(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.