named Akram, from Omer Qala, was suspicious of the promises made by the army to his fellow villagers that nothing would happen to those who surrendered. He hid in a barrel and watched; the five hundred who gave themselves up were taken away and never seen again. Akram survived.56 Germian (“warm country”) was the focus of the Third Anfal, from 7 April 1988 to 20 April 1988 (only six days after the second stage). It is a large plain in the southern part of Iraqi Kurdistan, close to Iraq’s Arab heartland. Captured cables, in a folder called “The File on the Third Anfal Operation (Qader Karam sector), April 9, 1988,” describe 120 villages “stormed and demolished” or “burned and destroyed.” The intention was to “wipe out all vestiges of human settlement,” according to Middle East Watch.57 Aisha, a pregnant 20-year-old woman from a village called Sheikh Hamid, recognized that chemical weapons had been used when she saw “a lot of dead goats and cows and birds.” Unable to find her husband, Aisha fled to the hills with her children. She hid with others in a cave; that night she gave birth but had no covering for the newborn. She stayed there, without food, for three days before venturing out, leaving the baby behind. She was quickly spotted and captured by the jahsh. 58 Fleeing civilians like Aisha were channeled by Iraqi army troops toward designated collection points by blocking all other means of escape. Others surrendered, believing announcements they heard over loudspeakers that males who turned themselves
Ibid., 123–24. Captured Iraqi documents reveal an array of euphemisms used during the Anfal. Chemical weapons were referred to as “special ammunition” or “special measures.” Other stock phrases whose meaning was clear to all include “prohibited areas” which meant areas under rebel control, and “agents of Iran,” which meant PUK guerrillas. Ibid., 132, 246. 58 Unlike many others from her area, Aisha survived Anfal and was even reunited with her newborn. She lost her husband, three brothers and twelve other members of her family in the Anfal. Ibid., 135–36.
in would only be required to serve in the jahsh for one year. Men and women were separated and taken by trucks to collection centers. Thousands were taken to Qoratu, the notorious fort where prisoners were kept on starvation diets. Another destination was Chamchamal, where residents watching fellow Kurds being herded off trucks staged a spontaneous revolt to liberate the detainees. Townspeople threw stones at the trucks and smashed the windows. Several dozen people escaped; however, the Amn (security police) tracked many of them down, executed them publicly, and made family members pay for the cost of the bullets before they could recover the bodies for burial. Middle East Watch estimates that at least 200 villages were destroyed and 10,000 Kurds disappeared from this area alone. The Fourth Anfal, from 3 May 1988 to 8 May 1988, focused on the Lesser Zab river valley (Nahr al-Zab-al-Saghir) southeast of Erbil (increasingly known as Hawler, the city’s original Kurdish name). Iraqi troops were in high spirits, as a major battle of the Iran-Iraq war in the south on April 17–18 had enabled Iraq to recapture the strategic Fao peninsula from the Iranians (a victory clinched by the extensive use of chemical weapons).59 Iraqi Air Force MIG fighters dropped chemical bombs on Askar and Goktapa, killing 300 Kurds at the latter village. Nasrin, the 40-year-old daughter-in-law of Goktapa’s leader, Abd-al-Qader Abdullah Askari, remembered what peshmerga had told her in case of a chemical attack: head for the river and cover your face with a wet cloth. She ran to the Lesser Zab river with seven of her eight children (her eldest daughter, who ran in a different direction, was arrested and disappeared). With towels to
Up to 10,000 Iranian troops died in this offensive alone, making it the deadliest of the war. For a firsthand perspective on the aftermath of this battle, see Rick Francona, Ally to Adversary: An Eyewitness Account of Iraq’s Fall from Grace (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999). For references to the decisive role gas played in this battle, see Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 138; Francona, Ally to Adversary, 23; and Robert S. Greenberger, “Iraq Opened Dangerous Pandora’s Box by Using Chemicals in War With Iran,” Wall Street Journal, 1 August 1988.
their faces, they saw one bomb land in the water and dead fish rise to the surface; they survived. One document from the Army’s First Corps, a daily field report dated 6 May 1988, gives an indication of how many of those captured were women and children: 37 were “saboteurs,” presumably peshmerga, while the civilians included 60 men, 129 women and 396 children. As villagers were rounded up and and their money and identity documents confiscated, one jahsh protested loudly. In response, “[a]n angry military officer … told him, ‘These people are heading toward death, they cannot take money or gold with them. The law of the state says they are going to die.’”60 Not all were captured. Fifty villagers from Darmanaw hid for twelve days in a cave, eating wild grasses. Hunger drove them to the town of Taqtaq, where they were helped by locals and huddled in the chicken sheds of a poultry farm. The army never found them. Some of those captured in this stage were taken temporarily to a livestock pen or corral. As a convoy of trucks arrived, one jahsh whispered to an eleven-year-old boy named Osman and his sister, “‘Take a chance, there are no soldiers here, run away. If anyone asks you where you are from, tell them Taqtaq.’” Anfal, after all, targeted rural Kurdistan, so being from a town would, according to strict “bureaucratic logic,” offer one immunity.61 The siblings escaped with the help of another jahsh but lost their parents, two brothers and three sisters, the youngest only three years old. The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Anfals, consisting of an assault and two follow-up maneuvers over the same areas, occurred from 15 May 1988 to 26 August 1988.
Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq, 180. Ibid., 189.
Described as akin to a car’s windshield wiper motion, moving back and forth, Iraqi troops “purified” the countryside between and including Rawanduz and Shaqlawa in the Balisan valley northeast of Erbil (Hawler). These “clean-up” operations yielded much lower numbers of people captured, as the population by that time had dramatically thinned. One man from Hartal recalled walking through the nearby village of Wara just after the May 15 chemical weapons attack: As soon as we arrived we saw four or five people in the orchard on the hillside. They were obviously dying. … When we reached the center of the village, we saw that the place was a mess. Food was still on the stoves. There were animals lying all around, dead or dying, and we could hear their screams.62 In the early afternoon of May 23, waves of aircraft dropped chemical bombs on the Balisan and Hiran valleys. By this time, the attacks were so frequent that the peshmerga lost count of them. As survivors were taken into custody, the bureaucratic and methodical nature of the Anfal is evident from another handwritten Amn field report which stated, “On the night of June 2–3, thirty families from the village of Lower Bileh were received by the military command of FQ 45. They were counted and surveyed by us. We will presently send you lists of their names, addresses and birth dates.” No one was to be “anfalized” until his or her personal data had been recorded.63 One progress report from the Suleimaniyah governate to the regional security director at Kirkuk refers to the processing of Kurds which reached an industrial level at the two-square-mile large army base called Topzawa. Nine criminal subversives executed, along with eighteen members of their families, as ordered by Ali Hassan al-Majid’s office; another nineteen people executed for being found in prohibited areas, in violation of directive no. 4008 of June 20, 1987; another forty-seven subversives sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court; and 2,532 individuals and 1,869 families totaling 9,030
Ibid., 196. Ibid., 199–200.
persons, who were among those arrested during the heroic Anfal operations, were sent [to Topzawa].64 Other elements of the Iraqi army, meanwhile, were busy destroying all signs that villages had once stood where now there was only rubble. Refugees who returned in 1991 saw that “everything had been destroyed, exploded by dynamite; even the pipes were taken that brought the water from the spring.”65 All signs of life, including the beehives, had vanished. The poplar trees, which had been used for roofing, had been cut down. The cemetery was dug up and corpses removed, recalled one relative. The Sixth and Seventh Anfal experienced some delays, perhaps due to the visit to Washington, D.C., of PUK leader Jalal Talabani, who met with mid-level State Department personnel.66 Saddam Hussein himself ordered that these campaigns resume with “high momentum.”67 In July, the peshmerga were alarmed by reports that Iran was considering accepting the ceasefire presented by UN Security Council Resolution 598. This unilateral decision to end the fighting was a breach of the PUK’s agreement with Tehran and threatened to leave the Kurds even more vulnerable, as Iraq could devote more troops and resources to the campaigns in the Kurdistan region. On August 8 the Iranians accepted Saddam Hussein’s terms for the ceasefire, and hardly a day went by for the next several weeks without more chemical weapons attacks in the Balisan Valley. Preparations were in the works, under al-Majid’s direction, for the so-called Final Anfal. Two dates were selected: August 25 to “soften up” their targets with chemical weapons, followed on August 28 to follow up with ground troops.
Ibid., 210. Ibid., 202. 66 Ibid., 203; and Elaine Sciolino, “Kurdish Chief Gains Support In U.S. Visit,” New York Times, 22 June 1988, A3. 67 Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq, 205.
Whereas the first seven stages of the Anfal targeted peshmerga and civilians who lived in PUK-controlled areas, the eighth and Final Anfal, from 25 August 1988 to 6 September 1988, was aimed at Masud Barzani’s KDP-controlled areas in northwest Kurdistan bordering on Turkey called Badinan. 68 Refugees fleeing the chemical weapons attacks crossed into Turkey and attracted international attention for the first time during the Anfal (other than a brief period following the Halabja attack on 16 March 1988). Many contemporary observers believed the campaign against the Kurds commenced after the August 8 Iran-Iraq ceasefire, but the operations in Badinan were merely the last act of a brutal play that had started in February, six months earlier. Three Iraqi army divisions were redeployed from the southern front around Fao and Basra to Iraqi Kurdistan for the final push. The KDP leadership did not predict a massive chemical attack. One regional commander said, “After Halabja, we thought the international community would stop Saddam Hussein.”69 He was mistaken. Forty-nine villages were hit with mustard gas and nerve agents. Many Kurds, fleeing to the border, died not from the chemicals directly but from exposure, hunger, malnutrition, and disease acquired in the refugee camps. One particularly poignant episode concerns the bridge at Baluka over the fast-flowing Greater Zab river, only four miles from the Turkish border. Hundreds of villagers and their farm animals had converged on the bridge, fleeing the encroaching army in all directions. Warplanes appeared at 1 p.m. on August 25, dropping two chemical bombs on Baluka and several more over the river. A green cloud descended on the bridge, and piles of dead people and their livestock made the bridge impassable. Ground troops and jahsh (called
The captured Iraqi army documents refer to Masud Barzani, son of Mulla Mustafa Barzani, as “the offspring of treason.” Ibid., 262. 69 Ibid., 268.
chatta or “bandits” in this Kurmanji-speaking area) occupied the abandoned villages as tens of thousands of refugees headed for Turkey. The Iraqi Army tried but failed to close off access to the border, and approximately 70,000 made it across. Many who did not make it, especially males, were executed by firing squads at the point of capture. Fifth Corps commander Brigadier General Yunis Zareb proudly reported on the success of the Final Anfal to his superiors by listing his tally of the “saboteurs” taken into custody: “Saboteurs surrendered: 803; saboteurs captured: 771; men: 1,489; women: 3,368; and children: 6,964.”70 Although Kurdish leaders estimate that 182,000 people were killed during the Anfal, based on an extrapolation of the number of villages destroyed, al-Majid claimed famously that the number was no higher than 100,000, as if he did not want to take undue credit for exploits not actually achieved.71 Another often-quoted gem from the so-called Chemical Ali tapes reveals his dishearteningly accurate picture of the effectiveness of international law and institutions in terms of preventing genocidal campaigns like Anfal. I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them.72 By the end of the Anfal campaign, the Kurdish countryside had effectively been pacified and emptied of nearly all life. And no one had stopped Saddam Hussein from achieving this objective. But since it was a town, the worst single attack on Kurdish civilians at Halabja, which chronologically occurred during the first stage, was not
Zareb also listed the “plunder” obtained by jahsh: cattle, goats, rugs, mattresses and blankets, watches, cash and pieces of gold, picture albums, eating utensils, packets of powered milk and toothpaste.” He complimented the jahsh for their “good physical fitness, especially for mountain-climbing.” Ibid., 289. 71 Kurdish officials present at a meeting with al-Majid in 1991 report that, when they brought up the number killed during the Anfal as approximately 182,000, al-Majid jumped to his feet in rage, saying, “What is this exaggerated figure of 182,000? It couldn’t have been more than 100,000.” Ibid., 345. 72 Ibid., 349.
technically part of Anfal. Survivors of Halabja, for example, who were caught up in the Anfal dragnet were treated differently than other rural Kurds and often released by guards if they were discovered to be from Halabja. Many observers have speculated that, if the international community had intervened after Halabja in March, many of the victims of the subsequent stages of Anfal, from April to September, could have been spared.73
See Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 244, for one such example.
Chapter 3: Halabja: The Event What happened on 16 March 1988 at Halabja, during the first stage of the Anfal? How did it differ from other chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds? This chapter uses the stories of survivors to answer these questions. It mines clinical reports for short-term impacts on survivors and briefly explores the military context of the attack as well. Civilians bore the brunt of the attacks, since most of Halabja’s inhabitants were non-combatants (the peshmerga were outside the city). Residents were unprepared for a chemical assault and had little or no access to gas masks and/or atropine injections. Halabja also boasts the unwanted distinction of having the highest number of civilian fatalities (between 3,000-5,000 dead) and injuries (approximately 5,000 to 10,000 wounded) from chemical weapons in history. (World War I poison gas casualties were inflicted on the battlefield, and the 8,000 Iranian troops fatally gassed at the Fao Peninsula were also combatants.) But statistics only tell one part of the story. Individuals tend to get lost in the sea of numbers that is Halabja and Anfal. This chapter attempts to put names and personal experiences behind the numbing quantities that become difficult to comprehend after repeated telling.74
Nasreen’s Story “At about ten o’clock, maybe closer to ten-thirty, I saw the helicopter.” Nasreen Abdel Qadir Muhammad, a 16-year-old girl from Halabja, was outside preparing food for her family on the morning of 16 March 1988. “It was not attacking, though. There were men inside it, taking pictures. One had a regular camera, and the
For a list of the names and ages of civilian victims of the Halabja attacks compiled from UN and media sources, see Appendix 5.
other held what looked like a video camera. They were coming very close. Then they went away.”75 Nasreen had been married off by her father to her 30-year-old cousin, a local physician’s assistant named Bakhtiar Abdul Aziz, several months earlier. That morning she and her 15-year-old sister, Rangeen, were busy preparing food for the thirty or forty relatives who were sheltering in the cellar. They and other residents of Halabja were expecting an Iraqi counterattack at any moment on the city of approximately 70,000 people. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard (pasdaran) and peshmerga had attacked Iraqi positions just outside Halabja in the past couple of days, forcing Iraqi soldiers to retreat. The pasdaran had entered the city, celebrating their substantial territorial gains. Residents hid in cellars to seek protection from the artillery shells they were expecting. Although she thought the videotaping was strange, Nasreen was preoccupied with making lunch. The bombardment started around 11 a.m., and Nasreen rushed to the cellar. At 2 p.m. the bombing eased, and she went upstairs to get the food. “At the end of the bombing,” she said, “the sound changed. It wasn’t so loud. It was like pieces of metal just dropping without exploding. We didn’t know why it was so quiet.” She noticed a strange smell. “At first, it smelled bad, like garbage. And then it was a good smell, like sweet apples. Then like eggs.” She checked on the family’s pet partridge in its cage. “The bird was dying. It was on its side.” As she looked out the window, she saw more evidence of some invisible killer. “It was very quiet, but the animals were dying. The sheep and goats were dying.” She went back to the cellar, where she told the people something was “wrong with the air.”
Eyewitness accounts in this chapter are drawn from media, United Nations documents, and Middle East Watch reports. Nasreen Abdel Qadir Muhammad’s story was obtained by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg nearly fourteen years after these events took place. Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Great Terror: Saddam Hussein Against the Kurds,” New Yorker, 25 March 2002.
The people began to panic. They didn’t want to leave the shelter, but they knew they were getting sick. Nasreen felt a sharp, stabbing pain in her eyes. Rangeen looked closely at her eyes and said they were very red. Then children began vomiting continuously. “They were in so much pain, and crying so much. … My mother was crying. Then the old people started throwing up.” The poison gas, heavier than air, had clung to the ground and seeped down into the cellar, transforming the shelter into a gas chamber. Nasreen’s uncle said they should go outside. “We were getting red eyes, and some of us had liquid coming out of them. We decided to run.” She and some of her relatives tentatively emerged from their shelter. The first thing they saw was their cow, lying on its side and breathing heavily. “The leaves were falling off the trees, even though it was spring.” She saw the lingering killer. “There were smoke clouds around, clinging to the ground. … It was finding the wells and going down the wells.” They checked which way the wind was blowing and headed in the opposite direction. The children were too exhausted to walk after relentless vomiting episodes. “We carried them in our arms.” The family members were thirsty and wanted to wash their faces and those of the children but couldn’t decide whether the water was safe. “The children were crying for water. There was powder on the ground, white. … Some people drank the water from the well they were so thirsty.” Nasreen and her relatives ran in a panic toward Anab (a collective settlement to which the Iraqi Army had forced Kurds to relocate after destroying villages surrounding the city of Halabja in an earlier campaign against the Kurds). The Iraqi Air Force
continued to bomb the city while they were running. “People were showing different symptoms. One person touched some of the powder, and her skin started bubbling.” A truck driven by a neighbor pulled up alongside Nasreen and her relatives, and they piled into the back. “We saw people lying frozen on the ground. There was a small baby on the ground, away from her mother. I thought they were both sleeping. But she had dropped the baby and then died. And I think the baby tried to crawl away, but it died, too. It looked like everyone was sleeping.”76 Nasreen thought the truck would ensure an escape to higher ground and their survival. But suddenly, the truck driver pulled over and abandoned the vehicle and all the people on it, including his wife. “The driver said he couldn’t go on, and he wandered away. … He told us to flee if we could. The chemicals affected his brain, because why else would someone abandon his family?” Nasreen and the children who could walk continued up the road on foot. She wondered if her husband had survived the chemical bombardment. The scene on the road to Anab was one of chaos and confusion. She saw other children running for the hills and screaming that they were going blind. “The children were crying, ‘We can’t see! My eyes are bleeding!’” In the disoriented mass of people, the family became separated. Nasreen lost her mother and father and then, under the mind-altering affects from the poison gas, she inadvertently led her cousins and siblings in a circle, back into the city. Someone led them back out again up a hill to a small mosque where they sheltered, exhausted and hungry. “But we didn’t stay in the mosque, because we thought it would be a target.” They found a small house nearby and huddled there. Nasreen scrambled to find water and something to eat for herself and the children. It was night, and they were all exhausted.
For photographs of corpses lining the streets of Halabja taken by Iranian journalists days after the attacks, see Appendix 6.
Meanwhile, Nasreen’s husband, Bakhtiar, was frantically searching for his wife. “My plan was to bury her,” he said, fully expecting to find her dead. “At least I should bury my new wife.” He had scavenged two syringes of atropine, a drug that helps to counter the effects of nerve agents, from a local clinic. He injected himself with one and went looking for Nasreen. After hours of fruitless searching, some neighbors told him they had seen her and the children headed for the mosque on the hill. “I called out the name Nasreen,” Bakhtiar recalled. “I heard crying, and I went inside the house. When I got there, I found that Nasreen was alive but blind. Everybody was blind.” Nasreen had lost her sight an hour or so before Bakhtiar found her. She was searching for food for the children when she became blind. “I found some milk and I felt my way to them and then I found their mouths and gave them milk,” she said. Bakhtiar tried to wash the chemicals off the children. “I wanted to bring them to the well. I washed their heads. I took them two by two and washed their heads.” But this simple task was difficult, as the chemicals had affected the children’s motor skills. “Some of them couldn’t come. They couldn’t control their muscles.” Having one syringe left of atropine, Bakhtiar decided to give it to the person who was most heavily overcome by chemicals, one of his neighbors. “There was a woman named Asme. … She was not able to breathe. She was yelling and she was running into a wall, crashing her head into a wall. I gave the atropine to this woman.” But Asme died soon thereafter, and Bakhtiar wonders if he made the right choice. “I could have used it for Nasreen.” After the bombardment, Iranian troops reentered the city from the border eleven miles away to occupy the area and provide humanitarian aid to the Iraqi Kurds, their
intermittent allies in the Iraq-Iran War. They buried thousands of deceased victims and evacuated survivors to hospitals and clinics in Iran. Nasreen and other members of her family were treated at a hospital in Tehran.
