Iraq 2: Kurdish and Iranian victims and hopes

February 17, 2003


1. Tariq Aziz snubs Israeli journalist; some boo in solidarity
2. "Kurdish part of Iraq already at war. Villagers live in fear of Muslim extremists" (AP, Feb. 16, 2003)
3. "Iraqi official snubs Israeli journalist in Rome" (AP, Feb. 14, 2003)
4. "US: 'Unacceptable' for Iraq to chair UN arms body" (Reuters, Feb. 13, 2003)
5. "Iraq chemical arms condemned, but West once looked the other way" (New York Times, Feb. 13, 2003)
6. "Iran expects: will Iraq's liberation help free its neighbor too?" (By Fouad Ajami, Wall St. Journal, Feb. 13, 2003)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five further articles connected to Iraq.

1. "Kurdish part of Iraq already at war. Villagers live in fear of Muslim extremists" (Associated Press, February 16, 2003). A report on the continuing killings of Kurdish civilians by Islamic terrorists in northern Iraq.

2. "Iraqi official snubs Israeli journalist in Rome" (Associated Press, February 14, 2003). Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz refuses to answer questions in Rome from journalists with Israeli citizenship. Some other journalists boo in solidarity with their Israeli colleagues.

3. "US: 'Unacceptable' for Iraq to chair UN arms body" (Reuters, February 13, 2003). A senior United States arms control official declares that it was "unacceptable" for Iraq to take its turn in presiding over the main United Nations disarmament negotiating forum starting March 17.

4. "Iraq chemical arms condemned, but West once looked the other way" (New York Times, February 13, 2003). During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, about 100,000 people were killed or wounded in chemical weapons attacks by the Iraqis. This article reminds us that Iraq developed these weapons with the help of the United States and West European countries like France.

5. "Iran expects: Will Iraq's liberation help free its neighbor too?" (By Fouad Ajami, Wall St. Journal, February 13, 2003). If and when it comes, a military campaign in Iraq would be the third to be waged in the service of the Pax Americana at Iran's doorstep (after Kuwait and Afghanistan). The writer asks what repercussion this will have for Iran, where "a silent revolution is under way; it lacks the fury of what played out in 1978-79. It is the imploding of the theocratic edifice, the aging of a revolution that has lost the consent of its children ... In Persia, there will be multitudes hoping that the foreigner's storm [in Iraq] will be mighty enough to clear their foul sky."

-- Tom Gross



Kurdish part of Iraq already at war
Villagers live in fear of Muslim extremists
The Associated Press
February 16, 2003

The women of this farm village quietly weep in the kitchen, and the men mourn in the front room.

With the threat of a U.S. invasion looming over Iraq, residents in this community of mud-brick homes and a tiny green mosque say they already live in the middle of a war between the secular government and Islamic radicals holed up in the mountains.

The most recent attack last week killed seven people, including four members of this tight-knit town of 50.

"We're all poor," said Mushir Majid, a grizzled farmer among the mourners. "There's a lot of turmoil in the area. We cannot even talk about everything we have to deal with."

For two years, the militant Islamic group Ansar al Islam has terrorized residents in this corner of the autonomous Kurdish region, in the Zagros Mountains on the Iranian border.

Hoping for an end to their misery at the hands of the extremists, residents privately said they hope the United States will do away with the group, which Washington says is tied to al-Qaida and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Publicly, they're too scared to criticize Ansar.

"We're living here in the middle of the situation," Majid said as he mourned at the house of the brother of Hassan Fatah, a 36-year-old farmer who was killed, leaving behind a wife and four children. "We're a neutral people, and we often have to travel between towns controlled by different groups."

Ansar, which controls several villages, has declared war on secular Kurdish parties. Local authorities belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Ansar's main rival allege that the group has killed dozens of Kurdish soldiers as well as innocent villagers.

In the latest violence, in Qamesh Tapa about 190 miles northeast of Baghdad, Ansar operatives assassinated a well-known minister, Shawkat Haji Mushir, two other senior leaders and four civilians. One of the victims, 8-year-old Deroon Fazel, was shot in the head as she lay sleeping. She died hours later, residents said.

