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[casi] J.Goldberg's controversial article in The New Yorker

Dear casi members,

Here's J.Goldberg's controversial article in The New Yorker




European Forum for Freedom in Education
Minorities Group
Research & Documentation & Analysis



In northern Iraq, there is new evidence of Saddam Hussein's genocidal war
on the Kurds—and of his possible ties to Al Qaeda.

Issue of 2002-03-25
Posted 2002-03-25
In the late morning of March 16, 1988, an Iraqi Air Force helicopter
appeared over the city of Halabja, which is about fifteen miles from the
border with Iran. The Iran-Iraq War was then in its eighth year, and
Halabja was near the front lines. At the time, the city was home to roughly
eighty thousand Kurds, who were well accustomed to the proximity of
violence to ordinary life. Like most of Iraqi Kurdistan, Halabja was in
perpetual revolt against the regime of Saddam Hussein, and its inhabitants
were supporters of the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters whose name means
"those who face death."

A young woman named Nasreen Abdel Qadir Muhammad was outside her family's
house, preparing food, when she saw the helicopter. The Iranians and the
peshmerga had just attacked Iraqi military outposts around Halabja, forcing
Saddam's soldiers to retreat. Iranian Revolutionary Guards then infiltrated
the city, and the residents assumed that an Iraqi counterattack was
imminent. Nasreen and her family expected to spend yet another day in their
cellar, which was crude and dark but solid enough to withstand artillery
shelling, and even napalm.

"At about ten o'clock, maybe closer to ten-thirty, I saw the helicopter,"
Nasreen told me. "It was not attacking, though. There were men inside it,
taking pictures. One had a regular camera, and the other held what looked
like a video camera. They were coming very close. Then they went away."

Nasreen thought that the sight was strange, but she was preoccupied with
lunch; she and her sister Rangeen were preparing rice, bread, and beans for
the thirty or forty relatives who were taking shelter in the cellar.
Rangeen was fifteen at the time. Nasreen was just sixteen, but her father
had married her off several months earlier, to a cousin, a thirty-year-old
physician's assistant named Bakhtiar Abdul Aziz. Halabja is a conservative
place, and many more women wear the veil than in the more cosmopolitan
Kurdish cities to the northwest and the Arab cities to the south.

The bombardment began shortly before eleven. The Iraqi Army, positioned on
the main road from the nearby town of Sayid Sadiq, fired artillery shells
into Halabja, and the Air Force began dropping what is thought to have been
napalm on the town, especially the northern area. Nasreen and Rangeen
rushed to the cellar. Nasreen prayed that Bakhtiar, who was then outside
the city, would find shelter.

The attack had ebbed by about two o'clock, and Nasreen made her way
carefully upstairs to the kitchen, to get the food for the family. "At the
end of the bombing, the sound changed," she said. "It wasn't so loud. It
was like pieces of metal just dropping without exploding. We didn't know
why it was so quiet."

A short distance away, in a neighborhood still called the Julakan, or
Jewish quarter, even though Halabja's Jews left for Israel in the
nineteen-fifties, a middle-aged man named Muhammad came up from his own
cellar and saw an unusual sight: "A helicopter had come back to the town,
and the soldiers were throwing white pieces of paper out the side." In
retrospect, he understood that they were measuring wind speed and
direction. Nearby, a man named Awat Omer, who was twenty at the time, was
overwhelmed by a smell of garlic and apples.

Nasreen gathered the food quickly, but she, too, noticed a series of odd
smells carried into the house by the wind. "At first, it smelled bad, like
garbage," she said. "And then it was a good smell, like sweet apples. Then
like eggs." Before she went downstairs, she happened to check on a caged
partridge that her father kept in the house. "The bird was dying," she
said. "It was on its side." She looked out the window. "It was very quiet,
but the animals were dying. The sheep and goats were dying." Nasreen ran to
the cellar. "I told everybody there was something wrong. There was
something wrong with the air."

The people in the cellar were panicked. They had fled downstairs to escape
the bombardment, and it was difficult to abandon their shelter. Only
splinters of light penetrated the basement, but the dark provided a strange
comfort. "We wanted to stay in hiding, even though we were getting sick,"
Nasreen said. She felt a sharp pain in her eyes, like stabbing needles. "My
sister came close to my face and said, 'Your eyes are very red.' Then the
children started throwing up. They kept throwing up. They were in so much
pain, and crying so much. They were crying all the time. My mother was
crying. Then the old people started throwing up."
Chemical weapons had been dropped on Halabja by the Iraqi Air Force, which
understood that any underground shelter would become a gas chamber. "My
uncle said we should go outside," Nasreen said. "We knew there were
chemicals in the air. We were getting red eyes, and some of us had liquid
coming out of them. We decided to run." Nasreen and her relatives stepped
outside gingerly. "Our cow was lying on its side," she recalled. "It was
breathing very fast, as if it had been running. The leaves were falling off
the trees, even though it was spring. The partridge was dead. There were
smoke clouds around, clinging to the ground. The gas was heavier than the
air, and it was finding the wells and going down the wells."

The family judged the direction of the wind, and decided to run the
opposite way. Running proved difficult. "The children couldn't walk, they
were so sick," Nasreen said. "They were exhausted from throwing up. We
carried them in our arms."

