Halabja Denial redux.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Jan. 6 2005 8:17 AM

Halabja Denial Redux

Al Jazeera says Saddam never gassed the Kurds.

Halabja Denial has found its way onto the Web site of Al Jazeera, the Arabic television news network, via an op-ed by one Mohammed al-Obaidi, spokesman for Al-Kifah al-Shabi in Iraq. (Al-Kifah al-Shabi is a political party that is boycotting the Iraqi elections scheduled later this month.) Halabja is a village where Saddam Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians in March 1988. As I demonstrated three years ago ("Jude Wanniski's Genocide Denial"), it is well-documented by various journalists, human rights groups, and the United Nations that Iraqi warplanes dropped mustard gas and nerve agents on Halabja and other Kurdish areas, killing thousands of people.

The Al Jazeera op-ed's most outrageous claim is that the Central Intelligence Agency recently concluded that "the Iranians perpetrated that attack as a media war tactic." It did no such thing, and there has never been any evidence to support this claim. A CIA report released last November plainly lists the Halabja massacre as one of many examples of chemical-weapons use by Iraq. This was a genuine horror wrought by Saddam Hussein.

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To acknowledge the gassing in Halabja is not to justify the current war in Iraq. Even if one regards it as a casus belli (as the Reagan administration—which at the time was quietly tilting toward Iraq—most assuredly did not), that bellum was fought and won in 1991. By the time Iraq War II came along, the Kurds were already enjoying protection from British and American warplanes, and—as we learned too late—Saddam no longer possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

What purpose does Halabja Denial serve now? Judging from the timing of the Al Jazeera op-ed, the likely goal is to rehabilitate Ali Hassan Majeed, aka "Chemical Ali," who is the first member of Saddam's government to be tried under the new regime in Iraq. Why anyone would want to take up Majeed's cause is beyond me, but Jude Wanniski, the supply-side evangelist turned Saddamophile, has been writing letters to the New York Times and Washington Post protesting Majeed's innocence. I certainly agree that in any civil society a man should be judged innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. But I have a hard time squaring Wanniski's solicitude with the following 20-year-old snippet of audiotape, cited in a March 2002 New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Goldberg, in which Majeed is heard addressing Baath Party members as follows:

I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them.

If you can find any ambiguity in this statement, you have a subtler mind than mine.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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