Other Survivors’ Stories In the Julakan neighborhood of Halabja, or Jewish quarter, a middle-aged man named Muhammad came up from his cellar and saw something unusual.77 “A helicopter had come back to the town, and the soldiers were throwing white pieces of paper out the side.” Later, he realized they were measuring wind speed and direction so the chemical bombardment would more accurately hit its targets. 78 In the northern part of town, Nouri Hama Ali, like Nasreen, decided to lead his family to Anab. “On the road to Anab, many of the women and children began to die,” he remembered. “The chemical clouds were on the ground. They were heavy. We could see them.” Children who could not continue were abandoned by hysterical parents too afraid to stay behind. “Many children were left on the ground, by the side of the road. Old people as well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die,” he said. Near the Julakan neighborhood, a twenty-year-old young man named Awat Omer was overwhelmed by the smell of garlic and apples. He and his family were trapped in their cellar as clouds of gas smothered the city. His brother began to laugh uncontrollably, took off all his clothes and died soon after. As night fell, the children became too sick to move.
Halabja’s Jewish community emigrated to Israel in the mid-1950s. The stories of Muhammad, Nouri Hama Ali, Awat Omer and Muhammad Ahmed Fattah, told to a journalist fourteen years later, are drawn from Goldberg, “The Great Terror.”
Muhammad Ahmed Fattah, another 20-year-old in a different neighborhood, was overwhelmed by an oddly sweet odor of sulfur. His family’s cellar was packed with 160 people. “I saw the bomb drop,” he recalled. “It was about thirty meters from the house. I shut the door to the cellar. There was shouting and crying in the cellar, and then people became short of breath.” His brother Salah’s eyes were pink, and something was oozing out of them. “He was so thirsty he was demanding water.” Others began to shake with tremors. March 16 was supposed to have been Muhammad’s wedding day. His fiancée, Bahar Jamal, was one of the first in the cellar to succumb to the gas. “She was crying very hard. I tried to calm her down. I told her it was just the usual artillery shells, but it didn’t smell the usual way weapons smelled.” Bahar knew she was dying. “She was smart, she knew what was happening. She died on the stairs. Her father tried to help her, but it was too late.” In the same cellar, Hamida Mahmoud tried to save her two-year-old daughter Dashneh by allowing her to nurse. She thought the child might not breathe in the gas if she were breastfeeding. Hamida died with Dashneh still at her breast. By the time Muhammad went outside, most of the people in the cellar were unconscious; his mother and father and three of his siblings were already dead. Jamila Abdullah, a 28-year-old elementary school teacher, said, “It was half past six in the afternoon and the Iraqis had already left the town. I was at home when I heard the explosion and then smelt the bad smell.”79 She placed a wet scarf over her face. Abdul Rahman, a sixty-year-old mosque employee, was found wandering about the deathly
Jamila Abdullah was interviewed by a journalist in a clinic in Bakhtaran, Iran, less than a week after the event. Nicholas Beeston, “Gas Victims Frozen in the Agony of Death,” The Times (London), 22 March 1988.
quiet streets of Halabja some five days after the attacks. “I do not know where my children are,” he lamented.80 Soman Mohammed, a 14-year-old boy, said he saw black jet fighters drop bombs which smelled like “weed killer.” He said he was in the center of town when the attacks came in the middle of the afternoon.81 Haj Ali Rasa, 50 years old, survived by hiding in his root cellar beneath his house. “There was no army here, just people,” he told a journalist. “The white clouds came from the Iraqi planes.”82 Mohamed Mahmoud Bharam, 35, said a “sudden harsh smell” made him fly out of his house and up into the hills as the chemical attacks began. Mustard gas penetrated through his clothes, burning all over like “scalding water.” He lost consciousness and was later taken to an Iranian hospital.83 Aras Abed was in the hospital when the attacks took place. His parents and twelve brothers and sisters all died when warplanes dropped chemical bombs on Halabja. He found their bodies the day after the attack in an underground shelter. “I screamed,” he remembered, “but there was no one left to hear me.”84 Testimonials from survivors like those above help to flesh out the personal impact the attacks had on individual people. In addition, they form a record for potential subsequent prosecution and compensation, as well as fodder for historical analysis and the assessment of international law and institutions.
Ibid. Paul Koring, “High Civilian Toll in Iraqi Attack on City: Poison-Gas Victims Recall Bomb Horror,” The Globe and Mail (Canada), 22 March 1988. 82 Paul Koring, “Poison-Gas Attack Leaves City of Dead: At Least 4,000 Killed in Halabja,” The Globe and Mail (Canada), 24 March 1988. 83 John Bierman, “A Terrible Survival,” Maclean’s, 11 April 1988. 84 Caroline Hawley, “Halabja Survivors Seek Justice,” BBC News, 19 October 2005.
A Clinical Assessment Some of the survivors from the Halabja attacks were evacuated by Iranian troops to one of three hospitals in Tehran (Labbafi-Nejad Hospital, Baghiat Ullah Hospital, and Loghman-al-Doleh Hospital), the Mofatteh Convalescence Centre near Tehran, and the clinic at the Bakhtaran Reception and Monitoring Centre. Just over a week after the attacks, Dr. Manual Dominguez, under the auspices of the UN, examined seventy patients at these medical facilities and documented his findings in a report prepared for Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. The report’s appendix, “Summary Report on Patients Examined by the Medical Specialist with Relevant Clinical Data,” includes brief descriptions of the circumstances of the injuries as told by the patients and physical symptoms exhibited by them.85 Several patterns emerge from an analysis of Dominguez’s case notes. Some victims were very young—infants—making the labels “dissident” and/or “rebel,” which were often later applied to them, appear inaccurate and inappropriate. Several of the women were pregnant at the time of the attacks yet somehow managed to deliver healthy babies while convalescing. Out of 37 civilians examined, 21 were children, an indication of the indiscriminate nature of chemical weaponry. While some patients were in
United Nations, “Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict Between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq,” 25 April 1988, UN document no. S/19823/Add. 1. A colonel in the Spanish Army Medical Corps, Dominguez had been sent to Iran on four previous occasions (in 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987) by the UN Secretary General in order to investigate claims that Iraq had used chemical weapons. UN, “Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict Between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq,” 10 May 1988, UN document no. S/19823, pp. 2, 6. Dominguez examined soldiers as well as civilians; my focus will remain on his civilian patients. For an extensive and thorough analysis of the military nature of the Halabja attacks, from the Iraqi, Kurdish, and Iranian combatants’ points of view, see Joost Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
relatively good condition, exhibiting symptoms that did not appear to be life-threatening, others were struggling to breathe or were unconscious. The litany of horrific symptoms includes frequent reference to discoloration, inflammation and ulceration of the genitalia. The symptoms most commonly cited by Dominguez include: conjunctivitis (eye infection), bronchitis, laryngitis, scabs on lips, second-degree burn-like lesions, ulcerations, black-colored skin pigmentation, photophobia (light sensitivity), palpebral oedema (severe swelling of the eyelids), erythema (redness/inflammation of the skin) and leukopenia (low white blood cell count). Some examples from his case notes follow. The youngest victim examined by Dominguez (case no. A-57) was the unnamed, two-month-old son of another patient, Sabihe Ali. The report brusquely states: “On both buttocks there are lesions resembling second-degree burns. Genitalia slightly swollen without any abnormal pigmentation. Moderate tracheobronchitis.”86 The next youngest victim, a six-month-old female, was categorized as “unidentified child” and described as: “General condition good. Moderate conjunctivitis. On the right cheek there are remnants of a vesicle that has scabbed over. Surface of thorax up to 5 cm above navel exhibits brownish pigmentation.”87 In addition to these two infants were several toddlers. Two-year-old Taban Madhi’s case notes include one paragraph about the circumstances of the injuries (using language that is repeated throughout the report nearly verbatim) and another on her symptoms. While outside her home, she was exposed to the effects of a chemical agent from an aerial bomb. First symptom she complained about was a burning sensation over entire body.
UN, “Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict Between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq,” 25 April 1988, UN document no. S/19823/Add. 1, case nos. A-56, A-57, p. 29. 87 Ibid., case no. A-51, p. 26.
No perceptible conjunctivitis. Scabby lesions on face. Thorax shows darkening which becomes much deeper at the level of armpits and from the navel up to the upper third of thorax. From the naval down to the upper third of legs there are extensive ulcerations.88 Three-year-old Mahnaz Mohammad, a little girl, was in much worse shape, suffering from raw, exposed areas and a lung infection. General condition feeble. Slight conjunctivitis. Black scabs on face. Neck ulcerated. Right side of thorax and abdomen show brownish raw blotches. On side of left foot there is a deep ulcerous lesion. Genitalia not affected. Laryngitis. Aphonia [loss of voice]. Non-productive, continuous coughing. X-ray shows bilateral pneumonia.89 Four-year-old Ardalan (no last name listed), a small boy, had experienced “acute respiratory distress” requiring a tracheotomy.90 Conna Mohammed, a four-and-a-halfyear-old girl whose mother was “not affected” because she was on “the upper floor of their dwelling,” was faring somewhat better. While her general condition was described as “good,” she displayed darkened patches of skin across her chest, and her legs were red and covered with “scattered lesions resembling second-degree burns.”91 Injuries of others must have been quite extensive if Conna’s symptoms qualified her as being in “good” condition. Another unidentified child, aged four, was listed in good condition but with dark pigmented areas and lesions, one as large as 15 cm. His future was particularly uncertain, because Dominguez noted “his parents have died or are missing.”92 Three of the females examined were pregnant; one cannot help but notice how young many of these girls were and how many children they already had at such a tender
Ibid., case no. A-26, p. 14. Ibid., case no. A-10, p. 6. 90 Ibid., case no. A-52, p. 27. 91 Ibid., case no. A-48, p. 25. 92 Ibid., case no. A-31, p. 16.
age.93 One patient, 22-year-old Khadijeh Abdolrahim, is listed as having five children “whose whereabouts she does not know.”94 Marayam Mohammad Amin, aged 15, was four months pregnant when the attacks occurred and had four children, one of whom died “as a result of attack with chemical weapons.” The report continues to describe her plight: She does not know what has become of the other three [children]. When the air attack occurred, she went down to the basement of her home and came back up when she thought the danger was over. The first symptom she noticed was ocular irritation. She exhibited scabby lesions around her mouth and lower lip, had a fever for four days and suffered from leukopenia. The back of her hands were black, and her ankles were ulcerated. She had a moderate cough, aphonia and pruritus (itchiness) on both legs.95 A patient like Amin must have been in deep psychological shock from not knowing the location and condition of her family as well as obvious physical distress. Twenty-one-year-old Shamsi Mohamad experienced the loss of one child and the birth of another. “While inside her home, she was exposed to contents of bombs dropped by aircraft. She realized she had been affected when she started vomiting.” Dominguez dryly summarizes the emotional roller-coaster ride this woman must have been experiencing: This patient picked up one of her children (a two-year-old boy) and held him in her arms during the attack. The child has since died. She has given birth to a healthy infant at the Convalescence Centre. One wonders how this child and others in utero during the attacks fared later in terms of healthy childhood development. Mohamad, meanwhile, was in good condition after the
A combination of factors undoubtedly contributed to such a practice, including cultural traditions, low levels of education, and minimal access to reproductive health care. 94 Ibid., case no. A-17, p. 9. 95 Ibid., case no. A-8, p. 5.
delivery but exhibited lesions resembling second-degree burns with dark patches over her thorax, lesions and ulcerations on her toes, laryngitis and aphonia.96 Nasrin Mohammad, age 25, also delivered a healthy infant while at the centre; her only lingering symptoms after initial eye problems were an inflamed larynx and loss of voice.97 The tendency for chemical weapons to affect the genitalia is quite evident. A sixty-year-old man named Mohammad Karim Rascool displayed the following symptoms: Moderate conjunctivitis. Face and neck exhibit moderately black pigmentation. On back of right thigh and in bend of knee there are ulcerations resembling second-degree burns. Legs show darkening with ulcerations 5 cm wide and 7 cm long; there is another ulceration measuring 6 cm in diameter on left leg and another one measuring 4.5 cm on right leg. Scrotum is hugely swollen. Skin on penis has turned black. Swollen genitalia.98 As most of Dominguez’s observations are restrained, the occasional superlative practically leaps off the page. In other words, the inflammation must have been severe. Experiencing pain in and the indignity of examination of such intimate areas surely compounded other more disabling injuries. Davood Karim, a 52-year-old male civilian, was described as being in “very bad” condition, with severe conjunctivitis, photophobia, and very black pigmentation on his face, neck, chest and back. His armpits were ulcerated, his abdomen had lesions resembling second-degree burns, and his arms were covered with a striped pattern of lesions. “Scrotum and skin of penis are black and swollen.” He was inside his home at the time of the attacks.99 The genitalia of females as well as males were affected. Kochar Ali, a 22-year-old woman, was in generally satisfactory condition according to the case notes, but her left armpit and arm were
Ibid., case no. A-21, p. 11. Ibid., case no. A-22, p. 12. 98 Ibid., case no. A-45, p. 23. 99 Ibid., case no. A-46, p. 24.
covered with an “enormous lesion resembling [a] second-degree burn and stopping at the level of the wrist. … Genital region is severely ulcerated. Dyspnea [shortness of breath] but no acute respiratory insufficiency. No leukopenia.”100 Finally, two other patients’ case notes comprise examples of how gravely some of the Kurds were injured. Thirty-year-old Ayeshe Rashid’s general condition, Dominguez noted, was “very bad.” She was unconscious, had blepharitis (swollen eyelids) and palpebral oedema so extensive the corneas could not be examined; her face was black, and her trunk covered in burn-like lesions. “Legs show remnants of vesicles which have left exposed surface raw.” Her genitalia were severely affected, the report continues, and she was in such respiratory distress she required a tracheotomy as well as nasogastric intubation. Her lab work revealed pancytopenia—low red and white blood cell and platelet counts.101 An unidentified child, guessed to be about five years of age, was in poor condition. “She is in pain. … Face ulcerated and with scabs in some areas.” She had swollen, infected eyes, a black and ulcerated neck, and second-degree burns across her chest. Her left ankle was ulcerated as well; she had tracheolaryngitis with frequent coughing.102 Taken together, the case notes recorded by the UN medical specialist indicate a consistent pattern of symptoms, which he concluded comprised evidence of a chemical weapons attack. The question remains, however, if there were 10,000 people injured in the Halabja attacks, why there weren’t larger numbers of patients at the hospitals Dominguez visited? Perhaps some remained in Iraq and sought medical attention there rather than evacuating across the border to Iran; patients may have been distributed
Ibid., case no. A-16, p. 9. Ibid., case no. A-18, p. 10. 102 Ibid., case no. A-25, p. 13.
among dozens of Iranian hospitals, of which the UN team only visited a handful; and some of the injured could have considered their injuries not sufficiently serious to warrant professional medical treatment. The reason is unclear at the moment. Perhaps documents that can shed light on this question will be made public in the future.
The Military Context of Halabja By March of 1988, the Iran-Iraq War was in its eighth year of duration. Iraq had begun to increase the number of missile strikes against Tehran in the “War of the Cities” campaign. Military analysts state that as many as 182 scud-B missiles with an extended range capable of reaching the Iranian capital some 340 miles from the Iraqi border were launched from the end of February to mid-April.103 The Iraqis were apparently trying to lure the Iranians into organizing an attack in order to improve the Iraqi position at the negotiating table. The Iranians took the bait. Tehran launched three different offensives in quick succession, each in the north. The first, called Zafar 7, took place on March 13 and consisted of joint operations between the Revolutionary Guard (pasdaran) and the PUK peshmerga. The second attack, called Bait al-Maqdis 4, occurred on March 14, and enabled Iranian forces to come within twelve miles of Suleimaniyeh. The third, a much larger and more significant offensive codenamed Val-Fajr 10, was announced on Tehran radio on March 16.104 ValFajr 10 was the operation that triggered the attacks on Halabja. Tehran claimed it had
Richard Jupa and Jim Dingeman, cited in Middle East Watch, Iraq’s Crime of Genocide, 326 n18. This brief discussion of the military context, dealt with in-depth by Hiltermann in A Poisonous Affair, is drawn from these two sources. 104 Previous Val-Fajr designations had included such major campaigns as Val-Fajr 1, Iran’s first land assault on Iraq in February 1983, and Val-Fajr 8 and 9 in February 1986, which consisted of the simultaneous capture of the Fao Peninsula and areas within artillery range of Suleimaniya. Middle East Watch, Iraq’s Crime of Genocides, 69, 326 n23.
advanced as far into Iraqi territory as the eastern shores of Darbandikhan Lake and, more importantly, that it had “liberated” the town of Halabja. During the battle in the areas surrounding Halabja, the pasdaran managed to capture more than a thousand Iraqi troops, including some officers. Versions of the operations are contradictory and imprecise in terms of dates (whether they occupied the city on the 13th, 14th, or 15th of March)105. The PUK claim a large role in the taking of Halabja; Iranian troops downplay the contributions of the peshmerga. But Baghdad did not send ground troop reinforcements. Instead, as Middle East Watch puts it, “it had an entirely different strategy in mind.”106 On the 15th of March, pasdaran were celebrating in the streets of Halabja, shouting “God is great! Khomeini is our leader!” Some asked where the Shi‘a holy cities of Karbala and Najaf were, under the mistaken belief that they were close by. But the vast majority of the townspeople were apprehensive, expecting retaliation. From the point of view of Baghdad, Halabja was strategically important for two reasons: its location and the questionable loyalty of the local population during Kurdish rebellions and the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988). Halabja is situated only seven miles away from Darbandikhan Lake, and its dam controls a significant portion of Baghdad’s water supply. In terms of allegiance, local residents’ previous support for PUK guerrillas had led the Iraqi government to retaliate against the townspeople back in May 1987. Two neighborhoods, Kani Ashqan and Mordana, were bulldozed and their inhabitants were forcibly moved to camps on the edge of town.107 The lack of resistance by the local townspeople in March 1988, after PUK peshmerga and Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Hiltermann covers the various versions given by participants he interviewed. Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 107–20. 106 Ibid., 70. 107 Ibid., 69.
troops entered Halabja, triggered another incidence of collective punishment by the Iraqi government, this time with much more deadly effect. The Iraqi counterattack began on 16 March with conventional weapons, air strikes and artillery from the nearby town of Sayed Sadeq. The first strikes reportedly contained napalm or phosphorous. One witness told Middle East Watch that “there was a huge sound, a huge flame, and it had very destructive ability. If you touched one part of your body that had been burned, your hand burned also. It caused things to catch fire.” The air raids continued for hours. “Six planes would finish and another six would come.” 108 The people could see clearly the bombardment came from Iraqi aircraft. Around 3 p.m. on 16 March, people in shelters began to smell what they described most often as sweet apples, perfume, or cucumbers. The chemical weapons attack concentrated in the north of the city, far from the now-abandoned military bases. When the people emerged from their shelters, it was dark. The electricity had been knocked out the day before by artillery fire. They saw dead bodies of humans and animals littering the streets, sprawled in doorways, slumped over their car steering wheels and survivors stumbling about, laughing hysterically, then collapsing. Pasdaran were also about, wearing gas masks. Those who could ran toward the Iranian border, many barefoot. There had been a freezing rain which turned the ground into mud. Symptoms worsened as the night wore on, and many succumbed on the side of the road. 109 At dawn, Iraqi planes hovered overhead, watching the exodus. Refugees, fearing more attacks, avoided the roads and walked through mountains in spite of the danger of land-mines. Six thousand people are estimated to have sought refuge in the earlier
Ibid. Ibid., 71.
destroyed villages of Lima and Pega, and another thousand at the former village of Daratfeh.110 The Iranians would occupy Halabja until July; before relinquishing control they looted the town’s offices and homes of anything that moved (office equipment, books, carpets), blew up two bridges, and captured security agency files which they later used against their own Kurdish opposition who often sought sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan (e.g., members of KDPI).111 When the Iraqis reoccupied Halabja in July, they finished the job of the city’s destruction by leveling virtually every structure with dynamite and bulldozers.112 Meanwhile, Iranian helicopters ferried survivors to hospitals across the border after doctors administered atropine injections. Some survivors spent two weeks in a converted schoolhouse in Hersin; others were later moved to two refugee camps— Sanghour, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, and Kamiaran in Kermanshah province—where they stayed until the Anfal was over. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was quoted in a Jordanian newspaper as saying, “The loss of Halabja is a regrettable thing. Members of Jalal al-Talabani’s group are in the area, and these traitors collaborate with the Iranian enemy.”113 The chemical attacks on Halabja dealt a crushing psychological blow to the peshmerga and the civilians who supported them. By March 18, PUK headquarters were stormed by Iraqi forces and caused heavy losses.