Across the city, other families were making similar decisions. Nouri Hama
Ali, who lived in the northern part of town, decided to lead his family in
the direction of Anab, a collective settlement on the outskirts of Halabja
that housed Kurds displaced when the Iraqi Army destroyed their villages.
"On the road to Anab, many of the women and children began to die," Nouri
told me. "The chemical clouds were on the ground. They were heavy. We could
see them." People were dying all around, he said. When a child could not go
on, the parents, becoming hysterical with fear, abandoned him. "Many
children were left on the ground, by the side of the road. Old people as
well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die."

Nasreen's family did not move quickly. "We wanted to wash ourselves off and
find water to drink," she said. "We wanted to wash the faces of the
children who were vomiting. The children were crying for water. There was
powder on the ground, white. We couldn't decide whether to drink the water
or not, but some people drank the water from the well they were so

They ran in a panic through the city, Nasreen recalled, in the direction of
Anab. The bombardment continued intermittently, Air Force planes circling
overhead. "People were showing different symptoms. One person touched some
of the powder, and her skin started bubbling."

A truck came by, driven by a neighbor. People threw themselves aboard. "We
saw people lying frozen on the ground," Nasreen told me. "There was a small
baby on the ground, away from her mother. I thought they were both
sleeping. But she had dropped the baby and then died. And I think the baby
tried to crawl away, but it died, too. It looked like everyone was

At that moment, Nasreen believed that she and her family would make it to
high ground and live. Then the truck stopped. "The driver said he couldn't
go on, and he wandered away. He left his wife in the back of the truck. He
told us to flee if we could. The chemicals affected his brain, because why
else would someone abandon his family?"

As heavy clouds of gas smothered the city, people became sick and confused.
Awat Omer was trapped in his cellar with his family; he said that his
brother began laughing uncontrollably and then stripped off his clothes,
and soon afterward he died. As night fell, the family's children grew
sicker—too sick to move.
Nasreen's husband could not be found, and she began to think that all was
lost. She led the children who were able to walk up the road.

In another neighborhood, Muhammad Ahmed Fattah, who was twenty, was
overwhelmed by an oddly sweet odor of sulfur, and he, too, realized that he
must evacuate his family; there were about a hundred and sixty people
wedged into the cellar. "I saw the bomb drop," Muhammad told me. "It was
about thirty metres from the house. I shut the door to the cellar. There
was shouting and crying in the cellar, and then people became short of
breath." One of the first to be stricken by the gas was Muhammad's brother
Salah. "His eyes were pink," Muhammad recalled. "There was something coming
out of his eyes. He was so thirsty he was demanding water." Others in the
basement began suffering tremors.

March 16th was supposed to be Muhammad's wedding day. "Every preparation
was done," he said. His fiancée, a woman named Bahar Jamal, was among the
first in the cellar to die. "She was crying very hard," Muhammad recalled.
"I tried to calm her down. I told her it was just the usual artillery
shells, but it didn't smell the usual way weapons smelled. She was smart,
she knew what was happening. She died on the stairs. Her father tried to
help her, but it was too late."

Death came quickly to others as well. A woman named Hamida Mahmoud tried to
save her two-year-old daughter by allowing her to nurse from her breast.
Hamida thought that the baby wouldn't breathe in the gas if she was
nursing, Muhammad said, adding, "The baby's name was Dashneh. She nursed
for a long time. Her mother died while she was nursing. But she kept
nursing." By the time Muhammad decided to go outside, most of the people in
the basement were unconscious; many were dead, including his parents and
three of his siblings.

Nasreen said that on the road to Anab all was confusion. She and the
children were running toward the hills, but they were going blind. "The
children were crying, 'We can't see! My eyes are bleeding!' " In the chaos,
the family got separated. Nasreen's mother and father were both lost.
Nasreen and several of her cousins and siblings inadvertently led the
younger children in a circle, back into the city. Someone—she doesn't know
who—led them away from the city again and up a hill, to a small mosque,
where they sought shelter. "But we didn't stay in the mosque, because we
thought it would be a target," Nasreen said. They went to a small house
nearby, and Nasreen scrambled to find food and water for the children. By
then, it was night, and she was exhausted.

Bakhtiar, Nasreen's husband, was frantic. Outside the city when the attacks
started, he had spent much of the day searching for his wife and the rest
of his family. He had acquired from a clinic two syringes of atropine, a
drug that helps to counter the effects of nerve agents. He injected himself
with one of the syringes, and set out to find Nasreen. He had no hope. "My
plan was to bury her," he said. "At least I should bury my new wife."
After hours of searching, Bakhtiar met some neighbors, who remembered
seeing Nasreen and the children moving toward the mosque on the hill. "I
called out the name Nasreen," he said. "I heard crying, and I went inside
the house. When I got there, I found that Nasreen was alive but blind.
Everybody was blind."

Nasreen had lost her sight about an hour or two before Bakhtiar found her.
She had been searching the house for food, so that she could feed the
children, when her eyesight failed. "I found some milk and I felt my way to
them and then I found their mouths and gave them milk," she said.

