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January 31, 2003


We’ve all seen the gruesome pictures of the Iraqi Kurds, gassed in March 1988 in the town of Halabja near the Iranian border. Proof positive (as reiterated in the State of the Union address this Tuesday evening) that Saddam is an evil tyrant, who would “gas his own people.”

There’s no doubt that Saddam is an evil tyrant.

But, according to Stephen Pelletiere, who is very much in a position to know, it is overwhelmingly likely that it was the Iranians, not the Iraqis, who gassed the Kurds of Halabja.

And the President surely knows this (assuming he wasn’t too busy throwing spitballs during the relevant briefing).

So what was he talking about on Tuesday?

Update: Pelletiere’s conclusions have been hotly disputed in many quarters. HumanRightsWatch concluded that it was mustard gas and sarin, which the Iraqis did possess, which killed the inhabitants of Halabja. (The main pillar of Pelletiere’s argument is that hydrogen cyanide — supposedly part of the Iranian, but not Iraqi, arsenal at the time — was used in the attack.) And, even if Pelletiere is right about Halabja, it is almost certain that Saddam’s subsequent murderous campaign against the Kurds included the use of poison gas against other — less famous — targets.

This is an important point: the Administration is not arguing that we should go to war because Saddam killed 100,000 Kurds. The argument (which, when stated plainly, may sound a little callous) is that we should do so because he used WMDs (poison gas) to kill some fraction of them. So “details,” like what exactly happened in Halabja, matter.

Posted by distler at January 31, 2003 10:08 PM

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The president surely knows this? I wouldn’t be too sure. I sure wouldn’t want to be the official who has to say “Umm, actually Mr. President, that’s not quite right…”

Anyhow, I’m sure this information is being filed away for future use. Who says one incident can’t be used to justify more than one invasion?

Posted by: Antonio Banderas on February 3, 2003 5:21 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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