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Saddam and the gassing of kurds

Iraq

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#1 Godeskian

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 08:23 AM

I offer this for discussion becuase it raises some interesting points, please keep it civil

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A War Crime or an Act of War?
By Stephen C. Pelletiere
New York Times | Opinion

Friday 31 January 2003

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. -- It was no surprise that President Bush, lacking smoking-gun evidence of Iraq's weapons programs, used his State of the Union address to re-emphasize the moral case for an invasion: "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."

The accusation that Iraq has used chemical weapons against its citizens is a familiar part of the debate. The piece of hard evidence most frequently brought up concerns the gassing of Iraqi Kurds at the town of Halabja in March 1988, near the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. President Bush himself has cited Iraq's "gassing its own people," specifically at Halabja, as a reason to topple Saddam Hussein.

But the truth is, all we know for certain is that Kurds were bombarded with poison gas that day at Halabja. We cannot say with any certainty that Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds. This is not the only distortion in the Halabja story.

I am in a position to know because, as the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, I was privy to much of the classified material that flowed through Washington having to do with the Persian Gulf. In addition, I headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the Iraqis would fight a war against the United States; the classified version of the report went into great detail on the Halabja affair.

This much about the gassing at Halabja we undoubtedly know: it came about in the course of a battle between Iraqis and Iranians. Iraq used chemical weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town, which is in northern Iraq not far from the Iranian border. The Kurdish civilians who died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not Iraq's main target.

And the story gets murkier: immediately after the battle the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas.

The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent -- that is, a cyanide-based gas -- which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.

These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran.

I am not trying to rehabilitate the character of Saddam Hussein. He has much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. But accusing him of gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct, because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war. There may be justifications for invading Iraq, but Halabja is not one of them.

In fact, those who really feel that the disaster at Halabja has bearing on today might want to consider a different question: Why was Iran so keen on taking the town? A closer look may shed light on America's impetus to invade Iraq.

We are constantly reminded that Iraq has perhaps the world's largest reserves of oil. But in a regional and perhaps even geopolitical sense, it may be more important that Iraq has the most extensive river system in the Middle East. In addition to the Tigris and Euphrates, there are the Greater Zab and Lesser Zab rivers in the north of the country. Iraq was covered with irrigation works by the sixth century A.D., and was a granary for the region.

Before the Persian Gulf war, Iraq had built an impressive system of dams and river control projects, the largest being the Darbandikhan dam in the Kurdish area. And it was this dam the Iranians were aiming to take control of when they seized Halabja. In the 1990's there was much discussion over the construction of a so-called Peace Pipeline that would bring the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates south to the parched Gulf states and, by extension, Israel. No progress has been made on this, largely because of Iraqi intransigence. With Iraq in American hands, of course, all that could change.

Thus America could alter the destiny of the Middle East in a way that probably could not be challenged for decades -- not solely by controlling Iraq's oil, but by controlling its water. Even if America didn't occupy the country, once Mr. Hussein's Baath Party is driven from power, many lucrative opportunities would open up for American companies.

All that is needed to get us into war is one clear reason for acting, one that would be generally persuasive. But efforts to link the Iraqis directly to Osama bin Laden have proved inconclusive. Assertions that Iraq threatens its neighbors have also failed to create much resolve; in its present debilitated condition -- thanks to United Nations sanctions -- Iraq's conventional forces threaten no one.

Perhaps the strongest argument left for taking us to war quickly is that Saddam Hussein has committed human rights atrocities against his people. And the most dramatic case are the accusations about Halabja.

Before we go to war over Halabja, the administration owes the American people the full facts. And if it has other examples of Saddam Hussein gassing Kurds, it must show that they were not pro-Iranian Kurdish guerrillas who died fighting alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Until Washington gives us proof of Saddam Hussein's supposed atrocities, why are we picking on Iraq on human rights grounds, particularly when there are so many other repressive regimes Washington supports?

Stephen C. Pelletiere is author of "Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to War in the Persian Gulf."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Edited by Certifiably Cait, 07 August 2012 - 03:03 PM.

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#2 Drew

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 09:31 AM

I really *do* need to find that article I read last year (in, I think, "Atlantic Monthly") that dealt with Saddam's use of chemical and biological weapons against the Kurds. It detailed some pretty horrifying incidents, and I'm pretty sure these occurred after the gulf war. The Kurdish attitude was also rather interesting. They understood that they were essentially Saddam's lab rabbits. He wanted to see what effect these weapons would have so that he could perfect them for the day he went after Israel. I really need to find that article. I expect it's still packed away in a moving crate.
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#3 Godeskian

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 09:33 AM

At no point does the article suggest that he didn't use chemical and biological weapons, it suggests that the civilian deaths in Halabja were a result of Iranian chemweapons, not Iraqi chemweapons.

