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In March 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, thousands were killed in a chemical attack on a town in Iraqi Kurdistan. Both sides accused the other. Gradually it emerged that Saddam Hussein, with the tacit support of his western allies, was responsible. This book tells the story of the gassing of Halabja, and how Iraq amassed chemical weapons to target Iranian soldiers and Kurdish villagers as America looked the other way. Today, as the Middle East sinks further into turmoil, these policies are coming back to haunt the West.Read more
- 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
Reviews & endorsements
"Joost Hiltermann has written an authoritative account of the real use of weapons of mass destruction in the contemporary Middle East - Saddam Hussein's massive use of chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980s. His research documents with great persuasiveness not only Iraqi crimes but also the culpability of those in the international community who carefully looked the other way or tacitly collaborated. "
Gary Sick, former member of the National Security Council staff, Director of the Gulf/2000 Project, Columbia UniversitySee more reviews
"In A Poisonous Affair Joost Hiltermann has crafted a gripping narrative out of some of the most chilling events of the last two decades. But A Poisonous Affair is not simply a rigorous and important piece of history. By revisiting Saddam Hussein's worst massacre and the US response to it, Hilterman masterfully excavates the roots of our current predicament. He shows how the traumatization of the Kurds spawned their mistrust of all things Iraqi, fueling the separatism of the present. He reveals the degree to which America's support for Saddam while he was gassing his own people bred fierce and lasting skepticism about whether Washington could be trusted in the region. And he demonstrates how America's indifference to Saddam's chemical attacks on Iran helped convince Iran to go it alone, and to acquire its own weapons of mass destruction. Hilterman has given us a necessary book about a ghastly crime, the legacy of which we will be managing for decades to come."
Samantha Power, Harvard University, and author of A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide
"Joost Hiltermann is one of the Iraq observers that journalists and policymakers count on most for historical memory and acute analysis. In A Poisonous Affair he has produced a gracefully written and timely reminder that the combination of weapons of mass destruction, geo-political mendacity, and vast human suffering has a rich history in Iraq. The story of Halabja reveals at once why the regime of Saddam Hussein deserved to fall and why America was a dubious agent of its demise."
George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq
"[A] comprehensive and powerful delineation not only of what happened that day but of all those who helped bring it about...Although Hiltermann's overall account of the background to Halabja is indispensable, it is his theme of witting US complicity, backed by years of meticulous research, that strikes the most chilling note." - Andrew Cockburn, The Nation
"Hiltermann's A Poisonous Affair is a chilling account of the gassing of Halabja, a village in Iraq's Kurdish region, in March 1988 and the subsequent counterinsurgency campaign known as Anfal ("The Spoils"), in which some 80,000 Kurdish civilians were driven from their homes by poison gas, hauled to transit centers, sorted by age and sex, and carted off to execution sites in Iraq's western desert." - The Washington Post
"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. - Foreign Affairs
"Here is a model of investigative reporting." - L. Carol Brown, Foreign Affairs
"The book is meticulously researched."
Mike Amitay, Middle East Journal
"Hiltermann recounts the events surrounding the Halabja massacre in detail, highlighting the confusion the followed the attacks..."
-Michael Rubin, Middle East Quarterly
"...the book makes a positive contribution in understanding the complex results emanating from the mingling of regional and international groups with the affairs of other states and the communities which live with them."
- Magid Shihade, Canadian Journal of History
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- Date Published: June 2007
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9780521876865
- length: 348 pages
- dimensions: 229 x 152 x 24 mm
- weight: 0.68kg
- availability: Available, despatch within 1-2 weeks
Table of Contents
Introduction: the Halabja controversy
1. Crossing the chemical threshold
2. Setting the volume control
3. Chemical interlude
4. War in Kurdistan
6. The Halabja demonstration effect
7. Iran and the use of gas
8. Fixing the evidence
9. The road to Kuwait
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