Halabja poison gas attack

Halabja poison gas attack

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Halabja poison gas attack
partof=Iran-Iraq War
Operation Zafar 7

caption=Aftermath of the Halabja chemical attack
date=March 16 1988
place=coord|35|11|N|45|59|E|display=inline,title|name=Halabja Poison Gas Attack|type:city
Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan
casus=Kurdish uprising against Iraqi Government with Iranian support
result=Kurds and Iranian forces abandon the city, capture and demolition of Halabja by Iraqi forces
commander1=Ali Hasan al-Majid
commander2=Jalal Talabani
casualties3=Up to 15,000 killed and injured (mostly civilians)
Campaignbox Iran-Iraq WarThe Halabja poison gas attack occurred in the period March 1617, 1988, during the Iran-Iraq War. Chemical weapons (CW) were used by the Iraqi government forces in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, killing thousands of people, most of them civilians (3,200-5,000 dead on the spot and 7,000-10,000 injured). Thousands more died of horrific complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack. [http://pukmedia.com/english/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=433&Itemid=53Halabja, March 16, 1988] ]

The incident, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) defined as an act of genocide, was as of 2008 the largest-scale chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history.


It was an event that is historically separate from the Operation Anfal (the 1986-1989 campaign conducted by the Saddam Hussein's regime's in order to terrorize the Kurdish rural population and end the peshmerga rebellions by the most brutal means possible), as the Iranian troops allied to the rebels were also involved in the Halabja events. Nevertheless, the victims of the tragedy are often included in accounting the deaths attributable to the Anfal campaign, which was characterised by the widespread and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by Iraq. In 2006 it was estimated that in all as many as 30,000 Kurds lost their lives to Saddam's chemical weapons in the late 1980s.Mirage aircraft began dropping chemical bombs. According to pro-Iranian Kurdish commanders in Halabja, there were up to 14 aircraft sorties, with seven to eight planes in each group. Iraqi helicopters coordinating the operation were also seen. Eyewitnesses have told of clouds of smoke billowing upward "white, black and then yellow"', rising as a column about 150 feet in the air. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/16/newsid_4304000/4304853.stm 1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack] ] Survivors said the gas at first scented with the smell of sweet apples. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/birmingham/content/articles/2006/06/22/halabja_feature.shtml The Smell of Apples] ]

The attack involved multiple chemical agents, including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, soman, tabun and VX. Some sources have also pointed to the blood agent hydrogen cyanide. The survivors said people died in a number of ways, suggesting a combination of toxic chemicals: some "just dropped dead" while others "died of laughing"; still others took a few minutes to die, first "burning and blistering" or coughing up green vomit. [http://www.hrw.org/reports/1991/IRAQ913.htm#4 Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?] ] Most of the wounded taken to hospital in the Iranian capital Tehran were suffering from mustard gas exposure.

Discovery by Iranians

The first images after the attack were taken by Iranian journalists who later spread the pictures in Iranian newspapers. Some of those first pictures were taken by Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan. Recalling the scenes at Halabja, Kaveh described the scene to Guy Dinmore of the "Financial Times". Kaveh was about eight kilometres outside Halabja with a military helicopter when the Iraqi MiG-23 fighter-bombers flew in. "It was not as big as a nuclear mushroom cloud, but several smaller ones: thick smoke," he said. He was shocked by the scenes on his arrival in the town, though he had seen gas attacks before during the brutal Iran-Iraq War:

"It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (...) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl's mouth and she died in my arms." [ [http://www.indexonline.org/en/news/articles/2003/2/a-committed-defender-of-free-expression.shtml A committed defender of free expression] ]

Saddam Hussein's government officially blamed Iran for the attack. The international response at the time was muted and the United States even suggested Iran was responsible.


Destruction and partial restoration of the city

After the city was retaken from the hands of the Iranian and Kurdish forces, Iraqi soldiers in NBC suits came to Halabja to study the effectiveness of their weapons and attacks. The town, littered with unburied dead, was then systematically razed by the Iraqi forces using bulldozers and explosives, but was partially rebuilt by the returning Kurds later, even as chemical weapons contaminated the food and water supplies, soil, and animal populations. In 2003, some 50,000 people lived in the city, compared to some 80,000 in 1988. As of 2008, it's believed there are still undiscovered mass graves in Halabja.