Witnesses and officials say the attack on Mushir, his entourage and the others was as devious as it was violent. Ansar militants had apparently approached the renowned tribal leader weeks ago with the prospect of a defection of Ansar members to the Patriotic Union.

Mushir reportedly had met with the group several times, and the two parties made a deal after a 45-minute meeting Feb. 8. Then the Ansar guerrillas began shooting and lobbing grenades, witnesses said.

"They were randomly attacking everybody," said Nozad Azad, a friend of the victims. "They were very barbarous. It was so fast."

Villagers said Ansar had never found its way up to the dirt path from the main road until that night. "It was their first visit," Azad said.



Iraqi official snubs Israeli journalist in Rome
By Frances D'emilio
The Associated Press
February 14, 2003

Touching off hoots and boos, a top Iraqi official snubbed an Israeli journalist Friday, refusing to answer the correspondent's question about whether Baghdad might attack Israel in a case of a U.S. military strike on Iraq.

Correspondent Menachem Gantz, based in Rome for the Israeli newspaper Maariv, asked Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz at a news conference in the Italian capital: "Are you considering any kind of attack as a possibility against Israel in case of an American attack?"

Aziz, invited by the Foreign Press Association to give the news conference, responded: "When I came to this press conference it was not in my agenda to answer questions by the Israeli media. Sorry."

Some journalists in the packed room of the association's headquarters whistled and booed at that reply.

The association's president, Eric Jozsef, a French journalist, urged Aziz to respond.

"No, I'm not going to answer," the Iraqi official said.

The room was packed with about 100 journalists, with scores of others listening from another room. About 20 of the journalists, including Israeli and German correspondents, walked out, Gantz among them.

Later at the news conference, another journalist asked the same question and Aziz replied: "We don't have the means to attack anyone outside our territory."

Aziz, who met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican earlier in the day, was in Italy for several days of talks, including with Italian politicians.

"I thought a sentence in an Israeli newspaper might be a slight proof that his intentions are peaceful, as his visit is trying to transmit," Gantz later told The Associated Press.

"His way of reacting, in a very nervous way, showed that the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of press and other human rights are far away from the dictatorship in Baghdad," Gantz said.

The Israeli journalist said he had been in touch with members of the Iraqi delegation earlier in the week about the possibility of posing a couple of questions and that delegation members left him with the impression that Aziz would answer.



US: 'Unacceptable' for Iraq to chair UN arms body
By Stephanie Nebehay
February 13, 2003

A senior United States arms control official declared on Thursday that it was "unacceptable" for Iraq to take its turn in presiding over the main United Nations disarmament negotiating forum.

Stephen Rademaker, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, told the conference Iraq remained in breach of Security Council resolutions ordering it to disclose its weapons of mass destruction and cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors.

Iraq is due to become president of the Conference on Disarmament on March 17, which could coincide with a possible U.S.-led invasion. The post rotates monthly in alphabetical order among its 66 members, who take decisions by consensus.

"Iraq's assuming the presidency of the CD is unacceptable to the United States. It should be unacceptable to all supporters of the CD, as it threatens to discredit this institution..." Rademaker said in a speech to the conference.

Naji Abid, a member of Iraq's delegation, told Reuters Television: "It is our presidency, we will practice it."

During the debate, Abid took the floor to respond that Baghdad had been cooperating fully for two months with U.N. inspectors in Iraq and had "no such weapons."

Depriving a country of chairing the Conference on Disarmament, a right enshrined under the rules of procedure, would set a "very serious precedent," he told the talks.

The Iraqi also accused the United States of pursuing "double standards and selectivity" in line with its strategic interests.

It would be Iraq's first presidency since joining the forum in 1996, under a heavily-negotiated package which brought in 23 countries including Israel and North Korea.

Iraq has been under U.N. sanctions since 1991 after its invasion and seven-month occupation of Kuwait.

Rademaker told a news conference: "It is the view of the United States that a country under U.N. sanctions for failure to disarm should not be permitted to preside over the Conference."