Bakhtiar organized the children. "I wanted to bring them to the well. I
washed their heads. I took them two by two and washed their heads. Some of
them couldn't come. They couldn't control their muscles."

Bakhtiar still had one syringe of atropine, but he did not inject his wife;
she was not the worst off in the group. "There was a woman named Asme, who
was my neighbor," Bakhtiar recalled. "She was not able to breathe. She was
yelling and she was running into a wall, crashing her head into a wall. I
gave the atropine to this woman." Asme died soon afterward. "I could have
used it for Nasreen," Bakhtiar said. "I could have."

After the Iraqi bombardment subsided, the Iranians managed to retake
Halabja, and they evacuated many of the sick, including Nasreen and the
others in her family, to hospitals in Tehran.

Nasreen was blind for twenty days. "I was thinking the whole time, Where is
my family? But I was blind. I couldn't do anything. I asked my husband
about my mother, but he said he didn't know anything. He was looking in
hospitals, he said. He was avoiding the question."

The Iranian Red Crescent Society, the equivalent of the Red Cross, began
compiling books of photographs, pictures of the dead in Halabja. "The Red
Crescent has an album of the people who were buried in Iran," Nasreen said.
"And we found my mother in one of the albums." Her father, she discovered,
was alive but permanently blinded. Five of her siblings, including Rangeen,
had died.

Nasreen would live, the doctors said, but she kept a secret from Bakhtiar:
"When I was in the hospital, I started menstruating. It wouldn't stop. I
kept bleeding. We don't talk about this in our society, but eventually a
lot of women in the hospital confessed they were also menstruating and
couldn't stop." Doctors gave her drugs that stopped the bleeding, but they
told her that she would be unable to bear children.

Nasreen stayed in Iran for several months, but eventually she and Bakhtiar
returned to Kurdistan. She didn't believe the doctors who told her that she
would be infertile, and in 1991 she gave birth to a boy. "We named him
Arazoo," she said. Arazoo means hope in Kurdish. "He was healthy at first,
but he had a hole in his heart. He died at the age of three months."

I met Nasreen last month in Erbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan. She
is thirty now, a pretty woman with brown eyes and high cheekbones, but her
face is expressionless. She doesn't seek pity; she would, however, like a
doctor to help her with a cough that she's had ever since the attack,
fourteen years ago. Like many of Saddam Hussein's victims, she tells her
story without emotion.

During my visit to Kurdistan, I talked with more than a hundred victims of
Saddam's campaign against the Kurds. Saddam has been persecuting the Kurds
ever since he took power, more than twenty years ago. Several old women
whose husbands were killed by Saddam's security services expressed a kind
of animal hatred toward him, but most people, like Nasreen, told stories of
horrific cruelty with a dispassion and a precision that underscored their
credibility. Credibility is important to the Kurds; after all this time,
they still feel that the world does not believe their story.

A week after I met Nasreen, I visited a small village called Goktapa,
situated in a green valley that is ringed by snow-covered mountains.
Goktapa came under poison-gas attack six weeks after Halabja. The village
consists of low mud-brick houses along dirt paths. In Goktapa, an old man
named Ahmed Raza Sharif told me that on the day of the attack on Goktapa,
May 3, 1988, he was in the fields outside the village. He saw the shells
explode and smelled the sweet-apple odor as poison filled the air. His son,
Osman Ahmed, who was sixteen at the time, was near the village mosque when
he was felled by the gas. He crawled down a hill and died among the reeds
on the banks of the Lesser Zab, the river that flows by the village. His
father knew that he was dead, but he couldn't reach the body. As many as a
hundred and fifty people died in the attack; the survivors fled before the
advancing Iraqi Army, which levelled the village. Ahmed Raza Sharif did not
return for three years. When he did, he said, he immediately began
searching for his son's body. He found it still lying in the reeds. "I
recognized his body right away," he said.

The summer sun in Iraq is blisteringly hot, and a corpse would be
unidentifiable three years after death. I tried to find a gentle way to
express my doubts, but my translator made it clear to Sharif that I didn't
believe him.
We were standing in the mud yard of another old man, Ibrahim Abdul Rahman.
Twenty or thirty people, a dozen boys among them, had gathered. Some of
them seemed upset that I appeared to doubt the story, but Ahmed hushed
them. "It's true, he lost all the flesh on his body," he said. "He was just
a skeleton. But the clothes were his, and they were still on the skeleton,
a belt and a shirt. In the pocket of his shirt I found the key to our
tractor. That's where he always kept the key."

Some of the men still seemed concerned that I would leave Goktapa doubting
their truthfulness. Ibrahim, the man in whose yard we were standing, called
out a series of orders to the boys gathered around us. They dispersed, to
houses and storerooms, returning moments later holding jagged pieces of
metal, the remnants of the bombs that poisoned Goktapa. Ceremoniously, the
boys dropped the pieces of metal at my feet. "Here are the mercies of Uncle
Saddam," Ibrahim said.


