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A Kurdish Perspective on War

Firat Demir | Wednesday, September 17, 2003

“I do not understand this squeamishness about use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using it against uncivilized tribes,” said Winston Churchill, British Secretary of State in 1919, authorizing use of chemical weapons against Kurds during an Iraqi rebellion.

It was one of those early spring days in southern Kurdistan. The sun was lightly warming up this long frozen land that hosted hundreds of civilizations in its long march in the history. First, that disturbing noise was heard cutting the light blue skies of this small town. How could this mother who fell down two steps away from her house with her one-year old baby have known that these noises from those Iraqi planes would bring death and murder them all? It was Mar. 17, 1988, when Kurds revived their oldest fears, genocide. It was on that day that this once small town was bombarded more than 20 times by warplanes with chemical and cluster bombs. The gas was followed by the complete silence of streets and valleys in Halabje, Iraq. Children voices that used to fill every house and street of this town disappeared. The silence spread everywhere as more than 5,000 Kurdish women, men and children died.

It took some time before it was revealed that Iraqi regime deployed three kinds of chemical gases, the mustard, nerve and cyanide gases in the chemical bombardment of Halabja and the surrounding towns and villages. The effect was, as one witness recorded: “The skin of the bodies was strangely discolored, with their eyes open and staring where they have not disappeared into their sockets, a grayish slime oozing from their mouths and their fingers still grotesquely twisted.î Along with Halabja, Khormal, Dojaileh and their surrounding villages were also chemically bombarded but the centre of the catastrophe was Halabja.

It is not a secret fact for the Kurds that the United States not only helped arm Iraq with military equipment right up to the time of the Kuwait invasion in 1989, as did Germany, Britain, France, Russia and others, but also helped Iraq integrate chemical weapons into their battle plans while fighting Iran from 1985-1988. But what did these Kurds do wrong to all these mighty world powers? Why were again punished without knowing for what they were being given death sentence?

According to a New York Times article in August, 2002, Col. Walter P. Lang, a senior defense intelligence officer at the time, explained that D.I.A. and C.I.A. officials “were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose” to Iran. “The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern,” he said.

There should be no doubt that, every Kurd born or yet to be born on earth will remember this butcher once named Saddam Huseyin with hatred in their hearts together with many others such as Winston Churchill. However, I just wanted to remind people that the real monster in Mary Shellyís world-famous novel was Dr. Frankestein himself. I wish the massacres Kurds faced were not turned into a dirty political propaganda tool here but used to bring those Dr. Freinkesteins to justice to make sure that Halebjes would never be repeated again.

Firat Demir

Graduate Student