Ibid. Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 122. 112 Middle East Watch, Iraq’s Crime of Genocide, 71. 113 Sawt al-Sha’b, translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), cited in Middle East Watch, Iraq’s Crime of Genocide, 327 n32.
As for Nasreen’s fate, she and some family members were taken to a hospital in Tehran. She was blind for twenty days. She said she lay in bed thinking, “Where is my family? But I was blind. I couldn’t do anything. I asked my husband about my mother, but he said he didn’t know anything. … He was avoiding the question.” The Iranian Red Crescent Society had begun compiling books of photographs of the dead from Halabja in order to facilitate informing next-of-kin. “The Red Crescent has an album of the people who were buried in Iran,” she said, “and we found my mother in one of the albums.”114 Her father was alive but permanently blind. Her sister Rangeen and four other siblings were dead. Like many other women, she began menstruating profusely while in the hospital, received drugs that stopped the bleeding and was told she could not have children. After staying in Iran for several months, Nasreen and her husband returned to Iraqi Kurdistan. In 1991 she gave birth to a boy who they named Arazoo (Kurdish for hope). “He was healthy at first, but he had a hole in his heart. He died at the age of three months.” By the time she spoke with a Western journalist in 2002, she was 30 and living in Erbil (Howler), the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan. She didn’t want pity, she said, but did request that a doctor help her with a cough she’d had for fourteen years.115
Goldberg, “The Great Terror.” Ibid. For more on long-term health affects from the Halabja attacks, see chapter 5.
Chapter 4: Media and Official Reaction to Halabja Back in the spring of 1988, overall reaction to the Halabja attacks was muted. In fact, Saddam Hussein was not encumbered in any way from continuing to use chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians for the next six months. Later, much greater attention focused on chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds after images of fleeing refugees stranded on the Iraqi/Turkish border in August 1988 flooded television screens and, as discussed further below, crucially, after the eight-year Iran-Iraq War had ended. In general, though, the media covered the Halabja story frequently and in depth once the story filtered down from Iraqi Kurdistan to Western journalists. The lack of a vigorous and effectual response could not be attributed to officials not knowing about the attacks, thanks largely to good reporting. Official reaction within the U.S. government varied; while Congress pushed for sanctions, the Reagan administration and especially the State Department effectively blocked penalties against Iraq, claiming Iran had also used chemical weapons on Halabja, and continued to provide Saddam Hussein with military intelligence and economic assistance. The United Nations, after sending a team to investigate charges of chemical weapons use, condemned both Iran and Iraq for using these weapons and appears in hindsight to have been powerless to prevent and/or punish violations of the Geneva conventions as seen at Halabja. Officials from other countries rhetorically condemned the attacks but took no action. Iran used the event for propaganda purposes, and the Arab/Islamic countries opted not to criticize Iraq at a conference held soon after. The United Kingdom and Canada fell in line behind the U.S. in terms of doling out blame to both Iraq and Iran. Finally, various NGOs (nongovernmental
organizations) investigated the attacks and appealed for an international response that never came. Media Coverage When were the chemical weapons attacks on Halabja first reported in the media? How prominent was the story’s placement, and what other stories were competing for attention at the time? How accurate were the initial reports, and how did journalists and columnists characterize the attacks? The story of the chemical attack on Halabja was widely covered, although it took a few days for news of the attacks to reach the West (the news cycle was relatively longer before Internet use became pervasive). No one at the time can credibly claim they took no action against Saddam Hussein because they did not know the attacks occurred. On 18 March the first brief reports from Western correspondents based in Cyprus told of Iran capturing the town of Halabja despite heavy chemical weapons use but made no mention of civilian casualties.116 No additional reporting on Halabja appeared until four days later. The story finally acquired the spotlight on 22 March. Americans saw on the evening news grisly videotape of corpses which ABC news anchor Peter Jennings warned would be “jarring.” Reporter Mike Lee observed, from Tehran, “Here in the war between Iran and Iraq Kurdish women and children have in effect been punished for being in the way.”117 The iconic number of 5,000 first appeared in the press as well, quoting the Iranian delegate to the UN, Mohammed Mahallati, who accused Iraq of injuring 5,000 more and that seventy percent of the victims were civilians.118 Another story, appearing
“Iraq and Iran Raid Cities,” New York Times, 18 March 1988, A2; and “Iran Says Iraq Used Chemical Weapons,” Christian Science Monitor, 18 March 1988, 2. 117 ABC News transcript, “World News Tonight,” 22 March 1988. 118 “Protest at U.N. on Chemical Arms,” New York Times, 22 March 1988, A11. Note the story’s placement, far from the front pages.
on the front page of the New York Times, mentioned Iran’s accusation of Iraqi chemical weapons’ use in the context of the Tanker War, an aspect of the Iran-Iraq war which received more attention due to its connection to oil, a resource considered vital to the U.S. economy.119 Tehran quickly saw the attack’s propaganda value. More than a dozen Western journalists were flown by Iranian government officials via helicopter to the front lines of Halabja on 21 March. David Hirst, reporting for The Guardian, described the scene he witnessed: No wounds, no blood, no traces of explosions can be found on the bodies—scores of men, women, children, livestock and pet animals—that litter the flat-topped dwellings and crude earthen streets in this remote and neglected Kurdish town in Iranian-occupied Iraq. … The skin of the bodies is strangely discoloured, with their eyes open and staring where they have not disappeared into their sockets, a grayish slime oozing from their mouths and their fingers still grotesquely twisted. Death seemingly caught them almost unawares in the midst of their household chores. … Here a mother seems to clasp her children in a last embrace, there an old man shields an infant from he cannot have known what.120 Nicholas Beeston, writing for The Times (London), compared the victims of Halabja to “figures unearthed at Pompeii … in suspended animation.” His sympathetic portrayal of the Kurds continued: “A family of five who had been sitting in their garden eating lunch were cut down—the killer gas not even sparing the family cat [or] the birds in the tree, which littered the well-kept lawn.”121 Paul Koring, writing from Tehran, noted the sixtyseven civilians being treated at Lebafi-Negaed hospital among the 140 Kurds who had been admitted over the weekend. He interviewed a U.S.-trained physician, Dr. Hamid
Alan Cowell, “54 Feared Dead on 2 Oil Tankers In Iraqi Attack on Iran Terminal,” New York Times, 22 March 1988, A1. 120 David Hirst, “Iran Puts Dead on Show After Gas Raid: The Kurdish Victims Caught Unaware by Cyanide,” The Guardian (London), 22 March 1988. 121 Nicholas Beeston, “Gas Victims Frozen in the Agony of Death,” The Times (London), 22 March 1988. In general, an examination of media coverage of the Kurds reveals more comprehensive treatment by the Brits than the Americans. Perhaps this greater interest in the region—at least during the 1980s— is a legacy of the British occupation of Iraq after World War I.
Sonrabpour, who said the “difficulty of treating a large number of civilian casualties had been compounded because none of the hospital staff spoke Kurdish and none of the patients understood Farsi.” The language barrier surely exasperated the plight of the Iraqi Kurdish patients. “Dr. Sonrabpour said the pathetic group of burned and coughing figures, especially the children, had ‘really touched my heart because they were helpless civilians.’”122 A Reuters story with a Tehran dateline took a more measured approach, emphasizing the story’s propaganda value for the Iranians. “Iranian officials displayed injured Iraqi civilians yesterday to back up their charges that Baghdad is using chemical weapons on its own territories.” But the unnamed reporter did refer to the injuries visible on civilians: “Women and children were among several dozen hospital patients suffering peeling skin, raw pinkish blotches and labored breathing that doctors said appeared to have been caused by mustard gas, and possibly phosgene and other chemicals.”123 The story still had legs the next day, as television newscasts covered the Iraqi government’s denial of chemical weapons use at Halabja and its brazen charge that Iran had launched the attack. One broadcast reported, “The Iranians say that 3,500 people were killed in the Halabja region,” an example of how the number of fatalities shifted from one account to another. American media sources tended to carefully attribute the sources of such claims, rather than stating absolutely that civilians were killed often seen in British and Canadian reporting.124 Viewers also saw swift condemnation of the attacks by the Reagan administration. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called the attack “horrible, outrageous and disgusting.” State Department spokesman Charles Redman’s key soundbite, which would set the tone for any potential international response, was also
Paul Koring, “High Civilian Toll in Iraqi Attack on City: Poison-Gas Victims Recall Bomb Horror,” The Globe and Mail (Canada), 22 March 1988. 123 Reuter-AP, The Toronto Star, 22 March 1988, A3. 124 ABC News transcript, “World News Tonight,” 23 March 1988.
aired: “There are indications that Iran may also have used chemical artillery shells in this fighting.” Reporter Bob Zelnick uncannily predicted the absence of punitive action: “There appears little likelihood of any effort to penalize Iraq despite what’s widely regarded as an atrocity. Western diplomats concede their outrage is outweighed by a continuing desire to see Iraq survive in its war against Iran.”125 In contrast to the often tempered language of members of the American press, UK reporters Andrew Gowers and Richard Johns, after visiting Halabja, pulled no punches by describing the attacks as revealing “unplumbed depths of savagery.” Two Kurds were cited in this story; KDP central committee member Hushyar Zebari and PUK leader Jalal Talabani. Zebari said, “Surely President Saddam Hussein is the first ruler in the world to use chemical weapons against his own people,” language that was later echoed by U.S. President George W. Bush during the buildup to war in 2003. And Talabani was said to have called the use of chemical weapons, the razing of Kurdish villages and mass deportation of Kurds to camps on the other side of the country “genocide.” Gowers and Johns concluded that the world’s reaction had been grossly insufficient. “The international community’s response to the Kurds’ mounting cries of alarm has so far been a deafening silence.”126 Despite the extensive coverage, during the ten days immediately following the attacks, the Halabja story never made the front page of the New York Times, one of the most influential American newspapers known for in-depth international coverage derived from dozens of overseas bureaus. Seeing which stories were getting more attention helps create a fuller picture of the context in which the Halabja attacks occurred.
Ibid. Andrew Gowers and Richard Johns, “Iraq Uses Chemical Bombs on its Own Citizens,” The Financial Times (London), 23 March 1988, 4.
A perusal of the front pages for the weeks following 16 March reveals the dominant themes of the times: The Cold War was not yet over (observers were unaware that the Berlin Wall would fall the following year); the Soviets still occupied Afghanistan, although talks were underway for troop withdrawals; and Latin America appeared repeatedly in the headlines.127 Domestically, the 1988 presidential election campaign was underway. President Reagan was completing his second term and could not run again. Vice President George H. W. Bush was trouncing Sen. Bob Dole in the Republican primaries, while Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was leading the Democrats. Polls had Bush and Dukakis virtually tied at this point in the campaign, but Bush would pull out a substantial lead by November. Congress had blocked Reagan’s attempt to arm the contras in Nicaragua, the rebels who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government, but the president tried to get around those legalities in what was to be known as the Iran/Contra affair. On 17 March, capping a fourteen-month investigation, Lieut. Col. Oliver North and Rear Adm. John Poindexter were indicted for their roles, as National Security Advisor staff, in the diversion of millions of dollars from the sale of arms to Iran to the Nicaraguan contras. This domestic story overshadowed an atrocity happening to a people most Americans had never heard of (the Kurds) in a casualty-laden war which many perceived as a stalemate grinding on into its eighth year. Other stories included Reagan’s dispatch of 3,000 American G.I.s to Honduras (after Nicaraguan troops allegedly crossed into Honduran territory) and the state of “urgency” declared in Panama after its military ruler, Gen. Manuel Noriega, was charged in a Florida court with drug trafficking and racketeering. Reagan was also preparing for
See New York Times, 16–26 March 1988, A1.
another summit with Mikhail Gorbachev—the first visit in fourteen years of an American president to the Soviet Union. Nuclear disarmament talks were stalled over Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative, a controversial space-based missile-defense system. The Cold War comprised the proverbial elephant in the living room and the glasses through which U.S. government officials largely saw foreign policy for more than a generation (1945–1989). This mindset influenced the way in which the U.S. responded to Halabja, but I argue that other economic and energy-related factors played a larger role (issues discussed further below). Media coverage of Halabja was adequate: reporters in the field did their job, although editors back at their desks arguably dropped the ball in terms of the story’s placement. Was the coverage accurate as well? In hindsight, journalists appeared for the most part to take Iraqi denials of culpability for Halabja with a healthy grain of salt. For months the Iraqi government consistently denied using chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians; later, however, they admitted using chemical weapons but claimed that Iran had used them first, sounding more like school-yard bullies than heads of state. Newspaper reporters often repeated without qualification, by and large, the U.S. government line that Iran as well as Iraq had used chemical weapons on Halabja, although the Americans never produced—then or now—any proof of Iranian chemical weapons’ use. Some observers have concluded that this evidence has never been produced because it does not exist and that U.S. officials used outright deception to publicly charge Iran with complicity in the Halabja attacks in order to deflect criticism of their ally Iraq.128 Reporters failed to push U.S. government spokesmen to produce the evidence of Iran’s use of chemical weapons on Halabja. Perhaps this lack of media independence was
One example of such a perspective is Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 205.
due to the tendency to accept official versions of events without question; another factor may have been the relative popularity of the Reagan presidency with the American people. Corporate-owned media keep a close eye on ratings; being seen as unfairly attacking a popular president could affect the bottom line. Finally, profound feelings against Iran in the United States, lingering after the overthrow of U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi and the hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, also contributed to an atmosphere in which appearing to sympathize with the Iranians would have been a risky position. In addition to giving government officials a pass, journalists handled statistics loosely. During the Iran-Iraq war, when the U.S. was officially neutral but tilted towards Iraq, the number of victims cited in some articles tended to be low-balled, claiming that merely “hundreds” rather than thousands of victims were killed at Halabja.129 After the July 20th ceasefire, when it was safer to criticize Saddam Hussein’s regime without fear of harming Iraq’s chances of defeating (or not being defeated by) Iran, the number of Halabja victims in some accounts jumped to the thousands without explanation and the pervasive use of “allegedly” and “reportedly” dropped to the wayside.130 If a writer or publication’s bias is to deflect attention from the atrocity of an ally, then a lower figure will do; if the intent is to persuade readers of a regime’s threat to regional and global stability, then higher numbers are appropriate. The absence of precise, agreed-upon statistics regarding the number of fatalities at Halabja created the perfect conditions for their manipulation.
David B. Ottaway, “U.S. Decries Iraqi Use of Chemical Weapons: ‘Grave Violation’ of International Law Cited,” Washington Post, 24 March 1988, A37; and “Poison Gas: Iraq’s Crime,” New York Times, 26 March 1988, A30. 130 Robert S. Greenberger, “Iraq Opened Dangerous Pandora’s Box by Using Chemicals in War with Iran,” Wall Street Journal, 1 August 1988, 1; and “So What If It’s Gas?” Wall Street Journal, 14 September 1988, 1.
Views expressed in editorials, Op-Eds, and columns varied as well. One of the strongest editorials, published by the New York Times, called the Halabja attacks a “war crime” and urged Washington and Moscow to “get an urgent message to Baghdad now: Stop using these weapons or forfeit support.” This editorial stance, though principled, was ignored by the powerbrokers in Washington. Columnist Martin Peretz was also unequivocal in his criticism of the attacks and the West’s weak response to them: There is something breathtaking in the way the policy elites of the West have simply shrugged off what may be the single most enormous massacre of civilians in one place at one time since the Nazis. Last month the Iraqi air force dropped poison gas on the town of Halabja, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of civilians. The inconvenient atrocity was treated in the media like a human interest story. … This is not the first time that Iraq’s very weak regime has proved the world community powerless (or just unwilling) to enforce the simplest constraint on the conduct of war.131 In a column for the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland asked rhetorically, “Is the world really prepared to look the other way and do nothing in the most ghastly case of the use of poison gas since the Nazi death camps of World War II?” He urged Reagan not to veto the pending sanctions bill in Congress and not “become a party to the refusal to confront evil.”132 In contrast, some writers took issue with the term “genocide” and wanted to see more evidence before passing judgment on Iraq. Patrick Tyler wrote a piece for the “Insight” section of the Washington Post in which he argued that, while it was “horrible,” genocide was “not an accurate term” for what was happening to the Kurds. After touring the region by helicopter, he stated that “the vast majority of Iraq’s Kurds are safe in their homes, perhaps safer” than when the peshmerga controlled the north. Tyler claimed that, since “major towns and cities of Kurdistan are still standing, unscathed and populated”
Martin Peretz, “Cambridge Diarist: Neighborhood Bullies,” The New Republic, 25 April 1988, 43. Jim Hoagland, “A ‘Furlough’ for Iraq,” Washington Post, 12 October 1988, A19.
the term did not apply. “Life is going on,” he opined, “but it is not as pretty as the life the Kurds used to live with their flocks in the high valley—a sort of noble Hobbit land of mud-roof houses covered with spring grass.” Tyler sanitized the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Kurdistan, calling it a “relocation program.”133 Columnist Milton Viorst, writing in opposition to the pending sanctions legislation in Congress against Iraq, asserted that Saddam Hussein’s regime was about to be punished “for a particular crime which, according to some authorities, may never have taken place.” After his tour by helicopter, Viorst concluded that, “if lethal gas was used, it was not used genocidally—i.e. for mass killing. … If there had been large-scale killing, it is likely they [the Kurds] would know and tell the world about it. But neither I nor any Westerner I encountered heard such allegations.” He naively deduced that, since he attended a Kurdish wedding in Baghdad and saw eating, drinking and dancing, that the community was not in any danger. Viorst seemed unaware that due to the repressive nature of the Ba‘athist regime, it was unlikely a Kurd would feel safe confiding to a visiting Westerner escorted by Iraqi government officials.134 And finally, a column in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs saw the threat of sanctions against Iraq as “Arab bashing.” The author said there was no “real proof” the Iraqis had used chemical weapons against the Kurds and cautioned against a “rush to judgment until after we meet some victims with seared lungs.” Evidently the numerous reports compiled by UN investigators were not sufficient for this observer.135
Patrick E. Tyler, “The Kurds: It’s Not Genocide, But Iraq’s Policy of Repression and Relocation Is Still Horrific,” Washington Post, 25 September 1988, C5. 134 Milton Viorst, “Poison Gas and ‘Genocide’: The Shaky Case Against Iraq,” Washington Post, 5 October 1988, A25. 135 Richard Curtiss, “Iraq & Iran: Rush to Judgment,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 31 October 1988, 51.
In general, though, the media informed the public about the attacks on Halabja such that officials could not later use ignorance to explain their inaction.
