Twenty years ago, almost 5, 000 Kurdish villagers were killed due to poisonous gassing in the Northern Iraqi town of Halabja. The atrocities were not highlighted that time, as the media was tamed by the American and British Governments, who were creating their very own Frankenstein.
In his long regime, Saddam Hussein had committed each and every crime from assassination to torture, ethnic cleansing to mass deportation, and the use of poison gas. Still, was it justified to execute him under a country’s law which supported his actions? Only when their own monster bit them back, did they realize that its time to show him his real place.Halabja is one such case which makes us realize that Saddam was not the only villain.
Reports say that years before this particular massacre, only a handful of journalists condemned the dictator, but their voices were unheard, to the Government and their editors. The western media organizations lapped up, deliberately misleading the agenda set by the lobby briefing, the White House, and other State departments. The bias was so clear that even at that time, the head of the Middle East, named Hussein as ‘our son of a bitch.’
The first recorded use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war was in 1982. Reports say that a minority of foreign journalists informed the British and the American embassies in Baghdad of Saddam’s use of chemical weapons. However, it was later discovered that some of the mustard gas used by Saddam was delivered by the British-made artillery shells, though there is no proof of British involvement of in their use. Both the Governments refused to act on anything other than material evidence.
Now let’s get back to Halabja, which was the turning point because, for the first time, the use of chemical weapons couldn’t be ignored and caught the world’s attention. Iranians showed particular interest in the town as it controlled access to a strategic road controlling the North eastern area of Iraq. According to a CIA report, even the Iranians used chemical weapons in the battle of Halabja. It is certain that the town switched sides during the battle and the Iraqi commanders ordered the use of mustard gas.
The attack on the Halabja, which had a Kurdish majority, was not a deliberate attack by Saddam; historians say that more deaths were caused by a cyanide based gas used by the Iranians, and not the Iraqis.
It took the world more than three weeks to realize the full-scale horror, thanks to an Iranian ITN camera which flew in the region and took photographs. Still, the American and the British Governments were not keen on investigating the matter ahead, and continued supporting Saddam. Even after the war ended, Saddam continued to use chemical weapons to settle scores with the Kurds. However, the voices in Washington and London remained silent.
When Saddam was no longer the favoured ‘son of a bitch’, his executing was justified by giving reference to Halabja, and the atrocious crimes he had committed during his regime, which to a great extent were supported by the superpowers itself.
Whether Saddam saw Halabja as revenge against Kurdish disloyalty or whether the town was caught in crossfire as Iraq targeting Iranians, the fact still remains that it was a war crime.
It’s ironic how the two Governments that once supported this monster justified their actions, firstly by going at war with Iraq in 2003 and then calling for his execution in 2006, by citing Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
Can we expect people to trust leaders who switch sides according to their convenience and ensure that tragedies like Halabja never happen again?
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