Claims of Saddam's Genocide Far from Proven
Is it really true that Saddam Hussein "gassed his own people" while committing genocide against Iraqi Kurds, images that have become woven into the fabric of the American perception of Iraq?
Human Rights Watch, the respected New York City NGO, has long championed these claims. According to its reports, "at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 persons, many of them women and children, were killed out of hand between February and September 1988," the victims being Iraqi Kurds "systematically put to death in large numbers on the orders of the central government in Baghdad." Iraq allegedly used chemical weapons in "forty separate attacks on Kurdish targets" during a campaign that HRW characterizes as genocide. The most prominent of these purported attacks was the March 1988 "chemical assault" on the town of Halabja, in which the number of dead, according to Human Rights Watch, was "in excess of 3,200," or perhaps "up to 5,000," or even "as many as 7,000." 
Horrifying claims, these, but how much of this is true?
We know that both Iran and Iraq used chemical weapons against one another in their eight-year-long war, which ended with an August 20, 1988, cease-fire. Most of Iraq's alleged assaults on the Kurds took place while this war was raging, although Human Rights Watch claims the attacks extended into September. Iraq has acknowledged using mustard gas against Iranian troops but has consistently denied using chemical weapons against civilians.
We also know that Iraq, for what it called security reasons, forcibly relocated--within Iraqi Kurdistan--Kurds living in certain areas, much as Israel has done with the Palestinians and the U.S. did in Vietnam.
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.  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 cyanogen 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." 
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. 
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. 
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"--cyanogen 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." 
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 genocide is a "hoax, a non-event,"  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." 
Pelletiere also says that international relief organizations who examined the Kurdish refugees in Turkey failed to discover any gassing victims. 
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." 
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." 
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."
(Both Pelletiere and Viorst primarily address claims of Iraq's gassing of the Kurds because this was the original formulation of the genocide allegations. Only later did these allegations evolve into claims that Iraq's killing methods had included gassing, bombing and mass executions. [11a])
A third dissenting voice, oddly enough, is the CIA. Its October 2002 dossier, "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs," identifies only 10 instances of reported Iraqi use of chemical weapons, and none of these were directed specifically at the Kurds. All occurred during the Iran-Iraq war; seven were directed only against Iranians, and in three cases, including Halabja, the victims included both Iranians and Kurds, thus supporting Iraq's contention that it used mustard gas only in military operations against Iran. 
Significantly, the CIA claims only 20,000 casualties--dead and wounded combined--in Iraq's alleged campaign against the Kurds, as opposed to Human Rights Watch's assertion of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. Given the tendency of the U.S. government to magnify claims of Saddam's criminality, the CIA's estimates should be interpreted as maximum possible figures.
Several reports issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) form the backbone of the gassing and genocide claims, the principal report being "Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds." [12a] (Physicians for Human Rights, another prominent American NGO, collaborated with HRW.) But the reports' evidentiary basis is remarkably thin, consisting entirely of (1) interviews of 350 Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992 and 1993, four and five years after the events; (2) exhumations of grave sites in three villages; and (3) examination of documents taken by Kurdish rebels from captured Iraqi government offices. 
According to Human Rights Watch, these years-after-the-fact interviews were sufficient to allow the detailed reconstruction of a two-year period (from mid-1987 to mid-1989) of alleged continuous repression of the Kurds. Yet all reports--and in particular atrocity reports--of refugees and their political supporters must be viewed with caution. In the absence of corroborating physical evidence, it's folly to speak with the certainty exuded in the HRW reports.
The political environment in which the interviews took place--interviewers from the U.S., a country strongly supporting the Kurdish movement, working hand-in-hand with representatives of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee--particularly undermines the credibility of these refugee accounts. [13a] The interviewees had every reason to attempt to please Human Rights Watch, which was in a position to help the Kurdish cause through publication of these atrocity reports.
And, incredibly, Human Rights Watch makes assertions of genocide despite the extreme paucity of physical evidence. Of the three exhumed grave sites, one yielded 26 bodies of men and boys executed by firing squad.  Certainly this was an atrocity, but this leaves 99,974 bodies unaccounted for. The other two grave sites--revealing only five separately-buried individuals who had died from unknown causes--supplied no evidence supporting allegations of genocide. 
Human Rights Watch's explanation is that the other 99,974 people were "trucked to remote areas and machine-gunned to death, their bodies bulldozed into mass graves" that have never been found.  HRW also claims that "the Iranian forces in Halabja had managed to bury an estimated 3,000 victims of the March 16 chemical attack in mass graves under a thin layer of dirt in the complex of Anab. Four years later, the corpses were still there, and they were beginning to pollute the local groundwater." How do they know this? We have no idea, as no evidence whatsoever is provided. 
And this brings us back to CIA analyst Stephen Pelletiere's question: If 100,000 people were slaughtered, where are the bodies?
There are several other reasons to doubt the accuracy of the Human Rights Watch reports:
1. Others who have investigated the situation have not reached similar conclusions. Only two American groups (HRW and Physicians for Human Rights), working with Saddam Hussein's two sworn enemies, the Kurdish opposition and the U.S. government, have. 