U.S. Government Reaction Reagan administration officials responded to the attacks on Halabja by rhetorically condemning the use of chemical weapons but failing to back their words with action. In fact, not only did the administration fail to penalize Iraq for chemical weapons use on civilians, it actively blocked efforts by others to hold Saddam Hussein and his regime accountable. The administration blamed Iran as well as Iraq for the attacks on Halabja, without ever producing evidence of Iranian involvement, a strategy that diffused international outrage; it tried (unsuccessfully) to prevent the UN from investigating the Halabja attacks; and it successfully stopped a tough Congressional bill—that would have hit Iraq with harsh sanctions for chemical weapons use—from becoming law. The administration put economic and energy-related interests above human rights when formulating official policy on Iraq, and evidence of these priorities appears frequently in memos and cables. The U.S. government, however, was not in lock step concerning Iraq and chemical weapons use. Some members of Congress argued passionately on the floor of the Senate and House to penalize Baghdad; the State Department was not unanimous in its objective to maintain good relations with Iraq, putting Secretary of State George Shultz in the position of having to decide which of his staffers’ policy positions to approve.136
For one example of differing views regarding Iraqi policy among State Department staffers, in this case whether to extend Export-Import Bank credits, see Action Memorandum, “Export-Import Financing for Iraq,” Alan P. Larson, Richard W. Murphy, and Richard Schifter to George P. Shultz, 29 December 1988, Digital National Security Archive, document no. IG00739. The Digital National Security Archive
The lack of a vigorous response in 1988 by the Reagan administration to reports of Iraqi CW use was not without precedent. As early as 1983 the U.S. government knew Iraq was using chemical weapons and in effect turned a blind eye (other than a rhetorical condemnation) to this violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banning the use in war of chemical weapons. A memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs to Secretary Shultz in November 1983 clearly indicates U.S. government knowledge of Iraqi chemical weapons use against Iranian troops, stating bluntly: “We have recently received additional information confirming Iraqi use of chemical weapons.” The State Department knew the National Security Council was considering assisting Iraq in its war with Iran and suggested they might have some leverage to persuade Baghdad to halt chemical weapons use. If the NSC decides measures are to be undertaken to assist Iraq, our best present chance of influencing cessation of CW use may be in the context of informing Iraq of these measures. It is important, however, that we approach Iraq very soon in order to maintain the credibility of U.S. policy on CW, as well as to reduce or halt what now appears to be Iraq’s almost daily use of CW.137 Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas was also known to U.S. officials. A heavily redacted cable from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 1987 reveals the U.S. military knew Al-Majid had “flattened” hundreds of villages and was using chemical weapons (CWs) against the peshmerga. “Despite the ruthless repression, which also includes the use of chemical [emphasis in original] agents, and the reinforcement of the armed forces by several
[hereafter DNSA] publishes online U.S. government policy documents made available through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. The “IG” designation refers to the Iraq-Gate Collection. http://nsarchive.chadwyck.com. 137 Information Memorandum, “Iraq Use of Chemical Weapons,” Jonathan T. Howe to George P. Shultz, 1 November 1983, DNSA, doc. no. IG00145.
brigades of the Presidential Guard, Iraqi security operations, coordinated by Ali Hassan al-Majid, have failed to stifle the Kurd insurgence so far.”138 The first mention of Halabja in available U.S. government documents is dated 22 March, six days after the attacks and the same day the story hit American news broadcasts. In another heavily blacked-out cable from JCS to DIA, classified intelligence sources refer to Iranian claims of twenty bombardments of cyanide, mustard and nerve gas on the Halabja area and reveal the nonchalant attitude of at least one member of the American intelligence community: “Iraqi use of cluster and chemical munitions is not an unusual way for them to deal with these situations.”139 Although President Ronald Reagan did not comment publicly on Halabja, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called the attacks “horrible, outrageous and disgusting.” But that same day State Department spokesman Charles Redman cryptically claimed, “There are indications that Iran may also have used chemical artillery shells in this fighting.”140 The Reagan administration had apparently determined that muddying up the waters a bit would be the best way to deflect criticism from their unofficial ally Iraq. While official U.S. policy during the Iran-Iraq war was neutrality, the American so-called “tilt” towards Iraq was clear by the end of the war and especially visible with American escorts of Persian Gulf shipping. This brief statement implying Iranian as well as Iraqi culpability for Halabja was repeated for years in the media and had a profound effect on the world’s drive to hold the perpetrators accountable, effectively diffusing responsibility
Cable, “IIR [Excised] the Internal Situation in Iraq,” U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, 4 August 1987, DNSA, doc. no. IG00453. 139 Cable, “[Excised] Val-Fajr 10 Offensive,” Joint Chiefs of Staff to Defense Intelligence Agency, 22 March 1988, DNSA, doc. no. IG00533. 140 ABC News transcript, “World News Tonight,” 23 March 1988.
for the attacks. But no evidence of Iranian CW use on Halabja has ever been made public.141 Members of Congress also expressed their horror over Halabja. The first reference on Capitol Hill to the attacks occurred on 24 March. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Cal.), a Holocaust survivor, said Americans had not been so shocked by graphic television images of dead corpses since the mass suicides at Jonestown. He reminded his colleagues that the U.S. Navy was protecting Iraq and called on the Reagan administration to “use its leverage with the regime in Baghdad to convince them that mass poisoning of its own civilian population is unacceptable in the eyes of civilized nations.”142 Five days later, the effect of the State Department position of dual culpability is apparent in the remarks of Rep. Chester G. Atkins (D-Mass.), which likened the attacks to a passage from the Biblical book of Revelations. “It looked as if the fourth horseman of the apocalypse had ridden through the town, and left a swath of death in his wake. Chemical weapons are horrible. … Yet it is believed that both Iran and Iraq have used these terrible weapons in the gulf war.”143 But the U.S. government took no action in response to Halabja and the deaths of as many as 5,000 Kurdish civilians. The different stages of Iraq’s Anfal campaign were put into operation without any interference from either the U.S. or the Soviet Union. We know that the Reagan administration was aware of the Anfal, although officials may not have known the Iraqi code name for it. In April, as Anfal stage 3 was coming to an end, a JCS cable to the DIA neatly summarized in four bullet points the “information on Iraqi
For an extensive discussion on Iran’s fledgling chemical weapons capacity and an authoritative refutation of Iranian responsibility for CWs on Halabja, see Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair. 142 Congressional Record, 24 March 1988, House of Representatives, p. 5111, cited in The Kurdish Question in U.S. Foreign Policy: A Documentary Sourcebook by Lokman I. Meho (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004), 36. 143 Congressional Record, 29 March 1988, House, p. 5556, cited in Meho, 36.
measures against the Kurdish population”: 1.5 million Kurds resettled in camps, 7001000 villages and residential areas targeted for resettlement, large numbers of Kurds placed in “‘cowcentration’ [sic] camps,” and severe restrictions placed on the local population “throughout the north.”144 While the statistics on villages turned out to be an undercount, the cable confirms the Reagan administration was cognizant of the tremendous scope of the campaign against the Kurds. In June, PUK leader Jalal Talabani came to the United States to raise charges of genocide against Saddam Hussein to the UN, Capitol Hill, the State Department, and the press, and his visit reveals how the administration attempted to avoid a confrontation with Baghdad. President Reagan and Secretary of State Shultz refused to meet with Talabani; a meeting between the peshmerga leader and a mid-level State Department official caused a diplomatic furor.145 Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz responded by canceling a long-scheduled meeting with Shultz. A National Security Council memo reveals staffers’ sensitivity to Iraqi and Turkish reaction to the Talabani meeting. “We were aware that the Iraqis would react badly to his entry into the U.S. and his reception in the department, even at the office director level; however, we underestimated the depth of the Iraqi reaction.”146 Reagan administration officials frequently appear tentative and cautious in their dealings with the Iraqi regime, as if they were afraid their actions or rhetoric would upset Saddam Hussein and jeopardize the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. For example, a secret talking points memo detailing Reagan administration policy towards Iraq includes a reference to “our commitment to a strong relationship with Iraq,
Cable, “[Excised] Baghdad’s Represive [sic] Measures Against the Kurds,” JCS to DIA, 19 April 1988, DNSA doc. no. IG00555. 145 Elaine Sciolino, “Kurdish Chief Gains Support In U.S. Visit,” New York Times, 22 June 1988, A3. 146 Cable, “Information Memo Re Talabani,” National Security Council, Bureau of Near East Affairs, Edward P. Djerejian, to Secretary of State George Shultz, 20 June 1988, folder “Iraq [1987-1988],” box 91849, William J. Burns Files, Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, Calif [hereafter Burns Files].
based upon support for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.” In other words, the U.S. had no plans to block Baghdad’s counterinsurgency measures. It also alludes to an attempt to distance the White House from Congressional support for Talabani, listing “further points on Talabani, including emphasis that SFRC [Senate Foreign Relations Committee] action on Kurds was taken independent of Executive Branch.” And in a perversely chilling assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons-enhanced progress on the battlefield, the memo declares that “Iraq’s continued military success is impressive.”147 Although Congress did not take any action on the attacks immediately after Halabja, by the summer they at least moved to put their displeasure with Iraq on the record. On 24 June the Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution (S. Res. 408) condemning Iraq for CW use (91-0). Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), speaking in favor of its passage, cited 2,000 deaths at Halabja and reiterated that “Iran has reportedly used chemical weapons, including at Halabja, in retaliation for Iraqi attacks.” Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) reminded his colleagues that Iran used “children to sweep minefields” during the still ongoing Iran-Iraq war. He also criticized Congress for giving “the green light to production of an entirely new generation of nerve gas weapons just last year” in spite of former President Richard M. Nixon’s moratorium on U.S. nerve gas production in 1969. Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI), a consistent supporter of Kurdish aspirations on the Senate floor over many years, asserted that Halabja claimed 5,000 victims and that “tragically, poison gas has become a standard part of the Iraqi arsenal.” Oddly, the
Secret Memo, “Additional Talking Points for Assistant Secretary Murphy,” n.d., folder “Iraq ,” box 91849, Burns Files.
language in the resolution itself only cited that “hundreds” were killed at Halabja, in yet another example of the variability of the number of Halabja victims.148 After Iran indicated it would accept a ceasefire on 20 July, footage of Kurds fleeing the final stages of Anfal and stranded on the Turkish border began to flood American television screens, and Congress finally took action that had some teeth. The sight of so many vulnerable refugees spurred Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Peter Galbraith to quickly draft a bill which was sponsored by Senator Pell, the SFRC chair. Senate bill 2763, the “Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988,” called for tough sanctions against Iraq; on 9 September, within twenty-four hours of its introduction, the bill passed on a voice-vote. The bill asserted that “Iraq’s campaign against the Kurdish people appears to constitute an act of genocide, a crime abhorred by civilized people everywhere and banned under international law.”149 Some have argued that including genocide in the sanctions bill doomed its chances of passing. For example, Hiltermann argues that information available at the time did not support the charge of genocide, and that evidence revealing the full picture of Iraqi repression against the Kurds did not emerge until 1991.150 However, a weaker version of the sanctions bill, passed by the House, removed the “genocide” language and still failed to become law, so other factors must have been obstacles to its passage. But in September 1988, Senate bill 2763 called for a ban on U.S. exports, credits, and credit guarantees to Iraq, for the U.S. to oppose loans to Baghdad from international
Congressional Record, Senate, 24 June 1988, pp. 15918-21, cited in Meho, pp. 37–42. U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Chemical Weapons Use in Kurdistan: Iraq’s Final Offensive. A Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1992). For a thorough discussion of Galbraith’s drafting of the bill, and the story of its failure to become law, see Power, A Problem from Hell. 150 Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 213. See also Power, A Problem from Hell and Galbraith, The End of Iraq.
financial institutions, and prohibited American oil imports from Iraq.151 At the time, U.S. credits and credit guarantees to Iraq totaled $800 million per year, so the proposed ban would have had a significant impact. Arguing in favor of the bill, Senator Pell compared the gassing of the Kurds to the Holocaust and speculated as to why there was not a greater outcry on their behalf. He also placed a measure of responsibility on those who were not speaking out. While a people are gassed, the world is largely silent. There are reasons for this: Iraq’s great oil wealth, its military strength, a desire not to upset the delicate negotiations seeking an end to the Iran-Iraq war. Silence, however, is complicity. A half century ago the world was also silent as Hitler began a campaign that culminated in the near extermination of Europe’s Jews. We cannot be silent to genocide again.152 Pell acknowledged the sacrifice American business would have to make, but justified it by saying “this is a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands … a moral issue of the greatest magnitude.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused Iraq of conducting a “genocidal campaign” against the Kurds and wondered “if they were not Kurds whether we would not be a lot more exercised than we are at this time.”153 Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) also evoked the Holocaust, saying Iraq “may right now be in the midst of trying to impose a final solution on its Kurdish population. … For governments to have knowledge of such events, and not to cry out, is to become complicit with them.”154 Gore, playing the devil’s advocate, listed economic concerns as major reasons why Iraq might not be held accountable. Iraq expects to get away with it [chemical weapons use against the Kurds]. Because that country has oil money. Because there is big business to be done in provisioning its economy, reconstructing war damage, and equipping its armed forces. Because it has used chemical weapons before without penalty; indeed
Ibid. Congressional Record, Senate, 8 September 1988, p. 22877, cited in Meho, 42–43. 153 Congressional Record, Senate, 9 September 1988, pp. 23139-41, cited in Meho, 52-53. 154 Congressional Record, Senate, 12 September 1988, p. 23423, cited in Meho, 57.
because it used them successfully, to break the morale of Iran’s army and civilian population.155 The Senate’s relatively quick action alarmed the Reagan administration. Members of the State Department met with House Foreign Affairs Committee members to pressure them into killing or weakening the sanctions legislation. Within a couple of weeks they successfully persuaded the House of Representatives to pass a watered-down version of the bill (HR 5337), on 27 September. The sanctions debates, however, were moot, since the legislation died in October after it was attached to an anti-terrorism bill that never came to a vote. But the behind-the-scenes flurry of correspondence between officials during the month of September 1988 reveals why the Reagan administration opposed sanctions against Iraq. One secret internal State Department paper on Iraq policy spells out the marginalization of human rights and the paramount place of economic opportunities that should not be squandered. “Human rights and chemical weapons aside,” it states frankly, “in many respects our political and economic interests run parallel with those of Iraq.” It described the “enormous projects for oilfield development, irrigation, power generation and other major infrastructure projects.” Within the context of a discussion of what the U.S. could do to influence Iraq, the paper declares: If [our objective] is to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Kurdistan in the immediate future, this may no longer be an issue. We have been told in Baghdad that the campaign against the Kurds is coming to an end, and as a practical matter, there will be little or no need for continued Iraqi use of chemical weapons once the Kurdish insurgency has been suppressed. In other words, prevention is a moot point, since the goal of CW use had already been achieved, a rationale in which ethical concerns are conspicuously absent. The State
Congressional Record, Senate, 7 October 1988, p. 29361, cited in Meho, 62.
Department also weighed the option of placing Iraq on the terrorism list again, since “its use of chemical weapons against the Kurds amounts to state terrorism,” but this action was advised against because it would “have a sharp negative impact on our ability to influence the Iraqi regime.”156 A confidential National Security Council memo from William Burns, Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asian Affairs, to NSC staffer John Negroponte bluntly explained the administration’s opposition to sanctioning Iraq: “This legislation could unravel US/Iraqi relations and jeopardize potential multi-billion dollar commercial opportunities.”157 Such economic priorities clearly outweighed the administration’s human rights goals in the region. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was asked by the White House Policy Review Group to assess the impact of potential sanctions. The agency concluded that it would be minimal because “other suppliers … will be eager to fill in for the US and capitalize on the post-war reconstruction,” a reference to European trade partners. The CIA also warned that “continued Iraqi servicing of its $2.5 million debt guaranteed by the USG will be at risk” if the Prevention of Genocide Act was passed.158 The lack of a coordinated campaign among Western nations to confront Iraqi CW use created a competitive environment which fostered economics-based policymaking versus the promotion of human rights.
Secret Internal Paper, “Overview of U.S.-Iraqi Relations and Potential Pressure Points,” Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Northern Gulf Affairs, 9 September 1988, DNSA doc. no. IG00632. 157 Confidential Information Memorandum, “Update on the Status of HFAC Legislation on Iraq CW,” National Security Council, William J. Burns to John D. Negroponte, 20 September 1988, folder “Iraq [1987-1988],” box 91849, Burns Files. 158 Secret Information Memorandum, “CIA Analysis on Impact of US Economic Sanctions on Iraq,” National Security Council, William J. Burns to John D. Negroponte, 23 September 1988, folder “Iraq [1987-1988],” box 91849, Burns Files.
By 8 September, Secretary of State Shultz felt compelled to personally confront Iraqi Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi regarding CW use.159 Although many others in the State Department and CIA did not support this move, Shultz would later claim in his memoirs, he decided to take this step for humanitarian reasons.160 At this point, the U.S. government had to at least appear to care about the use of chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians. On the same day, State Department spokesman Charles Redman publicly called Iraq’s use of poison gas against the Kurds “abhorrent and unjustifiable,” the first public U.S. condemnation of Iraq for chemical weapons use since March; the statement made the Kurds front-page news.161 The administration pressured Iraq to make private if not public assurances that it would not use CWs in the future. In an example of how officials focused on preventing future use rather than punishing past use, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie told Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Nizar Hamdoon on 10 September that if Iraq would assure the international community it would no longer use CWs that “the matter will then be laid to rest.”162 Meanwhile, SFRC staffer Galbraith headed to Turkey to interview hundreds of the 65,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees stranded on the border. He spent 11–17 September 1988 investigating whether Saddam Hussein’s regime had indeed used chemical weapons, returned to Washington, and submitted his report to the committee on 21 September. He concluded that Iraq had used chemical weapons on 25 August; until
Secret Cable, “Secretary’s Meeting with Iraqi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Saadoun Hammadi,” George Shultz to U.S. Embassy, Iraq, 10 September 1988, DNSA doc. no IG00633. 160 George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 235–245. 161 Julie Johnson, “U.S. Asserts Iraq Used Poison Gas Against the Kurds,” New York Times, 9 September 1988, A1. 162 Secret Cable, “Iraqi CW Use: Ambassador’s Meeting with Hamdun,” April C. Glaspie to U.S. Department of State, 10 September 1988, DNSA doc. no. IG00634.
subsequent human rights work in 1991, Galbraith’s trip was a key component of the evidence against Iraq at the time.163 On 13 September Ambassador Glaspie cabled Shultz and reported that the Iraqi government had called the Senate’s genocide bill “part of a Zionist conspiracy to embarrass and undermine Iraq.” In an example of the lack of solidarity industry would have shown with a campaign to punish Saddam Hussein for chemical weapons use, Glaspie also informed Secretary Shultz that Bechtel representatives in Baghdad had assured the Iraqi Minister of Industry that, if the economic sanctions became law, “Bechtel will turn to non-U.S. suppliers of technology and continue to do business in Iraq.” Glaspie made no mention of any official consequences for those plans to defy the sanctions.164 Meanwhile, Burns wrote National Security Advisor Colin Powell that the impending sanctions bill was “rapidly becoming a crisis point in US/Iraqi relations” and urged him to consider “how to limit the damage to our bilateral relationship if/when this legislation passes. Iraq will be highly disappointed if the President doesn’t veto the bill.”165 Then, on 14 September, the State Department publicly referred to the Senate’s actions—passing the Prevention of Genocide Act legislation—as “premature.” The administration then revealed that it had intercepted Iraqi military communications
U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Chemical Weapons Use in Kurdistan: Iraq’s Final Offensive: A Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, October 1988 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1988). 164 Confidential Cable, “Minister of Industry Blasts Senate Action,” April C. Glaspie to U.S. Department of State, 13 September 1988, DNSA doc. no. IG00639. 165 Secret Information Memorandum, “Iraqi CW Use—Proposed Letter to Congress,” National Security Council, William J. Burns to Colin L. Powell, 13 September 1988, folder “Iraq [1987-1988],” box 91849, Burns Files.
