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Context of 'January 17, 2003: Journalist Notes US Attempts to Protect Iraq Over Halabja Gassing'

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Secretary of Commerce Howard Baldridge and Secretary of State George Shultz successfully lobby the National Security Council (NSC) adviser to approve the sale of 10 Bell helicopters to Iraq in spite of objections from other NSC members. It is claimed that the helicopters will be used for crop spraying. These same helicopters are later used in 1988 to deploy poison gas against Iranians and possibly Iraqi Kurds (see March 1988). [Washington Post, 3/11/1991; Phythian, 1997, pp. 37-38]

Entity Tags: Howard Baldridge, George Shultz, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Neoconservative academics and authors Laurie Mylroie and Daniel Pipes write an article for the New Republic entitled “Back Iraq: Time for a US Tilt in the Mideast.” Mylroie and Pipes argue that the US must publicly embrace Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship as a bulwark against the Islamic fundamentalism of Iran. Backing Iraq “could lay the basis for a fruitful relationship” that would benefit US and Israeli interests, they write. They believe Washington should move to a closer relationship with Hussein because Iraq holds a more moderate view of Israel and the US than other countries in the Middle East. “The American weapons that Iraq could make good use of include remotely scatterable and anti-personnel mines and counterartillery radar.” Mylroie and Pipes argue not just for weapons sales to Iraq, but for the US to share intelligence with that nation: “The United States might also consider upgrading intelligence it is supplying Baghdad.” Mylroie and Pipes are apparently uninterested in the stories of Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against both Iranians and his own citizens (see March 5, 1984, March 1988, and August 25, 1988). After the 9/11 attacks, Mylroie will change her opinion and join the call for Hussein’s overthrow, blaming him for a raft of terror attacks going back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see 1990, October 2000, and September 12, 2001). [New Republic, 4/27/1987 pdf file; CounterPunch, 8/13/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 68]

Entity Tags: Laurie Mylroie, Daniel Pipes

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s, Neoconservative Influence

According to several accounts, Iraq uses US-supplied Bell helicopters to deploy chemical weapons during its campaign to recapture lost territories in its war with Iran. One of the towns that is within the conflict zone is the Kurdish village of Halabja, with a population of about 70,000. Between 3,200 and 5,000 Halabja civilians are reportedly killed by poison gas (see August 25, 1988). Other accounts, however, suggest that Iranian gas is responsible for the attack on Halabja, a version that is promoted by the Reagan administration in order to divert the blame away from Iraq. Some believe the US version of the Halabja massacre is “cooked up in the Pentagon.” A declassified State Department document “demonstrate[s] that US diplomats received instructions to press this line with US allies, and to decline to discuss the details.” [US Department of the Navy, 12/10/1990; Los Angeles Times, 2/13/1991; Washington Post, 3/11/1991; International Herald Tribune, 1/17/2003; New York Times, 1/31/2003]

Entity Tags: Bell Helicopter, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Kurds gassed in Halabja.Kurds gassed in Halabja. [Source: PersianEye / Corbis]Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq War (see August 20, 1988), Saddam Hussein begins the first of a series of poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages inside Iraq. A September 1988 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee states: “Those who were very close to the bombs died instantly. Those who did not die instantly found it difficult to breathe and began to vomit. The gas stung the eyes, skin, and lungs of the villagers exposed to it. Many suffered temporary blindness… . Those who could not run from the growing smell, mostly the very old and the very young, died.” While the gas attacks are continuing, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead circulates a highly classified memo among senior State Department officials recommending that the US cultivate even closer ties with Iraq, whom it supported over Iran in the last few years of the war (see Early October-November, 1986). Whitehead offers a Cold War rationale: “[Soviet] clout and influence is on a steady rise as the Gulf Arabs gain self-confidence and Soviet diplomacy gains in sophistication. The Soviets have strong cards to play: their border with Iran and their arms-supply relationship with Iraq. They will continue to be major players and we should engage them as fully as possible.” Whitehead adds, “It should be remembered… that we have weathered Irangate” (see January 17, 1986). More must be done to develop closer ties with “the ruthless but pragmatic Saddam Hussein.” (Also see September 8, 1988.) [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, John Whitehead, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Joost R. Hiltermann pens an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune titled, “America Didn’t Seem to Mind Poison Gas,” in which he comments on how the US had sought to protect Iraq in 1988 from international condemnation after its attacks on Halabja using poison gas (see March 1988). [Center for Disease Control, 6/21/1995; International Herald Tribune, 1/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Joost R. Hiltermann

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Joost Hiltermann.Joost Hiltermann. [Source: Representational Pictures]Reporter Russell Mokhiber attempts to pin down White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on the Bush administration’s condemnations of Iraq over its gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, when the US at the time tried to protect Iraq from international criticism (see January 17, 2003). Mokhiber says, “You and the president have repeatedly said that Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. The biggest such attack was in Halabja in March 1988, where some 6,800 Kurds were killed. Last week, in an article in the International Herald Tribune, Joost Hiltermann writes that while it was Iraq that carried out the attack, the United States at the time, fully aware that it was Iraq, accused Iran. This was apparently part of the US tilt toward Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The tilt included billions of dollars in loan guarantees. Sensing he had carte blanche, Saddam escalated his resort to gas warfare—graduating to ever more lethal agents. So, you and the president have said that Saddam has repeatedly gassed his own people. Why do you leave out the part that the United States in effect gave Saddam the green light?” Fleischer responds that Mokhiber needs to ask someone “other than the White House,” and claims he has no idea whether those charges are accurate. Mokhiber presses forward, saying that recent media reports show “a number of major American corporations—including Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel—helped Saddam Hussein beef up its military in the 1980s [and] supplied Iraq with cluster bombs, intelligence and chemical and biological agents.” Mokhiber notes that the same articles report the current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, “went to Baghdad in December 1983 and met with Saddam Hussein, and this was at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons almost on a daily basis in defiance of international conventions. So there are some specifics, and the question is—if Iraq is part of the axis of evil, why aren’t the United States and these American corporations part of the axis of evil for helping him out during his time of need?” Fleischer again refuses to answer directly, saying, “I think that you have to make a distinction between chemical and biological. And, clearly, in a previous era, following the fall of the Shah of Iran, when there was a focus on the risks that were underway in the region as a result of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, different administrations, beginning with President Carter, reached different conclusions about the level of military cooperation vis-a-vis Iraq. Obviously, Saddam Hussein since that time has used whatever material he had for the purpose therefore of attacking Kuwait, attacking Saudi Arabia, attacking Israel. And, obviously, as circumstances warrant, we have an approach that requires now the world to focus on the threat that Saddam Hussein presents and that he presents this threat because of his desire to continue to acquire weapons and his willingness to use those weapons against others.” Fleischer attempts to brush off any follow-up, refusing to admit that the US had any part in Hussein’s acquisition or use of chemical weapons, and saying, “I think that he gassed his own people as a result of his decisions to use his weapons to gas his own people.” When Mokhiber presses the point, Fleischer retorts, “… I think the suggestion that you blame America for Iraq’s actions is way beyond the pale.” [White House, 1/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Russell Mokhiber

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

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