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Halabja poison gas attack

Halabja poison attack
Part of Iran-Iraq War
Operation Zafar 7

Victims of the chemical attack
Date March 15–March 17 1988
Location 35°11′N 45°59′E / 35.183, 45.983 (Halabja Poison Gas Attack)Coordinates: 35°11′N 45°59′E / 35.183, 45.983 (Halabja Poison Gas Attack)
Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan
Result Iraqi victory, destruction of Halabja
 Iraq  Iran
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
Saddam Hussein
Ali Hasan al-Majid
Nawshirwan Mustafa
Jalal Talabani
The Halabja poison gas attack occurred in the period 15 March–19 March 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War when chemical weapons were used by the Iraqi government forces and a number of civilians in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja (population 80,000).

It was an event that is historically separate from the al-Anfal Campaign but related in that Kurdish civilians were caught up in the fighting and their numbers are often included in accounting the deaths attributable to Saddam Hussein's regime as part of the Anfal campaign. Estimates of casualties in this attack range from several hundred to 5,000 people. Halabja is located about 150 miles northeast of Baghdad and 8-10 miles from the Iranian border.



blah was the party responsible for the gas attack, which occurred during the Iran-Iraq War. The war between Iran and Iraq was in its eighth year when, on March 16 and March 17, 1988, Iraq dropped poison gas on the Kurdish city of Halabja, then occupied by many Kurdish civilians (predominantly women and children), Iranian troops, and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas allied with Iran (throughout the war, Iran had supplied and protected the Iraqi Kurdish resistance).[citation needed]

The poison gas attack on the Iraqi town of Halabja, which was defined as an act of genocide by Human Rights Watch, was the largest-scale chemical weapons (CW) attack against a civilian population in modern times. It began early in the evening of March 16, when a group of eight aircraft began dropping chemical bombs, and the chemical bombardment continued all night. The Halabja attack involved multiple chemical agents, including mustard gas, and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX. Some sources have also pointed to the blood agent hydrogen cyanide.

A survivor described the attack: "I got some gas in my eyes and had trouble breathing. You always wanted to vomit and when you did, the vomit was green." He said he passed "hundreds" of dead bodies. Those around him died in a number of ways, suggesting a combination of toxic chemicals. Some "just dropped dead" while others "died of laughing." Still others took a few minutes to die, first "burning and blistering" or coughing up green vomit.[1]


The first images after the attack were taken by Iranian journalists who later spread the pictures in Iranian newspapers. Some of those first pictures were taken by Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan. Recalling the scenes at Halabja, Kaveh described the scene to Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times. He was about eight kilometres outside Halabja with a military helicopter when the Iraqi MiG-23 fighter-bombers flew in. "It was not as big as a nuclear mushroom cloud, but several smaller ones: thick smoke," he said. He was shocked by the scenes on his arrival in the town, though he had seen gas attacks before during the brutal Iran-Iraq war:[2]

It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (...) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl's mouth and she died in my arms.

International sources for technology and chemical precursors

According Iraq's report to the UN, the know-how and material for developing chemical weapons were obtained from firms in such countries as: the United States, West Germany, the United Kingdom, France and China.[3] By far, the largest suppliers of precursors for chemical weapons production were in Singapore (4,515 tons), the Netherlands (4,261 tons), Egypt (2,400 tons), India (2,343 tons), and West Germany (1,027 tons). One Indian company, Exomet Plastics (now part of EPC Industrie) sent 2,292 tons of precursor chemicals to Iraq. The Kim Al-Khaleej firm, located in Singapore and affiliated to United Arab Emirates, supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX, sarin, and mustard gas precursors and production equipment to Iraq.[4]

The provision of chemical precursors from US companies to Iraq was enabled by a Reagan administration policy that removed Iraq from the State Department's list State Sponsors of Terrorism. Leaked portions of Iraq's "Full, Final and Complete" disclosure of the sources for its weapons programs shows that thiodiglycol, a substance needed to manufacture deadly mustard gas, was among the chemical precursors provided to Iraq from U.S.companies such as Alcolac International, Inc and Phillips. Both companies have since undergone reorganization and Phillips, once a subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum and now part of ConocoPhillips, an American oil and energy company while Alcolac Intl. has since dissolved and reformed as Alcolac Inc.[5]

Establishing the culprit

An investigation into responsibility for the Halabja massacre, by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders, Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) concluded that Iraq was the culprit, and not Iran. The U.S. State Department, however, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, took the official position based on examination of available evidence that Iran was partly to blame.[6]