Medical and genetical consequences

Long-term medical effects included permanent blindness, disfigurement, respiratory, digestive, and neurological disorders, leukemia, lymphoma, and colon, breast, lung, skin, and other cancers, increased miscarriages and infertility and severe congenital disorders and other birth defects. Many survivors suffered from mental disorders. Some of those who survived the attack or were apparently injured only lightly at the time, later developed medical problems stemming from the chemicals. There are increasing fears that the attack may be having a lasting genetic impact on the Kurdish population. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2138447.stm Kurds look back with fear] ]

The trial of Saddam Hussein

Neither Saddam Hussein nor Ali Hasan al-Majid (who commanded Iraqi forces in northern Iraq in that period, which earned him a nickname of "Chemical Ali") were charged by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes against humanity relating to the events at Halabja. However, the Iraqi prosecutors had "500 documented baskets of crimes during the Hussein regime" and Hussein was condemned based on just one case. [ [http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/12/29/hussein/index.html Hussein executed with 'fear in his face'] ]

On December 18 2006, Saddam Hussein told the court:

"In relation to Iran, if any military or civil official claims that Saddam gave orders to use either conventional or special ammunition, which as explained is chemical, I will take responsibility with honor. But I will discuss any act committed against our people and any Iraqi citizen, whether Arab or Kurdish. I don't accept any insult to my principles or to me personally." [ [http://www.theage.com.au/news/World/Saddam-admits-Iran-gas-attacks/2006/12/19/1166290507910.html Saddam admits Iran gas attacks] ]

Among several documents revealed during the trial, one was a 1987 memorandum from Iraq's military intelligence seeking permission from the president's office to use mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin against Kurds. A second document said in reply that Saddam had ordered military intelligence to study the possibility of a "sudden strike" using such weapons against Iranian and Kurdish forces. An internal memo written by military intelligence confirmed it had received approval from the president's office for a strike using "special ammunition" and emphasized that no strike would be launched without first informing the president. [ [http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2006/12/18/saddam_trial_shown_govt_memos_about_gas_attacks/ Saddam says responsible for any Iran gas attacks] ]

International sources for technology and chemical precursors

The know-how and material for developing chemical weapons were obtained by Saddam's regime from foreign firms. [ [http://www.gfbv.de/pressemit.php?id=1210&PHPSESSID=bf9ba5ba3fad8ca3b89b60627a8f9498 German and European firms were involved] ] By far, the largest suppliers of precursors for chemical weapons production were in Singapore (4,515 tons), the Netherlands (4,261 tons), Egypt (2,400 tons), India (2,343 tons), and West Germany (1,027 tons). One Indian company, Exomet Plastics (now part of EPC Industrie Ltd.) sent 2,292 tons of precursor chemicals to Iraq. The Kim Al-Khaleej firm, located in Singapore and affiliated to United Arab Emirates, supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX, sarin, and mustard gas precursors and production equipment to Iraq. [ [http://www.iraqwatch.org/suppliers/nyt-041303.gifWhat Iraq Admitted About its Chemical Weapons Program] ]

The provision of chemical precursors from United States companies to Iraq was enabled by a Ronald Reagan administration policy that removed Iraq from the State Department's list State Sponsors of Terrorism. Leaked portions of Iraq's "Full, Final and Complete" disclosure of the sources for its weapons programs shows that thiodiglycol, a substance needed to manufacture mustard gas, was among the chemical precursors provided to Iraq from US companies such as Alcolac International and Phillips. Both companies have since undergone reorganization and Phillips, once a subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum and now part of ConocoPhillips, an American oil and energy company while Alcolac International has since dissolved and reformed as Alcolac Inc. [ [http://www.laweekly.com/general/features/made-in-the-usa/3025/ Made in the USA: A guide to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction] ]

On March 12, 2008, the democratic government of Iraq announced plans to take legal action against the suppliers of chemicals used in the poison gas attack. [ [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L12870756.htm Iraq says to sue Halabja chemical weapons suppliers] ]


Early U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement

An investigation into responsibility for the Halabja massacre, by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders, Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) concluded in 2007 that [http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/programs/dc/briefs/030701.htm Iraq was the culprit] , and not Iran. The U.S. State Department, however, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, took the official position based on examination of available evidence that Iran was partly to blame. [http://www.iht.com/articles/2003/01/17/edjoost_ed3_.php Halabja: America didn't seem to mind poison gas] ]