The story of Halabja did not end the night the Iraqi Air Force planes
returned to their bases. The Iranians invited the foreign press to record
the devastation. Photographs of the victims, supine, bleached of color,
littering the gutters and alleys of the town, horrified the world. Saddam
Hussein's attacks on his own citizens mark the only time since the
Holocaust that poison gas has been used to exterminate women and children.
Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who led the campaigns against the
Kurds in the late eighties, was heard on a tape captured by rebels, and
later obtained by Human Rights Watch, addressing members of Iraq's ruling
Baath Party on the subject of the Kurds. "I will kill them all with
chemical weapons!" he said. "Who is going to say anything? The
international community? Fuck them! The international community and those
who listen to them."

Attempts by Congress in 1988 to impose sanctions on Iraq were stifled by
the Reagan and Bush Administrations, and the story of Saddam's surviving
victims might have vanished completely had it not been for the reporting of
people like Randal and the work of a British documentary filmmaker named
Gwynne Roberts, who, after hearing stories about a sudden spike in the
incidence of birth defects and cancers, not only in Halabja but also in
other parts of Kurdistan, had made some disturbing films on the subject.
However, no Western government or United Nations agency took up the cause.

In 1998, Roberts brought an Englishwoman named Christine Gosden to
Kurdistan. Gosden is a medical geneticist and a professor at the medical
school of the University of Liverpool. She spent three weeks in the
hospitals in Kurdistan, and came away determined to help the Kurds. To the
best of my knowledge, Gosden is the only Western scientist who has even
begun making a systematic study of what took place in northern Iraq.
Gosden told me that her father was a high-ranking officer in the Royal Air
Force, and that as a child she lived in Germany, near Bergen-Belsen. "It's
tremendously influential in your early years to live near a concentration
camp," she said. In Kurdistan, she heard echoes of the German campaign to
destroy the Jews. "The Iraqi government was using chemistry to reduce the
population of Kurds," she said. "The Holocaust is still having its effect.
The Jews are fewer in number now than they were in 1939. That's not
natural. Now, if you take out two hundred thousand men and boys from
Kurdistan"—an estimate of the number of Kurds who were gassed or otherwise
murdered in the campaign, most of whom were men and boys—"you've affected
the population structure. There are a lot of widows who are not having

Richard Butler, an Australian diplomat who chaired the United Nations
weapons-inspection team in Iraq, describes Gosden as "a classic English,
old-school-tie kind of person." Butler has tracked her research since she
began studying the attacks, four years ago, and finds it credible.
"Occasionally, people say that this is Christine's obsession, but obsession
is not a bad thing," he added.

Before I went to Kurdistan, in January, I spent a day in London with
Gosden. We gossiped a bit, and she scolded me for having visited a
Washington shopping mall without appropriate protective equipment. Whenever
she goes to a mall, she brings along a polyurethane bag "big enough to step
into" and a bottle of bleach. "I can detoxify myself immediately," she

Gosden believes it is quite possible that the countries of the West will
soon experience chemical- and biological-weapons attacks far more serious
and of greater lasting effect than the anthrax incidents of last autumn and
the nerve-agent attack on the Tokyo subway system several years ago—that
what happened in Kurdistan was only the beginning. "For Saddam's
scientists, the Kurds were a test population," she said. "They were the
human guinea pigs. It was a way of identifying the most effective chemical
agents for use on civilian populations, and the most effective means of

The charge is supported by others. An Iraqi defector, Khidhir Hamza, who is
the former director of Saddam's nuclear-weapons program, told me earlier
this year that before the attack on Halabja military doctors had mapped the
city, and that afterward they entered it wearing protective clothing, in
order to study the dispersal of the dead. "These were field tests, an
experiment on a town," Hamza told me. He said that he had direct knowledge
of the Army's procedures that day in Halabja. "The doctors were given
sheets with grids on them, and they had to answer questions such as 'How
far are the dead from the cannisters?' "

Gosden said that she cannot understand why the West has not been more eager
to investigate the chemical attacks in Kurdistan. "It seems a matter of
enlightened self-interest that the West would want to study the long-term
effects of chemical weapons on civilians, on the DNA," she told me. "I've
seen Europe's worst cancers, but, believe me, I have never seen cancers
like the ones I saw in Kurdistan."

According to an ongoing survey conducted by a team of Kurdish physicians
and organized by Gosden and a small advocacy group called the Washington
Kurdish Institute, more than two hundred towns and villages across
Kurdistan were attacked by poison gas—far more than was previously
thought—in the course of seventeen months. The number of victims is
unknown, but doctors I met in Kurdistan believe that up to ten per cent of
the population of northern Iraq—nearly four million people—has been exposed
to chemical weapons. "Saddam Hussein poisoned northern Iraq," Gosden said
when I left for Halabja. "The questions, then, are what to do? And what
comes next?"


The Kurdish people, it is often said, make up the largest stateless nation
in the world. They have been widely despised by their neighbors for
centuries. There are roughly twenty-five million Kurds, most of them spread
across four countries in southwestern Asia: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
The Kurds are neither Arab, Persian, nor Turkish; they are a distinct
ethnic group, with their own culture and language. Most Kurds are Muslim
(the most famous Muslim hero of all, Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders,
was of Kurdish origin), but there are Jewish and Christian Kurds, and also
followers of the Yezidi religion, which has its roots in Sufism and
Zoroastrianism. The Kurds are experienced mountain fighters, who tend
toward stubbornness and have frequent bouts of destructive infighting.

