Tag Archives: chemical weapons

1990-1991: Iraqi mass mutiny in the Gulf War

LIBCOM.ORG, SEPTEMBER 9, 2006
basra-road.jpg
Massacred civilians and deserting Iraqi troops on the Basra road
There has been a long tradition of class struggle in Iraq, particularly since the revolution in 1958. With Saddam’s strategy of a permanent war drive to maintain social peace this struggle has often taken the form of mass desertion from the army. During the Iraq-Iran war tens of thousands of soldiers deserted the army. This swelled the mass working class opposition to the war. With the unreliability of the army it became increasingly difficult for the Iraqi state to put down such working class rebellions. It was for this reason that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the town of Halabja in 1988.
Following the invasion of Kuwait there were many demonstrations against its continued occupation. Even the ruling Ba’athist Party was obliged to organise such demonstrations under the slogan: “No to Kuwait: We only want Saddam and Iraq!” in order to head off anti-war feeling. With the dramatic rise in the price of necessities – food prices alone rising to twenty times their pre-invasion levels – there was little enthusiasm for war. The common attitude throughout Iraq was one of defeatism.
Despite a 200% pay rise desertion from the army became common. In the city of Sulaimania alone there were an estimated 30,000 deserters. In Kut there were 20,000. So overwhelming was the desertion that it became relatively easy for soldiers to bribe their way out of the army by giving money to their officers. But these working class conscripts did not merely desert, they organised. In Kut thousands marched on the local police station and forced the police to concede an end to the harassment of deserters.
Two days after the beginning of the war anti-war riots broke out in Raniah and later in Sulaimania.
When the Gulf war ended, it was not by the military victory of America and the Allies. It was ended by the mass desertion of thousands of Iraqi soldiers. So overwhelming was the refusal to fight for the Iraqi state on the part of its conscripted army that, contrary to all predictions, not one Allied soldier was killed by hostile fire in the final ground offensive to recapture Kuwait. Indeed the sheer scale of this mutiny is perhaps unprecedented in modern military history.
But these mutinous troops did not simply flee back to Iraq. On their return many of them turned their guns against the Iraqi state, sparking a simultaneous uprising in both Southern Iraq and in Kurdistan to the North. Only the central region of Iraq surrounding Baghdad remained firmly in the state’s hands in the weeks following the end of the war.
The last thing the American government wanted was to be drawn into a prolonged military occupation of Iraq in order to suppress the uprisings. It was far more efficient to back the existing state. But there was no time to insist on the removal of Saddam Hussein. They could ill afford the disruption this would cause. Hence, almost overnight, Bush’s hostility to the butcher of Baghdad evaporated. The two rival butchers went into partnership.
Their first task was to crush the uprising in the South which was being swelled by the huge columns of deserters streaming north from Kuwait. Even though these fleeing Iraqi conscripts posed no military threat to Allied troops, or to the objective of “liberating” Kuwait, the war was prolonged long enough for them to be carpet bombed on the road to Basra by the RAF and the USAF (pictured, above). This cold blooded massacre served no other purpose than to preserve the Iraqi state from mutinous armed deserters.
Following this massacre the Allied ground forces, having swept through southern Iraq to encircle Kuwait, stopped short of Basra and gave free rein to the Republican Guards – the elite troops loyal to the Iraqi regime – to crush the insurgents. All proposals to inflict a decisive defeat on the Republican Guards or to proceed towards Baghdad to topple Saddam were quickly forgotten. In the ceasefire negotiations the Allied forces insisted on the grounding of all fixed wing aircraft but the use of helicopters vital for counter-insurgency was permitted for “administrative purposes”. This “concession” proved important once the uprising in the South was put down and the Iraqi state’s attention turned to the advancing insurrection in the North.
Edited by libcom from an article Ten Days that shook Iraq – inside information from an uprising, by Wildcat (UK). Taken from prole.info.

