A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja

In This Review

A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja

By Joost R. Hiltermann
Cambridge University Press, 2007
346 pp. $29.00

Here is a model of investigative reporting. Hiltermann has tracked down seemingly every available source, weighed conflicting accounts in the record, and provided a dispassionate accounting. His conclusions are that during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons early and often, whereas Iran essentially did not, if only because it lacked the capacity to do so effectively. Iraq's use of chemical weapons reached a horrible crescendo in early 1988, a few months before the end of the war, with the notorious Anfal campaign against its own Kurdish citizens in and around the town of Halabja, which resulted in the slaughter of likely well over 100,000 people. During these war years, the United States, intent on making sure that Iran did not prevail, moved toward ever more active support of Iraq and refrained from any meaningful condemnation of the Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Hiltermann concludes that the fallout of these developments has been an enhanced readiness among states to stock and prepare to use weapons of mass destruction, an Iran set on never again being without such weapons, and a determination by the Kurds to never again be subject to rule from Baghdad.

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