After centuries of domination by foreign powers, the Kurds had their best
chance at independence after the First World War, when President Woodrow
Wilson promised the Kurds, along with other groups left drifting and
exposed by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a large measure of autonomy.
But the machinations of the great powers, who were becoming interested in
Kurdistan's vast oil deposits, in Mosul and Kirkuk, quickly did the Kurds
out of a state.

In the nineteen-seventies, the Iraqi Kurds allied themselves with the Shah
of Iran in a territorial dispute with Iraq. America, the Shah's patron,
once again became the Kurds' patron, too, supplying them with arms for a
revolt against Baghdad. But a secret deal between the Iraqis and the Shah,
arranged in 1975 by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, cut off the Kurds
and brought about their instant collapse; for the Kurds, it was an ugly

The Kurdish safe haven, in northern Iraq, was born of another American
betrayal. In 1991, after the United States helped drive Iraq out of Kuwait,
President George Bush ignored an uprising that he himself had stoked, and
Kurds and Shiites in Iraq were slaughtered by the thousands. Thousands more
fled the country, the Kurds going to Turkey, and almost immediately
creating a humanitarian disaster. The Bush Administration, faced with a
televised catastrophe, declared northern Iraq a no-fly zone and thus a safe
haven, a tactic that allowed the refugees to return home. And so, under the
protective shield of the United States and British Air Forces, the
unplanned Kurdish experiment in self-government began. Although the Kurdish
safe haven is only a virtual state, it is an incipient democracy, a home of
progressive Islamic thought and pro-American feeling.

Today, Iraqi Kurdistan is split between two dominant parties: the Kurdistan
Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, whose General Secretary is Jalal Talabani. The two parties have
had an often angry relationship, and in the mid-nineties they fought a war
that left about a thousand soldiers dead. The parties, realizing that they
could not rule together, decided to rule apart, dividing Kurdistan into two
zones. The internal political divisions have not aided the Kurds' cause,
but neighboring states also have fomented disunity, fearing that a unified
Kurdish population would agitate for independence.

Turkey, with a Kurdish population of between fifteen and twenty million,
has repressed the Kurds in the eastern part of the country, politically and
militarily, on and off since the founding of the modern Turkish state. In
1924, the government of Atatürk restricted the use of the Kurdish language
(a law not lifted until 1991) and expressions of Kurdish culture; to this
day, the Kurds are referred to in nationalist circles as "mountain Turks."
Turkey is not eager to see Kurds anywhere draw attention to themselves,
which is why the authorities in Ankara refused to let me cross the border
into Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran, whose Kurdish population numbers between six
and eight million, was not helpful, either, and my only option for gaining
entrance to Kurdistan was through its third neighbor, Syria. The Kurdistan
Democratic Party arranged for me to be met in Damascus and taken to the
eastern desert city of El Qamishli. From there, I was driven in a Land
Cruiser to the banks of the Tigris River, where a small wooden boat, with a
crew of one and an outboard motor, was waiting. The engine spluttered; when
I learned that the forward lines of the Iraqi Army were two miles
downstream, I began to paddle, too. On the other side of the river were
representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the peshmerga, the
Kurdish guerrillas, who wore pantaloons and turbans and were armed with
"Welcome to Kurdistan" read a sign at the water's edge greeting visitors to
a country that does not exist.

Halabja is a couple of hundred miles from the Syrian border, and I spent a
week crossing northern Iraq, making stops in the cities of Dahuk and Erbil
on the way. I was handed over to representatives of the Patriotic Union,
which controls Halabja, at a demilitarized zone west of the town of
Koysinjaq. From there, it was a two-hour drive over steep mountains to
Sulaimaniya, a city of six hundred and fifty thousand, which is the
cultural capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. In Sulaimaniya, I met Fouad Baban, one
of Kurdistan's leading physicians, who promised to guide me through the
scientific and political thickets of Halabja.

Baban, a pulmonary and cardiac specialist who has survived three terms in
Iraqi prisons, is sixty years old, and a man of impish good humor. He is
the Kurdistan coördinator of the Halabja Medical Institute, which was
founded by Gosden, Michael Amitay, the executive director of the Washington
Kurdish Institute, and a coalition of Kurdish doctors; for the doctors, it
is an act of bravery to be publicly associated with a project whose
scientific findings could be used as evidence if Saddam Hussein faced a
war-crimes tribunal. Saddam's agents are everywhere in the Kurdish zone,
and his tanks sit forty miles from Baban's office.

Soon after I arrived in Sulaimaniya, Baban and I headed out in his Toyota
Camry for Halabja. On a rough road, we crossed the plains of Sharazoor, a
region of black earth and honey-colored wheat ringed by jagged, snow-topped
mountains. We were not travelling alone. The Mukhabarat, the Iraqi
intelligence service, is widely reported to have placed a bounty on the
heads of Western journalists caught in Kurdistan (either ten thousand
dollars or twenty thousand dollars, depending on the source of the
information). The areas around the border with Iran are filled with
Tehran's spies, and members of Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist terror group,
were said to be decapitating people in the Halabja area. So the Kurds had
laid on a rather elaborate security detail. A Land Cruiser carrying
peshmerga guerrillas led the way, and we were followed by another Land
Cruiser, on whose bed was mounted an anti-aircraft weapon manned by six
peshmerga, some of whom wore black balaclavas. We were just south of the
American- and British-enforced no-fly zone. I had been told that, at the
beginning of the safe-haven experiment, the Americans had warned Saddam's
forces to stay away; a threat from the air, though unlikely, was, I
deduced, not out of the question.