A preliminary Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study at the time reported that Iran that was responsible for the attack, an assessment which was used subsequently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for much of the early 1990s. The CIA's senior political analyst for the Iran-Iraq war, Stephen C. Pelletiere, co-authored an unclassified analysis of the war[7] which contained a brief summary of the DIA study's key points. The CIA altered its position radically in the late 1990s and cited Halabja frequently in its evidence of WMD before the 2003 invasion.[1] Pelletiere claims that a fact that has not been successfully challenged is that Iraq is not known to have possessed the cyanide-based blood agents determined to have been responsible for the condition of the bodies that were examined[8] and that blue discolorations around the mouths of the victims and in their extremities[9] pointed to Iranian-used gas as the culprit. In the report titled, "Iran Chemical Weapon Update - 1998", By 1988, Iran reportedly was actively producing phosgene gas and cyanotic agents, and possibly nerve gas. Iran’s indigenous chemical weapon production capability was confirmed in a March 1990 U.S. DIA report which concluded that Iran had created or purchased its own version of sulfur mustard gas, samples of which had been collected by a United Nations team and were shown by independent analysis to be of “different origin than the mustard gas used by Iraq.” The DIA report also claimed that a United Nations team had examined Iraqi victims of Iranian chemical attacks who “displayed the effects of exposure to a choking agent ... believed to have been phosgene.”

Some opponents to the Iraq sanctions have cited the DIA report to support their position that Iraq was not responsible for the Halabja attack. The Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq electronic mailing list by Cambridge political theorist Glen Rangwala describes how the attack followed the occupation of the city by Iranian and pro-Iranian forces, leading to the conclusion that the gassing was an attack on these forces by the Iraqis. Rangwala also cites studies done by non-governmental organizations that concluded different chemicals were used than the ones cited in the DIA study.

Joost Hiltermann, who was the principal researcher for the Human Rights Watch between 1992-1994, conducted a 2 year study, including a field investigation in northern Iraq, capturing Iraqi government documents in the process. This research concluded there were numerous other gas attacks, unquestionably perpetrated against the Kurds by the Iraqi armed forces. This research culminated in Iraq's Crime of Genocide: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (by G. Black, Yale Univ. Press, 1995) and A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (Cambridge University Press, June 18, 2007). According to Hiltermann, the literature on the Iran-Iraq war reflects a number of allegations of CW use by Iran, but these are "marred by a lack of specificity as to time and place, and the failure to provide any sort of evidence". (Potter, p.153) He calls these allegations "mere assertions" and adds: "no persuasive evidence of the claim that Iran was the primary culprit was ever presented".(Potter, p.156)


Neither Saddam Hussein nor Ali Hasan al-Majid (who commanded Iraqi forces in northern Iraq in that period) were charged by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes against humanity relating to the events at Halabja. However, the Iraqi prosecutors had "500 documented baskets of crimes during the Hussein regime" and Hussein was condemned based on just one case.[10]

On December 18 2006, Saddam Hussein told the court:

In relation to Iran, if any military or civil official claims that Saddam gave orders to use either conventional or special ammunition, which as explained is chemical, I will take responsibility with honor. But I will discuss any act committed against our people and any Iraqi citizen, whether Arab or Kurdish. I don't accept any insult to my principles or to me personally.[11]

Among several documents revealed during the trial, one was a 1987 memo from Iraq's military intelligence seeking permission from the president's office to use mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin against Kurds. A second document said in reply that Saddam had ordered military intelligence to study the possibility of a "sudden strike" using such weapons against Iranian and Kurdish forces.

An internal memo written by military intelligence confirmed it had received approval from the president's office for a strike using "special ammunition" and emphasized that no strike would be launched without first informing the president. Another document from the Army Chief of Staff reporting that an airstrike with special ammunition killed 31 Kurdish fighters and "communist agents" near Dahuk.[12]

References in popular culture

The industrial band Skinny Puppy included a track called VX Gas Attack on their album VIVIsectVI, based on the Halabja poison gas attack. The backing video for this song used on their Too Dark Park tour featured various video clips showing victims of the attacks being treated for their injuries, as well as the bodies of those who perished in the attacks.


  1. ^ Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?
  2. ^ A committed defender of free expression
  3. ^ The Independent. Wednesday, 18 December, 2002. U.S. Corps In Iraq.
  4. ^ What Iraq Admitted About its Chemical Weapons Program
  5. ^ Made in the USA: A guide to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction
  6. ^ Halabja : America didn't seem to mind poison gas
  7. ^ FMFRP 3-203 - Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War, 10 December 1990
  9. ^ Iran Chemical Weapon Update - 1998
  10. ^ Hussein executed with 'fear in his face'
  11. ^ Saddam admits Iran gas attacks
  12. ^ Saddam says responsible for any Iran gas attacks
  • Lawrence Potter, Gary Sick. Iran, Iraq, and the legacies of war. 2004, MacMillan. ISBN 1-4039-6450-5
  • Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide (2003) ISBN 0-06-054164-4


  • Video source documenting European protective gear supplies and chemicals.

See also

  • Al-Anfal Campaign
  • Command responsibility
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Halabja_poison_gas_attack". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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