Pelletiere Pelted


Under fire from many sides, some of them hardly pro-Gulf War II hawks, Stephen Pelletiere (whose claims about the 1988 gas attack at Halabja we noted yesterday) is beginning to look about as reliable as, well, Leonard Peltier. Pelletiere's latest article received much commentary on the Gulf/2000 discussion list—all of it bad, apparently. The following two posts are reprinted with permission of the authors. I repeat the disclaimer I used for Pelletiere: I know only the bare bones of each man's r?sum? and thus can not vouch for whatever biases they may bring to a given body of evidence. (Speaking of which, David Newton would like you to know that the opinions here are his own and do not represent the views of Radio Free Iraq.)

Joe Stork, Washington director, MENA Division, Human Rights Watch:

Stephen Pelletiere has been the leading proponent of this completely mendacious thesis since 1988, when he was publishing under the imprimatur of the Army War College. The Iraqi government documents that Human Rights Watch examined after they became available in 1991-92 refer to the Iraqi chemical attack on Halabja, and make no mention oaf any Iranian use of CW there.

Halabja, moreover, was no isolated incident, but one of at least 39 separate Iraqi chemical attacks on Kurdish civilians, begining in the Balisan Valley (nowhere near the Iranian border) in April 1987.

Pelletiere is just as mistaken in asserting that Iraqi chemical attacks against Iranian forces were not war crimes. It hardly inspires confidence that this is the view of a former professor at the War College.

David Newton, director, Radio Free Iraq:

Given the resurfacing of the old accusation of Iranian involvement in gassing Halabja (which personally makes no sense to me since the PUK often cooperated with the Iranians), G2K members may be interested that we (Radio Free Iraq) last year interviewed a former Iraqi Air Force Brigadier General, who claimed to have been in command of the Air Force operations room at the time of the bombing of Halabja. He said that the order for the attack with "special" ordnance came directly from the presidential palace and that all available aircraft were employed. He stressed that everyone in the operations room knew exactly what was happening.

Having been the American ambassador in Baghdad at the time, I recall that the sudden Revolutionary Guard breakthrough in east Kurdistan toward the Dokan dam was seen by the Iraqi regime as extremely dangerous. The government blamed it at the time on pesh merga who had guided the RG through the mountains around Iraqi army strong points. Although my memory is a little hazy, I do not recall any doubt in the embassy or the USG that the Iraqis had carried out the attack. The allegations that Iran might have joined in were seen as unproven. The only real question at the time was whether Saddam had ordered a revenge attack against the Kurds or whether, given his indifference to human life, he was trying to hit the Revolutionary Guards, who had just moved through Halabja, and was more than willing to wipe out Iraqi Kurds in the process. Subsequently. it became clear that the former explanation was the right one.

Incidentally, the public record shows that the USG, far from condoning the Iraqi use of CW, was out in front in condemning it, publicly for the first time in March 1983. Although we realized that Iraq was not likely to stop, we raised the issue repeatedly to the annoyance of the Iraqis, who usually denied it unconvincingly. I recall that when Les Aspin, the then chairman of the House Armed Services committree, and 8-10 members visited Tariq Aziz, he became so annoyed that he uncharacteristically admitted it, exploding that Iranians were a bunch of medieval fanatics and that, if Iraq had had nuclear weapons, it would have used those as well. There were quite a few dropped jaws. I don't recall any other countries making such demarches, with the possible exception of the UK and the belated and reluctant efforts of the FRG to deal with the Samarra "pesticide" plant built by the German firm Karl Kolb.

More important than the demarches, in which it was clear that the USG lacked leverage, given its perceived need to keep Iran from winning the war, were the constant USG efforts starting in 1984 to stop supplies of precursor chemicals, which the Iraqis were buying piecemeal from various European countries, and the worldwide tightening of export controls for these precursors at USG initiative. European countries were generally cooperative, but rarely took iniatives on their own to my recollection.

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  1. Spencer Ackerman at TNR concurs:

    “Even if Pelletiere had his facts straight on Halabja, his would be a noxious and dishonest argument against war. To begin with, it is an insult to the principled antiwar critics who recognize and condemn Saddam’s record of genocide but who still oppose an invasion of Iraq.”

    Link from Stephen Green:

  2. Well jeez, here I was thinking he was wrong, but if the New Republic’s against him…

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  4. As I recall, Pelletiere argues that both sides resorted to chemical weapons against each other, not that Iran joined Iraq in the attack. Are the writers suggesting that no battle between Iranian and Iraqi forces occured in and around Halabja? Also, the information provided about discussions with a former Iraqi Air Force General do not address the target of the chemical weapons attack, only the fact that it was ordered. Pelletiere does not dispute the use of chemical weapons, only the target against which they were directed and the number of victims.

    All nations use proscribed weaponry that violates the terms of the Geneva conventions and the Hague conventions on war, including the United States. Depleted Uranium munitions and cluster bombs are both proscribed, yet we used them in great abundance in Kosovo, where they significantyly degraded the environment and killed numbers of innocent civilans, including children.

    The use of the term “genocide” would indicate that there was a deliberate campaign by the Iraqi regime to exterminate the Kurds with chemical weapons. If this was in fact the case, why did we limit our reaction, as the former Ambassador states, to ineffective official protests? What about the US companies that also provided base materials for chemical weapons production to Iraq during the period?

    What about Pelletiere’s assertions that Turkish doctors who examined Kurdish refugees found no evidence of injuries sustained from exposure to chemical weapons?

    All of these questions need to answered in a credible manner in order to conclusively refute the Pelletiere thesis.

    Pelletiere also challenges the number killed. The writers fail to address this very important question, which could go to the intended targets of the attack. Would Mr. Stork be willing to direct readers of this site to the Iraqi documents reviewed in 1991 and 1992 so that we might review tham and draw our own comclusions? Are they available on the web or from some other source?

    As to the comment from David Newton about the Assiz comments regarding nuclear weapons and fanatics, I’ve heard distressingly similar pronouncements from the current American Administration.

    While I condemn the use of proscribed weapons in any context, I am firmly opposed to this war. However, I find any effort to discuss and resolve conflicts in the “evidence” and assertions surrounding questions of war or peace to be useful to the historical record and what I would hope would be a continual search for the truth.

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