"It seems very important to know the immediate and long-term effects of
chemical and biological weapons," Baban said, beginning my tutorial. "Here
is a civilian population exposed to chemical and possibly biological
weapons, and people are developing many varieties of cancers and congenital
abnormalities. The Americans are vulnerable to these weapons—they are
cheap, and terrorists possess them. So, after the anthrax attacks in the
States, I think it is urgent for scientific research to be done here."

Experts now believe that Halabja and other places in Kurdistan were struck
by a combination of mustard gas and nerve agents, including sarin (the
agent used in the Tokyo subway attack) and VX, a potent nerve agent.
Baban's suggestion that biological weapons may also have been used
surprised me. One possible biological weapon that Baban mentioned was
aflatoxin, which causes long-term liver damage.

A colleague of Baban's, a surgeon who practices in Dahuk, in northwestern
Kurdistan, and who is a member of the Halabja Medical Institute team, told
me more about the institute's survey, which was conducted in the Dahuk
region in 1999. The surveyors began, he said, by asking elementary
questions; eleven years after the attacks, they did not even know which
villages had been attacked.

"The team went to almost every village," the surgeon said. "At first, we
thought that the Dahuk governorate was the least affected. We knew of only
two villages that were hit by the attacks. But we came up with twenty-nine
in total. This is eleven years after the fact."

The surgeon is professorial in appearance, but he is deeply angry. He
doubles as a pediatric surgeon, because there are no pediatric surgeons in
Kurdistan. He has performed more than a hundred operations for cleft palate
on children born since 1988. Most of the agents believed to have been
dropped on Halabja have short half-lives, but, as Baban told me,
"physicians are unsure how long these toxins will affect the population.
How can we know agent half-life if we don't know the agent?" He added, "If
we knew the toxins that were used, we could follow them and see actions on
spermatogenesis and ovogenesis."

Increased rates of infertility, he said, are having a profound effect on
Kurdish society, which places great importance on large families. "You have
men divorcing their wives because they could not give birth, and then
marrying again, and then their second wives can't give birth, either," he
said. "Still, they don't blame their own problem with spermatogenesis."

Baban told me that the initial results of the Halabja Medical
Institute-sponsored survey show abnormally high rates of many diseases. He
said that he compared rates of colon cancer in Halabja with those in the
city of Chamchamal, which was not attacked with chemical weapons. "We are
seeing rates of colon cancer five times higher in Halabja than in
Chamchamal," he said.

There are other anomalies as well, Baban said. The rate of miscarriage in
Halabja, according to initial survey results, is fourteen times the rate of
miscarriage in Chamchamal; rates of infertility among men and women in the
affected population are many times higher than normal. "We're finding
Hiroshima levels of sterility," he said.

Then, there is the suspicion about snakes. "Have you heard about the
snakes?" he asked as we drove. I told him that I had heard rumors. "We
don't know if a genetic mutation in the snakes has made them more toxic,"
Baban went on, "or if the birds that eat the snakes were killed off in the
attacks, but there seem to be more snakebites, of greater toxicity, in
Halabja now than before." (I asked Richard Spertzel, a scientist and a
former member of the United Nations Special Commission inspections team, if
this was possible. Yes, he said, but such a rise in snakebites was more
likely due to "environmental imbalances" than to mutations.)

My conversation with Baban was suddenly interrupted by our guerrilla
escorts, who stopped the car and asked me to join them in one of the Land C
ruisers; we veered off across a wheat field, without explanation. I was
later told that we had been passing a mountain area that had recently had
problems with Islamic terrorists.

We arrived in Halabja half an hour later. As you enter the city, you see a
small statue modelled on the most famous photographic image of the Halabja
massacre: an old man, prone and lifeless, shielding his dead grandson with
his body.

A torpor seems to afflict Halabja; even its bazaar is listless and somewhat
empty, in marked contrast to those of other Kurdish cities, which are well
stocked with imported goods (history and circumstance have made the Kurds
enthusiastic smugglers) and are full of noise and activity. "Everyone here
is sick," a Halabja doctor told me. "The people who aren't sick are
depressed." He practices at the Martyrs' Hospital, which is situated on the
outskirts of the city. The hospital has no heat and little advanced
equipment; like the city itself, it is in a dilapidated state.

