HALABJA, 18 YEARS ON

“Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”
~ Phyllis Diller.

I am angry. Very angry. Dare I say it, that I am outraged? That word, outrage, gets a lot of overuse these days and that’s one reason why I don’t like to use it too much. Another reason is that it masks the raw feeling that the word, anger, has. This post will cover only one subject that fuels my fire and I think I should warn you before I start, that if you can’t handle hearing anger, get lost. Move on to the next blog. Go read about home design or about some 18-year-old’s sex life in Singapore, because you aren’t going to like what I have to say.

Besides, I’d hate to wake you from your deep, cozy sleep, your deep, deathlike complacency, or abuse your illusions about the world.

Helebce is what fuels the fire of my anger right now. Not sure what I mean? It’s Halabja in English. Better? Sound familiar? Ring a bell? It should. It’s what Dubya was referring to when he said that Saddam gassed “his own people.”

Here’s a quick rundown:

On 16 March, 1988, the Saddam Ba’ath regime began chemical bombing of the town of Halabja, south and east of Silêmanî, close to the border with Iranian-occupied Kurdistan. Halabja has become the symbol of the Anfal campaign to genocide the Kurdish people, although it was not only Halabja that was attacked during the following 72 hours, but the entire area around Halabja was attacked in the same way. The immediate deaths were estimated at 5,000 men, women, children. The animals died.

Those who could, fled, trying to make it through the mountains and across the Iran border. Many died on the way and were later buried in the Zagros. There are a lot of mass graves in and around Halabja.

It is eighteen years now since that day. What has happened to the people of Halabja in the meantime? Not much. Life goes on as usual and, for Halabja, that means that people go right on dying. Even those who weren’t alive at the time are dying as a result of the attacks, and the world totally ignores the continuing nightmare.

Dr. Christine Gosden, a British national and geneticist, visited Halabja and testified before the US Senate in April, 1998. She is the expert on medical conditions of the people of Halabja. You can read her Senate testimony here. It is a bit on the technical side, but her descriptions of the problems the people face hold true today, because nothing has been done for them in all this time. Not one damned thing.

But for the down and dirty, read the article Dr. Gosden wrote for The Washington Post. Here are a few selections:

What I found was far worse than anything I had suspected, devastating problems occurring 10 years after the attack. These chemicals seriously affected people’s eyes and respiratory and neurological systems. Many became blind. Skin disorders which involve severe scarring are frequent, and many progress to skin cancer. Working in conjunction with the doctors in the area, I compared the frequency of these conditions such as infertility, congenital malformations and cancers (including skin, head, neck, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, breast and childhood cancers) in those who were in Halabja at the time with an unexposed population from a city in the same region. We found the frequencies in Halabja are at least three to four times greater, even 10 years after the attack. An increasing number of children are dying each year of leukemias and lymphomas. The cancers tend to occur in much younger people in Halabja than elsewhere, and many people have aggressive tumors, so that mortality rates are high. No chemotherapy or radiotherapy is available in this region.

I found that there was also a total lack of access to pediatric surgery to repair the major heart defects, hare lip and cleft palate or other major malformations in the children. This meant that children in Halabja are dying of heart failure when children with the same heart defects could have had surgery and would probably have survived in Britain or the United States. It was agonizing for me to see beautiful children whose faces were disfigured by hare lip and cleft palate when I know that skilled and gifted surgeons correct these defects every day in North America and Europe.

The neuropsychiatric consequences are seen as human tragedy on every street, in almost every house and every ward of the hospital. People weep and are in great distress because of their severe depression, and suicidal tendencies are alarmingly evident. The surgeons often have to remove bullets from people who have failed in their suicide attempts. In collecting data from the Martyrs Hospital in Halabja, the doctors said that they are not able to see patients with psychiatric and neurological conditions because there is a lack of resources and there is no effective treatment.

[ . . .]

On the first day of my visit to the labor and gynecological ward in the hospital, there were no women in normal labor and no one had recently delivered a normal baby. Three women had just miscarried. The staff in the labor ward told of the very large proportion of pregnancies in which there were major malformations. In addition to fetal losses and perinatal deaths, there is also a very large number of infant deaths. The frequencies of these in the Halabjan women is more than four times greater than that in the neighboring city of Soulemaneya. The findings of serious congenital malformations with genetic causes occurring in children born years after the chemical attack suggest that the effects from these chemical warfare agents are transmitted to succeeding generations.