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Kurds raise flag, fears of war

CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI, SEPTEMBER 5, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) — Verbal sparring between those who believe Iraq is in a state of civil war and the Bush administration, who insists it is not, may find the argument increasingly in favor of those who believe the country is affected by civil divisions, and may be slipping towards greater chaos.
Iraqi Kurds living in the semi-autonomous northern part of the country lowered Iraqi flags this past weekend, replacing them with Kurdish banners over official government buildings in Iraqi Kurdistan. Their actions sent immediate shock waves to Baghdad, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki derided the move by the Kurds, calling it ‘illegal.’
And when Baghdad complained, the Kurds threatened to secede.
This move by the Kurds has also sent up red flags in neighboring Turkey, where Ankara eyes any move towards Kurdish independence with much trepidation, less it encourages its own Kurdish population to emulate their Iraqi brothers.
Addressing the region`s parliament, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan region, said Iraq`s flag was a symbol of his own people`s past oppression. He asked the regional parliament to adopt the new flag.
Barzani told his parliament: ‘If at any moment we, the Kurdish people and parliament, consider that it is in our interests to declare independence, we will do so and we will fear no-one.’
Baghdad reacted with a statement from the prime minister`s office, saying that ‘the Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq, until parliament makes a decision as laid down in the constitution.’ The statement avoided any direct mention of the Kurdish flag.
Are the Kurds taking the first step towards independence? The Kurds, who are scattered between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, have long dreamed of an independent country. And more than once they were promised support in that dream by Western powers in exchange for their support. The Kurds repeatedly showed loyalty only to be repeatedly let down.
The first attempt in modern times by the Kurds to establish a homeland occurred at the end of World War I, when President Woodrow Wilson supported the notion of Kurdish self-determination. And despite the fact that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was mentioned in the 1920 Treaty of Sévres, an independent Kurdistan was omitted from being penciled in post WWI maps.
The new Turkey of Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk) rejected the treaty in 1923, denying the Kurds their state. This was the genesis of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, a conflict which continues to this day. In fact, in recent days Kurdish separatists are believed to have been responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in Turkish tourist resorts.
In 1924, shortly after Ataturk rejected the idea of a Kurdish state, Turkey banned the Kurdish culture and prohibited the use of the Kurdish language. In Iraq, sporadic fighting between Kurds and the central government occurred from 1964 to 1975. That was when the Kurdish leader at the time, Mustafa Barzani, turned to the United States for help.
Appealing to then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Barzani asked for assistance, telling Kissinger: ‘Our movement and people are being destroyed in an unbelievable way.’ Relying on an agreement reached with the shah of Iran, the United States, once again, abandoned the Kurds to their fate.
Persecution of Kurds continued in Turkey, in Iran and most notably in Iraq, particularly under the regime of Saddam Hussein. One of the most horrendous acts against the Kurds was committed in the town of Halabja, in 1988, when mustard gas was used against the civilian population. More than 5,000 people, including women and children, died in the attack.
The 1990-1991 Gulf War changed the fate of Iraq`s Kurds. In the aftermath of Iraq`s invasion of Kuwait, the no-fly zone established by the United States to protect its pilots offered Iraqi Kurds an almost divine protection. In the years after the first Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan began to enjoy unprecedented autonomy as Baghdad pulled its administration out of the region, leaving the two main Kurdish political parties to establish a local government.
The Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq has prospered further since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Kurdish leaders are closely watching Washington`s attempts at pacifying Iraq and establishing a working democracy. Should Washington`s efforts fail, the Kurds are prepared to breakaway from Iraq and live happily off revenues from the oil in the Kirkuk region.
That, however, is a point of contention with Baghdad and particularly with Iraq`s Sunnis, who stand to lose more than Iraq`s other major politico-religious group, the Shiites. The Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south sit on top of large oil reserves. This leaves the Sunnis, who have ruled Iraq in the past, in the middle of the country with little or no oil revenues. And this is something they will fight for.
More likely than not, so too will Turkey be prepared to fight to prevent the Kurdish dream from becoming a reality.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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Anger boils in Halabja, Iraq’s "town of martyrs"