proving Iraq had used poison gas against the Kurds.166 In response, Tariq Aziz reportedly stated that Baghdad “respects and abides by” all international agreements banning chemical weapons use. Deputy Asst. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Peter Burleigh claimed that Aziz’s statement proved diplomatic efforts were working and that sanctions were not necessary.167 Rep. Tom Lantos questioned why the administration would accept such a statement on face value and also said he found the State Department’s characterization of the Senate bill as “premature” to be “singularly nauseating” and “absurd.”168 President Reagan never had to exercise his veto, but it appeared that his administration was prepared to use this power of the executive branch. Burns wrote Negroponte that “State has sent a memo to Secretary Shultz suggesting he recommend to the President that the Iraq CW bill be vetoed.” This same memo reiterates the economic concerns the State Department had: “State has also prepared talking points for White House LA [Legislative Affairs] to use with Senator Dole (and possibly others) concerning the impact of agricultural sanctions against Iraq ($1 billion in credits would be lost which is quite significant).”169 Before members of the NSC knew the bill would fizzle out, they had contingency plans in case it was attached to legislation the President did not want to veto. The White House strategy was to “have the President sign the bill and certify [that Iraq was no
Robert Pear, “U.S. Says It Monitored Iraqi Messages on Gas,” New York Times 15 September 1988, A12. 167 John Felton, “Less Sweeping Than Senate Version: House Panels Advance Bill Imposing Sanctions on Iraq,” Congressional Quarterly, 24 September 1988, 2634, accessed via CQ Weekly Online http://library.cqpress.com (accessed August 14, 2007). 168 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, “Legislation to Impose Sanctions Against Iraqi Chemical Use: Markup Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, 2d sess., on H.R. 5337, 22 September 1988 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1988), 12. 169 Confidential Information Memorandum, “Update on Proposed Iraq CW Legislation,” National Security Council, William J. Burns to John D. Negroponte, 7 October 1988, folder “Iraq [1987-1988],” box 91849, Burns Files.
longer using chemical weapons] on the same day, thereby nullifying the sanctions.” It also planned to urge the Iraqi government, through Ambassador Glaspie, “to exercise restraint in the wake of Congressional action.”170 These back-door maneuvers would have limited damage and insured that Congress would be prevented from achieving its objective to punish Iraq for chemical weapons use on the Kurds. In a memoir published five years after Halabja, Shultz claimed his efforts to get tough on Iraq were not supported by subordinates at the State Department or CIA and that the U.S. allied with Iraq for balance-of-power reasons. The concern at the time was to prevent Iran from threatening the oil-rich Gulf States and Israel.171 Colin Powell, in his autobiography published in 1995, does not mention Halabja by name but does reveal knowledge of CW use. We knew that Saddam had used both mustard and nerve gases in his war against Iran. We knew that he had used gas on Iraq’s rebellious Kurdish minority in 1988, killing or injuring four thousand Kurds. 172 Like many other U.S. officials, Powell lumps civilians with guerrillas in his assessment. He, too, justified American policy towards Iraq with a balance-of-power strategy, in a discussion concerning the 1991 Gulf War: “However much we despised Saddam and what he had done, the U.S. had little desire to shatter his country. For the previous ten years, Iran, not Iraq, had been our Persian Gulf nemesis. We wanted Iraq to continue as a threat and a counterweight to Iran.” Neither Shultz nor Powell expressed any regrets over their roles in the administration’s reaction to Iraqi CW use in 1988. On 15 September 2003, then Secretary of State Powell spoke at a ceremony at the Halabja Memorial after
Confidential Information Memorandum, “Impact of Congressional Sanctions on Iraq,” National Security Council, William J. Burns to John D. Negroponte, 11 October 1988, folder “Iraq [1987-1988],” box 91849, Burns Files. 171 George Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 235-245. 172 Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico, My American Journey (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995), 455.
the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein. He said, “I cannot tell you that the world should have acted sooner. You know that.” He added, “I will always remember Halabja.”173 In 1989, after the first Bush administration took the reigns of American power, credits were doubled to Iraq from $500 million to $1 billion. This policy was enacted in spite of the fact that in December 1988 the CIA had labeled Iraq’s treatment of the Kurds as “terrorism” and a report produced within the State Department—prepared by Richard Schifter, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs— called Iraq’s human rights record “abysmal” in 1988 for its “grave” human rights violations against the Kurdish insurgency.174 Schifter’s position, often at odds with other State Department officials and an example of the divisions within the U.S. government concerning Iraq, may have been related to personal history. While testifying before a subcommittee hearing on behalf of the Genocide Convention Implementation Act, ironically held on 16 March 1988, Schifter stated simply, “Mr. Chairman, I have not added a great deal of emotion to this statement. Let me simply say to you that it is not necessary for me to do so. My own father and mother are two of the six million,” referring to the death of his parents during the Holocaust.175
“Secretary Powell Honors Halabja Victims,” Kurdistan Newsline, 16 September 2003, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website, http://www.puk.org/web/htm/news/nws/paul_halabja030915.html, accessed 6 June 2007. 174 Central Intelligence Agency, “Iraq’s National Security Goals: An Intelligence Assessment,” December 1988, p. 11, CIA Electronic Reading Room, National Security Archive, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchive/NSAEBB/NSAEBB80/ accessed 8/26/07; and U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988: Reports Submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate and Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives by the Department of State (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1989), 1355-1365. 175 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Genocide Convention Implementation Act. Hearing before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and International Law of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 100th Cong., 2d sess., H.R. 807, 16 March 1988 (Washington, D.C.: 1988) 15.
The overall impression obtained from the secret memos, however, is of an administration averse to displeasing the Iraqi government. Officials wanted to prevent the erosion of relations between the two countries, that had been warming ever since Iraq was removed from the list of states sponsoring terrorism in 1984, and maximize the potential for economic trade. Iran was considered a greater threat to Persian Gulf oil, and the American economy was dependent on fossil fuels as its primary source of energy. Human rights in such a framework were a side issue, requiring lip service but not dictating foreign policy strategy.
United Nations Reaction The United Nations was informed about the Halabja attacks, sent a team to investigate Iran’s charges that Iraq had used chemical weapons, blamed both Iran and Iraq for the continued use of poison gas, and pleaded with both sides to stop. These pleas, however, fell on deaf ears and were completely ineffectual in stopping the Anfal from proceeding unhindered. The first notice the UN received about Halabja was from Iran. Ambassador Mohammad Ja’afar Mahallati wrote a brief letter to UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar on 17 March—five days before the story was widely publicized in the media —in which vague references to Halabja appear. “The criminal and savage Iraqi régime also deployed chemical weapons in the operational theatre of Valfajr on the said date [16 March],” Mahallati wrote; “several civilians were martyred and injured.” The letter ends,
as do each of these diplomatic missives, with the standard request that “it would be highly appreciated if this letter were circulated as a document of the Security Council.”176 Mahallati continued writing to the Secretary General, sending him six letters over seven days between 17 March and 25 March. The foreign minister’s second letter expanded on the first, saying, “I have the honour and the sad duty to inform you that … Iraq used chemical weapons on a massive scale in Val Fajr 10 operational theatre and also against Iraqi Kurdish areas.” The ambassador called the attacks “inhuman” and a “flagrant violation” of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Poisonous, Asphyxiating and Other Gases. Mahallati charged the UN as a whole and the Security Council in particular as “constitutionally responsible to adopt effective measures to uphold” the protocol’s authority and asked the UN to compel the “criminal Iraqi regime” to stop using chemical weapons. The letter also hinted at an Iranian CW capability by pleading with the Secretary General to “relieve the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran of the agony of considering retaliatory measures.”177 On 18 March Mahallati sent Pérez de Cuéllar more details about Halabja, this time citing an exponentially higher statistic of fatalities. He reported that “the Iraqi chemical bombardment resulted in the death of some 4,000 residents and wounded thousands others, including women and children.”178 The ambassador also mentioned
Letter Dated 17 March 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 17 March 1988, UN document no. S/19637. 177 Letter Dated 17 March 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 17 March 1988, UN document no. S/19639. 178 Letter Dated 18 March 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 18 March 1988, UN document no. S/19647.
Iran’s ongoing evacuation operation. Relatively soon after the attacks, the UN knew about claims of high civilian casualties. Mahallati’s next letter enclosed a copy of an article from Jane’s Defence referring to Iraq as the “Middle East’s biggest chemical weapon producer.” Obviously the Iranian diplomat kept up with English-language media. He again referred to the Halabja attacks: “I have the honour to draw your attention to the madness of the Iraqi regime which has not even spared its own citizens from blind and massive chemical attacks…” and urged the UN to take appropriate reaction.179 On 19 March Mahallati forwarded a letter from Ali-Akbar Velayati, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, in which it is clear that Iran intended to use the Halabja attacks to turn international opinion against Iraq in the context of the Iran-Iraq war. Velayati criticizes the Security Council for failing to take “any effective measures” in response to repeated CW use and refers to the council’s “irresponsible and indifferent attitude” which he charges has “encouraged and emboldened Iraq to employ chemical weapons even against innocent Iraqi civilians.” He calls the attacks war crimes and rhetorically asks if the silence of the UN has not turned the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international instruments into “empty and ineffective slogans.” 180 Halabja had obviously given the Iranian government—notorious for its own human rights violations—an opportunity to appear to be taking the high moral road. In another example of Iran’s use of Halabja’s propaganda value, Tehran declared
Letter Dated 18 March 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 18 March 1988, UN document no. S/19648.
Letter Dated 19 March 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 21 March 1988, UN document no. S/19664.
Saturday, 26 March 1988, a day of national mourning “in the memory of the victims of the chemical bombing of Halabja by the Ba‘athist regime of Iraq” and asked that the Iranian flag at the UN be flown at half mast.181 Iran then threatened to boycott peace talks with the Secretary General on the IranIraq war if an investigative team was not sent to see the victims of Halabja. Pérez de Cuéllar, citing “considerable and most serious evidence in the public domain” that Iraq had again used poison gas, finally agreed. His spokesman referred to the Secretary General’s consistent and unequivocal condemnation of chemical weapon use “whenever and wherever this may occur.”182 Several members of the UN Security Council, including the U.S. and France, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Secretary General not to send a team, arguing that the visit would “divert attention from the peace process.”183 On 4 April the Secretary General received three letters from Tehran and one from Baghdad. In the first, Iran sent dozens of photographs of the corpses lining the streets of Halabja, which it now called “genocide.” The graphic photographs mostly depict women and children with liquid oozing from their eyes and mouths; some feature journalists walking among the dead. The accompanying letter, from Ambassador Mahmoud S. Madarshahi, states “it is impossible even to try to justify the silence and inaction of the United Nations machinery.”184 In spite of Iran’s exploitation of the attacks, their diplomats raised legitimate concerns. Iran also gave the UN a videotape of the “carnage”
Letter Dated 25 March 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 25 March 1988, UN document no. S/19690. 182 Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 8. 183 “U.N. to Study Poison-Gas Charge,” New York Times, 26 March 1988, A2; and Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 125. 184 Letter Dated 4 April 1988 from the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 4 April 1988, UN document no. A/43/279, S/19726.
in Halabja, which it said also showed the “hospitality” of the people of the town to Iranian combatants who “liberated the city without even one shell.”185 In the third Iranian communiqué Madarshahi reported additional chemical weapons attacks (the second Anfal) to Pérez de Cuéllar and continued to poignantly question the UN’s inability to stop them. Is there any doubt for the international community that the continued silence of the United Nations and its lack of effective action are responsible for emboldening Iraq to continue its genocide against its Kurdish civilians? How many more Halabjas and Ghareh-Daghs are required to bring the United Nations system out of its political expediency? How many innocent civilians have to be martyred before any effective preventive and punitive measures are adopted against Iraqi criminals? In the opinion of any objective observer, the time for effective action is long overdue, and the price for this silence is enormously high.186 Iraq, meanwhile, continued to deny using chemical weapons at Halabja and went on a diplomatic offensive, accusing Iran of CW use on the city. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz requested on 4 April that the UN send a team to Baghdad to see the Iraqi soldiers injured by the poison gas.187 Iran responded swiftly to these charges, categorically rejecting them and accusing Iraq of trying to divert attention from their own guilt for the Halabja attacks. As evidence that Iraq’s claims were not credible, Velayati cited the fact that Iraq had not requested a UN mission be sent to Halabja but only to Baghdad and argued that an investigation that did not include a visit to Halabja would be incomplete. Velayati also complained that, while the UN waited two weeks before
Letter Dated 4 April 1988 from the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 4 April 1988, UN document no. A/43/280, S/19727. A copy of the videotape was made available for consultation at the Reference and Bibliography Section of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, room L-211. 186 Letter Dated 4 April 1988 from the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 4 April 1988, UN document no. A/43/281, S/19733. 187 Letter Dated 4 April 1988 from the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 5 April 1988, UN document no. S/19730.
deciding to send a mission to Iran to investigate Halabja, the Secretary General responded positively to Iraq’s request within twenty-four hours.188 On 20 April Iran sent the UN a long report on Iraq’s chemical weapons use over the last eight years. The table lists more than two hundred separate poison gas incidents by place, date, means (artillery, mortar shell, aircraft), number of victims, and substance (nerve gas, mustard, blister, blood gas). The data covers the time period from 13 January 1981 to 18 April 1988 and runs fourteen pages long. Nearly all of the attacks occurred in Iranian territory. A sharp escalation in the number of attacks can be traced beginning in 1987. 189 The cover letter accompanying the list sounds more exasperated than diplomatic: “The Iraqi regime seems to have abandoned all logic and sanity in deploying this most devastating and anti-human weapon … which is setting a most dangerous historical precedent threatening the entire human population.” Meanwhile, Pérez de Cuéllar had dispatched a two-person team to investigate the Halabja attacks. For the fifth time in four years, he asked Dr. Manual Dominguez, a colonel in the Spanish Army Medical Corps, to head the team. A professor of preventive medicine at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Dominguez was a specialist in atomic, biological and chemical weapons injuries. He was accompanied by James Holger, a senior official at the United Nations Secretariat. The team left London on 27 March, spent three days interviewing and examining patients in Iran, flew to Geneva and began to prepare their report. While in Geneva, the
Letter Dated 5 April 1988 from the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, United Nations, 5 April 1988, UN document no. A/43/288, S/19741. 189 The break-down of the number of attacks by year is as follows: 1981-5, 1982-6, 1983-33, 1984-19, 1985-52, 1986-37, 1987-77, 1988-23 (as of 18 April). Letter Dated 20 April 1988 from the Acting Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations addressed to the SecretaryGeneral, United Nations, 21 April 1988, UN document no. S/19816.
Secretary General, in response to Iraq’s request to investigate charges of Iranian CW use, asked Dominguez and Holger to return to the region, which they did, arriving in Baghdad on 7 April, where they spent three days as well. They were not, however, permitted by the Iraqi government to go to Halabja, which greatly hampered their investigation. In Iran they saw civilians as well as soldiers with CW injuries; in Baghdad they only saw soldiers with similar symptoms. They returned to Geneva on 11 April and submitted their findings in two parts: on 25 April Dominguez turned in his 26-page report; on 10 May he submitted an appendix which listed case notes for each of the 70 patients examined in Iran and the 39 patients examined in Iraq.190 Dominguez concluded that the patients he examined in Iran had been affected by chemical weapons and that “a considerable number of those affected were civilians.”191 As for which type of gas was used, he reported that yperite (mustard gas) plus an unknown type of “acetylcholine esterase-inhibiting substance” or nerve gas had caused the symptoms he witnessed. He determined that the patients he examined in Iraq—all military personnel—had also been affected by chemical weapons, with substances similar to those seen affecting the patients in Iran. Dominguez lamented that the use of chemical weapons appeared to be on the rise, an observation which he found all the more disturbing for the “apparent increase in the number of civilian casualties.” Crucially, Dominguez stated that “it was not possible to make an independent determination in either of the two phases of the investigation of the extent of chemical warfare agents and the means by which the chemical agents had been delivered.” In other words, based on
Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq, United Nations, 25 April 1988, UN document no. S/19823; and Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq, United Nations, 10 May 1988, UN document no. S/19823/Add.1. 191 UN document no. S/19823, p. 16.
the evidence, he could not say how many victims were killed or injured at Halabja, nor could he determine whether Iran or Iraq had been the perpetrator.192 Secretary General Pérez de Cuéllar transmitted Dominguez’s report to the Security Council on 25 April along with prefatory remarks which expressed his “deep sense of dismay and foreboding” at the report’s conclusions: “that chemical weapons continue to be used in the conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq and that their use in recent days has evidently been on an even more intensive scale than before.” Referring as well to the increase in civilian casualties, Pérez de Cuéllar expressed his “grave concern” that “such use could further escalate and seriously undermine the Geneva Protocol of 1925.” He urged the two parties to allow UNSC resolution 598 (1987) to be implemented, aimed at the “achievement of a comprehensive, just, honourable and durable settlement of this conflict.”193 Thus, the UN did not single out Iraq for its responsibility for the attacks on Halabja, and when both countries were named Iran was always cited first (the countries were likely named in alphabetical order to foster a sense of evenhandedness). Both Iran and Iraq were treated equally, sharing the blame for the attacks in particular and for chemical weapons use in general, despite the lack of evidence of Iranian use. The UN was following the lead of the Reagan administration, which had claimed Iranian culpability without producing any evidence of Tehran’s involvement. Once the UN report came out, there was little international will to hold Iraq accountable. Both the Secretary General and the investigators recognized the limitations of such UN missions. Pérez de Cuéllar cited a passage from a previous investigation, the 6
Ibid., 6. Ibid., 3.
May 1987 UN report, which alluded to the need for political efforts rather than repeated medical investigations if the global community wanted to stop CW use. The specialists wrote: We have done all that we can to identify the types of chemicals and chemical weapons being used in the Iran-Iraq conflict. … Technically there is little more that we can do that is likely to assist the United Nations in its efforts to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the present conflict. In our view, only concerted efforts at the political level can be effective. …194 Without leadership on the Security Council, from the U.S. and other members, there was no political will to hold Iraq accountable. When asked why the report did not state who carried out the Halabja attack, Pérez de Cuéllar said experts could not detect “the nationality of the weapons.”195 The UN failed to indict Iraq because the international body gave immense weight to U.S. charges that Iran too had used chemical weapons, even though evidence backing that claim was never presented. Iraq thus encountered no obstacles to its continued chemical weapons use against the Kurds during the spring and summer of 1988.
