In the Dec. 11 New York Times, C.J. Chivers mentioned in passing that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had “admitted for the first time that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iran, and in Halabja.” Or rather, Chivers wrote that the Kurdish media had reported that. Even granting that Chivers’ piece was an on-the-ground report about Halabja today, it seemed an odd fact to downplay, especially since Chivers seemed to believe it. “Mr. Hussein’s government finally admitted the truth last week,” Chivers wrote.
That Saddam’s regime would finally admit to a monstrous crime it denied for so long struck Chatterbox as a big story. But the Times provided no follow-up. Apart from Chatterbox’s Slate colleague Christopher Hitchens (here and here), no one paid any heed to this historic development reported in America’s newspaper of record. (Despite the cavils of former CIA man Stephen Pelletiere, which are probably the residue of the U.S. government’s former pro-Iraqi tilt, the evidence that Iraq gassed the Kurds is incontrovertible.) Why didn’t Secretary of State Colin Powell, in making his unsettlingly persuasive case for war at the United Nations, point out that Saddam no longer denies having gassed his own people?
Because it isn’t true. Chatterbox can’t find the original report in the Kurdish media, but it no doubt resembled this one, dated Dec. 13, which says Aziz made the admission in an interview for Swedish television. A BBC translation of the transcript shows that Aziz made no such admission in the interview (which aired Dec. 4). Here’s the exchange on Halabja:
Q: Another event I would like to ask you about is Halabja in 1988, when the Kurds were gassed. I checked very, very thoroughly on this because I know that you have said that this never happened, that Saddam Hussein was not responsible—A [interrupting]: There wasn’t any proper investigation about this. It is a bunch of allegations made by the Iranians at that time. As I said, one of the American institutes which belonged to the Pentagon investigated for its own purposes and the last report was published in 1989. That was the Iranians who first used the gas, but now they are using it of course because they are using each and every lie, you see, against the Iraqi leadership.
Whether Iraq has come clean about Halabja is a matter of strong interest around the world. Having previously reported that Aziz “admitted the truth” about Halabja, the Times is obliged now to inform its readers that Aziz did no such thing. Iraq is continuing to lie about Halabja.