IBON VILLELABEITIA, KURDISH MEDIA, UK, SEPTEMBER 4, 2006
HALABJA, Iraq – Broken glass crunched under Adnan’s feet as he walked through Halabja’s vandalised memorial. He stopped and pointed to an inscription on the wall.
“There is my father’s name. I remember the day they gassed us as if it were yesterday. We ran but my father and sister didn’t make it,” said the 27-year-old Kurdish Peshmerga militiaman.
Near Iraq’s border with Iran, Halabja became synonymous with atrocities against civilians after Saddam Hussein’s forces killed 5,000 people here in a gas attack in 1988. Iraqi Kurds call Halabja the “town of martyrs” and hold the massacre in their collective memory as a Kurdish Auschwitz.
Today, the victims’ memorial also bears witness to more recent violence and simmering discontent in this dusty town.
In March, on the 18th anniversary of the gas attack, hundreds of locals attacked the memorial and set it on fire as anger at perceived neglect and corruption by Kurdish authorities boiled over.
“It is sad to see what happened to the museum,” said Adnan, who camps with his unit on cots in what used to be an exhibition room. In another room, decapitated statues of women and children, representing victims of the gas attack, lie scattered.
Local officials blamed Islamists and outsiders, a veiled reference to Iran. But youths in Halabja said the protests were spurred by local anger at the Kurdish government.
They said Kurdish leaders had exploited Halabja for their political ends, and that donations and investment from outside had not translated into better schools, roads or services. Adnan, who was 9 when Halabja was gassed and survived by fleeing to the mountains with his uncle and mother, does not understand the reasons.
“We are all from Halabja. Why did they do this?” he said.
FEELING NEGLECTED
Makuan Raouf has an answer.
“The government has done nothing for Halabja. The only thing they built here was the memorial,” the 29-year-old barber said.
“Politicians only come to Halabja for the anniversary. They built the memorial on the outskirts to avoid seeing our faces and asking us about our problems.”
Nearly two decades after the gas attack, Saddam faces genocide charges over the military campaign that razed hundreds of Kurdish villages — his trial resumes on Sept. 11 — and Kurds have an autonomous government in peaceful Kurdistan.
Nearby Sulaimaniya and other cities are enjoying a construction boom and foreign firms are considering investing in oil and communications here.
But the prosperity is not reaching the villages, which bore the brunt of Saddam’s Anfal — or Spoils of War — campaign.
Kurdish leaders say 100,000 people were killed during the seven-month onslaught. The populations of entire villages disappeared, rural areas were declared “out of bounds to all persons and animals” and troops were allowed to fire at will.
Although the Halabja gas attack took place in the same period as Anfal, Saddam will be tried separately for it.
MOVING ON
Like most villages in Kurdistan, Halabja’s streets are unpaved, its schools are old and residents complain of electricity shortages and unemployment.
The road to Halabja runs along a fertile valley with massive rocky mountains. At the town’s entrance, sunflowers sprout next to a large billboard that shows women and children lying dead after the gas attack. “Welcome to Halabja. We, the trees and the water are the Kurdish people,” it reads.
Kocher Mohammed, 23, said he wants his town to be known as more than just a symbol of Saddam’s persecution against Kurds.
“Our parents keep telling us what happened in Halabja during the war but we want to move on. The only way to make a living here is smuggling gasoline from Iran.”
Mayor Fouad Saleh Ridha blamed the lack of reconstruction programmes in Halabja on violence in the rest of Iraq and the financial constraints of the regional government.
“The Kurdish government cannot rebuild all the places at the same time but we need more attention in Halabja,” he said.
For Meth Ali, 21, the neglect seems deliberate.
“The world knows of Iraq because of Halabja but the donations have gone into the pockets of the politicians. They all live in Europe and don’t even come here.”