Other Actors While Iraq denied using chemical weapons on Halabja and Iran exploited the attacks for their own purposes (evening flying patients to Europe and the U.S. for treatment to maximize publicity), how did other governments in the Arab/Muslim world react?196 After all, Halabjans were fellow Muslims, part of the umma or global Muslim
Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq, United Nations, 8 May 1987, UN document no. S/18852. 195 “U.N. Sets No Blame in Gulf War Gas Attack,” New York Times, 27 April 1988, A10. 196 Jennifer A. Kingson, “Victims of Gulf War Treated at Queens Hospital,” New York Times, 6 April 1988, A14; Teddie Weyr, “Kurds Apparently Suffering from Mustard Gas Wounds Arrive For Treatment,” Associated Press, 29 March 1988; and Ben Dobbin, “Kurds in Europe, New York for Treatment of Apparent Gas Wounds,” Associated Press, 29 March 1988.
community. Iran had called the attacks “a disgrace for the Middle East,” yet no Arab country condemned Iraq for Halabja, an indication of the influence Saddam Hussein had in the region. 197 In fact, at a conference held in Jordan ten days after Halabja, Iran was condemned. The 46-nation Islamic Conference Organization denounced Iran for riots in Mecca the year before and for failing to sign the ceasefire agreement with Iraq. The Iranian delegation to the conference walked out in protest.198 Western governments fell in step behind the United States. On 23 March the British government, for example, said it condemned the atrocity but had no independent evidence of who was guilty.199 Ottawa also condemned the attacks. Canada’s External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said he was appalled at the “atrocious and inhuman attacks” against the Kurds, but promised action against both governments, pledging to promote an arms embargo on all arms sales to Iraq and Iran.200 In an example of European reticence to allow human rights to dictate trade policy, later that summer, West Germany invited Tariq Aziz to Bonn in July ostensibly to mediate an end to the war. Aziz disclosed that Iraq had used chemical weapons but that Iran had used them first. While in Bonn, West German chancellor Helmut Kohl quietly reopened a credit line of $167 million to Iraq, which had been suspended due to nonpayment.201 Chemical weapons use, evidently, did not get in the way of such financial arrangements. Many European governments did offer humanitarian help to the victims, however. The Belgian government sent two physicians to Tehran. Dr. Aubin Heyndrickx examined
Alan Cowell, “Iran Charges Iraq with Gas Attack,” New York Times, 24 March 1988, A10. “Islamic Nations End Meeting with Denunciations of Iran,” New York Times, 26 March 1988, A32. 199 “The Town where Thousands Died,” The Guardian (London), 24 March 1988. 200 Andrew Bilski, “Under a Cloud of Death,” Maclean’s, 4 April 1988, 18. 201 Serge Schmemann, “Iraq Acknowledges Its Use of Gas But Says Iran Introduced It in War,” New York Times, 2 July 1988, A3.
survivors, took a helicopter tour of the zone, and concluded that chemical weapons had been used and that there was “no doubt that these bombings were made by Iraq.” 202 His conclusions contrast sharply with the UN report but were not widely publicized. NGOs also played in a role in the response to Halabja. On 24 March the International Committee of the Red Cross atypically issued a strongly-worded statement: “The use of chemical weapons, whether against military personnel or civilians, is absolutely forbidden by international law and is to be condemned at all times.” Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), a French organization composed of physicians who assist victims of international conflicts or disasters, sent a team to Iran in March and reported preliminarily at least 2,000 dead and 5,000 wounded from the Halabja attacks.203 The group of doctors, from 15 Western countries, blamed Iraq solely for the use of chemical weapons on the town.204 Later that year, Physicians for Human Rights, an American group of health professionals concerned about human rights abuses “regardless of the ideology of the offending government or group,” sent a mission to Turkey to investigate the 25 August chemical weapons attacks (the Final Anfal) which had sent so many Kurds to the Turkish border. The team included three physicians: Robert Mullan Cook-Deegan of Georgetown University, Howard Hu of Harvard Medical School, and Asfandiar Shukri, Emergency Services Director of the Northwest Medical Center in Detroit, who served as translator
A. Heyndrickx, “Clinical Toxicologic Reports and Conclusions Concerning the Biological and Environmental Samples Brought to the Department of Toxicology and the State University of Ghent for Toxicologic Investigation,” Report no. 88/Ku2/PJ881, in Documentation of the International Conference on “Human Rights in Kurdistan”: 14-16 April 1989, Hochschule Bremen by International Conference on Human Rights in Kurdistan, (Bremen, Germany: The Initiative for Human Rights in Kurdistan, 1989), pp. 210–225. 203 Marian Houk, “Iran Enlists US Help in Treating Victims of Chemical Attack,” Christian Science Monitor, 1 April 1988, 12. MSF reportedly obtained water, soil, and human tissue samples from Halabja but I was unable to access any subsequent report. “A Terrible Survival,” Maclean’s, 11 April 1988, 22. 204 “Iraq Uses Chemical Weapons, Doctors Say,” Japan Economic Newswire, 27 March 1988.
and observer. The group tried to enter Iraq, but the government refused them entry. The mission was in Turkey from 7–16 October. One method of data collection consisted of having twenty-seven refugees fill out a 120-question survey. Based on the questionnaire, physical examinations and videotaped interviews, Physicians for Human Rights concluded poison gas had been used. Their report also criticized several Turkish physicians, under duress no doubt from their own government, who had told Western journalists they did not find evidence of poison gas after examining refugees along the border.205 “The inability of Turkish physicians either to carry out their own complete investigation or, perhaps more likely, to disclose the full results of such investigations is a chilling reminder of the political pressure that can be brought to bear on medical inquiry,” the trio later wrote. “It also raises the question of whether physicians have an ethical obligation to report violations of international law to national and international authorities.”206 In November 1988, a British journalist, Gwynne Roberts, with the help of the KDP, secretly entered Iraq to obtain samples to determine whether poison gas had been used. He collected bomb fragments, soil and wool samples, which were then examined in a private British laboratory as well as the UK’s Chemical Defence Establishment; both analyses detected chemical weapons.207
Physicians for Human Rights, Winds of Death: Iraq’s Use of Poison Gas Against Its Kurdish Population: Report of a Medical Mission to Turkish Kurdistan by Physicians for Human Rights, (Somerville, Mass.: Physicians for Human Rights, 1989). 206 Howard Hu, Robert Cook-Deegan, and Asfandiar Shukri, “The Use of Chemical Weapons: Conducting an Investigation Using Survey Epidemiology,” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 4 August 1989, vol. 262, no. 5, pp. 640–43. 207 Alastair Hay and Gwynne Roberts, “The Use of Poison Gas Against the Iraqi Kurds: Analysis of Bomb Fragments, Soil, and Wool Samples,” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 23 February 1990, vol. 263, no. 8, pp. 1065-1066. Roberts also produced, along with Wykeham Films, a documentary video on the attacks called Winds of Death which was broadcast on the British television show Despatches, channel 4 TV, on 23 November 1988. I was unable to obtain a copy or transcript of this video.
Human rights organizations also responded but at the time were not major players. London-based Amnesty International made an unusually direct appeal to the UN Security Council to stop the “massacre” of Kurdish civilians by Iraqi forces, but not until September of 1988. They stated the killings were part of a “systematic and deliberate policy by the Iraqi government to eliminate large numbers of Kurds” and a “flagrant contravention of fundamental international human rights norms.”208 Finally, Human Rights Watch founded one of its five watch committees, Middle East Watch, in 1989 and published its first report on the attacks in 1990 based on interviews with exiles before the organization was able to visit Iraq.209 Later, after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War of 1991, the United States created the “no-fly zone” over the northern third of Iraq to protect the Kurds. This de facto autonomy gave the Kurds some breathing space; many Western observers first entered northern Iraq during this period. The opening created the opportunity for Middle East Watch to obtain evidence from within Iraqi Kurdistan for the first time. But by that point, all efforts could only work towards holding the Ba‘athist regime accountable for the atrocities of Halabja and Anfal. The window of opportunity for preventing them was over. Neither the efforts of journalists to tell the stories of the victims of Halabja, nor the urgent pleas from some members of Congress could overcome the UN’s inertia or the Reagan administration’s apparently deliberate obfuscation of the origin of the chemical bombs.
Elaine Sciolino, “Shultz to See Iraqi on Reported Gassing of Kurds,” New York Times, 8 September 1988, A16. 209 Human Rights Watch began in 1978 with the founding of Helsinki Watch by a group of publishers, lawyers and other activists. In 1993, when it published this report, it had offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Moscow, Belgrade, Zagreb and Hong Kong and conducted investigations of human rights abuses in sixty countries. Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq, xi-xii.
Chapter 5: Accountability Who or what entities have been held accountable for Halabja? Who or what entities have not been held accountable? And what long-term affects, if any, have Halabjans experienced as a result of the 1988 attacks? Some high-ranking members of the Ba‘athist government have gone to trial and been sentenced. Most companies, largely from the West, that sold Iraq the technology and supplies used to make the chemical weapons have not been penalized or charged with any crime. And the legacy of Halabja lingers in the high incidence of health problems experienced by the survivors in addition to other economic and social impacts.
The Iraqi High Tribunal For many years after Halabja, different constituents attempted to charge Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and others with war crimes under international law. The U.S. Congress repeatedly advocated for such a trial. In 2000 the U.S. Senate passed a resolution (S. Con. Res. 95) commemorating the victims of Halabja on the twelfth anniversary of the attacks, noted the failure of the U.S., UN and other bodies of the international community to “bring the perpetrators of the Halabja massacre to justice” and cited sixteen previous occasions in which the Senate and the House “called upon successive administrations to work toward the creation of an international tribunal to prosecute the war crimes of the Iraqi regime.”210 None of these administrations, Republican or Democratic, followed up on Congress’s request for a tribunal.
Congressional Record, Senate, 9 March 2000, p. S 1436, cited in Meho, 396–97. Notably, the resolution lists 5,000 civilians killed at Halabja compared to the mere hundreds cited in 1988.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) tried in vain to find a state willing to bring a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the Iraqi regime. The organization viewed Iraq’s use of chemical weapons as war crimes—which it hoped would be adjudicated by an ad hoc criminal tribunal modeled after the Rwanda and Yugoslav tribunals—and the Anfal campaign as genocide under the Genocide Convention of 1948. 211 Any one state that has signed onto the Convention can petition the ICJ; non-state actors, however, like the Kurds, can not. HRW staff felt the U.S. would not be seen as an “impartial litigant,” so they sought out other governments. Two states were willing, but only as part of a coalition that included at least one European state. But no major European power was willing to petition the ICJ.212 In 1994, HRW attempted to garner U.S. political support for an ICJ case against Iraq. The State Department’s legal advisor determined that there was a genuine case of genocide under the Genocide Convention and that an ICJ was winnable.213 Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote a departmental memo in support of the effort, but no concrete progress was achieved. The need for a tribunal was also expressed by Kurdish leaders. At the August 2003 Memorial Service for the Victims of Saddam held in Washington, D.C., for example, Kurdish Regional Government representative Howar Ziad listed four broad
Genocide has multiple, shifting definitions. Under the Genocide Convention of 1948, genocide means “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly (9 December 1948), article 2. Peter Ronayne, Never Again? The United States and the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide since the Holocaust (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) 211–12. 212 Joost Hiltermann, “Elusive Justice: Trying to Try Saddam,” Middle East Report, no. 215 (summer 2000): 32–35. 213 Ibid., 34; and Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 213.
steps he believed Iraqis should take: honor the victims and prevent recurrence yet recognize that not every crime can be tried; that Iraqis of middle and low rank as well as high-ranking Iraqi leaders should be put on trial; that Iraqis should run the tribunal; and that a truth commission be set up to educate those Iraqis who doubt the veracity of some of Saddam Hussein’s crimes. Ziad noted that some Shi‘i Arabs loathed the former regime but had never heard of Halabja. He also dismissed claims that Iraqis were not qualified to run the tribunal. “Some human rights groups with short memories have claimed that we are not objective enough to try our oppressors, a view that many Iraqis find frankly rather patronizing,” he said and referred to the Nuremberg tribunal after World War II as a successful precedent.214 After the U.S.-led Coalition of the Willing overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime during the Iraq War launched in 2003, a tribunal was put in place to try the multiple crimes of the Ba‘athist government. The Iraqi High Tribunal (also known as the Iraqi Special Tribunal) was set up by the Iraq Interim Government in 2004 under the watchful eye and financial support of the U.S., which provided $150 million, tight security and lawyers from the Justice Department. The latter gathered evidence and developed prosecution strategies for the trials.215 Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was initially tried in the Dujail case, in which he was charged with killing 148 Shi‘i men and boys in southern Iraq after a failed assassination attempt against him in 1982.216 Hussein was also a defendant in a second
Howar Ziad, “Ba‘athist Genocides: Lest We Forget,” Remarks made at The Memorial Service for the Victims of Saddam, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 2 August 2003. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website http://www.puk.org/web/htm/news/nws/hawar030803.html (accessed 6 June 2007). 215 John F. Burns, “Chemical Ali Denies Role in Gas Attacks on Kurds,” International Herald Tribune, 14 May 2007. 216 John F. Burns, “Hussein’s Cousin Sentenced to Die for Kurd Attacks: Found Guilty of Genocide,” New York Times, 25 June 2007, A1.
trial which focused on crimes committed during the Anfal campaign. In November 2006, while the Anfal trial was underway, Hussein was sentenced to death for the Dujail crimes and swiftly hanged on 30 December 2006. Three other former officials, including his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, were also hanged.217 Many felt Hussein was executed by his Shi‘a enemies before he was made to pay for crimes against Kurds.218 If Saddam Hussein held ultimate authority for the repression of the Kurds, Ali Hassan al-Majid was the campaign’s principle architect. Known by the nickname Ali Kimiawi (Arabic for “Chemical Ali”), al-Majid was found guilty of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death on 24 June 2007. His sentence was upheld by the Iraqi High Tribunal’s appellate court on 4 September 2007 and ordered to be carried out within thirty days. The death sentences of two other defendants—former Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed al-Jabouri al-Tai and former Iraqi Military Deputy Commander of Operations Hussein Rashid—were also upheld. At the time of this writing, all three executions have been put on hold indefinitely. Reportedly the U.S. government, which has custody of these convicted Sunni prisoners, believes their executions may jeopardize recent alliances with Sunni tribal leaders in what had been the volatile Anbar province; in addition, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has stated his personal reservations about capital punishment. It appears at this point that Sultan Hashem, who is widely respected by senior U.S. military officials, may have his sentence
Burns, “Chemical Ali Denies Role in Gas Attacks on Kurds,” International Herald Tribune, 14 May 2007. 218 Andrew Wilson, “Halabja: ‘They’ve Suffered So Much,’” Sky News, Inside Iraq Series, 17 March 2007, Kurdistan Regional Government website, http://www.krg.org/articles/article_print.asp?ArticleNr=16772 (accessed 21 May 2007).
reduced.219 Two other officials in military intelligence—Sabir Abdul-Aziz al-Duri and Farhan Motlak al-Jabouri—received life imprisonment for their roles in the Anfal. 220 As of Fall 2007, a trial specifically focusing on the attacks at Halabja is in preparation along with at least ten other trials under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi High Tribunal. The Intifada trial will concentrate on the suppression of the Shi‘a uprising across southern Iraq in 1991 in which 150,000 people were killed. Two of the defendants for that trial will include Saddam Hussein’s chief bodyguard, Abid Hamid Mahmud alTikriti, and Saddam’s half-brother, the former director of the security agency (Mukhabarat) Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti. Other upcoming trials will center on the disappearances of thousands of male members of the prominent Kurdish family, the Barzanis, in 1983 and the persecution of Shi‘a marsh Arabs in southern Iraq.221 The highest authorities in the former Iraqi government are thus being held accountable for crimes against the people of Iraq: Saddam Hussein for his repression of the Shi‘a—and not the Kurds—and “Chemical Ali” for the Anfal—not Halabja. If alMajid is executed before the Halabja trial begins, then middle-ranking military officers and government officials will likely be prosecuted for their supportive roles in the 16 March attacks. But while former Iraqi officials have been publicly paraded into a court of law, other parties, with less visible, more indirect roles—such as the companies that supplied Iraq with the means to make chemical weapons—have managed to deflect responsibility and evade prosecution.
The Companies That Supplied Iraq
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Alissa J. Rubin, “Execution Case Tests Iraq’s Bid to Ease Divide,” New York Times, 27 October 2007. 220 Burns, “Hussein’s Cousin Sentenced to Die for Kurd Attacks,” New York Times, 25 June 2007. 221 Ibid., A6.
When journalist Kevin McKiernan visited Halabja in 2003, one of the Kurds he spoke with was Ibrahim Hawrahmani, a man who had witnessed the chemical attack from a nearby mountain. Hawrahmani asked the reporter, “Did you know that 287 companies got contracts for the chemical weapons that were used against us? … You news people didn’t come here to do reports.” Accountability for the companies—mostly Western— that sold Iraq the materials and technology to manufacture chemical weapons in the 1980s has largely been absent. There have been a few cases, however. Two individuals have been charged and convicted for crimes relating to the sales of chemical weapons to Iraq. Frans van Anraat, a Dutch businessman, was charged with complicity in war crimes for supplying chemicals that were used by the Iraqi government against the Kurds. Acting as a middleman, van Anraat arranged for the shipment of chemicals—labeled as “flame retardants”—from various manufacturers to Iraq via countries such as Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Singapore. According to the Dutch court’s indictment, he used a Panamanian company based in Switzerland to conceal his dealings with Iraq. The court said van Anraat knew the materials would be used to make poison gas and continued to supply Iraq with CWs after the Halabja attacks.222 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been investigating van Anraat since 1984 and turned over significant evidence to Dutch authorities. ICE agents determined that van Anraat had sold Iraq thousands of tons of thiodiglycol, a known precursor to mustard gas, and that he had bought these chemicals from Alcolac, a company then based in Baltimore, Maryland. 223 After a U.S. indictment in 1989 for
Marlise Simons, “Vendor Tied to Gas Attack Is Convicted,” New York Times, 24 December 2005, A5. “17 Years for Supplying Chemicals to Iraq,” Summary of the Judgment of the Court of Appeals, English translation, 9 May 2007, http://www.rechtspraak.nl (accessed 3 October 2007); and “Fact Sheets: Select ICE Arms & Strategic Technology Investigations,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 2006, http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/ICEarmsstrategic.htm (accessed 6 June 2007).
export violations, van Anraat fled to Iraq where he lived under Saddam Hussein’s protection until 2003. He was later arrested by Dutch authorities in 2004. During his trial an Iraqi special security forces memo was entered as evidence. It indicated that van Anraat had been granted an Iraqi passport with the name “Faris Mansour” as a reward for his “valuable services” providing “our institutions and the military industry with chemical and other rare materials.”224 On 23 December 2005 the court found him guilty of complicity in war crimes and gave him the maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment. The court acquitted van Anraat of complicity in genocide, however, saying it could not be proved that he knew the chemicals would be used for genocide. His intent, they said, was greed. He appealed the decision. On 9 May 2007 the Dutch Court of Appeals in The Hague not only denied his appeal but extended the sentence of the 65-year-old to 17 years.225 The van Anraat case was especially significant because it was the first time a court had ruled that the attack on Halabja was genocide.226 The other person to be charged in connection with chemical sales to Iraq was Christopher Drogoul, a banker based in Atlanta. Drogoul was a bank manager for the Atlanta branch of the Italian bank, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), and was convicted of fraud for illegally granting Saddam Hussein more than $5 billion in secret loans, which in turn were mostly used to make arms purchases. Drogoul was sentenced to three years and one month in prison on 10 December 1993; his trial was part of what became known as the Iraqgate scandal. Allegations, never proven in court, were made against the first Bush administration for arranging the loans. Hearings on the BNL
“Dutch Businessman Who Sold Chemicals to Saddam Appeals War Crimes Conviction,” International Herald Tribune, 1 April 2007. 225 Marlise Simons, “World Briefing Europe: The Netherlands: Stiffer Sentence for Iraq Poison Gas,” New York Times, 10 May 2007, A14; and “Frans Van Anraat,” Facts and Legal Procedure, Trial Watch http://www.trial-ch.org/trialwatch/profil_print.php?ProfileID=286&Lang=en (accessed 3 October 2007). 226 Simons, “Vendor Tied to Gas Attack is Convicted.”
scandal were held on Capitol Hill, revealing a complex web of economic deals between the U.S. and Iraq during the 1980s. President George H. W. Bush was subpoenaed to testify in person at Drogoul’s trial, but the banker decided to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence; Bush did not have to appear in court. In 1990, after Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Iraq defaulted on the multi-billion dollar loans; on 18 February 1995 the federal government agreed to pay $400 million to BNL to settle their claim for $450 million in unpaid loans to Iraq. These loans had been guaranteed by American taxpayers under the Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).227 Drawing a direct line, however, between the BNL players and the attacks at Halabja is problematic. What is certain, however, is that the billions of dollars in U.S. governmentbacked loans enabled Saddam Hussein to be able to afford massive arms purchases during the 1980s, including chemical weapons materials and technology. In other words, without the cash, Hussein may have had to resort to more conventional means in suppressing the Kurdish peshmerga during and after the Iran-Iraq war, which may have spared civilian casualties. Relatively few companies have had legal action taken against them, and none have provided the victims with compensation. A Baltimore-based chemical manufacturer, Alcolac, which illegally sold van Anraat tons of thiodyglycol in 1987–1988, pled guilty
Iraqgate largely focuses on fraud and risky credit lending rather than the use of chemical weapons on civilians. See Neil A. Lewis, “Bank Official Gets Reduced Term Over Iraq Loans,” New York Times, 10 December 1993; “Settlement Reached on Loans Made to Iraq,” New York Times, 18 February 1995; U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, Iraqi and Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Participation in Export-Import Programs, Hearing before the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, House of Representatives, 102nd cong., 1st sess., 17 April 1991, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1991); Congressional Record, House of Representatives, “Concerns About Foreign Bank Regulation, BNL Loans to Iraq, and BNL Loans to Iraqi Front Companies,” 31 July 1992, p. H7137-7144; Said Aburish, Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000), 361; and Stephen J. Hedges and Brian Duffy, “Iraqgate: How the Bush Administration Helped Saddam Hussein buy His Weapons of War and Why American Taxpayers Got Stuck with the Bill,” U.S. News & World Report, 18 May 1992.