2. The reports barely mention the existence of contrary evidence. Although the 90-page War College report had been in the public domain for three years when HRW published "Genocide in Iraq" in 1993, the earlier assessment is dismissed in a single footnote. And there is no consideration of Milton Viorst's nearly contemporaneous, firsthand observations. No serious assessment of any question--much less of claims of genocide--ignores or summarily dismisses contrary evidence. [18a]
3. The reports, and HRW's handling of them, reveal an unmistakable political bias in favor of Iraq's Kurdish movement. "Genocide in Iraq" describes offices of the Iraqi national government--the country's internationally-recognized sovereign--as a "puppet administration," while HRW worked closely with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the main opposition groups. 
And, in an astonishingly revealing decision, Human Rights Watch released its newest report on Iraq--"The Iraqi Government Assault on the Marsh Arabs," purporting to detail "a fifteen-year campaign by the central government to eliminate" the Marsh Arabs--on January 25, at a time when its release could only have inflamed public opinion against Iraq's central government. 
4. There simply is no proof of what agent--a legal chemical agent such as tear gas, an illegal chemical agent, or a nonchemical agent--caused the symptoms described in the Human Rights Watch reports. The most that HRW can say is that the injuries reported by the Kurds were "consistent with" exposure to mustard gas. But this fails to eliminate other possible causes. Moreover, we know from Stephen Pelletiere that mustard gas simply doesn't kill large numbers of people. And, in any event, Iran also used mustard gas. 
An example of conclusions reached without convincing evidence--or even any significant evidence--of causation can be found in the Human Rights Watch report "The Destruction of Koreme During The Anfal Campaign." This report describes the exhumation of the bodies of two persons allegedly killed by a "chemical weapons attack" in the Kurdish village of Birjinni. Yet all HRW can say is that "forensic examination of the two skeletons was limited to determining whether there was any sign of trauma or perimortem violence that might contradict the account of the villagers that the two decedents were overcome by chemical weapons. No indications contrary to death by chemical agents were found." In fact, there is absolutely no indication of how these two persons died. To use this as conclusive evidence of a "chemical weapons attack" is preposterous. 
5. The various HRW statements exhibit both "claim creep"--the tendency, over time, to assert ever-larger numbers of victims--and fundamental change in the nature of the claim. In its 1993 report, "Genocide in Iraq," HRW claimed that the number of victims was "at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 persons." By 2003, that number had grown to a firm 100,000. The gender breakdown of the victims also changed. In 1993 "many" of the victims were women and children; by 2003 all 100,000 victims were men and boys. Or maybe by 2003 it was only the men and boys who were "trucked to remote areas and machine-gunned to death, their bodies bulldozed into mass graves," while the women and girls were killed on site. HRW doesn't tell us; but, in any event, there are still no bodies, whether male or female, to corroborate any of this. 
6. On several occasions, Human Rights Watch reports explicitly invoke the Holocaust. Readers are told that "like Nazi Germany, the Iraqi regime concealed its actions in euphemisms";  that "the parallels [between the Holocaust and the alleged campaign against the Kurds] are apt, and often chillingly close";  and that "until [Lidice], there were supposedly only two possible attitudes for a conqueror toward a village that was considered rebellious."  Resort to this deep well of emotionality is necessary only when the facts themselves are insufficient to convince.
Human Rights Watch also relies heavily on Iraqi government documents captured by the Kurdish opposition. These documents have made their way to the Iraq Research and Documentation Project within the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. The IRDP--which, like Human Rights Watch, has collaborated with the U.S. State Department--has posted a few of the documents on its website. After appointing the documents with suitably provocative names like "Bureaucratic Beheading" and "A Professional Rapist," the website makes wild claims about the significance of some of them. Consider the document titled "Admission of Chemical Use," which provides in its entirety: 
"We have been informed of the following:
1- The Iranian enemy has supplied the saboteurs' families in the villages and rural areas along the border with pharmaceutical drugs, especially anti-chemical medicaments; and they [the Iranian enemy] are training them to use syringes for this purpose and to wear protective head masks.
2- There exist approximately 100 saboteurs from various gangs of saboteurs in the Werta region, al-Sadiq district. They are along the Khanqawa route in order to stop the force accompanying the Village Deportation Committees, albeit most of the families in this region have left to Iran.
Please verify information and notify us within 24 hours."
The IRDP interpretation is:
"This document is very important because it vitiates any claim by the government of Saddam Husayn that it did not use chemical weapons against its Kurdish population. The date, provenance and text of the document lend undeniable proof to the regime's genocide campaign, known as Anfal, against the Kurds. The Iraq regime's use of chemical weapons as part of the Anfal campaign was so widespread, the Iranians had to supply the Kurds with anti-chemical protectives."
While this is one possible interpretation, the document could also be either (1) a simple statement of fact, or (2) a warning that the Iranians, who also used gasses (blood agents and mustard gas), had issued medical supplies and protective clothing to their supporters and might be themselves preparing to launch a chemical attack. We just don't know. It's ludicrous to anoint this short document an "Admission of Chemical Use" by Iraq.