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Chemical Hypocrites

GEORGE MONBIOT, AUGUST 27, 2006
When Saddam Hussein so pig-headedly failed to shower US troops with chemical weapons as they entered Iraq, thus depriving them of a retrospective justification for this war, the American generals explained that he would do so as soon as they crossed the “red line” around Baghdad. Beyond that point, the desperate dictator would lash out with every weapon he possessed.
Well, the line has been crossed and recrossed, and not a whiff of mustard gas or VX has so far been detected. This could mean one of three things: Saddam’s command system may have broken down (he may be dead, or his troops might have failed to receive or respond to his orders); he is refraining, so far, from using chemical weapons; or he does not possess them.
The special forces sent to seize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have yet to find hard evidence at any of the 12 sites (identified by the Pentagon as the most likely places) they have examined so far. As Newsweek revealed in February, there may be a reason for this: in 1995, General Hussein Kamel, the defector whose evidence George Bush, Tony Blair and Colin Powell have cited as justification for their invasion, told the UN that the Iraqi armed forces, acting on his instructions, had destroyed the last of their banned munitions. But, whether Saddam is able to use such weapons or not, their deployment in Iraq appears to be imminent, for the Americans seem determined on it.
Chemicals can turn corners, seep beneath doors, inexorably fill a building or a battlefield. They can kill or disable biological matter while leaving the infrastructure intact. They are the weapons that reach the parts other weapons can’t. They are also among the most terrifying instruments of war: this is why Saddam used them to such hideous effect, both in Iran and against the Kurds of Halabja. And, for an occupying army trying not to alienate local people or world opinion, those chemicals misleadingly labeled”non-lethal” appear to provide a possibility of capturing combatants without killing civilians.
This, to judge by a presidential order and a series of recent statements, now seems to be the US government’s chosen method for dealing with Iraqi soldiers sheltering behind human shields, when its conventional means of completing the capture of Baghdad have been exhausted. It makes a certain kind of sense, until two inconvenient issues are taken into account. The deployment of these substances would break the conventions designed to contain them; and the point of this war, or so we have endlessly been told, is to prevent the use of chemical weapons.
Last week Bush authorized US troops to use teargas in Iraq. He is permitted to do so by an executive order published in 1975 by Gerald Ford, which overrides, within the US, the 1925 Geneva protocol on chemical weapons. While this may prevent Bush’s impeachment in America, it has no standing in international law.
The chemical weapons convention, promoted by George W’s father and ratified by the US in 1997, insists that “each state party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare”. Teargas, pepper spray and other incapacitants may be legally used on your own territory for the purposes of policing. They may not be used in another country to control or defeat the enemy.
For the past two months, US officials have been seeking to wriggle free from this constraint. In February, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, told Congress’s armed services committee that “there are times when the use of non-lethal riot agents is perfectly appropriate”. He revealed that he and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Richard Myers, had been “trying to fashion rules of engagement” for the use of chemical weapons in Iraq.
Rumsfeld, formerly the chief executive of GD Searle, one of the biggest drugs firms in the US, has never been an enthusiast for the chemical weapons convention. In 1997, as the Senate was preparing to ratify the treaty, he told its committee on foreign relations that the convention “will impose a costly and complex regulatory burden on US industry”. Enlisting the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy with which we have since become familiar, he maintained that it was not “realistic”, as global disarmament “is not a likely prospect”. Dick Cheney, now vice-president, asked the committee to record his “strong opposition” to ratification.
Last month Victoria Clarke, an assistant secretary in Chemical Donald’s department, wrote to the Independent on Sunday, confirming the decision to use riot control agents in Iraq, and claiming, without supporting evidence, that their deployment would be legal. Last week the US Marine Corps told the Asia Times that CS gas and pepper spray had already been shipped to the Gulf. The government of the US appears to be on the verge of committing a war crime in Iraq.
Given that the entire war contravenes international law, does it matter? It does, for three reasons. The most immediate is that there is no such thing as a non-lethal chemical weapon. Gases that merely incapacitate at low doses, in well-ventilated places, kill when injected into rooms, as the Russian special forces found in October when they slaughtered 128 of the 700 hostages they were supposed to be liberating from a Moscow theatre. It is impossible to deliver a sufficient dose to knock out combatants without also delivering a sufficient dose to kill some of their captives.
The second reason is that, if they still possess them, it may induce the Iraqi fighters to retaliate with chemical weapons of their own. At the same time, it encourages the other nations now threatened with attack by Bush to start building up their chemical arsenals: if the US is not prepared to play by the rules, why should they?
The third reason is that the use of gas in Iraq may serve, in the eyes of US citizens, to help legitimize America’s illegal chemical weapons development program. As the US weapons research group Sunshine Project has documented, the defense department and the army are experimenting with chemicals which cause pain, fear, convulsions, hallucinations and unconsciousness, and developing the hollow mortar rounds required to deliver them.
Among the weapons they are testing is fentanyl, the drug which turned the Moscow theatre into a gas chamber. Since March 2002, the government’s “non-lethal weapons directorate” has been training the Marine Corps in the use of chemical weapons. All these activities break the convention.
The deployment of chemicals in Baghdad could be the event which finally destroys the treaties designed to contain them, and this, in turn, would be another step towards the demolition of international law and the inception of a bloody and brutal era, in which might is unconstrained by universal notions of right.
You cannot use chemical weapons to wage war against chemical weapons. They are, as the convention makes clear, the instruments of terrorists. By deploying them, the US government would liquidate one of the remaining moral distinctions between its own behavior and that of the man it asks us to abominate.