in 1989 to federal export violations involving shipment of chemicals that could be used to make mustard gas (the guilty plea was actually for a shipment that was headed for Iran, but prosecutors said the company shipped more to Iraq). The company was fined nearly $438,000 in 1990 and has since restructured. Alcolac Inc. is currently based in Georgia and owned by a French-based firm, Rhodia Inc., whose U.S. operations are located in Cranberry, New Jersey.228 Accountability for corporate entities can be elusive due to the ability of companies to change ownership or management and the existence of numerous middlemen between a chemical’s manufacturer and its ultimate buyer. Responsibility for end-use is also made more complex because many chemicals have dual uses, both civilian and military. Nerve gas is made up of the same components as common pesticide, for example. In Iraq’s case, however, a red flag was the massive quantities ordered. Another American company, Al Haddad Enterprises based in Nashville, Tennessee, had a shipment of 74 barrels of potassium fluoride—a component of Sarin nerve gas—seized by U.S. Customs in 1984 before it reached Iraq’s State Establishment for Pesticide Protection (SEPP), widely regarded as one of many front entities used by Hussein to camouflage his chemical weapons program. Al Haddad was headed up by Sahib Abd al-Amir al-Haddad, an Iraqi-born, naturalized American citizen; he was never
“Md. Chemical Manufacturer Fined,” Washington Post, 27 May 1990, D7; “Guilty Plea in Gas Sale to Iran,” Washington Post, 14 February 1989; Eric Rich, “Baltimore Firm Part of Probe of Poison Gas: Dutch Authorities Tracking Chemicals Used by Iraq,” Washington Post, 9 November 2005; Seth Carus, The Genie Unleashed: Iraq’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Program, Policy Papers no. 14 (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1989), 43n2; and Jim Crogan, “Made in the USA, Part III: The Dishonor Roll: America’s Corporate Merchants of Death in Iraq,” LA Weekly, 24 April 2003.
charged with a crime for this shipment, as U.S. export controls had not yet come into effect. His company has since dissolved.229 Litigation was also directed toward companies in Germany which supplied Iraq with equipment and ingredients for chemical weapons. Twenty-five defendants from thirteen firms were investigated including the company Pilot Plant, a subsidiary of laboratory equipment supplier Karl Kolb. Three Karl Kolb employees were charged with violating German export laws but were all found not guilty. A Dutch company, Melchemie Holland B.V., was convicted of selling restricted chemicals without a license and fined $30,000. One of the chemicals it sold to Iraq’s SEPP was phosphorous oxycholoride, a nerve gas component. But such legal judgments do not link these suppliers with specific attacks. More documentation, company memos and Iraqi military records perhaps, will have to surface before direct connections can be made. As recently as 2006 a French news article quoted Kamil Abdel Qader, head of the Halabja Chemical Victims’ Society, as saying the list of companies that supplied Saddam Hussein had not been made public, and the reporter, surprisingly, seemed to agree.230 Apparently Qader and this reporter were both unaware at that time that the list had been leaked, was published by a German paper and is available online. Although there has been relatively little litigation of companies that supplied Iraq, the list of companies from the U.S. and Europe has indeed been reported; perhaps word of the leaked list has not been widespread.
John J. Fialka, “Outlawed Weapons—A Scourge Returns—Fighting Dirty: Western Industry Sells Third World the Means to Produce Poison Gas—Germans in Particular Supply the New ‘Pesticide Plants’ in Volatile Mideast Region—Nabbing a Cargo at Kennedy,” Wall Street Journal, 16 September 1988, 1; Philip Shenon, “Suppliers: Declaration Lists Companies That Sold Chemicals to Iraq,” New York Times, 21 December 2002, A11; and Crogan, “Made in the USA.” 230 Simon Ostrovsky, “Halabja Wants Saddam’s Chemical Suppliers to Pay,” Agence France-Presse, 20 May 2006, in The Centre of Halabja, C.H.A.K., http://www.nawandihalabja.com (accessed 24 June 2007).
The list was leaked in the following manner. In the context of meeting UN demands for full disclosure of its weapons of mass destruction capability, the Iraqi government produced two massive reports, one in 1996 and another in 2002, which included long lists of the companies that had armed Iraq. One copy of the 11,000-page document was provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the other to the UN. Under pressure from Western governments, the UN declined to release the list to the public. The U.S., however, reportedly obtained the UN copy, distributed unedited versions to select permanent members of the Security Council, and distributed edited copies, with the sections referring to international corporations omitted, to the press.231 The attempt at censorship failed, however, and the unedited list leaked out. Andreas Zumach, the Geneva-based UN correspondent for the Berlin alternative daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung, obtained the top-secret unedited list which his paper published on 17 December 2002. The unedited report listed twenty-four American companies as having illegally supplied Iraq with weapons. (For a list of the American companies, see Appendix 7.) Germany had the most companies on the list at eighty. France had ten companies on the list; the total came to more than 150 foreign companies supplying Iraq with nuclear, biological, chemical, and conventional weapons from 1975 to 2001.232
Tony Paterson, “Leaked Report says German and US Firms Supplied Arms to Saddam,” The Independent, 18 December 2002. For a list of the twenty-four American companies in the list, see Appendix 6. 232 Ibid.; Andreas Zumach, “Fremde Hilfe fur Saddam (Strange Assistance for Saddam),” Die Tageszeitung (Berlin), 17 December 2002, http://www.taz.de/index.php? id=archivseite&dig=2002/12/19/a0080&type=98, (accessed 3 October 2007); and “Top Secret Iraq Weapons Report Says the U.S. Government & Corporations Helped to Illegally Arm Iraq, Part Two,” Democracy Now! 19 December 2002, http://www.democracynow.org/print.pl?sid=03/04/07/0315209, (accessed 3 October 2007).
Two German companies on the list with chemical weapons links were Preussag, later called TUI, which provided Iraq with thirty tons of phosphorus oxychloride (sarin nerve gas component) and Hoechst, which sold Iraq ten tons of the same chemical. Both companies have since been split up.233 Only one of the twenty-four American companies was identified as having specifically supplied Iraq’s chemical weapons program (as opposed to nuclear, biological and conventional weapons): Alcolac. But later investigative reporting by Jim Crogan of LA Weekly, after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, produced a more comprehensive list of ninety-one American companies or foreign companies with U.S. affiliates selling arms to Iraq; among these are eighteen with ties to chemical weapons manufacturing, sales, and technology (for a list of the eighteen companies, see Appendix 8).234 Several of these American companies are household names while others are obscure. Bechtel Group, based in San Francisco, California, served as the engineering consultant for a $2 billion petrochemical complex near Baghdad known as Petrochemical Complex 2. The company has deep ties to former and current U.S. officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz, Bechtel’s former president and member of the board of directors, and former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, Bechtel’s general counsel, among others. Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, California, provided more than $690,000 worth of computer equipment and frequency synthesizers to Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI) which was responsible for Hussein’s chemical weapons programs. Honeywell, based in Morristown, New Jersey, sold more than $353,000 worth of computers to MIMI and supplied a “process flow controller” used
Shenon, “Suppliers: Declaration Lists Companies that Sold Chemicals to Iraq,” New York Times. Crogan, “Made in the USA.”
in Iraq’s CW program.235 Lummus Crest Inc., formerly based in Bloomfield, New Jersey, provided more than $250,000 worth of equipment to MIMI used for a multibillion-dollar petrochemical complex at Basra to make thiodiglycol (mustard gas component). Some other examples from the group of eighteen include Nu Kraft Mercantile Corp., a front company and subsidiary (reportedly no more than an empty warehouse) for Brooklyn-based United Steel and Strip Corp., an import/export firm. Nu Kraft allegedly transferred more than 300 tons of thiodiglycol from Alcolac to Iraq via stops in Antwerp, Belgium and Jordan and is no longer in business. Phillips Export, now part of Houstonbased ConocoPhillips, sold 500 tons of thiodiglycol to Iraq’s SEPP via the Dutch firm KBS Holland. Union Carbide, formerly based in Danburry, Connecticut, and which later merged with Dow Chemical Company based in Midland, Michigan, shipped the chemical xylene to Iraq which was also used in its CW program. And finally, Unisys Corp., based in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, sold $2.2 million worth of computers to MIMI.236 In 2003 the New York Times published a map of the world showing the origins by country of Iraq’s chemical weapons program. The graphic was produced by Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, a Washington-based research group that tracks WMD. No American firms appeared on the map, but Milhollin noted that they “show up on lists of suppliers of anthrax strains to Iraq, and of advanced electronics for nuclear and missile sites.”237 What the map does show is only part of the picture, since it is based on Iraq’s own declaration. In addition to Western sources, Asian suppliers also appear on the map. The major role of Singapore may be deceptive; van Anraat, for
Ibid. Ibid. 237 Gary Milhollin and Kelly Motz, “The Means to Make the Poisons Came From the West,” New York Times, 13 April 2003.
example, had used Singapore as a stop between the country of origin and the final destination. The Iraqi-supplied data was broken down into three categories: ingredients, equipment, and munitions. Iraq declared imports of 17,602 tons of chemicals (that were technically dual-use); Singapore sold Iraq the most (4,515 tons), followed by the Netherlands (4,261 tons) and Egypt (2,400 tons). Iraq declared imports of 340 pieces of CW equipment; Germany sold the most equipment (52 percent), followed by France (21 percent) and Austria (16 percent). The declaration said that between 1983 and 1989 Iraq imported more than 200,000 artillery shells, aerial bombs, and rockets designed for chemical weapons delivery. Italy was the country that sold Iraq the most munitions (75,000 shells/rockets) followed by Spain (57,500) and China (45,000).238 Thus, the components of the chemical weapons program responsible for the attacks on Halabja evidently had their origins in numerous parts of the globe, mostly in Europe, but with substantial contributions from the United States. Accountability among such a maze of trails is daunting. One individual, however, unrelated to Iraq’s chemical weapons use on the Kurds, is attempting to hold Western companies accountable: Gary B. Pitts, a Houston lawyer, is representing thousands of Gulf War veterans in a lawsuit against many of the larger companies, alleging they may be responsible for the veterans’ health problems.239 His ongoing lawsuit has made documents available which before had been under wraps. It is unclear, however, whether Halabja survivors will be successful in their attempts to get compensation from such companies for the loss of relatives and lingering affects from the attacks.
Ibid. Shenon, “Suppliers: Declaration Lists Companies That Sold Chemicals to Iraq,” New York Times.
Long-Term Impacts of Halabja on the Kurds What long-term affects have survivors of the attacks experienced, and what efforts have been made to alleviate them? And what do the Kurds of Halabja want from local government as well as multinational corporations? One of the largest problems affecting Halabjans is the lack of in-depth, systematic studies on the health of survivors and environmental impacts on soil and water. Preliminary studies have concluded that Halabjans experience dramatically higher rates of cancers, vision and respiratory problems, miscarriages, and children born with deformities compared to towns nearby that were not gassed. Access to sophisticated healthcare treatments has been limited, and many people, especially women, suffer from depression. The people of Halabja are frustrated with the lack of assistance they have received from both local Kurdish government officials as well as the international community. The little research that has been carried out on these impacts was spearheaded by two physicians, one British and the other Kurdish. In 1999, Dr. Christine M. Gosden, professor of medical genetics at the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with Dr. Fouad Baban, a pulmonary and cardiac specialist and one of Kurdistan’s best-known doctors, formed the Halabja Post-Graduate Medical Institute (HMI). The institute consists of four centers dedicated to the study and treatment of long-term affects of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons on men, women, and children.240 With support from HMI as well as the Washington Kurdish Institute, the State Department, the UK’s
Treatment & Research Programs for WMD Survivors in Iraqi Kurdistan, Halabja Post-Graduate Medical Institute (HMI), http://www.kurd.org/halabja (accessed 6 October 2007). HMI’s four centers were founded at the three medical colleges (Dohuk, Erbil, Suleymaniya) and the town of Halabja.
Department for International Development and others, Baban conducted preliminary research which was reported by Gosden in testimony before a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in 1998. In her remarks, Gosden described the especially daunting challenges of treating victims of poison gas attacks when the precise nature of the compounds used was an unknown “cocktail.” “The Halabja attack involved multiple chemical agents—including mustard gas, and the nerve agents sarin, tabun, and VX,” she told the senators.241 She noted that there is no known antidote for any of these poison gases and that some symptoms “do not appear to respond to conventional therapy.”242 Citing an abundance of medical literature in the annex accompanying her written statement, she testified that the appearance of genetic mutations and cancer rates were comparable to those who were one to two kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Gosden described the lingering affects on the survivors of Halabja, at that time, ten years after the attacks: • severe respiratory problems (requiring drug trials and lung transplants) • cancers (occurring at very young ages and consisting of large, aggressive, rapidly metastasizing tumors and requiring imaging technology, chemotherapy, and palliative care) • congenital malformations (including heart conditions, mental handicaps, cleft lip and palate requiring surgeons to repair these defects and speech therapists)
Testimony of Christine M. Gosden, Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Chemical and Biological Weapons Threats to America: Are We Prepared? 22 April 1998, http://judiciary.senate.gov/oldsite/gosden.htm (accessed 3 October 2007). 242 Ibid.
• neurological and psychiatric problems (high incidence of suicide and suicide attempts; conventional anti-depressants often have severe side affects on poison gas victims) • skin and eye problems (mustard gas burns causing life-long pain requiring research into new treatment methods)243 Gosden’s research revealed a high incidence of blindness and four times the rate of infertility, miscarriages, congenital malformations, infant mortality, and cancers compared to a nearby town that had not been gassed and that no chemotherapy or radiation therapy (among other needed treatments) was available in the region.244 During her testimony, Gosden noted that medicine’s basic tenets consist of maintaining health, relieving human suffering, and preventing death from disease. She said, “In the case of Halabja, all these seem to have been overlooked or forgotten and we have so far failed to understand what has happened to these people or helped them effectively.”245 Mental health problems in particular plague the people of the town. Writer Christiane Bird traveled to Kurdistan in 2002 and reported that “in the last six-seven years ‘suicide through burning’ had become alarmingly widespread in Iraqi Kurdistan.”246 A study conducted by the Women’s Information and Cultural Center in Sulaimaniya estimated that between 1991 and 2000 fourteen-hundred women had tried to burn themselves to death. “The victims were usually young village women suffering from depression perhaps over forced marriages, cruel husbands or desperate economic
Ibid. Christine Gosden, “Why I Went, What I Saw,” Washington Post, 11 March 1998, A19. 245 Ibid. 246 Christiane Bird, A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan, (New York: Random House, 2004), 225.
situations—traditional tribal customs coupled with the general breakdown of Kurdish society post-Anfal.”247 Gosden received death-threats from Iraqi government officials (prior to the overthrow of Hussein in 2003) for her research in Halabja but continued her work longdistance from London. She assisted the victims by secretly bringing Iraqi doctors to the UK where they received training tailored to the Kurds’ medical complications.248 She also lobbied on behalf of the chemical weapons victims, decrying in one Op-Ed the “appalling lack of detailed scientific information on damage to [the Kurdish] people and their environment” and warned that “severe health problems reported throughout Iraq and neighboring countries suggest environmental damage may be widespread.”249 There have been other attempts by various parties, local and foreign, to help Halabja survivors. The Washington Kurdish Institute, founded in 1991 by Najmaldin Karim, an Iraqi Kurdish-American brain surgeon, received a grant from the State Department to do a DNA study in Halabja in 2004. Mike Amitay, an American Jew “interested in the Kurdish holocaust” was then WKI’s executive director. Major funding from the U.S. government for the project, however, mysteriously ended before the results could be analyzed. Perhaps influential business interests who might be embarrassed or implicated in such a study may have persuaded the State Department to pull the plug on WKI’s funding. No other funders have stepped up to fill the gap. 250 Other projects focused on Anfal survivors (called anfalakan). In 1999 the Kurdish regional administration established the Ministry of Human Rights, Displaced Persons and
Ibid., 226. “Mercy Mission to Save Ailing Kurds,” BBC News, 3 February 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1793791.stm (accessed 6 October 2007). 249 Christine Gosden and Mike Amitay, “Lesson of Iraq’s Mass Murder,” Washington Post, 31 May 2002. 250 Kevin McKiernan, The Kurds: A People in Search of Their Homeland (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), 351.
Anfal in Sulaimaniya. Director Kak Mansour claimed it was the first ministry to methodically provide for the survivors, coordinating social services, landmine removal, and returning families to destroyed villages. The ministry is also trying to improve access to healthcare facilities and provides Anfal survivors with a pension of $40 per month per family and educational benefits, including a preference for the children of anfalakan in order to increase their chances of attending university.251 Another program was run by the Kurdistan Women’s Union (KWU), a group formed in 1953 in Baghdad, home to one million Kurds. Jula Hajee, president of the Dohuk branch of the KWU, focuses on war widows who are burdened with psychological and economic problems and tries to provide them jobs in order to give these women, she says, a reason for living. One project run by young women involved the distribution of sheep to 270 villages. The 13,000 sheep contributed wool, mutton and income to 2,300 families and resulted in healthier pregnancies and a lower infant mortality rate, according to the group. Another project, funded by the World Food Program, provided one hundred bee-keeping kits to the survivors.252 Victims who did not survive the attacks have been honored through the construction of a memorial. In 2003 the $3 million Halabja Memorial was built with U.S. funds (for a photograph see Appendix 9). A metal sculpture rose sixteen feet in the air, symbolizing the sixteenth of March, from its base of locally quarried marble. The names of five thousand victims were reportedly engraved into the marble. A sculpture of the Kurdish flag was next to sixteen hands, a planet Earth, and four electric candles, symbolizing the four regions of Kurdistan in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The fingers on
Kerim Yildiz, The Kurds in Iraq: The Past, Present and Future, (London: Pluto Press/Kurdish Human Rights Project, 2004), 131. 252 Mike Tucker, Hell Is Over: Voices of the Kurds After Saddam, (Guilford, Conn.: The Lyons Press, 2004), 155.
the hands were of varying thicknesses, correlating to the percentage of the Kurdish population in each country: the thickest finger represented Turkey and the thinnest Syria. The memorial originally included a building that housed a theater, seminar rooms, and a photo exhibit.253 A separate room housed a life-sized scene of the attacks, with bodies of children, women and men sprawled on top of one another, attempting to flee. A mist sprayed into the room, depicting clouds of poison gas.254 Each year on the 16 March anniversary, dignitaries and accompanying journalists annually made the trek to the Halabja Memorial. The victims of Halabja were remembered in another symbolic way which gave the Kurds a measure of long-awaited recognition: Halabja is mentioned in the preamble of Iraq’s new constitution, approved by national referendum in 2005. Part of a long list of passionately invoked sufferings, it reads: … inspired by the tragedies of Iraq’s martyrs, Shiite and Sunni, Arabs and Kurds and Turkmen … and recollecting the darkness of the ravage of the holy cities and the South in the Sha’abaniyya uprising and burnt by the flames of grief of the mass graves, the marshes, Al-Dujail and others and articulating the sufferings of racial oppression in the massacres of Halabcha, Barzan, Anfal and the Fayli Kurds … so we sought hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder to create our new Iraq, the Iraq of the future free from sectarianism, racism, locality complex, discrimination and exclusion. …255 Despite these official and honorary forms of recognition, observers have detected a simmering discontent among the Halabja survivors. Foreign journalists have often noticed a lack of the routine hospitality and courtesy normally extended to visitors. One woman told reporter Kevin McKiernan, “Look, the journalists always come here and tell
McKiernan, The Kurds, 350. “Secretary Powell Honors Halabja Victims,” Kurdistan Newsline, 16 September 2003, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website, http://www.puk.org/web/htm/news/nws/paul_halabja030915.html (accessed 6 June 2007). 255 Associated Press, “Full Text of Iraqi Constitution,” Washington Post, 12 October 2005. The text was translated from the Arabic by the UN’s Office for Constitutional Support and approved by the Iraqi government.