A preliminary Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study at the time reported that it was Iran that was responsible for the attack, an assessment which was used subsequently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for much of the early 1990s. The CIA's senior political analyst for the Iran-Iraq war, Stephen C. Pelletiere, co-authored an unclassified analysis of the war [ [http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/ops/war/docs/3203/ FMFRP 3-203 - Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War] ] which contained a brief summary of the DIA study's key points. The CIA altered its position radically in the late 1990s and cited Halabja frequently in its evidence of weapons of mass destructions (WMD) before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Pelletiere claims that a fact that has not been successfully challenged is that Iraq is not known to have possessed the cyanide-based blood agents determined to have been responsible for the condition of the bodies that were examined [ [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/3441#02 IRAQ'S CHEMICAL WARFARE] ] and that blue discolorations around the mouths of the victims and in their extremities [ [http://www.wisconsinproject.org/countries/iran/iran-chemical-1998.html#03 Iran Chemical Weapon Update - 1998] ] pointed to Iranian-used gas as the culprit. Some opponents to the Iraq sanctions have cited the DIA report to support their position that Iraq was not responsible for the Halabja attack.

Joost Hiltermann, who was the principal researcher for the HRW between 1992-1994, conducted a two-year study, including a field investigation in northern Iraq, capturing Iraqi government documents in the process. According to his analysis of thousands of captured Iraqi secret police documents and declassified U.S. government documents, as well as interviews with scores of Kurdish survivors, senior Iraqi defectors and retired U.S. intelligence officers, it is clear that Iraq carried out the attack on Halabja, and that the United States, fully aware of this, accused Iran, Iraq's enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. This research concluded there were numerous other gas attacks, unquestionably perpetrated against the Kurds by the Iraqi armed forces. According to Hiltermann, the literature on the Iran-Iraq war reflects a number of allegations of chemical weapons use by Iran, but these are "marred by a lack of specificity as to time and place, and the failure to provide any sort of evidence". He calls these allegations "mere assertions" and adds: "no persuasive evidence of the claim that Iran was the primary culprit was ever presented".

2006 Halabja memorial riot

In March 2003, a controversial Monument of Halabja Martyrs was built on the outskirts of still largely ruined city. On March 16, 2006, first some 150 and then few thousand of Halabja residents rioted at site in protest of what they perceive as the neglect of the living and their leadership capitalizing on the tragedy. One man was killed and dozens were injured and the memorial was set on fire. [ [http://www.pbs.org/americarebuilds2/memorial/memorial_halabja.html Memorial to Gas Attack Victims Spurs Controversy] ]

In popular culture

*The industrial band Skinny Puppy included a track called "VX Gas Attack" on their album "VIVIsectVI", based on the Halabja poison gas attack. The backing video for this song used on their Too Dark Park tour featured various video clips showing victims of the attacks being treated for their injuries, as well as the bodies of those who perished in the attacks.
*The Dutch death metal band The Monolith Deathcult also composed a track about the gassing, called "The Wrath of the Ba'ath".
*The 2006 documentary film "Screamers" about the Armenian-American band System of a Down featured a significant segment on the Halabja gas attack.

ee also

* Al-Anfal Campaign
* Chemical warfare
* Iran-Iraq War
* Zyklon B


Further reading

*Joost R. Hiltermann, "A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja" (2007) ISBN 0521876869
*Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" (2003) ISBN 0-06-054164-4
*Lawrence Potter, Gary Sick, "Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War" (2004) ISBN 1-4039-6450-5

