Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Did Iran gas the Kurds? Claims of Saddam's Genocide Far from Proven


From Media Monitors:

What Happened at Halabja?

The only verified Kurdish civilian deaths from chemical weapons occurred in the Iraqi village of Halabja, near the Iran border, where at least several hundred people died from gas poisoning in mid-March, 1988.

We know that Iran overran the village and its small garrison of Iraqi troops; what is contested is who was responsible for the deaths--Iran or Iraq--and how large the death toll was.
The best evidence is a 1990 report by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College.[2] Marine Corps document FMFRP 3-203, "Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War," dated December 10, 1990.

It concluded that Iran, not Iraq, was the culprit in Halabja.

Lead author Stephen Pelletiere, who was the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq throughout the Iran-Iraq war, has described his group's findings:

"The great majority of the victims seen by reporters and other observers who attended the scene were blue in their extremities. That means that they were killed by a blood agent, probably either cyanogens chloride or hydrogen cyanide. Iraq never used and lacked any capacity to produce these chemicals. But the Iranians did deploy them. Therefore the Iranians killed the Kurds."[3] "Top US Intel Expert Brands Tony Blair A Liar Over Iraq," Globe-Intel, October 10, 2002.

Pelletiere says the number of dead was in the hundreds, not the thousands claimed by Human Rights Watch and the U.S. administration. To this day, the CIA concurs.[4] Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, October 2002.

While the War College report acknowledges that Iraq used mustard gas during the Halabja hostilities, it notes that mustard gas is an incapacitating, rather than a killing, agent, with a fatality rate of only two percent, so that it could not have killed the hundreds of known dead, much less the thousands of dead claimed by Human Rights Watch.[5]

According to the War College reconstruction of events, Iran struck first, taking control of the town. The Iraqis counterattacked using mustard gas. The Iranians then attacked again, this time using a "blood agent"--cyanogens chloride or hydrogen cyanide--and re-took the town, which Iran then held for several months. Having control of the village and its grisly dead, Iran blamed the gas deaths on the Iraqis, and the allegations of Iraqi genocide took root via a credulous international press and, a little later, cynical promotion of the allegations for political purposes by the U.S. State Department and Senate.[5a]

Pelletiere described his credentials in a recent New York Times op-ed:

"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."[6]

Was There an Ongoing Campaign of Genocide?

Pelletiere also rejects the larger claim that, aside from whatever happened at Halabja, Saddam Hussein engaged in a months-long campaign of genocide against Iraqi Kurds that killed 50,000, 100,000, or more. Calling this is a "hoax, a non-event,"[7] he explains that:

"This one is extremely problematical since no gassing victims were ever produced. The only evidence that gas was used is the eye-witness testimony of the Kurds who fled to Turkey, collected by staffers of the U.S. Senate. We showed this testimony to experts in the military who told us it was worthless. The symptoms described by the Kurds do not conform to any known chemical or combination of chemicals."[8]

Pelletiere also says that international relief organizations who examined the Kurdish refugees in Turkey failed to discover any gassing victims.[9]

Another skeptic is Milton Viorst, long-time Middle East correspondent for the New Yorker and author of a dozen books. He visited Kurdish areas in Iraq when the gassing allegations surfaced in 1988 and reported that:

"From what I saw, I would conclude that if lethal gas was used, it was not used genocidally--that is, for mass killing. The Kurds compose a fifth of the Iraqi population, and they are a tightly knit community. If there had been large-scale killing, it is likely they would know and tell the world. But neither I nor any Westerner I encountered heard such allegations.

Nor did Kurdish society show discernible signs of tension. The northern cities, where the men wear Kurdish turbans and baggy pants, were as bustling as I had ever seen them."

Crucially, Viorst reported that:

"Journalists visiting the Turkish camps saw refugees with blistered skin and irritated eyes, symptoms of gassing. But doctors sent by France, the United Nations and the Red Cross have said these symptoms could have been produced by a powerful, but non-lethal tear gas."[10]

In his 1994 book "Sandcastles," Viorst added to his account:

"On returning home, I interviewed academic experts; none unequivocally ruled out the use of gas, but the most reliable among them were doubtful. It was only Washington, and particularly Congress--although, conspicuously, not the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which was in the best position to know--that stuck stubbornly to the original story, and this persistence bewildered the Iraqis."[11]

In "Sandcastles," Viorst also described Iraq's Kurdish resettlement program:

"Saddam, after the cease-fire, sent in his army to stamp out Kurdish insurgency once and for all. He ordered his troops to go as far as the Iranian border and depopulate a swath of territory eight or ten miles deep, neutralizing for all time an area that had served the rebels as sanctuary.
Saddam's objectives were understandable; his tactics were characteristically brutal.

The army dynamited dozens of villages into rubble and dispatched thousands of inhabitants from their ancestral homes to newly built "resettlement villages" far in the interior. In the process, sixty thousand Kurds crossed the border into Turkey, where they told journalists they were fleeing from attacks of gas. The Iraqis angrily denied the charge, but Secretary of State Shultz claimed it was true, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, without investigating, proposed a bill to impose heavy sanctions on Iraq. With the pro-Israeli lobby fanning the fire, the bill nearly passed. But in the Turkish refugee camps, international teams of doctors were more skeptical of the refugees' claims, saying their examinations did not confirm the use of gas at all.".....

So what, then, does all this evidence tell us?

We know Saddam is a bad guy. We know he has killed people. But those aren't the questions.

The allegations at issue are vastly more serious: that he purposefully murdered at least 50,000 (or 100,000, or 200,000, depending on the speaker's fervor) in an attempt to decimate Iraqi Kurds as a people, and that he used chemical weapons on 40 occasions during this campaign.

What hard evidence is there?

One grave with 26 (or 27) bodies of people killed by bullets, not chemicals, and traces of two gasses at one location where four people died.

That's it.