Physicians for Human Rights, which collaborated with Human Rights Watch, has also issued a number of reports. Most make claims similar to those in the HRW reports and are subject to the same objections.  One of its reports, though, is sufficiently important to require separate examination. This is "Nerve Gas Used in Northern Iraq on Kurds," released on April 29, 1993. According to this report, a PHR team collected soil samples on June 10, 1992, from bomb craters near the Kurdish village of Birjinni in northern Iraq. The Iraqi military is claimed to have bombed Birjinni on August 25, 1988. 
The samples were then analyzed by a British laboratory, which reported "unequivocal" residues of methylphosphonic acid (MPA) and isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (iPMPA) as well as "degradation products of mustard gas." MPA is a product of the hydrolysis (reaction with water) of any of several nerve agents, and iPMPA (which the report incorrectly calls "isipropyl" methylphosphonic acid) is a product of the hydrolysis of sarin. 
Assuming the samples were authentic and the proper conditions (if any) for hydrolysis of sarin were present, this finding is significant. Sarin, then, may have been a factor in the deaths of four Birjinni villagers reported that day. However, sarin is odorless,  and, according to Human Rights Watch, the villagers reported various distinctive odors from the bombs: "pleasant, at first. It smelled of apples and something sweet"; it smelled like "pesticides in the fields"; "it became bitter." To accept this account, it also must be possible for Iraq to have combined sarin and mustard gas either with each other or with a third substance, as the villagers reported three waves of four bombs, all apparently identical. 
Other sources also claim that Iraq has used nerve gas. The CIA says that Iraq used nerve agents six times: five times against only Iranian troops, and at Halabja against both Iranians and Kurds. Four of the six instances involve the cruder tabun, rather than sarin, and the agents allegedly used on the other two occasions are unspecified.  Rick Francona, a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer who was a liaison to the Iraqi military, puts the figure at four times in 1988. 
There are other champions of the genocide claim. One is Jeffrey Goldberg, whose 18,000-word story, "The Great Terror," in the March 25, 2002, issue of the New Yorker  forms the basis of the U.S. State Department's website on alleged Iraqi genocide.  Goldberg's story is long on lurid details; we are told, for instance, that one woman, Hamida Mahmoud, died while nursing her two-year-old daughter. Goldberg also follows the Human Rights Watch formula in invoking the Nazis: "Saddam Hussein's attacks on his own citizens mark the only time since the Holocaust that poison gas has been used to exterminate women and children."
What Goldberg doesn't tell his readers is that he has dual Israeli/American citizenship and served in the Israeli defense forces a few years back.  Or that he purposefully ignored the War College report, which, of course, reached quite different conclusions. 
In a curious detail, Goldberg, following the Human Rights Watch narrative concerning Halabja, asserts that the Iraqis dropped wave after wave of gas bombs on the city after Iranian troops had taken it, yet the Iranians never reported any gas casualties.
Another piece of Goldberg's narrative that doesn't fit--and this is true of the accounts of all of the genocide advocates--is that mustard gas generally doesn't have any immediate effects, yet the Kurds in these stories are portrayed as experiencing blistering, and sometimes falling dead, almost immediately. According to a December 2002 fact sheet from the British Health Department, "mustard gas does not usually cause pain at the time of exposure; symptoms may be delayed for 4 to 6 hours"; only "occasionally" are "nausea, retching, vomiting and eye smarting" reported immediately.  Similarly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control explains that "mustard gas burns your skin and causes blisters within a few days."  Other sources agree. 
Interestingly, Goldberg's piece was immediately incorporated into the Bush administration's propaganda efforts.  Goldberg's article--placed in the "Fact" section of the New Yorker--can easily be interpreted as part of the joint U.S./Israeli campaign against Saddam Hussein. Goldberg himself vehemently supports the "removal" of Saddam. 
Another purveyor of the genocide claim is Christine Gosden, a professor of medical genetics at the University of Liverpool medical school. Although a convert to the cause only after her 1998 visit to Halabja, she's a true believer.  In these few years she has made herself into a terrorism expert who has testified before Congress  and co-authored a recent virulent commentary with the executive director of the Washington Kurdish Institute. 
Gosden hasn't added any new evidence to our understanding of events, although she's upped the ante of total alleged deaths to 200,000  while adding "possibly biological and radiological weapons" to the list of agents allegedly used by Iraq against the Kurds. 
One expert who's been particularly scathing about Gosden's claims is Dr. Gordon Prather, a nuclear physicist who was assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for science and technology in the Reagan years and informed himself on chemical agents because of his oversight responsibilities in that realm. Responding to Gosden's genocide claims, Prather is emphatic: 
"Your lady doctor's assertion that Iraq bombed 280 villages with poison gas is a joke you should have seen without a fact-checker. There were hundreds of villages cleared by Baghdad on the Iraqi border, but the residents were moved to new villages built for them in the interior. Western journalists were invited in to observe the process, including Karen Eliot House of the Wall Street Journal, now the president of Dow Jones International."
Finally, there's Gwynne Roberts, a British television reporter who visited Kurdish refugee camps in 1988. He also entered Iraqi territory and brought back shell fragments on which a British laboratory reportedly found traces of mustard gas.  But Roberts never identified where the fragments came from,  and both Iran and Iraq are known to have used mustard gas.