The U.S. delegation was "considering all options," according to Rademaker, who declined to be specific.

French ambassador Hubert de la Forterelle told Reuters that Western countries were united in viewing Iraq's chairmanship as "inconceivable."

Diplomatic moves were under way to put pressure on Iraq's delegation to step aside, according to the French envoy.

Indian envoy Rakesh Sood, who currently holds the one-month presidency, told Reuters he was holding consultations on the issue. A special informal meeting was due on Friday.

Washington, backed by Britain, says Baghdad is hiding weapons of mass destruction and has threatened to attack Iraq if it does not cooperate fully with U.N. arms inspectors. Iraq says it has no such weapons and is cooperating with the inspectors.



Iraq chemical arms condemned, but West once looked the other way
By Elaine Sciolino
The New York Times
February 13, 2003

Muhammad Moussavi, a volunteer in the war with Iraq, was one of thousands gassed by Iraqi forces. His lungs damaged by mustard agent, Mr. Moussavi is tethered to an oxygen tank at his home in Isfahan, Iran.

His breath was loud and hard, his mouth open wide as he struggled to force air into his lungs. "I am," said Muhammad Moussavi, a "living martyr."

Almost 15 years after Iran's war with Iraq ended, Mr. Moussavi and thousands of others like him are painful reminders of the long-lasting effect of Iraq's use of chemical weapons in that eight-year conflict.

His story is typical of a war generation that fervently believed, after Iraq invaded in 1980, in the need to defend Iran and, later, to overthrow Saddam Hussein. So Mr. Moussavi took time off from his engineering studies for months at a time to serve as a volunteer with martyr brigades. In March 1988, four months before Iran declared a cease-fire, he was badly wounded on the battlefield, not by bombs or bullets but by mustard gas.

"We were wearing gas masks because we expected Saddam to use chemical weapons," he recalled. "But there was too much gas. I suddenly felt a bitter taste in my mouth, and then my mouth filled with blood. I put on a new mask but the gas had already affected my body."

Today, at 40, Mr. Moussavi is chained to an oxygen concentrator. His lungs and air passages are permanently scarred, his vision blurred, his skin susceptible to peeling and rashes. When the breathing nearly stops, he chokes and his chest heaves. Two inhalators bring only partial relief. Words come slowly and, when they do, the sounds are brittle and cracked.

"This is a very burdensome illness, both for me and my family," he said. "I never feel I'm getting enough oxygen. The phlegm I cough is filled with blood and hard like bricks." The perennial feeling of being oxygen-deprived, he said, produces headaches, fatigue and body pain.

During the war, about 100,000 people were killed or wounded in chemical weapons attacks by the Iraqis, said Dr. Hamid Sohrabpour, a pulmonary specialist and the director of Iran's chemical treatment program, who studied at New York's Mount Sinai hospital. Iran has compiled records for about 30,000 of them.

One in 10 of these victims died before receiving treatment, he said. About 5,000 to 6,000 still receive regular medical care under government-financed programs.

In building an argument for war against Iraq, President Bush has stressed the need to rid the world of whatever may be left of Iraq's ballistic missile arsenal and its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

The fear that Iraq still might have such weapons drove the Security Council last November to approve unanimously a resolution calling on the Iraqi regime to disarm or face "serious consequences."

But there is deep resentment and anger here that it was Western companies that helped Iraq develop its chemical weapons arsenal in the first place and that the world did nothing to punish Iraq for its use of chemical weapons throughout the war.

"The world knew," Mr. Moussavi said. "Iraq developed these weapons with the help of the United States and the West. No matter how many times Iranians shouted that Iraq was using chemical weapons, they were ignored. I don't know why the United States has suddenly become kinder than a mother for the suffering of us chemical weapons patients."

Dr. Sohrabpour, who has lectured around the world about chemical weapons patients, is equally frustrated. "We took patients to Germany, to Britain, to France, but no one stopped Saddam's regime from using these terrible weapons," he said. "The United States let him develop, stockpile and use these weapons. Now suddenly it's changed. The fact is that the United States is only after its own interests. It doesn't care about what has happened to people."

