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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2004

20 December 2004

Who was the first high government official to authorize use of mustard gas against rebellious Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq?

If your answer was Saddam Hussein’s cousin, the notorious `Chemical Ali,’ aka Ali Hassan al-Majid — you are wrong.

Remember, one of President Bush’s excuses for invading Iraq was that `Saddam gassed his own people.’

The correct answer: sainted Winston Churchill, the idol of western neoconservatives. As Home Secretary, he authorized the RAF in the 1920’s to routinely use mustard gas against rebellious Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq and against Pushtun tribes on the Northwest Frontier. Churchill, an ardent imperialist and racist, sanctioned use of burning mustard gas on `primitive tribesmen’ but not on white troops.

Iraq’s US-installed regime just announced al-Majid, one of Saddam’s most brutal henchmen, will stand trial for war crimes. At least eight other members of Saddam’s entourage will also be tried.

Al-Majid is accused of ordering the 1988 gassing of Kurds at Halabja that killed over 5,000 civilians. He led the bloody suppression of Iraq’s Shias, killing tens of thousands. These were the same Shia whom President George Bush I called to rebel against Saddam’s regime, then sat back and did nothing while they were crushed.

The Halabja atrocity remains murky. CIA’s former Iraq desk chief claims Kurds who died at Halabja were killed by cyanide gas, not nerve gas, as is generally believed.

At the time, Iraq and Iran were locked in the ferocious last battles of their eight-year war. Halabja was caught between the two armies that were exchanging salvos of regular and chemical munitions. Only Iran had cyanide gas. If the CIA official is correct, the Kurds were accidentally killed by Iran, not Iraq.

But it’s also possible al-Majid ordered an attack. Kurds in that region had rebelled against Iraq and opened the way for invading Iranian forces. What’s the difference between the US destroying the rebellious Iraqi city of Falluja and Saddam destroying rebellious Halabja? What difference does it make if you’re killed by poison gas, artillery, or 2,000 lb bombs?

`Chemical Ali’ was a brute of the worst kind in a regime filled with sadists. I personally experienced the terror of Saddam’s sinister regime over 25 years of visiting Iraq, culminating in threats to hang me as a spy.

Saddam Hussein and his aides should face justice. But not in political show trials staged to influence upcoming, US-`guided’ Iraqi elections, nor in Iraqi kangaroo courts run by one of Ahmad Chalabi’s cousins. They should be sent to the UN’s Hague War Crimes Tribunal where Saddam should be charged with the greatest crime he committed: the 1980 invasion of Iran, which caused one million casualties.

Nor should we forget that Britain, the US, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia convinced Iraq to invade Iran in 1980, then covertly supplied Saddam with money, arms, intelligence, and advisors. Meanwhile, Israel secretly supplied Iran with US $5 billion in American arms and spare parts while publicly denouncing Iran as a terrorist menace.

Who supplied `Chemical Ali’ with his mustard and nerve gas? Why, the west, of course. In late 1990, I discovered four British technicians in Baghdad who told me they had been `seconded’ to Iraq by Britain’s Ministry of Defense and MI6 intelligence to make chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, Q-fever and plague, at a secret laboratory at Salman Pak.

The Reagan Administration and Thatcher government were up to their ears in backing Iraq’s aggression intended to overthrow Iran’s Islamic government and seize its oil. Italy, Germany, France, South Africa, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Chile and the USSR all aided Saddam’s war effort against Iran, which was even more a victim of naked aggression than was Kuwait in 1991.

Senior officials of those nations that abetted Saddam’s aggression against Iran and supplied him with chemicals and gas should also face justice with Ali Hassan al-Majid and Saddam Hussein.

What an irony it is to see US forces in Iraq now behaving with much the same punitive ferocity as Saddam’s army and police: bombing rebellious cities, arresting thousands, terrorizing innocent civilians, torturing captives and sending in tanks to crush resistance. In other words, Saddamism without Saddam. A decade ago, this writer predicted that when the US finally overthrew Saddam, it would need to find a new Saddam.

Finally, let’s not forget that when Saddam’s regime committed many of its worst atrocities against rebellious Kurds and Shia, it was still a close ally of Washington and London. We paid for and supplied Saddam’s bullets, tanks, gas and germs. He was our regional sob. Our hands are very far from clean.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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