Roberts' most startling report was an alleged massacre at Bassay Gorge, in northern Iraq, on August 29, 1988, in which between 1,500 and 4,000 people, mainly women and children, were supposedly killed by a mixture of various nerve gasses. The absence of bodies was explained by their having been burned by Iraqi troops wearing gas masks. 
Stephen Pelletiere, the CIA analyst, says that the U.S. military closely studied these reports but found them groundless. 
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.
Only someone who wanted to be deceived would consider this adequate proof of genocide. 
Robin Miller is a writer in New Orleans. Contact her through her website at http://www.robincmiller.com. Copyright (C) Robin Miller 2002. This commentary may be freely distributed -- and I encourage that -- so long as it remains intact, including the authorship and copyright statement.
Human Rights Watch's reports on Iraq can be accessed here.
These reports were originally issued by Middle East Watch, which later merged
with other organizations to form Human Rights Watch. [Click the
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A recent op-ed claims 6800 chemical deaths at Halabja. See Joost R. Hiltermann, "America Didn't Seem to Mind Poison Gas," International Herald Tribune, January 17, 2003. Hiltermann was through 1994 the director of the Kurds' Project of Middle East Watch. As he's currently writing a book on chemical weapons use during the Iran-Iraq war, this book will presumably seek to further canonize the Human Rights Watch perspective.
2. This report--Stephen C. Pelletiere, Douglas V. Johnson II, and Leif R. Rosenberger, "Iraqi Power and US Security in the Middle East," Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College--was released to the public in 1990. Much of the material in this report also appears in Marine Corps document FMFRP 3-203, "Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War," dated December 10, 1990.
In 2001 Praeger Publishers published a book, "Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to War in the Gulf," by the report's lead author, Stephen Pelletiere. It has sold 30,000 copies at a pricey $70 and ranks 818 in sales at Amazon.com.
3. This summary of the report's findings is taken from a column by British freelance writer Kevin Dowling , "Top US Intel Expert Brands Tony Blair A Liar Over Iraq," Globe-Intel, October 10, 2002. The column was originally circulated on Irish author Gordon Thomas' Globe-Intel mailing list.
For other commentary by Stephen Pelletiere, see:
Stephen Pelletiere, "A War Crime or an Act of War?," New York Times, January 31, 2003.
Roger Trilling, "Fighting Words: The Administration Builds Up Its Pretext for Attacking Iraq," Village Voice, May 1-7, 2002.
Douglas V. Johnson and Stephen C. Pelletiere, "Iraq's Chemical Warfare," The New York Review of Books, November 22, 1990.
It should perhaps be noted that Jean Pascal Zanders of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) doubts whether Iran really did use a cyanide agent in Halabja. See his Allegations of Iranian CW Use in the 1980-88 Gulf War: A Critical Analysis from Open Sources (Washington, DC; 7 March 2001).
For an argument that Iraq _was_ responsible for the Halabja gassings, based in part on Zanders' assertions, see Glen Rangwala's January 2002 post on the CASI message board. He relies on Christine Gosden and Gwynne Roberts and dismisses Pelletiere's reports. The entire thread of which this message was a part is found here.
4. Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, October 2002.
5. "Appendix B: Chemical Weapons," from "Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War," referenced in footnote 2, states:
"For comparison, during WWI, the U. S. Army suffered some 70,552 gas casualties requiring hospitalization.
Of these, 1,221 died. Deaths on the battlefield attributed to gas are recorded as 200, but on WWI battlefields, cause of death was often difficult to ascertain."
5a. For a description of the role of the U.S. State Department and Senate in promoting the genocide allegations, see "Saddam Hussein: From Ally to Enemy" (April 9, 2002)
6. Stephen Pelletiere, "A War Crime or an Act of War?," New York Times, January 31, 2003.
7. Jude Wanniski, "What Happened at Halabja?," April 23, 2002 (quoting Pelletiere's 2001 book "Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to War in the Gulf").
Economist and activist Jude Wanniski is the writer most responsible for keeping alive questions about the veracity of the genocide claims. His other contributions include:
"Saddam Did Not Commit Genocide!" (February 3, 2003)
"The CIA Reports on Saddam's Gassings" (October 8, 2002)
"Dr. Stephen Pelletiere, V.I.P. (September 18, 2002)
"100,000 Men and Boys, Machine-Gunned to Death!!" (August 14, 2002)
"Iraq & The Christian Science Monitor" (May 22, 2002)
"Pure Propaganda on '60 Minutes'" (May 14, 2002)
"Saddam Hussein: From Ally to Enemy" (April 9, 2002)
"Letters From an Iraqi Expatriate" (March 26, 2002)
"Bush & Cheney Are Misinformed" (March 25, 2002)
"In Defense of Saddam Hussein" (December 14, 2000)
"Did Saddam Hussein Gas His Own People?" (November 18, 1998)
For his efforts, Wanniski has been charged with denying genocide. See Timothy Noah, "Jude Wanniski's Genocide Denial; Wherein the Supply-Side Guru Disputes, against All Evidence, Saddam's Gassing of the Kurds," Slate, April 1, 2002.