In the early 1980's, Iranian diplomats visited the United Nations and the capitals of the world armed with disturbing photographs of wounded and dead Iranian soldiers, their bodies swollen, blistered and burned.

By early 1984, Iraq was making no secret of its war tactics. In one broadcast, Baghdad's Voice of the Masses radio gave a hint, speaking of "a certain insecticide for every insect," adding ominously, "We have this insecticide."

After a small group of American and European journalists visiting the war front in February 1984 independently verified the use of chemical weapons, the State Department publicly stated that available evidence suggested that Iraq had used the lethal weapons. It was the first confirmed use of the banned substances since World War I. But the United States, which tilted toward Iraq after it decided that Iran was a more dangerous country, did nothing.

Two years later, Iraq began using chemical weapons as an "integral part" of its battlefield strategy and a "regular and recurring tactic," according to a declassified report by the Central Intelligence Agency. Iranian soldiers often went into battle without gas masks or with masks that did not fit properly. The widespread use of the weapons also overwhelmed Iran's poorly trained and equipped medical personnel, who were themselves sometimes contaminated during rescue efforts. A move led by some Senate Democrats to impose sanctions on Iraq after it used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988 went nowhere.

The Iraqis used both liquid and dry forms of mustard agent, which burns body tissue and causes blindness, severe blistering, skin discoloration and lung damage, and nerve agents like sarin and tabun, which paralyze the muscles and cause convulsions and vomiting before death.

Nerve gas victims usually died on the spot unless they were immediately treated with antidotes. But many mustard gas victims survived, developing ailments that worsened over time and often led to death.

The 12,000-page weapons declaration that Iraq delivered to the United Nations in December identifies 31 major foreign suppliers for its chemical weapons program, including 2 companies based in the United States that are now defunct, 14 from Germany, 3 each from the Netherlands and Switzerland and 2 each from France and Austria.

The plight of chemical weapons patients in Iran is complicated by the fact that it has manipulated the legacy of the war for its own purposes. Even now, a number of power centers in Iran use the "blood of the martyrs" as a mechanism to hold on to power, demand sacrifice and impose limits freedom. But a generation born since the war has vowed not to be controlled or terrorized by this ideology or by the voluntary, state-protected militias that continue to try to control the streets.

Although there is deep sympathy for victims of chemical weapons attacks, there is resentment toward the Foundation for the Deprived and the War Disabled, a huge state-affiliated organization that disperses aid to the victims and that has long been accused of corruption and cronyism.

Mr. Moussavi, who was interviewed in the presence of two officials from the foundation, praised the organization for its constant support and said his sacrifice was worthwhile. "I'm very happy for the sacrifices I've made," he said. "I'm happy I defended my religion and my revolution."

Then, anger overtook him. "My anger is not targeted at anyone in particular," he said. "It's because I can't breathe. All those who are suffering from gas exposure have the same anger."

Mr. Moussavi's father, Reza, by contrast, is angry at the foundation. He has been lobbying for years for a special oxygen maker made in the United States that does not need to be refilled. "We've waited such a long time for the new machine," he told a representative of the foundation. "It will make so much difference for my son. You promised us one. You promised."

Other chemical weapons victims have accused the foundation of ignoring them because of their political beliefs.

The sentiment that the government is not doing enough is so deeply felt that it has been explored in films about the war. The 1998 award-winning film "The Glass Agency," for example, deals with the government's abandonment of the volunteer military forces by not sending a dying war veteran abroad for special treatment. But the film also explores the lack of public sympathy for the volunteers and the privileges disabled war veterans enjoy.

For Dr. Sohrabpour, the issue is more complicated. "Some patients agree with whatever the government tells them," he said, "but others feel they were used by the government as a tool and now they have been neglected. Then there are those who believe that because they are war wounded all their demands should be met, even when we know there is no cure or special treatment for them.

"My experience with all these patients is that they're very demanding. They get nervous and depressed. And they have a right to be so."