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#4 Shalamar

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 10:22 AM

Back In October of 2002, the White House presented a "White Paper" to the U.N. Security Council that was 22 pages long.  It detailed various...activities by Iraq... I am listing some of the things detailed in that paper.  What I am quoting below, can also be found at...efreedomnews


Quote

Since 1990, Saddam has:

Ignored or circumvented all 16 UN Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq and 30 UN Security Council Presidential Statements regarding Iraq;
Continued to pursue WMD's;
Practiced systematic human rights violations including intentional torture, rape, decapitation, political prisoner executions, ethnic cleansing, child abuse, torture forced military training, forced child labor; support, refuge and amnesty of international terrorists and  terrorist groups; execution, torture and imprisonment of POW's
Refused to respond to UN, Saudi and Kuwaiti  requests regarding information on 605 Coalition POW's from Gulf War I, 5,000 Iranian POW's and 11,000 missing from the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
Destroyed or refused to return military and personal property stolen from Kuwait during the occupation.
Violated UN Economic Sanctions,  diverted dual-use items obtained under the Oil for Food program for military and WMD construction purposes.

I think that this says alot about Iraq, aand Saddam, and none of it to the good. So while the article you have presented above may decry against going to war over those details...there are also the ones I have found.

What does it take?  Up for discussion, not necessarily advocating going to war.


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#5 Delvo

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 10:22 AM

It's always interesting to see things written by former agents of one agency or administration or another; they tend to reveal themselves as the most agendized politicos around, no matter which side they're on.

This article focuses entirely on one particular incident. Thus, it pretends by omission that there weren't other uses of such weapons against harmless and helpless populations, that there weren't other genocidal incidents involving only conventional weapons instead, that there haven't been incidents of intentional environmental ruin for the purpose of genocide, and that the Iraqi regime doesn't also routinely commit other tortures and maimings and killings for reasons other than genocide.

He can try to claim otherwise, but this guy's trying to whitewash Saddam Hussein as an innocent victim of the tryranny of Bush and Bush. You can tell by the title of his book, given at the end of the article. To title a book with a claim to be revealing the real reason why someone did something obviously means that the author's claiming that the reasons given were covers for something dirty... especially when that same title also includes said politicians' enemies' catchword ("oil") in such accusations. (And neverminds the fact that oil companies profit better from peaceful trade than from war's disruption of their supply anyway...)

But the first sign of what this author's up to isn't in the book title, and it isn't in his focus on that one incident (whether he's even speaking the truth on that or not, as I've noticed that these "former employee" types seldom are) while he ignores other evidence. It's in the audacity of his claim in the very first sentence: "Bush, lacking smoking-gun evidence of Iraq's weapons programs, used his State of the Union address to re-emphasize the moral case for an invasion..."

This ascribes two different thoughts to Bush which he has no right to assert. One is that whatever Bush says the goal in Iraq is can't really be it, because he's just using whatever cover story and excuse he thinks will work for whatever his real (hidden, and therefor sinister) goal is. But before that is the even stranger one. It is probably true that Bush's political opponents don't think that found chemical warheads that Iraq claimed didn't exist, research notes directly from the nuclear program itself, several kinds of hardware that has no other uses but in WoMDs and which Iraq claimed didn't exist, a constant stream of claims WoMD disposal but refusal to show evidence of it, and a parallel stream of excuses to obstruct the inspectors, including the orders to execute the entire family of any scientist who cooperates with the inspectors, constitue a smoking gun. But to claim that Bush doesn't think it is, and that he's trying to come up with ways to get around that lack of evidence which he described himself in the same speech this author's quoting, is fairly ridiculous. So why say it? To mislead the reader into forgetting that the evidence is there, and put the idea of such deception by Bush in the reader's mind.

And the New York Times published it. Gee, I'm shocked.  :sarcasm:


#6 QueenTiye

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 11:06 AM

Well, thank you for the topic, Godeskian.  

While I agree that caution before engaging our troops in war is necessary, and applaud the efforts of anyone who pushes information forward to help the public understand the scope of the issues involved, I do agree with Delvo that the author is choosing rather selectively to focus his attentions to the one subject that he wants to talk about... and he seems to be doing it with one goal in mind - to see his book.  Which in turn, may be the work of the editors... :suspect:

I will, however, say to Delvo, stop picking on the NYT!  There are other articles (op eds, just like this one) with a totally opposite viewpoint.... ;)

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#7 Godeskian

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Posted 04 February 2003 - 01:58 AM

While i agree that this is ahrdly an objective paper from any viewpoint. I posted it mostly because it touches a topic i was completely unaware of untill this point, that of the water system in Iraq, by way of the Zab rivers and Tigris and Euphrades.

The topic on most people's minds may be WoMD or Oil, or revenge or whatever, but this was the very first time i'd heard water as a possible motivational factor

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