The repeated American propaganda weapon to
rationalise the deaths of more than one million innocent Iraqis since 1991
through economic sanctions is that Saddam Hussein used poison gas against
Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war and against Iraq's own Kurdish citizens.
The accusation is now being invoked to launch a full-scale American
assault on Iraq. This claim of Iraq gassing its own citizens at Halabjah
First, both Iran and Iraq used chemical weapons
against each other during their war. Second, at the termination of the
Iran-Iraq war, professors Stephen Pelletiere and Leif Rosenberger, and Lt
Colonel Douglas Johnson of the US Army War College (USAWC) undertook a
study of the use of chemical weapons by Iran and Iraq in order to better
understand battlefield chemical warfare.
They concluded that it was Iran and not Iraq that
killed the Kurds. In the first report they wrote: "In September 1988
- a month after the war had ended...the state department abruptly, and in
what many viewed as sensational manner, condemned Iraq for allegedly using
chemical weapons against its Kurdish population...with the result that
numerous Kurdish civilians were killed. The Iraqi government denied that
any such gassing had occurred...Having looked at all the evidence that was
available to us, we find it impossible to confirm the state department's
claim that gas was used in this instance. To begin with there were never
any victims produced. International relief organisations who examined the
Kurds - in Turkey where they had gone for asylum - failed to discover any.
Nor were there any found inside Iraq. The claim rests solely on testimony
of the Kurds who had crossed the border into Turkey, where they were
interviewed by staffers of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."
Regarding the Halabjah incident where Iraqi soldiers
were reported to have gassed their own Kurdish citizens, the USAWC
investigators observed: "It appears that in seeking to punish Iraq,
Congress was influenced by another incident that occurred five months
earlier in another Iraq-Kurdish city, Halabjah. In March 1988, the Kurds
at Halabjah were bombarded with chemical weapons, producing many deaths.
Photographs of the Kurdish victims were widely disseminated in the
international media. Iraq was blamed for the Halabjah attack even though
it was subsequently brought out that Iran too had used chemical weapons in
this operation, and it seemed likely that it was the Iranian bombardment
that had actually killed the Kurds."
The likely scenario is as follows: The Iranians
thought the Kurds had fled Halabjah and that they were attacking occupying
Iraqi forces. But the Iraqis had already vacated Halabjah and the Kurds
had returned. Iran gassed the Kurds by accident. In March 1991 as the
massive US-led attack on Iraq ended, I was visiting the USAWC to give a
lecture on South Asian security and discussed this problem with professor
Pelletiere at lunch. I recall Pelletiere telling me that the USAWC
investigation showed that in the Iranian mass human wave battlefield
strategy, Teheran used non-persistent poison gas against Iraqi soldiers so
as to be able to attack and advance into the areas vacated by Iraqis. On
the other hand, Baghdad used persistent gas to halt the Iranian human wave
attacks. There was a certain consistency to this pattern.
However, in the Halabjah incident, the USAWC
investigators discovered that the gas used that killed hundreds of Kurds
was the non-persistent gas, the chemical weapon of choice of the Iranians.
Note it was the Iranians who arrived at the scene first, who reported the
incident to UN observers, and who took pictures of the gassed Kurdish
civilians. However, Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait in
August and the truth of the Halabjah incident became inconvenient. I asked
Professor Pelletiere in March 1991, when he thought their findings would
come out. I recall him telling me that it would probably take about five
years after emotions over the Gulf war crisis died down. However, the
USAWC report of 1990 has been dispatched into oblivion.
The propaganda that Iraq gassed its own Kurdish
civilians is constantly invoked by the media. It was reactivated by
President Clinton in December 1998 to justify the further bombing and
destruction of Iraq. Meanwhile, estimates of the number of innocents who
have died in Iraq from relentless American-dictated UN sanctions range
between 1-1.7 million, including more than half-a-million children. An
article in The New England Journal of Medicine, assessed through a study
of monthly and annual infant mortality rates in Iraq that "more than
46,900 children died between January and August 1991. UNICEF official
Thomas Ekfal estimated that about 500,000 children have died in Iraq since
the United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Baghdad.
These deaths have occurred because of the lack of immunization for
children and vaccine-preventable diseases, contaminated water supplies,
spread of malaria, the poor functioning of hospitals, and lack of basic
Blame for all of this death and suffering has been
attributed to Saddam Hussain for his failure to make good use of the
limited oil exports allowed for humanitarian purposes. In the past two
years, two U.N. Assistant Secretary Generals, Hans von Sponeck of Austria
and Denis Halliday of Ireland, and the head of the World Food Program,
Jutta Burghardt, have resigned in protest against the sanctions but with
no effect on the conscience of Washington's foreign policy bureaucracy.
If the US bombs Iraq, it is not the direct loss of
Iraqi lives from "collateral damage" alone that will be the only
tragedy, but the unseen and accelerated loss of lives of tens of thousands
of more infants, the sick and the elderly from lack of medicine and other
healthcare. Before the US bullies all countries into supporting its
bombing of Iraq, major countries such as France, Germany, Russia, China,
India and Indonesia should stand up in unison and say "no more
bombs" to the sole superpower.