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2/2/03 - THE LESSONS OF HALABJA - 2003-02-03

Saddam Hussein is more than willing to use weapons of mass destruction on anyone, including women and children. Ask the survivors of poison gas attacks by his military forces.

Hardest hit was the Kurdish city of Halabja. On March 16th, 1988, Iraqi forces under the command of Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hasan al-Majid, attacked Halabja with conventional bombs and artillery shells. The bombardment drove the city's more than fifty-thousand inhabitants into basements and shelters. And because poison gas is heavier than air, the Iraqi commander knew it would penetrate to these underground shelters.

That is why he ordered a vicious brew of mustard gas -- a blister agent -- and such deadly nerve gases as sarin dropped on the defenseless city. Nouri Hama Ali, a survivor, recalled the effect. “The chemical clouds were on the ground,” he said. All around, people were dying. "Many children were left on the ground beside the road. Old people as well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die," he said.

The attack on Halabja was one of some forty chemical weapons attacks made by Saddam Hussein's forces on Iraqi Kurds during 1987 and 1988. Thousands were killed or wounded.

And the suffering continues. The chemicals contaminated food and water supplies. Surveys conducted by the Halabja Medical Institute have documented increased rates of cancer, notably colon cancer, and respiratory diseases among residents. Women in Halabja have higher rates of miscarriage and infertility. Their children have extraordinarily high rates of life-threatening abnormalities. Christine Gosden, a British professor of medical genetics, said, "What I found [in Halabja] was far worse than anything I had suspected, devastating problems occurring ten years after the attack. . . . Many became blind. . . . An increasing number of children are dying each year of leukemia and lymphomas."

The chemical weapons attacks on Halabja and other Kurdish cities and villages were part of "Anfal," a deliberate campaign to kill and displace the Kurdish inhabitants of northern Iraq. In a study published in 1994, Human Rights Watch concluded that the campaign amounted to genocide. At least fifty-thousand and perhaps as many as one-hundred thousand Iraqi Kurds died.

The lesson of Halabja is that there is no weapon Saddam Hussein will not use and no life he will not take. In his hands, weapons of mass destruction are a threat to everyone.