Sunday, March 16, 2008


"I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them!"
~ Ali Hassan al-Majid.

A memory, from Kendal Nezan:

The town of Halabja, with 60,000 inhabitants, lies on the southern fringe of Iraqi Kurdistan, a few miles from the border with Iran. On 15 March 1988 it fell to the Peshmerga resistance fighters of Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, supported by Iranian revolutionary guards.

The next morning Iraqi bombers appeared out of a clear blue sky. The people of Halabja were used to the successive attacks and counter-attacks of the Iraq-Iran war that had ravaged the region since September 1980. They thought they were in for the usual reprisal raid. Those who had time huddled in makeshift shelters. The rest were taken by surprise. Wave after wave of Iraqi Migs and Mirages dropped chemical bombs on the unsuspecting inhabitants. The town was engulfed in a sickly stench like rotten apples. The bombing stopped at nightfall and it began to rain hard. Iraqi troops had already destroyed the local power station, so the survivors began to search the mud with torches for the dead bodies of their loved ones.

The scene that greeted them in the morning defied description. The streets were strewn with corpses. People had been killed instantaneously by chemicals in the midst of the ordinary acts of everyday life. Babies still sucked their mothers’ breasts. Children held their parents’ hands, frozen to the spot like a still from a motion picture. In the space of a few hours 5,000 people had died. The 3,200 who no longer had families were buried in a mass grave.

[ . . . ]

In point of fact, Iraq had already used chemical weapons against the Kurds on 15 April 1987. It happened two weeks after Hassan Ali Al Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, was appointed head of the Northern Bureau set up to deal with Kurdistan. On 29 March of that year the Revolutionary Command Council had issued Decree No. 160, granting him full powers to proceed with the final solution of the Kurdish problem. A problem which the Iraqi regime had failed to solve despite intensive Arabisation, transfers of population, the execution of “ringleaders”, and a war waged on and off since 1961.

[ . . . ]

Despite the enormous public outrage at the gas attack on Halabja, France, which is a depositary of the Geneva Convention of 1925, confined itself to an enigmatic communiqué condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world. The UN dispatched Colonel Dominguez, a Spanish military expert, to the scene. In a report published on 26 April 1988, he confined himself to recording that chemical weapons had been used once again both in Iran and in Iraq and that the number of civilian victims was increasing. On the same day the UN Secretary-General stated that, with respect to both the weapons themselves and those who were using them, it was difficult to determine the nationalities involved.

Clearly, Iraq’s powerful allies did not want Baghdad condemned. In August 1988 the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights voted by 11 votes to 8 not to condemn Iraq for human rights violations. Only the Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada, together with bodies like the European Parliament and the Socialist International, saved their honour by clearly condemning Iraq.

Halabja: The politics of memory:

Iraqi propaganda, backed by its ally the United States, either denied what happened, played down the significance of these events, or distorted them beyond recognition.

Within a week of the attack, the United States department of state, basing itself on information provided by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), claimed that Iran had also used poison gas in Halabja. This information created enough confusion that the United Nations Security Council delayed a resolution for two months and then condemned both sides for using chemical weapons. The DIA's account was augmented two years later by a former CIA analyst, Stephen Pelletiere, who suggested, using the same DIA data, that the majority of Halabja casualties had been victims of Iran's use of gas. Pelletiere has repeated his claim on numerous occasions, but has never presented any evidence in addition to the vague speculations made by the DIA at the time

All of this made Colin Powell's 2003 visit to Helebce an exceptional act of hypocrisy.

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