The doctor is a thin, jumpy man in a tweed jacket, and he smokes without
pause. He and Baban took me on a tour of the hospital. Afterward, we sat in
a bare office, and a woman was wheeled in. She looked seventy but said that
she was fifty; doctors told me she suffers from lung scarring so serious
that only a lung transplant could help, but there are no transplant centers
in Kurdistan. The woman, whose name is Jayran Muhammad, lost eight
relatives during the attack. Her voice was almost inaudible. "I was
disturbed psychologically for a long time," she told me as Baban
translated. "I believed my children were alive." Baban told me that her
lungs would fail soon, that she could barely breathe. "She is waiting to
die," he said. I met another woman, Chia Hammassat, who was eight at the
time of the attacks and has been blind ever since. Her mother, she said,
died of colon cancer several years ago, and her brother suffers from
chronic shortness of breath. "There is no hope to correct my vision," she
said, her voice flat. "I was married, but I couldn't fulfill the
responsibilities of a wife because I'm blind. My husband left me."

Baban said that in Halabja "there are more abnormal births than normal
ones," and other Kurdish doctors told me that they regularly see children
born with neural-tube defects and undescended testes and without anal
openings. They are seeing—and they showed me—children born with six or
seven toes on each foot, children whose fingers and toes are fused, and
children who suffer from leukemia and liver cancer.

I met Sarkar, a shy and intelligent boy with a harelip, a cleft palate, and
a growth on his spine. Sarkar had a brother born with the same set of
malformations, the doctor told me, but the brother choked to death, while
still a baby, on a grain of rice.

Meanwhile, more victims had gathered in the hallway; the people of Halabja
do not often have a chance to tell their stories to foreigners. Some of
them wanted to know if I was a surgeon, who had come to repair their
children's deformities, and they were disappointed to learn that I was a
journalist. The doctor and I soon left the hospital for a walk through the
northern neighborhoods of Halabja, which were hardest hit in the attack. We
were trailed by peshmerga carrying AK-47s. The doctor smoked as we talked,
and I teased him about his habit. "Smoking has some good effect on the
lungs," he said, without irony. "In the attacks, there was less effect on
smokers. Their lungs were better equipped for the mustard gas, maybe."

We walked through the alleyways of the Jewish quarter, past a former
synagogue in which eighty or so Halabjans died during the attack. Underfed
cows wandered the paths. The doctor showed me several cellars where
clusters of people had died. We knocked on the gate of one house, and were
let in by an old woman with a wide smile and few teeth. In the Kurdish
tradition, she immediately invited us for lunch.

She told us the recent history of the house. "Everyone who was in this
house died," she said. "The whole family. We heard there were one hundred
people." She led us to the cellar, which was damp and close. Rusted yellow
cans of vegetable ghee littered the floor. The room seemed too small to
hold a hundred people, but the doctor said that the estimate sounded
accurate. I asked him if cellars like this one had ever been
decontaminated. He smiled. "Nothing in Kurdistan has been decontaminated,"
he said.


The chemical attacks on Halabja and Goktapa and perhaps two hundred other
villages and towns were only a small part of the cataclysm that Saddam's
cousin, the man known as Ali Chemical, arranged for the Kurds. The Kurds
say that about two hundred thousand were killed. (Human Rights Watch, which
in the early nineties published "Iraq's Crime of Genocide," a definitive
study of the attacks, gives a figure of between fifty thousand and a
hundred thousand.)

The campaign against the Kurds was dubbed al-Anfal by Saddam, after a
chapter in the Koran that allows conquering Muslim armies to seize the
spoils of their foes. It reads, in part, "Against them"—your enemies—"make
ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war,
to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies,
and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know.
Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you,
and ye shall not be treated unjustly."

The Anfal campaign was not an end in itself, like the Holocaust, but a
means to an end—an instance of a policy that Samantha Power, who runs the
Carr Center for Human Rights, at Harvard, calls "instrumental genocide."
Power has just published " 'A Problem from Hell,' " a study of American
responses to genocide. "There are regimes that set out to murder every
citizen of a race," she said. "Saddam achieved what he had to do without
exterminating every last Kurd." What he had to do, Power and others say,
was to break the Kurds' morale and convince them that a desire for
independence was foolish.

Most of the Kurds who were murdered in the Anfal were not killed by poison
gas; rather, the genocide was carried out, in large part, in the
traditional manner, with roundups at night, mass executions, and anonymous
burials. The bodies of most of the victims of the Anfal—mainly men and
boys—have never been found.

One day, I met one of the thousands of Kurdish women known as Anfal widows:
Salma Aziz Baban. She lives outside Chamchamal, in a settlement made up
almost entirely of displaced families, in cinder-block houses. Her house
was nearly empty—no furniture, no heat, just a ragged carpet. We sat on the
carpet as she told me about her family. She comes from the Kirkuk region,
and in 1987 her village was uprooted by the Army, and the inhabitants, with
thousands of other Kurds, were forced into a collective town. Then, one
night in April of 1988, soldiers went into the village and seized the men
and older boys. Baban's husband and her three oldest sons were put on
trucks. The mothers of the village began to plead with the soldiers. "We
were screaming, 'Do what you want to us, do what you want!' " Baban told
me. "They were so scared, my sons. My sons were crying." She tried to bring
them coats for the journey. "It was raining. I wanted them to have coats. I
begged the soldiers to let me give them bread. They took them without
coats." Baban remembered that a high-ranking Iraqi officer named Bareq
orchestrated the separation; according to "Iraq's Crime of Genocide," the
Human Rights Watch report, the man in charge of this phase was a brigadier
general named Bareq Abdullah al-Haj Hunta.

