memory fails where conscious demands it

chapter 1 - Halabja controversy

  • iran iraq war
  • kurdish rebels over take halabja
  • description of gas attack

why it matters

  • chemical warfare was banned following WW1
  • iraq was first state to reintroduce chemical warfare
  • counter weight to isreal's nuclear arsenal
  • response to horde attacks by the iranians
  • first recorded battlefield use of nerve gas in history
  • chemical weapons are powerful instruments of terror
  • it demoralized enemies
  • kurdish insurgency had started posing a serious threat to the iraqi regieme in the 1980's.
  • Iraq's integration of chemical warfare is unmatched in all the annals modern warfare.
  • indiscriminate
  • a long term suffering is created, which is unmatched by anything else save the atomic bomb
  • western companies are implicated in the pursuit of Iraqi chemical technology
  • a strong condemnation could have re-stigmatized these weapons at no great diplomatic cost but that did not occur

this book shows the absence of a of an early, strong, and unequivocal international condemnation of iraq for its chemical weapons use

consequences of weak international condemnation

  • sent repeated signals to iraq that the regime could continue, and even escalate, chemical weapons use
  • enabled the genocide of rural Kurds during the 1988 anfal campaign
  • demonstration effect of gassing was a flight factor that led the Kurds into the western desert where they were systematically killed
  • enabled a strategic advantage over Iran - the population thought they would be gassed thus were less supportive
  • encouraged development of biological wpns program
  • the fear the program created inspired WMD programs in Iran which we have to deal with today
  • could have encouraged saddam into believing he could get away with invading Kuwait
  • eroded the credibility of international institutions (UN)
  • these events caused irreparable harm to US strategic interests


  • will never be caught inferiorly armed
  • vulnerable to illegal methods of warfare
  • and shocked at the worlds tolerance of illegal warfare

however, unpleasent the alternatives, the decision to support Iraq and turn a blind eye to its worst atrocities had very specific, highly deleterious consequences, the blowback of which contrinues to haunt us today, creating unpalatable choices in a world that is giving every sign of becoming more destabilized and dangerous.

the invasion of kuwait

  • shifted focus
  • blinded international media to the atrocities committed against the Kurds.

the role played by chemical weapons and the kurds to their rightful place in that history. While much was known at the time, information was dispersed, difficult to obtain, and often secret.

chapter 1

  • the iran Iraq war and Iraq's need for a new weapon
  • Iranian army was trained by US army
  • Iraq was motivated by fear and opporunity
  • artillery was prohibitively expensive - gas killed the most amount of people with the least amount of cost
  • chemcial weapons are very disruptive to the tempo of operations

First documented Mustard Gas Attacks: Summer 1983

  • mustard gas RPG's were a response to iranian human wave formations
  • Kurdistan Democratic party of Iran KDP
  • contradictory claims may be attributed to mountainous terrain

consequences for the events at Haj Omran (the first mountanous gas attacks)

  • punished the KPD for facilitating the iranian victory at haj omran
  • deepened the split between Barzani's KPD and Talabani's PUK
  • iraq decisively crossed the chemical threshold

The world's first battlefield Use of Nerve Gas (1984 - winter)

  • tabun - rapid onset but quickly dissipates - ideal if you want troops to advance on the posistion after implementation of the agent
  • iranian diplomats start to spread to word of the chemical warfare atrocities

Chapter Two - US response: Setting the volume control

flushing ou the reagan Administration

  • state department though tacidly supporting iraq during iran iraq war stays away from supporting chemical attacks
  • this support was despite clear knowledge that german precursor chemcials had been shipped to Iraq
  • the US while not wanting to condemn Iraq is forced to however it gives the illusion of balance by simultaniously condemning Iran for not accepting cease fire
  • Going public with information about Iraqi chemical weapon's use would only further undercut US influence in Iraq

a growing Tilt

  • neither Iran no Iraq constituted a threat to US strategic interest, israel or access to reasonably priced oil.
  • hostage crisis and overthrow of Shaw contributed to US support for Iraq
  • the Iranian's were dependent on the US, the Iraqi's were not
  • therein iies evidence of a false neutrality
  • Iraq was attempting to militarize its hughes fleet which was bought from the US for civilian purposes during a military ban
  • Iraq deflected criticism with allegations that Us was funding isreal and isreal was funding Iran

Donald Rumsfeld Visits Baghdad

  • mentions chemical weapons only in passing
  • this makes saddam more confident about using them