Iran expects: Will Iraq's liberation help free its neighbor too?
By Fouad Ajami
The Wall St. Journal
February 13, 2003

If and when it comes, a military campaign in Iraq would be the third to be waged in the service of the Pax Americana at Iran's doorstep.

The first was Desert Storm, the second the Afghan war. In both Iran was, for all practical purposes, America's silent partner, a beneficiary of America's technological mastery. A hated Great Power had come and waged devastating war against reviled neighbors. For Iran, those spectacles were loaded with meaning, and ambivalence: Those reviled regimes in Kabul and Baghdad are culturally and technologically of Iran's own world, while the Great Power is of a different order. There, but for the grace of God, and the wiliness and caution of Iran's rulers, go the Iranians themselves. In those Iraqis and Afghans overwhelmed by precision bombing, Iran could gaze at its own condition. This Iranian duality is likely to persist in the current drive against Saddam Hussein. Iran's rulers will take the gift of American retribution, while staying on the sidelines in anxious dread of what an American victory holds out for a clerical regime unsure of its prospects within its own borders and beyond.

Iran's ambivalence about American power recalls something that T.E. Lawrence wrote about the Arabs in the Great War, as they witnessed the punishment their Turkish foes were receiving at the hands of the British. "The big guns" were pounding the Turks, and "the intervening hollows of the Dead Sea" drummed up the echoes of these guns. "The Arabs whispered 'They are nearer; the English are advancing; God deliver the men under the rain.' They were thinking compassionately of the passing Turks, so long their weak oppressors; whom, for their weakness though oppressors, they loved more than the strong foreigner with his blind indiscriminate justice." Saddam brought terrible ruin to Iran. He had had for his campaign the money of the Arab states, the tacit support of the Americans, and French weapons; he had depicted his war as a campaign to "quarantine" the Iranian revolution, to defend order and secularism against the revolutionary theocratic state. No lines had been drawn for him. Desert Storm did for Iran what Iran couldn't do for itself.

Likewise with the Taliban. There was no love lost for that cruel band of fanatics. It wasn't so much the doctrinal difference between the Sunni Afghans and the Shiism of Iran that was the cause of enmity, for Iran's rulers have been keen and able to construct alliances with Sunni Islamists. There were deep differences of temperament: Historically, Persia had always viewed Afghanistan as a land of banditry. In 1722, during a chaotic period in Persia's history, Afghan tribesmen captured the magnificent city of Isfahan. They were to stay there for nearly a decade. In the intervening history, that trauma was to endure as a reminder of the price the Persian realm paid for the deterioration of its public life. If the pain of Iran has been great in its modern history, so, too, has been its pride in its cultural accomplishments. It would be fair to say that for Iranians, Afghanistan is a country of poverty and brigandage, a land that has sent Iran waves of refugees, narcotics contraband and endless trouble. In 1998, it should be recalled, war seemed imminent between the Taliban and Iran. The Taliban had murdered nine Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif. Iran had massed troops on the border, but there was no taste in Iran for an adventure in the "badlands."

There was no need to celebrate the U.S. victory over the Taliban; it was enough that Iran averted its gaze, permitted the Americans overflight rights, and welcomed the victory of the Northern Alliance, which Iran had backed. Deep down, Iranians knew the wages of playing with political religion, and they were eager to rein in the furies of religious zeal right next door. True, American power was now directly on their eastern border in Afghanistan. The Iranians are realists. They knew that the Americans would be saddled with holding Afghanistan together, dealing with its destitution and misery. There was no panic that the U.S. could sponsor some orderly Afghan world of emancipated women and secular politics that would "show up" Iran's theocracy.

Saddam is, for Iranians, a different kind of enemy. He struck at their state when the new theocracy had begun to consolidate its rule. A whole Iranian generation was decimated in the trenches of that primitive, senseless war. Saddam had the temerity to claim Islam in that war as a racial, Arab, inheritance. He dismissed Iranians as "fire-worshipping Persians," feeding off the atavisms in the Arab-Persian divide. Desert Storm the spectacle of the tyrant's armies surrendering to Americans, fleeing for their lives had in it elements of divine retribution. There was the catharsis of a Persian passion play, the wicked getting his comeuppance. So what if the avenger was himself unjust?