8. Douglas V. Johnson and Stephen C. Pelletiere, "Iraq's Chemical Warfare," The New York Review of Books, November 22, 1990.
9. See Jude Wanniski, "Did Saddam Hussein Gas His Own People?," November 18, 1998. This cites Chapter 5 of "Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East," referenced in footnote 2.
10. Viorst's article was published on page six of the October 7, 1998, edition of the International Herald Tribune under the title "Iraq and the Kurds: Where Is the Proof of Poison Gas?" Portions of it are online here and here.
11. This is an excerpt from Sandcastles beginning on page 50.
11a. For a recounting of Human Rights Watch's change of position, see Jude Wanniski, "Iraq & The Christian Science Monitor" (May 22, 2002).
12. "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs," October 2002.
12a. Human Rights Watch's reports on Iraq can be accessed here. These reports were originally issued by Middle East Watch, which later merged with other organizations to become Human Rights Watch.
13. These evidentiary sources are described in "A Note on Methodology" from HRW's principal report, "Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds."
13a. In "Preface & Acknowledgements" in "Genocide in Iraq," Human Rights Watch offers its appreciation to "Peter Galbraith, then senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Ambassador Charles Dunbar, formerly of the U.S. Department of State." For a description of the role of the U.S. State Department and Senate in promoting the genocide allegations, see "Saddam Hussein: From Ally to Enemy" (April 9, 2002). Peter Galbraith, who took a leading role in these promotional activities, was a senior advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1979 to 1993, then becoming the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia. See the U.S. Embassy in Croatia. From 1962 until 1993, Charles Dunbar was a State Department Officer, including postings as Ambassador to Yemen and Qatar.
Reports by Peter Galbraith include:
Peter Galbraith, Kurdistan in the Time of Saddam Hussein--A Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 1991)
Peter W. Galbraith and Christopher Van Hollen, Jr., "Chemical Weapons Use in Kurdistan: Iraq's Final Offensive," staff report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, September 21, 1988.
14. HRW reports are inconsistent on the number of people killed at this site (the Kurdish village of Koreme). "A Note on Methodology," referenced in footnote 13 just above, states that 26 bodies were recovered, but the separate report, "The Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan: The Destruction of Koreme," says that 27 men and boys were executed.
"Unquiet Graves: The Search for the Disappeared in Iraqi Kurdistan," Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, February 1992, might have been expected to shed light on the question of the missing mass graves. Instead, a delegation sent to Kurdistan in December 1991 by Middle East Watch and Physicians for Human Rights can only report that "we recovered the skeletons or partial remains of 9 individuals, most of whom bore single gunshot wounds to the head." They also mention a number of locations of alleged mass graves, but the reports are not further investigated.
If these alleged mass graves ever are found, it must be determined whether the victims were Kurds. In one incident, Kurdish guerrillas shot and killed at least 60 unarmed Iraqi soldiers after they had surrendered. According to a Reuters reporter who witnessed the incident, the soldiers were shot at point-blank range while kneeling inside a building with their hands behind their backs. See Kurt Schork, "Kurds Kill 60 Unarmed Iraqi Soldiers," Washington Post, October 8, 1991.
15. One of the two other exhumations was of three children's graves near the village of Erbil. Since these graves were within the "graveyard of a complex where survivors of the Anfal [Iraq's alleged campaign against the Kurds] were taken," it is unclear what Human Rights Watch believes is established by evidence that people who weren't killed in the alleged campaign later died of other causes. See "A Note on Methodology."
The other exhumation site was near the village of Birjinni; two bodies were exhumed, with results that, objectively speaking, were wholly inconclusive. The HRW report states:
"Exhumations of chemical weapons victims: Under the direction of the forensic team's scientific head and chief anthropologist, the skeletal remains of two of the four apparent victims of the chemical attack were exhumed. The forensic team was told that these two skeletons were those of the grandfather and the small boy who had died in the attack. The skeletons of the other two victims, buried in the cave, were not exhumed.
Exhumation of the two skeletons confirmed that one was that of an old man, approximately sixty years old. Relatives identified him as the grandfather on the basis of artifacts and clothing found with the skeleton in the grave. The second skeleton was that of a young boy, approximately five years old. He was identified as the grandson on the basis of clothing. Forensic examination of the two skeletons was limited to determining whether there was any sign of trauma or perimortem violence that might contradict the account of the villagers that the two decedents were overcome by chemical weapons. No indications contrary to death by chemical agents were found. The skeletons were then reburied in new graves in accordance with Islamic ritual.
Conclusions concerning the chemical weapons attack: The forensic team found nothing in the evidence of the exhumation and the archaeological investigation that was inconsistent with the account of the chemical weapons attack given by village witnesses. On the contrary, the lack of trauma to either skeleton supports the villagers' account."
See "The Destruction of Koreme During The Anfal Campaign." return to text
16. See the Letter to the editor from Hanny Megally published in the New York Times on August 13, 2002. (Scroll down to the third letter.) Megally is identified as the executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
17. Amazingly, this allegation is placed only in a footnote, accompanied by no supporting evidence. See footnote 32 in "The March 16 Chemical Attack on Halabja" within "Genocide in Iraq."
