US condemns Damascus’ use of chemical weapons—on same day Kurdistan Region marks Saddam’s Anfal campaign

Syrians civilians are treated for breathing difficulties at a field hospital outside the town of Saraqeb after a reported chemical attack. Feb. 3, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Omar Haj Kadour
Syrians civilians are treated for breathing difficulties at a field hospital outside the town of Saraqeb after a reported chemical attack. Feb. 3, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Omar Haj Kadour

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The US State Department issued a statement condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, as it backed the conclusion of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) about a 2018 attack on the city of Saraqib in eastern Idlib province.

The US denunciation of Syria’s Baathist regime came on the same day—April 14—as the Kurdistan Region marked the 33rd anniversary of the Anfal genocide by the only other Baathist regime that ever existed: Iraq’s

The US Consulate in Erbil, joined in commemorating the sad anniversary and denouncing “the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.”

“We will continue standing with the people of the IKR to ensure a secure, democratic, and economically prosperous future for #Iraq," the Consulate also affirmed.

Syrian Regime’s Use of Chemical Weapons

On Wednesday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price endorsed the OPCW’s finding, which it had announced two days before, that on Feb. 4, 2018, the Syrian Air Force “dropped a cylinder containing chlorine, which dispersed over a large area, and the “act imposed deliberate and unconscionable suffering on Syrian victims.”

“The Assad regime is responsible for innumerable atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Price affirmed. It “has consistently responded with death and destruction to calls by the Syrian people for reform and change.”

Price noted that the OPCW has concluded that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in at least three other attacks, a finding that the US also endorses.

Moreover, both the OPCW and the US “assess that the Assad regime retains sufficient chemicals to use sarin, to produce and deploy chlorine munitions, and to develop new chemical weapons,” Price stated.

Sarin, a nerve agent, was one of the chemicals, along with mustard gas and tabun, that Saddam used on March 16, 1988, in Halabja, killing upwards of 5,000 people.

It was the most lethal single chemical attack against a civilian population in history.

In 2013, after it dropped sarin gas on a Damascus suburb, killing over 1,400 people, the Syrian regime faced the threat of military action from the US and France, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon denounced it as “the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the twenty-first century.”

Damascus responded by agreeing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty and destroy its chemical weapons program. The OPCW was to oversee Syria’s compliance. However, subsequent chemical attacks revealed that such destruction did not really happen.

Saddam’s Anfal Campaign

Terrible as the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own people, Saddam’s use of those weapons was far more brutal and much farther reaching.

The Iraqi regime’s use of chemical weapons was part of a “systematic attempt to exterminate the Kurdish population in Iraq,” as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representation in the United States explained.

Some 182,000 Kurds were killed in that “systematic attempt” at genocide, which began in early 1988. The use of chemical agents was an integral part of that campaign.

That is also why, in 1991, following US President George H. W. Bush’s premature declaration of a ceasefire to the Gulf War, as Iraq’s Republican Guards bore down on the Kurdish north to suppress the popular uprising that had followed that war, practically the entire population—essentially anyone who was able—fled in panic to the borders with Turkey and Iran, thinking Saddam would not dare use such weapons against them, where the whole world could see.

The mammoth refugee crisis that followed, in turn, obliged the Bush administration to reverse course. It had first focused, above all else, on maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity. But with the refugee crisis, it joined in supporting UN Security Council Resolution 688 and in establishing a safe haven for the refugees, as well as a no-fly zone to protect the humanitarian effort.

Read More: 30th anniversary of UNSCR 688, paving way for today’s Kurdistan Region

Yet Baghdad’s persecution of the Kurds goes back much before 1988—to at least 1963, with “the arabization of villages around Kirkuk,” as the KRG Representation in Washington detailed in its fact sheet on Saddam’s Anfal Campaign.

It was followed by the “deportation and disappearance” of Faili Kurds in the 1970s and 80s. Although Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslims, the Failis are Shia. Baghdad claimed they were really Iranian and stripped them of their Iraqi nationality.

Read More: US commemorates anniversary of genocide against Faili Kurds by former Iraqi regime

In 1983, Saddam’s regime murdered 8,000 male Barzanis, and between 1976 and 1988, it destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages, “undermining the potential of Iraqi Kurdistan’s agricultural resources and destroying Kurdistan’s rural way of life and heritage,” the fact sheet explains.

Indeed, it is not too much to say that Saddam’s regime was born in blood. The Baath held power briefly in 1963, but five years later, they came to power again, after a coup in July 1968.

Some six months after it had seized power, in January 1969, the Baathist regime hanged 14 Iraqis, nine of them Jews, in public squares in Baghdad and Basra, charging that they were spies for Israel.

The US Secretary of State, William Rogers, condemned the “spectacle of mass executions” in Iraq, denouncing them as “repugnant to the conscience of mankind.”

And not much changed over the subsequent decades of Baathist rule in Iraq.

Editing by John J. Catherine