Consumating the Affair


the UN investigates

  • finds that chemical weapons had been used but did not say who used them

a missed opportunity

  • Robinson and Goldblat
  • predicted by the precedents set in Iran that even deadlier uses of nerve agents would be on the horizon
  • moreover, they suggested aircrafts armed with sarin could be more destructive than heroshima

3 Chemical Interlude

the Badr Offensive (March 1985)

  • increasing reliance on GAS (including for the first time cyanide)
  • atropine wipes away any symptoms making it difficult to prove it cynaide was used
  • iranians sent victims of gas attack to get treatment in EUrope as a propoganda tool - the doctors there found evidence of cynide

The occupation of Faw (1986)

  • Iraq's only outlet to the gulf
  • Iraqi friendly fire deaths were framed as proof that the iranians were also using chemical wpns
  • a pilot defects and testifies
  • UN is forced to issue a rebuke but it is a feeble one

betrayal: iran contra affair

setting a new course

  • the relationship between the US and Iraq is mended

War in Kurdistan

gas attacks against Kurds in Iran

  • undermine support for the war by damaging people's morale
  • iran improves defenses against chemical warfare for its troops but civilians are still vulnerable
  • un again attaches no sanction to their crimes
  • refuge for displaced persons
  • this massacre was overshaddowed buy Halabja
  • iranians did not publicize the attack out of fear of inspiring mass panic

The spreading rebellion in Iraqi Kurdistan

Chemical Ali's Reign

  • chemical ali understood that "guerrillas derived much of their strength not just from the mountainous terrain but also, critically, from teh population's support. he therefore needed to break the nexus between gurillas and villagers"

two pronged strategy

  • depopulate the countryside with a village destruction program
  • relocate them next to paved roads
  • decapitate the kurdish leadership - gas smoked them oiut - but was ineffecitve because it hung in valley's so insurgents moved to higher ground
  • kurdish parites justifed their insrugency to protect the kurdish people - if they were shown to be incapable of doing that the population would be demoralized - hence gassing sarted to target civilians
  • at some point depopulation turned into genocide
  • idea for the anafal campaign is born

special communications channels

  • forewarn the kurds of gas attacks
  • initially the iraqis would use conventional wpns to force the kurds to take cover then they would gas them
  • the kurds woud wait for the soft thud of chemical bomblets and head for the hills
  • the iraqi's soon relaized they should drop both simultaniously
  • special became a euphamism for chemical
  • is Peter Galibrieth the man o consult on iraq?


a marriage of convenience

  • Though tacitly supporting the kurdish insurgents
  • the iranians had an interest in destroying them as quickly as possible to eliminate kurdish invasions into Iran

conflicting accounts

middle ground

  • a compromise version of events between the two conflicting accounts

to protect our own people

  • the iranians were praised for the evacuation of the people of hallabja however…
  • hallabja was looted by the iranians after the gas faded

hallabja Demonstration Effect

blowing smoke

Gas: integral part of anfal

  • reduce kirdish threat
  • punish kurds for insurgency
  • reassert his power

anfal and US intelligence

the use of gas to end the war

the threat to Gas Tehran

threat of gas was percipitating factor rather than a cause for ending the war - indespensible overdue realtiy check at best

Iran the Use of Gas

black sheep bleating

you fight for just war to promote peace by preventing both sides from hardening with each tit for tat of criminal warfare and you preven tthe degredation of thresholds od acceptability

did Iran Use Gas

experimentation on Kurds

  • did the iranian's test out chemical weapons on the Kurds as a preliminary response to iraqi use?

blowback deception

  • the myth of shared responsibility is cultivated in the press
  • does the evidence inform the policy or does the policy inform the evidence

Iran, Iraq, and Halabja

On Balance

Fixing the evidence

  • how the official story got told

the pentagon and Halabja

intercetps and infromants

blue lips vs. red lips

inside the pentagon

the road to Kuwait

preventing genocide

  • they couldn't have prevented hallajba

a transcendent interest


The Kurds: Resurgent Nationalism

Iran: nuclear quest

  • learned evasion tactics from iraq

the United States: Failure to Intervene Early

  • so the US had to defuse Iraq's guilt for the attack to save face for its support for Iraq
  • By using Iran as a scape goat it gave Iraq the green light to escalate matters further
  • this lead to the near genocide of th kurds

targeting civilians: a growing culture of impunity

the only thing we can do is renew our commitment to stigmatizing WMD's

US complicity
Iranian scape goat
kurdish insurgency
kurdish genocide

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License