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A Poisonous Affair
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  • Page extent: 346 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.604 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 956.7044/1
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: DS79.9.H27 H55 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Halabjah (Iraq)--History--Bombardment, 1988
    • Kurds--Crimes against--Iraq
    • Iraq--Ethnic relations
    • United States--Foreign relations--Iraq
    • Iraq--Foreign relations--United States

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521876865)

In March 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, thousands were killed in a chemical attack in a remote town in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the aftermath of the horror, confusion reigned over who had carried it out, each side accusing the other in the ongoing bloodbath of the Iran-Iraq war. As the fog lifted, the responsibility of Saddam Hussein's regime was revealed, and with it the tacit support of Iraq's western allies. This book by a veteran observer of human rights in the Middle East tells the story of the gassing of Halabja. It shows how Iraq was able to develop ever-more sophisticated chemical weapons and target Iranian soldiers and Kurdish villagers as America looked the other way. Today, as Iraq disintegrates and the Middle East sinks further into turmoil, these policies are coming back to haunt America and the West.

• A unique account of the use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war • Written by the Middle East Project Director for the International Crisis Group, a sophisticated and experienced commentator • Invaluable reading for policy makers, journalists, students of politics, history, war and international relations


Introduction: the Halabja controversy; 1. Crossing the chemical threshold; 2. Setting the volume control; 3. Chemical interlude; 4. War in Kurdistan; 5. Halabja; 6. The Halabja demonstration effect; 7. Iran and the use of gas; 8. Fixing the evidence; 9. The road to Kuwait; Conclusion: fall-out.


'… comprehensive and powerful delineation not only of what happened that day but of all those who helped bring it about.' Andrew Cockburn, The Nation

'The tragedy of Halabja, and the larger story of Iraqi use of the gas weapon against both Iranians and Kurds in the eighties, leaves the reader with … a sense of desolation. Joost Hiltermann tells the story without recourse to condemnatory prose, all the more effectively for that. Through study of documents, including those newly available after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and interviews with former Iraqi, Iranian, Kurdish and American officers, politicians, soldiers, and others, he has put together the most complete reconstruction of Halabja, and the events around it we are likely to get. He also explores consequences still with us today.' Martin Woollacott (commentator on international affairs for the Guardian), Frontline Club

'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 Iraq used chemical weapons early and often, whereas Iran essentially did not, if only because it lacked the capacity to do so effectively. … 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.' L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs

'Joost R. Hiltermann, a former Human Rights Watch investigator … traces America's current predicament to its collusion with Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and America's silence over his repeated use of chemical weapons.' Washington Post

'Here is a model of investigative reporting.' Foreign Affairs

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