External links

* [http://www.kdp.se/old/chemical.html Halabja, Bloody Friday: Chemical massacre of the Kurds by the Iraqi regime] , Kurdistan Democratic Party
* [http://www.hrw.org/reports/1991/IRAQ913.htm Halabja gas attack and the Al-Anfal campaign] , Human Rights Watch report, March 11, 1991
* [http://www.publications.steveplatt.net/halabja.htm Saddam's secret weapon] , Channel 4, March 16, 1998
* [http://www.terrorismcentral.com/Library/Teasers/ChemIraq.html The 1988 Chemical Weapons Attack on Halabja, Iraq] by Christine M. Gosden, Professor of Medical Genetics, University of Liverpool, 2001
* [http://www.iht.com/articles/2002/11/29/edjoost_ed3_.php# Rumsfeld should know : Who minded Iraqi mustard gas in 1983?] , "International Herald Tribune", November 29, 2002
* [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/02/21/wirq221.xml Gas attack town cries out for vengeance] , "The Telegraph", 20/02/2003
*pl icon [http://serwisy.gazeta.pl/swiat/1,34181,1372860.html Saddam i zagłada Kurdów] , "Gazeta Wyborcza", 2003-03-14
* [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/rls/18714.htm Saddam's Chemical Weapons Campaign: Halabja, March 16, 1988] , U.S. State Department, March 14, 2003
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2855139.stm Eyewitness: Halabja gas attack] , BBC News, 16 March, 2003
* [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/03/17/wkird17.xml Iraqi Kurds remember day Saddam gassed them] , "The Telegraph", 17/03/2003
* [http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/03/16/sprj.irq.massacre.memory.ap/ Kurdish town of Halabja remembers Saddam's chemical attack] , CNN, March 17, 2003
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/17/worlddispatch.iraq 'We blame Saddam for everything'] , "The Guardian", March 17 2003
* [http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/kurds/attack.html The Forgotten People - Hajabja Attack] , CBS News, March 26, 2003
* [http://www.cma.ca/index.cfm/ci_id/40602/la_id/1.htm Experiencing chemical warfare: Two physicians tell their story of Halabja in Northern Iraq] , CMA, September 9, 2004
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3643108.stm Mass grave found in northern Iraq] , BBC News, 10 September, 2004
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4355718.stm Halabja survivors seek justice] , BBC News, 19 October 2005
* [http://libcom.org/history/1988-the-halabja-massacre Eyewitness in Halabja] , "Wildcat" 13, 1989
* [http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2005/12/judgement160.htm Halabja watches Hussein's trial and waits for Its day in court] , Kurd Net, 26.12.2005
* [http://www.voanews.com/uspolicy/archive/2006-03/2006-03-16-voa2.cfm Anniversary Of Halabja Attack] , Voice of America, 16 March 2006
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/16/international/middleeast/16cnd-kurds.html?ex=1176436800&en=3902d1b3ccde28c3&ei=5070 Kurds Turn Violent in Protest Against Their Leaders] , "The New York Times", March 16, 2006
* [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/hundreds-protest-as-kurds-remember-halabja-gas-attack-470206.html Hundreds protest as Kurds remember Halabja gas attack] , "The Independent", 17 March 2006
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/17/international/middleeast/17kurds.html Kurds Destroy Monument in Rage at Leadership] , "The New York Times", March 17, 2006
* [http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2006-07/2006-07-16-voa12.cfm Halabja Bears Scars 18 Years After Chemical Attack] , Voice of America, 16 July 2006
* [http://www.pbs.org/americarebuilds2/memorial/memorial_halabja.html Memorial to Gas Attack Victims Spurs Controversy] , PBS, September 2006
* [http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-journalismwar/article_1049.jsp Halabja: whom does the truth hurt?] , openDemocracy, 4-09-2007
* [http://www.gfbv.de/pressemit.php?id=1210&PHPSESSID=bf9ba5ba3fad8ca3b89b60627a8f9498 Halabja 1988: Largest poison gas massacre of civilians since the Second World War - German and European firms were involved] , Society for Threatened Peoples, March 13, 2008
* [http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/conflicts/iraq/halabja_the_politics_of_memory Halabja: the politics of memory] by Joost R Hiltermann, openDemocracy, 14-03-2008
* [http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2008/3/independentstate2077.htm Halabja: Lessons of a tragedy, interview with Joost Hiltermann] , Kurd Net, 15.3.2008
* [http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2008/3/independentstate2078.htm Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal] , Kurd Net, 15.3.2008
* [http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2008/3/independentstate2076.htm Revisiting Halabja, 20 years after chemical attack, town still bears scars] , Kurd Net, 15.3.2008
* [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/F6B0D713-9330-4466-82ED-7D208EE86E95.htm Iraqi Kurds grieve Halabja victims] , Al Jazeera, 16 March 2008
* [http://voanews.com/english/2008-03-16-voa12.cfm Iraqi Kurds Mark 20th Anniversary of Halabja Poison Gas Attack] , Voice of America, 16 March 2008
* [http://www.france24.com/en/20080316-iraqi-kurds-mourn-victims-halabja-gas-attack-iraq-halabja&navi=MOYEN-ORIENT Iraqi Kurds mourn Halabja attack victims] , AFP, 16 March 2008
* [http://www2.irna.ir/en/news/view/menu-234/0803175641095244.htm Victims of Halabja chemical attacks honored] , Islamic Republic News Agency, March 17, 2008
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/16/newsid_4304000/4304853.stm BBC ON THIS DAY | 16 | 1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack]

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