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News ::
did saddham gas the kurds?
20 Aug 2002
since the gassing of the kurds is one of the issues that has demonised Saddam in public eyes and the Bush administration uses to justify its invasion of iraq, it is important to consider whether or not it really happened.
Memo on the Margin
March 25, 2002

Bush & Cheney Are Misinformed

Memo To: Karl Rove, President’s political counselor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Saddam Did Not Gas the Kurds

I have not been bothering you much with these open memos, Karl, but I have
to do so today, as I’ve spent the weekend watching both President George W.
Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney saying over and over again that we
have to get rid of Saddam Hussein because he has killed his own people with
poison gas. President Bush cited last week’s New Yorker article by Jeffrey
Goldberg, which gives an account of the 1988 gassings based on 14-year-old
hearsay. On three different Sunday talk shows, Cheney repeated the charge
that Saddam killed as many as 100,000 Iraqi Kurds, in this manner. What I
am telling you publicly, Karl, is that this DID NOT HAPPEN. The reason I am
addressing this information to you is that you are the only member of
President Bush’s inner circle whose total responsibility is his political
success. That means you want him to be the best informed man in his own
administration, for if he acts on misinformation, he can make enormous
errors that will damage him with the electorate. So I tell you, Karl, that
he is misinformed on this issue, as is the VP. There is no possibility that
Saddam gassed his own people and no evidence that he did. None. Forget Iraq
’s protests that he never did, as I would not base any conclusion on “not
guilty” pleas from Saddam or his team. But all the evidence is that
whatever bad stuff he has done as Iraq’s political leader, he has never
presided over troops who dropped poison gas on his own Iraqi citizens.

There are other issues involving Saddam that clearly cause concern to our
government, and to the governments just visited by Cheney, but this is the
one that connects when we think of Saddam as being the embodiment of evil.
Hey, I remember being tear gassed by the police at the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, 1968, when I was a reporter for the National
Observer. I could understand why the police gassed the anti-war
demonstrators. I could never have understood if the police had used poison
gas. There is no report in the history of the world of a political leader
using poison gas against his own people in an open field for no reason.
Adolf Hitler rounded Jews up and gassed them because he believed them to be
subhuman. Saddam did not do anything like this and a little bit of effort
on your part will persuade you, the President and the Vice President, that
it did not happen. If it had, why does Saddam get along as well as he is
these days with the Kurds? And can you imagine the Iraqi general who
supposedly supervised the gassing of 100,000 Kurds defecting from Iraq and
being spirited to England by the Kurds. Can you imagine Ariel Sharon
helping Herman Goering make his way out of Germany to Argentina? And when
the general gets there, he announces that he did not use poison gas on
Iraqis. I’m afraid the President has been briefed with selective
information, Karl.

You should first pitch out the New Yorker report by Jeffrey Goldberg, who
offers no evidence, only quotes from various Kurds who seem to remember gas
being used. My big problem with Goldberg is that he told me three years ago
that he had served in the Israeli army, which made him a dual citizen of
the United States and Israel. I read his long article and can tell you it
is worthless as “evidence.” Even at the time, Turkey said it could not tell
whether Kurds showing up on its side of the border had been gassed or were
victims of malnutrition. Not that Goldberg is malicious, only that he had a
serious bias going into the assignment and there is no evidence he made any
attempt to test his own initial hypothesis. Having a dual citizenship with
the U.S. and Israel might be okay in ordinary times, but when push comes to
shove, you cannot serve two masters. Goldberg has thrown in with Richard
Perle’s team ( ), and as you
can readily see in his article, he quotes Jim Woolsey, who is Perle’s
agent. Even before the article hit the newsstands, Woolsey was on national
tv telling audiences to rush out and buy the New Yorker to read it.

Go to, Karl, and look for the author Stephen Pelletiere. His
book is entitled Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to
War in the Gulf (,
published in 2001 by Praeger. It is $70 and worth the money. Pelletiere is
also the author of the 1990 report I have previously cited that exonerated
Iraq from the gassing at Halabja. It is listed by Amazon but is "out of
print." (
I believe it was the report Jim Baker cited with Tariq Aziz in their 1990
Geneva meeting, telling Aziz he did not believe the story of Iraq gassing
the Kurds.

Pelletiere is retired at age 70 and living in central Pennsylvania. He is a
Ph.D. in political science and was the chief of the CIA Iraq desk at
Langley in the 1980s. He left the CIA in 1987 to become a lecturer at the
Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and was sent in 1988 to investigate
Halabja. He based his conclusions that the "several hundred Kurds" who died
at Halabja must have been killed by Iranians, because the deaths were
caused by cyanide gas, which Iraq had not used in the war against Iran
(they used mustard gas), and which, says Pelletiere, they had no ability to
produce. He says the Iranians blamed the deaths on the Iraqis and won the
public-relations war that followed, even though journalists at Halabja
could see the symptoms being caused by cyanide gas. In his new book,
Pelletiere again addresses the question of the alleged gassing later in
1988, which Secretary of State George Shultz at the time said resulted in
the deaths of 100,000 Kurds. Pelletiere argues that story was a complete
fabrication, and that to this day no bodies were ever found. His account is
consistent with the account of the Iraqi government, but as time goes on,
the Shultz account still winds up being accepted by our press corps.... and
our President.

I’ll return to this issue again and again, Karl, until the President and
Vice President give some indication they have been correctly informed on
it. Following is Dr. Pelletiere’s brief account of Halabja. I spoke to him
last week by telephone and he told me: “You are on solid ground in saying
Saddam did not gas his own people.”

* * * * *


On March 16, 1988, at Halabja, an Iraqi Kurdish city near Baghdad, the
Iraqis and the Iranians both used gas. The Iranians, it seemed, had come to
see the advantages of chemical warfare under circumstances advantageous to
them - not mustard gas, the persistent agent that the Iraqis used, but
non-persistent forms that disorient the enemy but then are quickly
dissipated, allowing the human wave attacks to pour through.

At Halabja the action developed like this. The rebel Kurdish leader, Jalal
Talabani, facilitated the introduction of Iranian forces into Halabja by
night so that the Iraqi commander was unaware of the penetration. In the
morning, the Iranians burst from hiding, overwhelmed the Iraqi garrison,
and drove it from the city.

The Iraqi commander, in an attempt to regain possession, called in a
chemical barrage (of mustard gas). This had the effect of disconcerting the
Iranians, which allowed the Iraqis to regain possession. The Iranians now
sprang their surprise, as they dumped a blood agent on the reoccupying

Mustard gas from the Iraqi side, cyanide-based gas from the Iranian side --
and the citizens of Halabja caught in the middle. Several hundred Kurdish
civilians were killed during these successive attacks.

However, when the Iranians took back the city, they photographed the dead
Kurds and subsequently publicized the deaths, making out that Iraqi gas had
killed the civilians and denying that they had used gas as well.

Reporters let into the city to inspect the devastation noted, however, that
most of the dead Kurds were blue in their extremities, implying that they
had been killed by a blood agent, a chemical that Iraq did not use and, at
this time, lacked the capacity to produce. This fact was noted in the press
accounts and also by officials of several nongovernmental agencies called
to inspect the scene.

Later, the U.S. government confirmed the fact that both sides had used gas
and averred that, in all likelihood, Iranian gas killed the Kurds; however,
this new information was not revealed until 1990, so the impression
remained in the public mind that the Iraqis alone were responsible for the
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