Miscarriage, infant deaths and infertility mean that life isn’t being replenished in this community, as one would expect if these weapons had no long-term effects. The people hoped that after the attack they could rebuild the families and communities that had been destroyed. The inability to do so has led to increasing despair. Their lives and hopes have been shattered. One survivor described being in a cellar with about a hundred other people, all of whom died during the attack. Not only do those who survived have to cope with memories of their relatives suddenly dying in their arms, they have to try to come to terms with their own painful diseases and those of their surviving friends and relatives.

For instance, many people have more than one major condition, including respiratory problems, eye conditions, neurological disorders, skin problems, cancers and children with congenital malformations and childhood handicaps such as mental handicap, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome. The occurrences of genetic mutations and carcinogenesis in this population appear comparable with those who were one to two kilometers from the hypocenter of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and show that the chemicals used in this attack, particularly mustard gas, have a general effect on the body similar to that of ionizing radiation.

In 1999, a sort of follow-up article was written and published in The Washington Post. In it, Dr. Gosden and Mike Amitay, of the Washington Kurdish Institute, asked why there were no efforts being made to help the people of Halabja when their plight is of “catastrophic proportions.”

Yeah, catastrophic proportions.

But the EU can manage to scrape together 143 million US greenbacks for Hamas, which is now in charge of the Palestinian Authority. According to this same article, last year, the EU forked over 600 million greenbacks. The US has budgeted $234 million for the Palestinians in 2006, while since 1993, American taxpayers have generously dumped over 1.5 billion into the Palestinian blackhole!

FOR WHAT? So the Palestinians can corner the market on C4?

Why doesn’t the EU and the US give a couple hundred million to Halabja? If they are so desperate to throw away money, why don’t they throw it away on people who don’t kidnap them or destroy their property, as the Palestinians have been doing in the last couple of days? Why don’t they use it to build a hospital, with complete outpatient services–occupational, physical, respiratory therapy departments? Why don’t they build a research facility alongside? Why don’t they designate money to pay the salaries of medical staff and researchers in Halabja? Do they think this will be a waste of money? Not hardly. Everything learned from medical research at Halabja would benefit the entire world for decades to come, not to mention it would relieve one hell of a lot of suffering.

Why do the people of the US and Europe continue to fund terrorism and, at the same time, continue to allow Kurds to die?

And where is the KRG?

Now, the KRG, both of them. . . the KDP and the PUK (they’re still fighting over how they’re going to unite), have lobbies in Washington. Why aren’t they in-your-face with Washington lawmakers over this huge discrepancy between the load of dollars that are continually dumped on the Palestinians, while their own people suffer medical conditions of “catastrophic proportions?” What shrinking violets are these glorious Kurdish leaders in the face of the qehbexane that is Washington??! Do they think they will “offend” someone important? Hell, you cannot offend people who are so totally callous that they refuse medical help to the kind of suffering found in Halabja!

And lest these little shrinking violets forget, it was callous Americans who began The Denial®.

There, I mentioned it. The Official Denial of What Really Happened at Halabja® began with Stephen Pelletiere and the bloodsuckers from the Army War College. I should mention that Stephen Pelletiere, as a former CIA analyst, is a blood sucker par excellence, a true professional. They did this for their Arab friends. Beside scratching the backs of their Gulf buddies, their little lie also makes Iran look bad. . . as IF the most renowned mullahtocracy ever needed help with that.

The ever credible–I’m being facetious here–Jude Wanniski picked up on The Denial®, and was working overtime to spread it around. Timothy Noah, at Slate, did a good job of refuting that little Saddam-lover. In fact, he did a good job of refuting The Denial® in toto. By the way, both Wanniski and Pelletiere are big time Palestinian supporters. They’re probably up there in Washington right now, pimping themselves for the Hamas petty cash box.

Maybe Jude the Loser was the one who passed Pelletiere’s lies along to Mohammed al-Obeidi? That’s a blast from the past, isn’t it? I bet you all thought I forgot about that.

There are two big problems with all these big liars. One is that not a single one of them ever spoke with survivors of Halabja. Not even the big liars at the Army War College ever did that. The other problem is the tapes. The tapes of Ali Hasan al-Majid which were captured from Kerkuk in 1991 by Kurds. Al-Majid’s voice is distinctive and easily identifiable by those who were familiar with life under the Ba’ath. Timothy Noah at the Slate article quotes one of al-Majid’s most infamous threats, taken from the tapes:

I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them.

There is a more complete transcript of this particular tirade here.

