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're wrong.
The correct answer: Sainted Winston Churchill. As colonial secretary and secretary for war and air, he authorized the RAF in the 1920s to routinely use mustard gas against rebellious Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq and against Pashtun tribes on British India's northwest frontier.
Iraq's U.S.-installed regime has just announced al-Majid, one of Saddam's most brutal henchmen, will stand trial next week for war crimes.
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 Shias whom former U.S. president George Bush called to rebel against Saddam's regime, then sat back and did nothing while they were crushed.
The Halabja atrocity remains murky. The 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 U.S. destroying the rebellious Iraqi city of Fallujah and Saddam destroying rebellious Halabja? What difference does it make if you're killed by poison gas, artillery or 2,000-pound 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, culminating in threats to hang me as a spy.
Saddam Hussein and his entourage should face justice. But not in political show trials just before U.S.-"guided" Iraqi elections nor in Iraqi kangaroo courts. They should be sent to the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where Saddam should be charged with the greatest crime he committed -- the invasion of Iran, which caused one million casualties.
Britain, the U.S., Kuwait and Saudi Arabia convinced Iraq to invade Iran, then covertly supplied Saddam with money, arms, intelligence, and advisers. Meanwhile, Israel secretly supplied Iran with $5 billion US in American arms and spare parts while publicly denouncing Iran for terrorism.
Up to their ears
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 defence 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, apparently with the intention 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.
I'd argue senior officials of those nations that abetted Saddam's aggression against Iran and supplied him with chemicals and gas should also stand trial with Ali and Saddam.
What an irony it is to see U.S. 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 column predicted that when the U.S. 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 Shiites, it was still a close ally of Washington and London. The West paid for and supplied Saddam's bullets, tanks, gas and germs. He was our regional SOB.
Our hands are very far from clean.
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