us they will get help, but nothing ever happens—what is the use of talking to them?”256 Nasreen Jaffar, who is partially blind and has trouble breathing, said she has ceased to see any point in telling her story to foreigners, saying, “We are like laboratory rats here in Halabja. Everyone comes to interview us and hear our tragedy and look at us, but no one helps us.”257 In 2006, Habat Nawzad, a local Kurdish journalist, described to a French reporter how visiting officials use the Halabja anniversary to make generous promises but have never followed through. “Every year March 16 is like a supermarket that opens for one day but closes before you have time to carry anything out,” he said.258 In 2003, a former KDP intelligence officer complained that an investigation into mass graves had been postponed due to lack of funding (possibly WKI’s project). “There has been a great lack of international cooperation,” he said. “Where is the United Nations on this matter? The UN has only proven that it manages problems, and does not solve them. The UN is doing nothing to aid the investigation of war crimes and mass graves in Iraq! Where are the Germans with the lessons of their own Holocaust?”259 Discontent in Halabja boiled over one day in March 2006. All across Iraq a minute of silence was observed to commemorate the poison gas attacks in 1988. But in Halabja demonstrators, angry with the Kurdish government, blocked the entry of officials into a ceremony at the Halabja Memorial. Demonstrators handed out flyers that read, “This is a city, not a mass grave.” Kurdish security officers fired on the crowd, killing a 17-year-old teenager and injuring a dozen more Kurds. By the time order was restored,
McKiernan, The Kurds, 353. Omar Sinan and Kathy Gannon, “In Town that Saddam Gassed, Bitter Times Abound,” Associated Press, 19 February 2007, http://www.kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=14091. 258 Simon Ostrovsky, “Halabja Wants Saddam’s Chemical Suppliers to Pay,” Agence France Press, 20 May 2006, in The Centre of Halabja, C.H.A.K., http://www.nawandihalabja.com (accessed 24 June 2007). 259 Faisal Rostinki Dosky, director, KDP intelligence, interviewed by Mike Tucker. Tucker, Hell Is Over, 99.
the three-year-old memorial had burned down, destroying documents that had been painstakingly acquired by the memorial’s director, Ibrahim Hawramani, himself a survivor of the attacks.260 The event reveals a number of different realities: the current government is challenged to provide for freedoms of speech and assembly for demonstrators as well as the press, and the people of Halabja have grievances they feel remain unmet. Journalists who covered the unrest were beaten and detained by PUK police. One Kurdish reporter, Mariwan Hama-Saeed, said officials should not have been surprised by the protest since the student-demonstrators had alerted them of their plans three weeks ahead of time.261 Said Eddin, a shop owner and survivor of the 1988 attacks, said the demonstrators had reason to complain. “We haven’t had any reconstruction here. The people of Halabja are very, very angry.”262 There were only two new buildings in town: the memorial and office of the PUK. Others complained of lack of proper medical care. Hama-Saeed said the people are frustrated by the government’s failure to provide services or stop corruption. “They have been doing well to liberate us, but they have failed to serve us. I don’t need slogans like, ‘Baath is terrible, Arabs are chauvinists.’ I need universities and I need roads paved. I don’t need to see officials with ten million dollar houses while people are suffering.”263 Obviously the economic boom in Iraqi Kurdistan is not trickling down to people of all income and educational levels.
David Enders, “Unrest in Halabja,” Mother Jones, 23 March 2006; “Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union Condemns Burning of Halabja Monument,” Kurdistan Nuwe, 21 March 2006, trans. NTIS, U.S. Department of Commerce from the newspaper of the PUK; and Amanj Khalil, “Iraq: Journalists Arrested, Harassed at Halabja Monument,” Hawlati, 22 March 2006, trans. NTIS, U.S. Dept. of Commerce. 261 Enders, “Unrest in Halabja.” 262 Ibid. 263 Ibid.
While many Halabjans are angry, the trials of Saddam Hussein and “Chemical Ali” did evoke a sense of justice among many Kurds. When al-Majid’s death sentence was announced, one Kurdish woman said, “I am very happy today … I want them to be hanged in Kurdistan. I do not want Chemical Ali and others to die in a split second, because our men and sons were suffering from bullet injuries for days and our women and children were dying from thirst in the prisons.” A Kurdish man said, somewhat less vividly, “I salute the court that has served justice in Iraq. I feel I am a true citizen when I see the court of law is passing lawful sentences.” Another sought to rid himself of the seemingly derogatory name of anfalak: “Today it is clear to everyone that Anfal is genocide. … We do not need the dirty label of Anfal on us. We are martyrs of the trenches.”264 Others were less enthusiastic. Rizgar Mohgadeh Basher, 24, whose father was disappeared by Iraqi soldiers during the Anfal, said when Saddam Hussein’s trial began, “We’re nearing justice, but it’s too late.”265 Nokham Mohammed, a Halabja survivor who lost eight family members in the attacks, has a persistent cough, burns on his skin and is blind in one eye. He needs surgery but can’t afford it. He says people still fear that the vegetables they sell to each other in the markets are grown in poisoned soil but they don’t have the resources to check.266 Another Halabja survivor, Kamil Abdel Qader, whose lungs are severely damaged, formed the Halabja Chemical Victims Society, a small nonprofit organization. He wants the companies and governments that helped Hussein to pay compensation to
“Iraqi Kurds React to Death Sentence of ‘Chemcial Ali,’” KurdSat, PUK satellite TV, Al-Suleimaniyah, 24 June 2007, trans. NTIS, U.S. Dept. of Commerce. All speakers in this transcript are unidentified by name. 265 Sudarsan Raghavan, “For Kurds, A Long Wait for Justice: Hussein Begins Trial Today for 1988 Offensive That Used Chemical Attacks,” Washington Post, 21 August 2006, A1. 266 Sky News, “Halabja: ‘They’ve Suffered So Much,’” 17 March 2007, Kurdistan Regional Government website, http://www.krg.org/articles/article_print.asp?ArticleNr=16772 (accessed 21 May 2007).
the victims who are still living. “Those who are suffering need a lot of money to get treatment in Western hospitals,” he said. “We want to see those who helped Saddam punished and our rights restored.”267 Compensation, medical care, further studies, and development are repeatedly called for by Kurds in Iraq and in the diaspora. Washington Kurdish Institute president Najmaldin Karim, speaking after al-Majid’s conviction, called on academics to research Hussein’s repression of the Kurds. “Now is the time for a full study of the Anfal. I hope that American institutions will lead this effort,” he said.268 When then-Secretary of State Colin Powell attended the Halabja Memorial inauguration in 2003, Suhayba AbdulRahman, a survivor, showed him a photograph of her five children and husband killed in the attack. She thanked Bush for launching the war but asked Powell to help get her medical attention to try to restore her sight.269 And Kamil Abdul Qadir said, with a cough, “I believe the world has forgotten about us. The Americans and the British did half the job when they got rid of Saddam Hussein. We thought they would come and help us and reconstruct Halabja—especially after they used it as a symbol to justify the war.”270 Nearly two decades later, the legacy of the attacks on 16 March 1988 indeed lingers.
Ostrovsky, “Halabja Wants Saddam’s Chemical Suppliers to Pay.” Washington Kurdish Institute, “Washington Kurdish Institute President Commends Anfal Trial Verdict,” 29 June 2007, WKI Press Release, http://www.krg.org/articles/detail.asp? smap=02010200&1ngnr=12&rnr=73&anr=18748 (accessed 30 June 2007). 269 “Secretary Powell Honors Halabja Victims,” Kurdistan Newsline, 16 September 2003, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website, http://www.puk.org/web/htm/news/nws/paul_halabja030915.html, (accessed 6 June 2007). 270 Caroline Hawley, “Halabja Survivors Seek Justice,” BBC News, 19 October 2005.
Chapter 6: Conclusion Based on English-language written documents obtained from a variety of sources, including interview-based reports by human rights organizations, UN correspondence and reports, U.S. government documents, and media coverage, it is clear that at least 3,200 and perhaps as many as 5,000 Iraqi Kurdish civilians, disproportionately children and women, were killed on 16 March 1988 and thousands more wounded as a result of chemical weapons dropped by the Iraqi military under the authority of Ali Hassan alMajid and Saddam Hussein. The attack appears to have been collective punishment for the alliance of the Kurdish guerrillas, peshmerga, with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. The Kurds have historically been in a frequent state of rebellion against the central governments that have ruled over them in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The evidence also shows that the Reagan administration not only failed to take action to prevent further poison gas attacks on civilians by their de facto ally, Iraq, but indeed actively sought to prevent other bodies from sanctioning the Ba‘athist government. Their motive for such a policy, as is clear from their own memos, was heavily influenced by economic objectives. Further, it is clear that dozens of Western companies and governments, especially West Germany but also the United States, facilitated Iraq’s chemical weapons program either through supplying equipment, ingredients, and technology or the capital to purchase such goods and services without which the attacks on 16 March could not have taken place. While media coverage of the attacks was adequate, and no government or corporate officials with access to television or print news can credibly claim they did not
know about the attacks on Halabja, nevertheless many survivors feel neglected by the international community in general and the regional Kurdish government in particular. Unmet needs currently include sophisticated medical treatment and environmental studies, and some Iraqi Kurds are demanding compensation from the companies that profited from chemical supplies and technology sales. Although a handful of former Iraqi officials have been tried for war crimes and genocide, it remains unclear how far the reach of the upcoming Halabja trial under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad will go and whether survivors will indeed obtain financial settlements from the companies implicated in the arming of Iraq. What implications can be drawn from this study of the attacks on Halabja? Certainly this is a story that depicts the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his regime. It also shows what the consequences can be if men and women working in corporate positions make business decisions based on the bottom line—increasing shareholder profits—without considering the impact of the end-use of their products on noncombatants such as unarmed civilians and especially children, women, and the elderly. It raises the necessity of enforcing a global ban on the use, stockpiling, and manufacturing of chemical weapons—including eliminating the stockpiles of the United States and those of other Western democracies to avoid giving other nations the doublestandard excuse for non-compliance.271 Human rights and international law, which were apparently so easily dismissed by many persons in positions of authority in this story, are increasingly becoming harder for governments to ignore as voters are more aware of human rights abuses all over the
Senator Hatfield called for the “complete and final destruction of the world’s nerve gas arsenals” in 1988. The U.S. ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1998, but attached many reservations that, Hiltermann charges, “effectively rendered US adherence to the treaty meaningless.” Congressional Record, Senate, 24 June 1988, pp. 15918–21, cited in Meho, 40; and Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair, 242.
globe. This awareness is emerging thanks to the explosion in communications technology; e.g., satellite television and the Internet are accessible to more and more households across the planet. These better-informed voters in turn pressure government officials to act or face the reality of being voted out of office (the loss of many Congressional seats in the 2006 post-hurricane Katrina election, for example). The Reagan administration, in contrast, was apparently able to look the other way, block efforts by others to intervene, and provide military assistance to Ba‘athist government leaders—who have since been convicted of genocide—with impunity. The relative impotence of the UN is vividly clear in the story of Halabja. As Faisal Rostinki Dosky, director of KDP intelligence, insightfully observed, the UN often seems to be satisfied with managing problems rather than solving them.272 Since 1988 other cases have occurred that have been labeled as genocide, including Rwanda, Bosnia, and the Darfur region of Sudan. If the international community wants to effectively prevent genocide and ethnic cleansing rather than attempting only to punish such crimes, the UN system, particularly the Security Council framework, will have to undergo fundamental restructuring and reform. As more legal precedents are established regarding the attacks on Halabja, survivors with access to legal representation may be able to win a measure of compensation—and the medical care they seek—from corporations wanting to avoid additional negative publicity. Only time will tell. The Halabja attacks were indeed an “inconvenient atrocity.”273 It was inconvenient to support the Kurds in 1988. Western government leaders and the
Tucker, Hell Is Over. Peretz, “Cambridge Diarist: Neighborhood Bullies,” The New Republic. Although Peretz coined this apt phrase, the rest of the observations in this paragraph are mine.
corporate donors who funded their campaigns did not allow Kurdish civilian deaths to jeopardize lucrative post-war reconstruction contracts. Their paramount foreign policy objective was to protect Persian Gulf oil from any threat—at the time they considered Iran to be the greatest danger to the unencumbered, free flow of black crude. From the U.S. government’s perspective, Iraq was a convenient, proxy military force to act as a buffer between the hostile Islamic Republic of Iran and the more pliable Gulf States. The fact that their alliance with Iraq in effect required U.S. policymakers to tolerate the gassing of children and women did not prevent them from pursuing their strategic objectives. And for that callous calculus, many have yet to be held accountable.
List of Appendices
Appendix 1: Photographs of Omar Hama Saleh and Infant.............................................126 Appendix 2: Map of Kurdistan.........................................................................................127 Appendix 3: Photograph of Adela Khanum of Halabja...................................................128 Appendix 4: List of Articles from 11 March 1970 Peace Accord....................................129 Appendix 5: List of Names of Civilian Victims...............................................................130 Appendix 6: Photographs of Corpses in Halabja.............................................................132 Appendix 7: List of U.S. Companies Supplying Arms to Iraq.........................................133 Appendix 8: List of U.S. Companies Linked to Iraq’s CW Program..............................134 Appendix 9: Photograph of Halabja Memorial................................................................135
Appendix 4: List of Articles from 11 March 1970 Peace Accord 1. The Kurdish language shall be, alongside the Arabic language, the official language in areas with a Kurdish majority; and will be the language of instruction in those areas and taught throughout Iraq as a second language. 2. Kurds will participate fully in government, including senior and sensitive posts in the cabinet and the army. 3. Kurdish education and culture will be reinforced. 4. All officials in Kurdish majority areas shall be Kurds or at least Kurdish-speaking. 5. Kurds shall be free to establish student, youth, women’s and teachers’ organizations of their own. 6. Funds will be set aside for the development of Kurdistan. 7. Pensions and assistance will be provided for the families of martyrs and others stricken by poverty, unemployment or homelessness. 8. Kurds and Arabs will be restored to their former place of habitation. 9. The Agrarian Reform will be implemented. 10. The Constitution will be amended to read ‘the Iraqi people is made up of two nationalities, the Arab nationality and the Kurdish nationality.’ 11. The broadcasting station and heavy weapons will be returned to the Government. 12. A Kurd shall be one of the vice-presidents. 13. The Governorates (Provincial) Law shall be amended in a manner conforming with the substance of this declaration. 14. Unification of areas with a Kurdish majority as a self-governing unit. 15. The Kurdish people shall share in the legislative power in a manner proportionate to its population in Iraq.
Source: David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 327–28.
Appendix 5: List of Names of Civilian Victims Who Survived the Halabja Attacks Compiled from UN and Media Reports Name From UN report Alluan Ali Mohammed Servin Ali Marayam Mohammad Amin Taban Ali Mahnaz Mohammad Shilan Hakim Layla Habibollah Kochar Ali Khadijeh Abdolrahim Ayeshe Rashid Kollaleh Abdolgader Shamsi Mohamad Nasrin Mohammad Clavesh Ali Shaho Unidentified child Taban Mahdi Halab Caarm Maryam Mohamad Soam Hussei Unidentified child Nasrin Abdeolchader Leyla Abdeolchader Hossein Fasel Mohammad Abdollah Amaca Norabbas Mohammad Karim Rascool Davood Karim Conna Mohammad Unidentified child Ardalan Halimeh Sabihe Ali Son of Sabihe Ali Najibeh Ali From media sources Nasreen Abdel Qadir Muhammad Rangeen Abdel Qadir Muhammad Bakhtiar Abdul Aziz Sex F F F F F M F F F F F F F F M F F F F F M F F M M M M M M F F M F F M F F F M Age 12 15 15 18 3 9 22 22 22 30 14 21 25 25 11 5 2 20 25 8 4 18 13 20 35 17 42 60 52 4.5 6 mos. 4 10 15 2 mos. 7 16 15 30 source JG JG JG
Name Muhammad Nouri Hama Ali Awat Omer Muhammad Ahmed Fattah Salah Fattah Bahar Jamal Hamida Mahmoud Dashneh Mahmoud Jamila Abdullah Abdul Rahman Soman Mohammed Haj Ali Rasa Mohamed Mahmoud Bharam Aras Abed
Sex M M M M M F F F F M M M M M
Age N/A N/A 20 20 N/A N/A N/A 2 28 60 14 50 35 N/A
source JG JG JG JG JG JG JG JG NB NB PK1 PK2 JB CH
Key to sources JG = Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Great Terror,” New Yorker NB = Nicholas Beeston, “Gas Victims Frozen in the Agony of Death,” The Times PK1 = Paul Koring, “High Civilian Toll in Iraqi Attack on City,” The Globe and Mail PK2 = Paul Koring, “Poison-Gas Attack Leaves City of Dead,” The Globe and Mail JB = John Bierman, “A Terrible Survival,” Maclean’s CH = Caroline Hawley, “Halabja Survivors Seek Justice,” BBC News Compiled by Susan Schuurman
Appendix 7: List of U.S. Companies Supplying Arms to Iraq
1. Honeywell (R, K) 2. Spectra Physics (K) 3. Semetex (R) 4. TI Coating (A, K) 5. Unisys (A, K) 6. Sperry Corp. (R, K) 7. Tektronix (R, A) 8. Rockwell (K) 9. Leybold Vacuum Systems (A) 10. Finnigan-MAT-US (A) 11. Hewlett-Packard (A, R, K) 12. Dupont (A) 13. Eastman Kodak (R) 14. American Type Culture Collection (B) 15. Alcolac International (C) 16. Consarc (A) 17. Carl Zeiss-U.S. (K) 18. Cerberus Ltd. (A) 19. Electronic Associates (R) 20. International Computer Systems (A, R, K) 21. Bechtel (K) 22. EZ Logic Data Systems, Inc. (R) 23. Canberra Industries Inc. (A) 24. Axel Electronics Inc. (A) Weapons Key: A=Nuclear, B=Biological, C=Chemical, R=Rockets, K=Conventional
Source: Andreas Zumach, “Fremde Hilfe fur Saddam” (Strange Assistance for Saddam), Die Tageszeitung (Berlin), 17 December 2002, http://www.taz.de/index.php? id=archivseite&dig=2002/12/19/a0080&type=98.
Appendix 8: List of U.S. Companies Linked to Iraq’s CW Program
1. Al Haddad Enterprises (formerly based in Nashville, Tenn.) 2. Alcolac International (formerly based in Baltimore, Md., now in Georgia) 3. Bechtel Group (San Francisco, Calif.) 4. Dow Chemical (Midland, Mich.) 5. Evapco (Taneytown, Md.) 6. Gorman-Rupp Co. (Mansfield, Ohio) 7. Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, Calif.) 8. Honeywell (Morristown, N.J.) 9. Lummus Crest, Inc. (Bloomfield, N.J., now part of ABB Global, a Swiss conglomerate with U.S. headquarters in Norwalk, Conn.) 10. Mouse Master (formerly located in Lilburn, Ga.) 11. Nu Kraft Mercantile Corp. (formerly located in Brooklyn, N.Y.) 12. Perkin-Elmer Corp. (formerly based in Norwalk, Conn., later restructured and based in Wellesley, Mass.) 13. Phillips Export (now part of ConocoPhillips, based in Houston, Texas) 14. Posi Seal Inc. (formerly based in North Stonington, Conn.; sold off) 15. Pure Aire Corp. (formerly located in Charlotte, N.C.) 16. Sullaire Corp. (formerly based in Charlotte, N.C.) 17. Union Carbide (based in Danbury, Conn., later merged with Dow Chemical, Midland, Mich.) 18. Unisys Corp. (Blue Bell, Penn.)
Source: This list is culled from a longer version compiled by Jim Crogan, “Made in the USA, Part III: The Dishonor Roll: America’s Corporate Merchants of Death in Iraq,” LA Weekly, 24 April 2003.
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