18. Accounts by the U.S. State Department and Kurdish opposition groups are obviously corrupted by self-interest. United Nations documents should be checked, however.
Another source, and an extremely unbiased one, of information on Iraq's use of chemical weapons is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). See, for example, Julian Perry Robinson and Jozef Goldblat, "Chemical Warfare in the Iraq-Iran War," SIPRI Fact Sheet, May 1984. By 1994, SIPRI could state that: "There have been numerous allegations that Iraq used CW in the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, but only a few of these allegations have been proved." See "SIPRI Yearbook 1994", pp. 323-324. A compendium of information can be accessed at "Iraq and Arms Control: A SIPRI Archive."
A medical journal article that could be helpful is A. Hay and G. Roberts, "The Use of Poison Gas against the Iraqi Kurds: Analysis of Bomb Fragments, Soil and Wool Samples," Journal of the American Medical Association, 1990, 262:1065-1066.
18a. Footnote seven in "Chapter One: Ba'athis and Kurds" within "Genocide in Iraq" states:
"Books on the Iran-Iraq War have routinely echoed the unsubstantiated report that both sides had used chemical weapons in Halabja. This notion originated in a study for the U.S. Army War College: Stephen C. Pelletiere, Douglas V. Johnson II and Leif R. Rosenberger, Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1990). It is repeated in a later book by Pelletiere, a former U.S. intelligence officer, The Iran-Iraq War: Chaos in a Vacuum (New York: Praeger, 1992). This strongly pro-Iraqi work comments, 'On May 23 (sic), in fighting over the town, gas was used by both sides. As a result scores (sic) of Iraqi Kurdish civilians were killed. It is now fairly certain that Iranian gas killed the Kurds.' (pp.136-137)
The supposed factual basis for this conclusion is that the Halabja victims had blue lips, characteristic of the effects of cyanide gas--which Iraq was not believed to possess. Cyanide gas, a metabolic poison, would indeed produce blue lips, but they are far from being a specific indicator of its use. Nerve agents, which are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that cause respiratory paralysis, would also turn victims' lips blue. Middle East Watch interview with Dr. Howard Hu, Harvard School of Public Health, May 13, 1993."
Human Rights Watch's dismissive attitude is clearly indicated by its language: this "unsubstantiated report" was "routinely echoed" in other sources; Pelletiere's book was "strongly pro-Iraqi"; the factual basis for the analysis was merely "supposed"; and two disagreements are noted by "(sic)," here used as a term of denigration.
19. See "Preface & Acknowledgements" in "Genocide in Iraq."
20. "Iraq: Devastation of Marsh Arabs," January 25, 2003.
Human Rights Watch entered the Iraqi fray again on February 6 with its publication of "Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan."
21. According to Stephen Pelletiere, Iran employed a non-persistent form of mustard gas while Iraq developed a heavier, more persistent form of the gas, and much of the mustard gas that was used at Halabja carried the Iranian signature. See British freelance writer Kevin Dowling , "Top US Intel Expert Brands Tony Blair A Liar Over Iraq," Globe-Intel, October 10, 2002. The column was originally circulated on Irish author Gordon Thomas' Globe-Intel mailing list.
22. Online here.
23. The 1993 statements are in "Preface & Acknowledgements" in "Genocide in Iraq"; the 2003 statements are from Hanny Megally's letter to the New York Times referenced in footnote 16. (Scroll down to the third letter.)
24. The complete passage, from "Preface & Acknowledgements" in "Genocide in Iraq" is as follows:
"The phenomenon of the Anfal, the official military codename used by the government in its public pronouncements and internal memoranda, was well known inside Iraq, especially in the Kurdish region. As all the horrific details have emerged, this name has seared itself into popular consciousness -- much as the Nazi German Holocaust did with its survivors. The parallels are apt, and often chillingly close."
25. The complete passage, from "Introduction" in "Genocide in Iraq," is as follows:
"Like Nazi Germany, the Iraqi regime concealed its actions in euphemisms. Where Nazi officials spoke of "executive measures," "special actions" and "resettlement in the east," Ba'athist bureaucrats spoke of "collective measures," "return to the national ranks" and "resettlement in the south." But beneath the euphemisms, Iraq's crimes against the Kurds amount to genocide, the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such."
26. The complete paragraph, a quotation from Albert Camus' The Rebel, appears at the beginning of "The Destruction of Koreme During The Anfal Campaign" and is as follows:
"Until [Lidice], there were supposedly only two possible attitudes for a conqueror toward a village that was considered rebellious. Either calculated repression and cold-blooded execution of hostages, or a savage and necessarily brief sack by enraged soldiers. Lidice was destroyed by both methods simultaneously ... Not only were all the houses burned to the ground, the hundred and seventy-four men of the village shot, the two hundred and three women deported, and the three hundred children transferred elsewhere to be educated in the religion of the Fuhrer, but special teams spent months at work leveling the terrain with dynamite, destroying the very stones, filling in the village pond, and finally diverting the course of the river. After that, Lidice was really nothing more than a mere possibility ... To make assurance doubly sure, the cemetery was emptied of its dead, who might have been a perpetual reminder that once something existed in this place."