Iran and Iraq are different, and the Bush administration knows the difference. Iran has the elements of change within it; Iraq will have to be changed by force. U.S. policy has been more subtle on Iran than its critics would have us believe. No credible American scenario envisages a war against Iran once the dust of battle settles in Iraq. The Iranians must know this, even as their clerical rulers protest their inclusion in the "axis of evil." Patience, deadly and dangerous in dealing with Iraq (in my view), could work in Iran's case. In this regard, the policy of the Bush administration has been on the mark. There has been no urge to court Iran. The zeal with which the Clinton administration pursued an accommodation with Iran's rulers has been cast aside. This has been one of the lessons of Sept. 11: Why court hated rulers if this only gets you the enmity of their resentful populations? It was in this vein that President Bush pitched his policy on Iran in his State of the Union address. A distinction was made between the Iranian theocracy and Iraq: "Different threats require different strategies." The regime in Iran was put on notice for its support of terror and its pursuit of weapons of destruction. But the people of Iran and their "aspirations to live in freedom" were embraced.

A silent revolution is under way in Iran; it lacks the fury of what played out in 1978-79. It is the imploding of the theocratic edifice, the aging of a revolution that has lost the consent of its children. A young Iranian-American author, Afshin Molavi, in a compelling new book, "Persian Pilgrimages," has just brought us fragments of that burdened land. It is of green cards and visas to foreign lands that the young of Iran now dream; in the year 2000, some 200,000 Iranian professionals quit their native land for Western shores. In a recent public-opinion survey, three out of four Iranians said they favored restoring relations with Washington. Iran is at the crossroads. In one vision of things, Tehran would barter the influence it has in Lebanon, through its sponsorship of Hezbollah, for a deal with Israel and a return to that covert understanding that once bound the Jewish state to Iran. In this vision, there would be a gradual accommodation with the U.S., an acceptance of America's primacy in the Persian Gulf. In the rival vision, Iran would continue to muddle through, alternating terror and diplomacy, hinting at moderation and then pulling back, offering its betrayed people more sterility, and a diet of anti-Americanism at odds with the fixation of young Iranians.

As Iran battles its own demons, we needn't let our obsession with the power of the Iranian revolution that paralyzed American power after Desert Storm do so again in Iraq. Our fear of Iran was a factor of no small consequence in our walking away from the Shia and Kurdish rebellions that erupted against Saddam. America didn't know that world, and it was easy to see the Shiites of Iraq as followers of the Iranian clerical regime, a potential "sister republic" in Iran's image. But the Shiites of Iraq are Iraqis and Arabs through and through. The Arabic literary tradition is their pride, the Arab tribal norms their defining culture. They are their country's majority, and thus eager to maintain its independence. The sacred geography of Shiism is in Iraq--in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and Samarra. Before Saddam shattered the autonomy of Iraq's clerical Shiite establishment, a healthy measure of competition was the norm between the Shiite clerical seminarians of Iraq and those of Iran. In the 1980s, the Shiites of Iraq faced the choice between religious faith and patriotism; they chose the later, fought Saddam's war against Iran, and paid dearly for it. Few Iraqis, I would hazard to guess, would want their country to slip into Iran's orbit.

It is in the nature of things today, in an Iranian society deeply divided between those who would bury the revolution and join the world, and others hell-bent on keeping the theocracy, and their own dominion, intact, that the American drive against Iraq would be defined by that chasm. For those who want to normalize Iran, the thunder of war against Iraq is the coming of a blessed rain. The Americans would be nearby, but what of it? Liberty is rarely a foreigner's gift, and no American war in Iran's neighborhood will settle the fight between theocratic zealots and those in Iran who have twice, in presidential elections, cast their votes for a reform that never came. But the "contagion effect" of a liberated Iraq will no doubt have a role to play in the fight for Iran's future. In Persia, there will be multitudes hoping that the foreigner's storm will be mighty enough to clear their foul sky.

(Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins, is a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report.)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.