Memo To: Scott Peterson, CSM reporter
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: "No Genocide in Iraq"
An old friend from Nevada who has subscribed to the Monitor for 50 years is upset because she has been reading my memos here on how "Saddam Hussein did not gas his own people," and read your May 13 report about how he did commit genocide by gassing lots and lots of Iraqi Kurds. She asked me to resolve the differences, which I can do by tackling your key assertion: "The New York-based group Human Rights Watch, after a three-year investigation of 18 tons of captured Iraqi documents, forensic examination of several mass graves, and hundreds of eyewitness accounts, concludes of the 1988 campaign: 'The Iraqi regime committed the crime of genocide.'"
Human Rights Watch, which I have been talking to about this, sticks to that assertion, but its case no longer holds together. There were two instances when gassing of the Iraqi Kurds was alleged to have taken place by the Iraqi military: At Halabja in March 1988 near the Iranian border and in August 1988 at the end of the Iran/Iraq war. HRW now concedes that Halabja was caught between the Iranian and Iraqi armies AFTER the Iranian army drove the Iraqi garrison out of town. The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that Iran used a cyanide-based gas and Iraq used mustard gas to drive them out. There is some question as to how Iraq deployed the gas, from the air or by mortar. The Army War College tells me the 4.2" mortar was originally developed by the United States specifically to project chemical weapons. In any case, Mr. Peterson, you can see that there was no "genocide" involved at Halabja, simply civilians caught in a crossfire. You mention that Iraq killed 5,000 at Halabja, but I'm told this seems wildly inflated, as contemporaneous reports of reporters coming on the scene after the battle told of seeing "scores" of dead in the streets.
It is true that Iraq would have committed "genocide" if your report was correct that Saddam Hussein ordered all Iraqi Kurdish men between the ages of 18 and 55 killed in that summer of 1988, before the war ended in August. But Iraqi Kurds, officers, volunteers and conscripts, fought in the war against Iran, constituting roughly 15% of the total Iraqi military. The 100,000 Kurds you say were slaughtered by Iraq prior to the end of the war in the "Anfal campaign" were never found, to this day. Human Rights Watch originally said they believed in the assertions of Secretary of State George Shultz and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Peter Galbraith that some number of this magnitude were gassed. Now HRW tells me it agrees that Shultz and Galbraith were in error.... and that this number of Kurds were rounded up by special Iraqi defense units, taken south of Kurdistan, killed by automatic weapons fire, and buried in mass graves. HRW refers to the 100,000 "disappeared," as do you in the Monitor.
The only "mass graves" discovered to date is actually one "mass grave" of 12 bodies, which HRW acknowledges were political prisoners who for some reason were executed. There is certainly no question that at the end of the war, the Iraqi army went into Kurdistan to deal with those rebel groups that were aiding the Iranian army. HRW says the mass graves of the 100,000 cannot be found because the bodies were taken out of Kurdistan and buried in areas under Iraqi control. This implicitly acknowledges that they did not die of gassing in the north, as it would not be credible that they were piled onto trucks for shipment and burial south.
Dr. Stephen Pelletiere, co-author of the Army War College report, believes that Joost Hiltermann, the principle researcher of Human Rights Watch on this issue, does not seem aware that at the end of the war with Iraq, Baghdad ordered a strip of land cleared all along the border with Iran. This meant the people in the villages along the border had to be razed and their residents "relocated" to locations 50 miles from the border. That is, the "disappeared" were not buried in mass graves but placed in new locations, some in high-rise apartments. The "tons" of documents that supposedly show men, women and children "arrested" by the Army and sent off to extermination were actually lists of the people relocated. The foreign press was invited in at the time to witness the process and there were many accounts of the relocation. Human Rights Watch now seems to think these were the Kurds who were exterminated. Dr. Pelletiere, the former CIA intelligence officer who covered the Iran/Iraq war, says it amounts to a "hoax."
I've been dubious about all this "genocide" reporting from the start, Mr. Peterson, because it was not taken seriously by the U.S. government until Iraq invaded Kuwait two years later. Because there was little support for the United States to commit itself to kicking Saddam out of Kuwait, it became necessary to "demonize" him with a propaganda effort. The "gassing" of the Kurds was convenient and at hand. Because so many little pieces of your Monitor report mention "facts" that are not fact and appeared earlier in Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker piece on the same subject, I must assume that you decided all this must be true and made a good story of your readers. You really should take the trouble of thinking through why there have been no Kurdish soldiers who fought for Iraq have come forward to confirm what Saddam did to their people. Yes, if they were ordered to gas their relatives and friends and refused to do so, they would have been executed themselves, but it has been many years since Kurdistan has been outside Baghdad's control. Surely they would be able to come forward now and confess to the "genocide" and lead international observers to the "mass graves."
I'm still open to arguments in support of the genocide thesis, because our President and Vice President seem to believe in it, and are using it as a basis for threatening another military action against Iraq. I wish you would take another look at these points. The Village Voice interviewed Jeffrey Goldberg after his New Yorker piece appeared and asked him why he did not confront the War College/DIA report. He said he did not because the findings of Human Rights Watch seemed to be conclusive.