27. The IRDP is online here. The cited documents are all available under "Selected Documents."
28. Physicians for Human Rights' reports on Iraq can be accessed here. Its first interviews with Kurdish refugees took place in October 1988, still some six weeks after the reported attacks.
29. Online here. This information was re-released on March 21, 1995, two days after the sarin incident in the Tokyo subways. See "Nerve Agent Sarin Identified in 1993 as Chemical Weapon Used Earlier by Iraq Against Kurdish Population."
30. The results of this analysis were published in a scientific journal. See Robin M. Black, Raymond J. Clarke, Robert W. Read and Michael T.J. Reid, "Application of Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and Gas Chromatography-Tandem Mass Spectrometry to the Analysis of Chemical Warfare Samples, Found to Contain Residues of the Nerve Agent Sarin, Sulphur Mustard and Their Degradation Products," Journal of Chromatography A, Volume 662, Issue 2, 25 February 1994, Pages 301-321. The abstract provides as follows:
"Samples of clothing, grave debris, soil and munition fragments, collected from the Kurdish village of Birjinni, were analysed by GC-MS with selected ion monitoring (SIM) for traces of chemical warfare agents and their degradation products. Positive analyses were confirmed, where possible, by full scan mass spectra, or at low concentrations by additional GC-MS-SIM analysis using chemical ionisation, by higher resolution GC-MS-SIM, and by GC-tandem mass spectrometry using multiple reaction monitoring. Sulphur mustard and/or thiodiglycol were detected in six soil samples; isopropyl methylphosphonic acid and methylphosphonic acid, the hydrolysis products of the nerve agent sarin, were detected in six different soil samples. Trace amounts of intact sarin were detected on a painted metal fragment associated with one of these soil samples. The results demonstrate the application of different GC-MS and GC-MS-MS techniques to the unequivocal identification of chemical warfare agent residues in the environment at concentrations ranging from low ppb to ppm (w/w). They also provide the first documented unequivocal identification of nerve agent residues in environmental samples collected after a chemical attack."
The article may be purchased for $30 here.
31. See this document.
32. For villagers' accounts of the attack on Birjinni, see "The Chemical Weapons Attack on Birjinni" in "The Destruction of Koreme During The Anfal Campaign" (Human Rights Watch, January 1993), and "'Apples and Something Sweet': The Chemical Attacks of August 25, 1988" in "Genocide in Iraq" (Human Rights Watch, July 1993).
The Physicians for Human Rights report on the soil samples (see footnote 29) states that (1) researchers took three samples from each of four bomb craters, (2) all six samples from two of the craters showed breakdown products of sarin, and (3) all six samples from the other two craters showed breakdown products of mustard gas. No sample revealed either no gas traces or traces of both gases. It could therefore be the case that sarin and mustard gas were not mixed together, but rather were each mixed with whatever substance produced the "plume of black, then yellowish smoke" reported by villagers.
33. See "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs," October 2002.
34. Steve Duin, "An Eyewitness to Iraq's Way of Waging War," The Oregonian, August 25, 2002 (reviewing Francona's 1999 book "Ally to Adversary"). Francona's website is here while Duin's review is here.
35. Online here.
Human Rights Watch coordinated its actions with the publication of "The Great Terror," as the same week Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director, published an op-ed, "Indict Saddam," referring to Goldberg's article. Oddly, Human Rights Watch chose to place this commentary in that noted beacon of humanitarian concerns, the Wall Street Journal.
36. "The Lessons of Halabja: An Ominous Warning."
37. Jude Wanniski, "What Happened at Halabja?," April 23, 2002.
38. Village Voice reporter Roger Trilling (see footnote 42) asked Goldberg about this omission:
"In a telephone interview with the Voice, Goldberg explained why he had chosen to elide the position of the military and intelligence communities from his piece. 'I didn't give it much thought, because it was dismissed by so many people I consider to be experts,' he told me. 'Very quickly into this story, I decided that I support the mainstream view--of Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, the State Department, the UN, and various Kurdish group--that the Iraqis were responsible for Halabja. In the same way, I didn't give any merit to the Iraqi denials.'"
39. See this document.
40. See this document.
41. See also this document (symptoms appear 4-24 hours later) and this document (symptoms appear 1-6 or more hours later).
42. Roger Trilling, "Fighting Words: The Administration Builds Up Its Pretext for Attacking Iraq," Village Voice, May 1-7, 2002.
43. See Goldberg's comments posted on Slate:
"I will end what could quickly devolve into a rant by posing this question to you: Does it in fact even matter if Saddam is connected to al-Qaida? In other words, why look for a smoking gun when a dozen already exist? This is a man who has attacked, unprovoked, four of his country's neighbors; a man who has committed genocide and used chemical weapons on civilians; a man who is clearly obsessed with the development of weapons of mass destruction; and a man who uses homicide and rape as a tool of governance. Isn't he worthy, by these deeds alone, of removal?"