The Telegraph provides more of al-Majid’s rants:

On the tapes, al-Majid talks in his distinctive, high-pitched voice of demolishing swathes of Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq to crush their attempts at rebellion against Saddam’s rule. During the campaign thousands of villages were destroyed and their inhabitants killed or evicted in an “ethnic-cleansing” project, intended to clear the way for ethnic Sunni Arabs to move into the area.

Al-Majid, then the secretary-general of the Ba’ath Party’s northern bureau, can be heard ordering officials and army chiefs to carry out savage reprisals against any areas that try to resist.

“As soon as we complete the deportations we will start attacking them everywhere according to a systematic military plan,” he says. “I will not attack them with chemicals just one day but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for 15 days.”

Al-Majid even criticises his master for being too lenient when he orders that the families of Kurdish resistance leaders should not be harmed. “A message reaches me from that great man, the father [Saddam], saying ‘Take good care of the families of the saboteurs…’ Take good care of them? No, I will bury them with bulldozers.”

He also orders that millions of leaflets be distributed throughout the north warning the Kurds to leave, although he asks that the leaflets bear the stamp of the local Ba’ath Party rather than Saddam. That may help Saddam to argue when he faces trial that he did not authorise the campaign, despite the widespread belief that his enforcers did little without his approval.

Al-Majid, who describes the Kurds variously as “dogs” and “goats”, also boasts of razing their houses and placing them in collectivised compounds “without any compensation”.

Anybody who refuses to live in the ghettoes, he adds, should be rounded up by Ba’ath Party commanders to face his wrath. “Immediately I will say, ‘Blow him away, cut him open like a cucumber’.”

Tapes? As in evidence? OOPS!

Another good wrap on The Denial® can be found at The New Republic (cached, of course, by our good friends at Google, because otherwise you’d have to pay). Information from and about survivors can be found at Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch , for starters.

I wonder why it is that the same people who can make commercials thanking the US for overthrowing Saddam–and here I mean the Kurdistan Development Corporation–can’t start an ad campaign to lobby funds for Halabja. They could start by mentioning how much money goes to the PA, as well as for what purposes.

Ah well, priorities, I guess.

The people of Halabja are fed up and I don’t blame them. They’re planning their own protest tomorrow. From IWPR:

On March 16, Kurdish officials are planning to hold their annual memorial to the thousands of victims of an Iraqi army chemical attack on the town eighteen years ago.

But residents say they are tired of the Kurdish government’s failure to keep its word over pledges to improve conditions here.

They are planning to sit along the main road into the town to stop officials – who will, for the first time, be accompanied by international delegates – from entering Halabja. About 500 protesters are expected to participate.

“Officials visit Halabja just for publicity,” said Mohammed Kareem, 61, a local shopkeeper who lost five children in the chemical attack. “Halabja looks the same as the day it was attacked.”

“We plan to block any official from entering, because every year they come and make empty promises,” said Zakaria Mahmood, a 22-year-old protest organiser.

While Kurdish officials cite Halabja as a symbol of Kurdish suffering under Saddam Hussein, many residents complain that the region’s semi-autonomous government has done little to improve Halabja’s infrastructure.

They complain about poor healthcare and roads, as well as houses that remain damaged. About 5,000 people died and 10,000 were injured in the March 1988 attack. Thousands still suffer from respiratory illnesses, cancer and other diseases.

That’s going to be a little embarrassing, what with internationals along for the show, including Italians and Hiroshima survivors. There will probably be the obligatory Americans too.

You know, if I were involved with the Halabja protest, I’d refuse entry to anyone who didn’t come with at least a dozen million of those US greenbacks in their pockets and a shovel ready to break ground for a new state-of-the-art medical/research facility.

Otherwise, the show is going to be the same. Everyone will put on their long, sad faces, their finest black ensembles, accessorized with their finest black accoutrements, and they’ll dab their eyes with their hankies on cue, and blubber on about the suffering of the Halabjans.

Then they’ll leave, go back to their home countries, and they’ll continue to approve billions more to be poured into the Palestinian abyss, purely out of their humanitarian concern for “suffering,” naturally.

The Palestinians will continue to purchase bombs and weapons with which to blow up Jews, the dead in Halabja will continue to pile up, and the rest of the world will continue to wonder if Ana Nicole Smith is ever going to get her cut of the inheritance.

The Halabjans know all this. That’s why they’re going to protest. That’s why I wish them every strength in their protest.

That’s also why I stay awake and I stay angry.

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