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Survivors of Halabja gassing prepare to testify against Saddam

MARIE COLVIN & HAMOUD SAFFAR, HALABJA, THE TIMES, AUGUST 21, 2005
WHEN Saddam Hussein arrives in a Baghdad courtroom tomorrow to face genocide charges over a murderous campaign conducted against Kurds in northern Iraq, the witnesses will be hoping for a fairer hearing than those in his first trial.
Attempts to prove Saddam’s guilt over the killings of 148 men in the Shi’ite village of Dujail in 1982 descended into chaos as three lawyers were murdered and the defence team and chief judge walked out. The former dictator railed repeatedly against judges and witnesses from the dock before boycotting the proceedings and going on hunger strike.
The trial, which began last October, dragged on through a series of adjournments, culminating in a long wait for a verdict that, even now, is not expected before October.
The Kurds who survived Saddam’s persecution nearly 20 years ago, including the gassing of Halabja in which 5,000 people were killed, have been warned that their long wait for justice may result in similar frustration. A human rights group said last week that the court lacks the ability to conduct the trial.
“Based on extensive observations of the tribunal’s conduct of its first trial . . . Human Rights Watch believes that the Iraqi High Tribunal is presently incapable of fairly and effectively trying a genocide case,” the group said in a report.
The charge sheet for the second trial is written in the unemotional language of international law: Saddam and six other Iraqi leaders are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in the deaths of more than 100,000 Kurds in the 1988 Operation Anfal, Arabic for “spoils of war”.
The language of the survivors of that operation is far more raw. They remember that entire Kurdish villages were erased from the map and that tens of thousands of men were carted off in army trucks, never to be seen again.
The worst nightmares are suffered by those who lived through Saddam’s attack on Halabja in March 1988, when planes fired missiles containing a toxic mixture of mustard gas and nerve agents.
Last week Aras Akram, who is due to testify in the trial, broke down as he described the attack. He was 19 and lived with his father, mother and 11 brothers and sisters. All died from the gas; he survived only because he had been hurt in an initial missile attack and had been taken to a shelter.
“I was injured in the back and bleeding badly. When my mother and my nine-year-old sister found me, my mother started crying. I told her to go back to my uncle’s because I thought I would die and I didn’t want her to see me die.”
He is now married with three children, but the memories are more vivid than his daily life. “At 2am we heard an explosion that was different — light and low — and there was a new smell and our eyes became red.” Ironically, an Iraqi army officer in the shelter may have saved him. “The officer told us they were using chemical weapons and sprayed us with water.”
Akram escaped to Iran, where he was injected with an antidote, and returned to Halabja days later. “At my uncle’s house I saw dead bodies on a truck,” he said. “I saw my sister’s foot sticking out. The driver knew me and tried to make me go away. I said, ‘Please, I want to be sure they are my family’. They were all my family.”
Those who met Saddam at the time say he and his regime felt no remorse. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish leader and now a member of the Iraqi parliament, took part in talks with Saddam and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali, that led to an uneasy peace between the government and the Kurds.
“I asked Ali Hassan al- Majeed, ‘Where are the missing 182,000?’ “Chemical Ali said, ‘182,000 — where did you get that number? We didn’t take any more than 100,000’.”
Asked privately by Othman why he had attacked Kurdish villages, al-Majeed is said to have replied: “I was only doing my duty and executing orders.”
Human Rights Watch doubts that such evidence will be heard in an orderly way. “None of the Iraqi judges and lawyers has shown an understanding of international criminal law,” its report said. “The court’s administration has been chaotic and inadequate.”

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