Jeffrey Goldberg's agenda is quite clear: to support the U.S. government's political and military goals in the Middle East. His newest article, "The Unknown: The C.I.A. and the Pentagon Take Another Look at Al Qaeda and Iraq," from the February 10, 2003, issue of The New Yorker, continues his effort, begin in "The Great Terror," to link the two. His latest allegations are already making the rounds; see the February 4 edition of NPR's "All Things Considered." His prior journalism includes:
"Party of God," a two-part article on Hezbollah published in The New Yorker on October 14 and 21, 2002. While this doesn't seem to be online, a Q&A session with the New Yorker has some information, and an account from one of Goldberg's fans has more.
"In Saddam's Shadow: Jeffrey Goldberg Talks about Reporting behind the Lines in Kurdistan," The New Yorker, March 25, 2002.
"The Martyr Strategy: What Does the New Phase of Terrorism Signify?," The New Yorker, July 9, 2001. (Scroll down.)
"Inside Jihad U.: The Education of a Holy Warrior," The New York Times, June 25, 2000. (Also available here.)
See also a fan's site, "Jeffrey Goldberg on Islamic Contempt and Anger"
Unfortunately, Goldberg's prime source on the alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda links in the earlier article ("The Great Terror"), Mohammed Mansour Shahab, was recently interviewed by the Chief Reporter for the prestigious Sunday Observer newspaper in London, Jason Burke, in "The Missing Link?," February 9, 2003. Burke described his interview with Shahab, who remains a prisoner of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's Intelligence Service in the northeastern Iraqi city of Sulamaniya.
"For the first six months of his imprisonment he had kept the rest to himself. Then, in October 2001, he told a fellow prisoner who told the guards who told the deputy chief of investigations. When, in the early spring, a reporter from The New Yorker was in Sulamaniya Shahab told him too. The resulting story was published in March with the headline 'The Threat of Saddam' and announced that 'the Kurds may have evidence of [Saddam's] ties to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.' There were a number of possible links raised by the article but the main tie between al'Qaeda and Saddam was Shahab.
However Shahab is a liar. He may well be a smuggler, and probably a murderer too, but substantial chunks of his story simply are not true.
So why was he lying? Possibly because, as the deputy chief of investigations admitted, his sudden loquacity might well get him a few years off his sentence. And where did he get the material for the lies from? Well, televisions were introduced into the cells in August last year. [RM note: see below]
At the end of our interview I told Shahab that I didn't think he had ever been to Kandahar or met bin Laden. He didn't deny it. Instead he just asked a series of questions about who I was. Why was I in Afghanistan? Was I a spy? An American? Who? I showed him my British passport and press card.
He laughed. 'You are a difficult man,' he said."
RM note: Did reporter Burke mean August 2001 when referring to the introduction of televisions at the prison? Goldberg's article was published in March 2002.
44. See Christine Gosden, "Why I Went, What I Saw," The Washington Post, March 11, 1998, page A19.
45. See "Testimony of Dr. Christine M. Gosden 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?; Wednesday, April 22nd 1998 at 2:30 pm." Gosden's 1998 testimony Senate testimony is also online here and here.
46. Christine Gosden and Mike Amitay, "Lesson of Iraq's Mass Murder," The Washington Post, June 2, 2002, page B7.
47. She told Jeffrey Goldberg this; see his "The Great Terror" discussed earlier.
48. See "Lesson of Iraq's Mass Murder" cited in footnote 46.
49. Dr. Prather's statements are reported in Jude Wanniski, "Pure Propaganda on '60 Minutes,' May 14, 2002.
50. See "Reply by Edward Mortimer" in "Iraq's Chemical Warfare," The New York Review of Books, November 22, 1990.
51. British freelance writer Kevin Dowling , "Top US Intel Expert Brands Tony Blair A Liar Over Iraq," Globe-Intel, October 10, 2002. The column was originally circulated on Irish author Gordon Thomas' Globe-Intel mailing list.
52. Same as above.
53. Same as above.
Gwynne Roberts also claims that he found "evidence of terrorist training camps in Iraq and [heard] testimony that Al Qaeda fighters are being trained to use poison gas," that Saddam successfully tested a nuclear bomb in 1989, and that the gas attacks at Halabja have caused plagues of locusts and increased virulence of poisonous snake venom, leading to a tenfold increase in lethal snake bites. He calls the work by Pelletiere and his co-authors a "piece of black propaganda."
Roberts has produced a number of films on the alleged genocide. One, called "Saddam's Killing Fields," is a report by Iraqi expatriate Kanan Makiya broadcast on BBC TV in January 1992 and in the U.S. on PBS Frontline on March 31, 1992. Another is an episode in the PBS series Wide Angle called "Saddam's Ultimate Solution" that was shown on July 11, 2002.
Roberts' "Saddam's Killing Fields" should not be confused with a different film by the same name, an independent documentary by Christopher Jeans from 1995.
54. And why should we even be concerned about the veracity of these allegations? Not in any attempt t-- doomed to be futile - -to rehabilitate Saddam Hussein, but because the search for truth is its own justification, because the word "genocide" must not be cheapened, and because the U.S. government must not be handed another pretext to attack Iraq.