Haunted by Halabja, US seeks Syrian solution

(By Deutsche Welle) In 1988, the US turned a blind eye to the gassing of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein. Decades after the attack at Halabja, Washington now seeks to enforce the global prohibition on chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

UN chemical weapons inspectors have confirmed that the nerve agent sarin was used “on a relatively large scale” in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta last month, in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the worst attack of its kind since Iraq deployed poison gas against the Kurds in the late 1980s.

“This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary international law,” Ban told reporters in New York on Monday. “It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 – and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.”

But a quarter century ago, Washington turned a blind eye to what happened at Halabja. On March 16, 1988, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein unleashed poison gas against the Kurdish city, killing more than 3,200 people, according to a 1993 Human Rights Watch report.

“The lesson of Halabja is unfortunately that the condemnation came to late – two months later – but also it came six years too late,” Joost Hiltermann, the author of Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq and the Gassing of Halabja, told DW.

“Because Halabja was the culmination, the climax of a steady increase in the use of chemical weapons in quantity and in quality, meaning more lethal agents over time,” said Hiltermann, also the chief operating officer at the International Crisis Group in Brussels.

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Escalating Iraq violence tied to Syria civil war

(By Deutsche Welle) Iraq has been shaken by its worst wave of violence in the last five years. The United Nations has warned that the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria are merging into one conflict.

The outgoing UN envoy to Iraq has warned the Security Council that Syria’s civil war has spilled over into Iraq, saying that “the battlefields are merging” into one conflict, which could destabilize the broader Middle East.

“These countries are interrelated,” UN Iraq envoy Martin Kobler said. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

According to UN figures, nearly 3,000 Iraqis have died in sectarian bloodshed in the past four months, the highest death toll since 2008. Another 7,000 have been injured. And increasingly, Iraqi jihadists and weapons are moving across the border to fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, UN envoy Kobler said.

“You have the Islamic State of Iraq, that’s launching most of the attacks, now operating on both sides of the border and getting stronger and stronger in Syria,” Patrick Cockburn, a veteran Iraq reporter for Britain’s The Independent, told DW.

“It has bases in eastern Syria right over to the Mediterranean, so that has made the organization much stronger – given it strength and depth,” Cockburn said. “It has access to arms depots that it’s captured in Syria.”

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Trillion-dollar-business: US war spending spirals out of control

(By Deutsche Welle) The heated debate over the US debt ceiling focused almost exclusively on cuts in social security and raising taxes. But a main item of government expenditure was hardly addressed at all: the rising cost of the wars.

For weeks a fierce political fight over government debt raged in Washington. Both parties agreed that a default had to be avoided and that the debt burden of the US must be addressed.

But while Republicans pushed for a steep reduction of government expenditures mainly through drastic cuts in social programs, Democrats wanted to tackle the issue mainly by increased taxes for the rich.

In their zeal to cut welfare programs and raise taxes both parties completely neglected one area of government spending that comes with a hefty sticker price: the cost of war.

Back in the winter of 2002, when the United States was still contemplating whether or not it would wage war against Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush’s key economic advisors estimated that an invasion would cost between $50 and $60 billion (35-41 billion euros).

With US troops scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, the war there has cost a cumulative total of $806 billion over the past eight years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, dwarfing the Bush administration’s original projections.

Washington, however, has also spent a decade waging a counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan and launching clandestine military strikes in Pakistan. A new study by Brown University entitled the “Costs of War” estimates that in total, when all is said and done, the United States will have spent between $3 and $4 trillion on foreign wars since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“If you study the history of war, throughout the millennia those who have been in favor of going to war have always very substantially underestimated the costs in both blood and treasure,” Linda Bilmes, coauthor of the book the “Three Trillion Dollar War,” told Deutsche Welle.

“You had an administration where they were expecting a quick, cheap war.”

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