After the men were taken away, the women and children were herded onto
trucks. They were given little water or food, and were crammed so tightly
into the vehicles that they had to defecate where they stood. Baban, her
three daughters, and her six-year-old son were taken to the Topzawa Army
base and then to the prison of Nugra Salman, the Pit of Salman, which Human
Rights Watch in 1995 described this way: "It was an old building, dating
back to the days of the Iraqi monarchy and perhaps earlier. It had been
abandoned for years, used by Arab nomads to shelter their herds. The bare
walls were scrawled with the diaries of political prisoners. On the door of
one cell, a guard had daubed 'Khomeini eats shit.' Over the main gate,
someone else had written, 'Welcome to Hell.' "

"We arrived at midnight," Baban told me. "They put us in a very big room,
with more than two thousand people, women and children, and they closed the
door. Then the starvation started."

The prisoners were given almost nothing to eat, and a single standpipe spat
out brackish water for drinking. People began to die from hunger and
illness. When someone died, the Iraqi guards would demand that the body be
passed through a window in the main door. "The bodies couldn't stay in the
hall," Baban told me. In the first days at Nugra Salman, "thirty people
died, maybe more." Her six-year-old son, Rebwar, fell ill. "He had
diarrhea," she said. "He was very sick. He knew he was dying. There was no
medicine or doctor. He started to cry so much." Baban's son died on her
lap. "I was screaming and crying," she said. "My daughters were crying. We
gave them the body. It was passed outside, and the soldiers took it."

Soon after Baban's son died, she pulled herself up and went to the window,
to see if the soldiers had taken her son to be buried. "There were twenty
dogs outside the prison. A big black dog was the leader," she said. The
soldiers had dumped the bodies of the dead outside the prison, in a field.
"I looked outside and saw the legs and hands of my son in the mouths of the
dogs. The dogs were eating my son." She stopped talking for a moment. "Then
I lost my mind."

She described herself as catatonic; her daughters scraped around for food
and water. They kept her alive, she said, until she could function again.
"This was during Ramadan. We were kept in Nugra Salman for a few more

In September, when the war with Iran was over, Saddam issued a general
amnesty to the Kurds, the people he believed had betrayed him by siding
with Tehran. The women, children, and elderly in Nugra Salman were freed.
But, in most cases, they could not go home; the Iraqi Army had bulldozed
some four thousand villages, Baban's among them. She was finally resettled
in the Chamchamal district.

In the days after her release, she tried to learn the fate of her husband
and three older sons. But the men who disappeared in the Anfal roundups
have never been found. It is said that they were killed and then buried in
mass graves in the desert along the Kuwaiti border, but little is actually
known. A great number of Anfal widows, I was told, still believe that their
sons and husbands and brothers are locked away in Saddam's jails. "We are
thinking they are alive," Baban said, referring to her husband and sons.
"Twenty-four hours a day, we are thinking maybe they are alive. If they are
alive, they are being tortured, I know it."

Baban said that she has not slept well since her sons were taken from her.
"We are thinking, Please let us know they are dead, I will sleep in peace,"
she said. "My head is filled with terrible thoughts. The day I die is the
day I will not remember that the dogs ate my son."

Before I left, Baban asked me to write down the names of her three older
sons. They are Sherzad, who would be forty now; Rizgar, who would be
thirty-one; and Muhammad, who would be thirty. She asked me to find her
sons, or to ask President Bush to find them. "One would be sufficient," she
said. "If just one comes back, that would be enough."


In a conversation not long ago with Richard Butler, the former weapons
inspector, I suggested a possible explanation for the world's indifference
to Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons to commit genocide—that the
people he had killed were his own citizens, not those of another sovereign
state. (The main chemical-weapons treaty does not ban a country's use of
such weapons against its own people, perhaps because at the time the
convention was drafted no one could imagine such a thing.) Butler reminded
me, however, that Iraq had used chemical weapons against another
country—Iran—during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. He offered a simpler
rationale. "The problems are just too awful and too hard," he said.
"History is replete with such things. Go back to the grand example of the
Holocaust. It sounded too hard to do anything about it."

The Kurds have grown sanguine about the world's lack of interest. "I've
learned not to be surprised by the indifference of the civilized world,"
Barham Salih told me one evening in Sulaimaniya. Salih is the Prime
Minister of the area of Kurdistan administered by the Patriotic Union, and
he spoke in such a way as to suggest that it would be best if I, too,
stopped acting surprised. "Given the scale of the tragedy—we're talking
about large numbers of victims—I suppose I'm surprised that the
international community has not come in to help the survivors," he
continued. "It's politically indecent not to help. But, as a Kurd, I live
with the terrible hand history and geography have dealt my people."

Salih's home is not prime ministerial, but it has many Western comforts. He
had a satellite television and a satellite telephone, yet the house was
frigid; in a land of cheap oil, the Kurds, who are cut off the Iraqi
electric grid by Saddam on a regular basis, survive on generator power and
kerosene heat.

Over dinner one night, Salih argued that the Kurds should not be regarded
with pity. "I don't think one has to tap into the Wilsonian streak in
American foreign policy in order to find a rationale for helping the
Kurds," he said. "Helping the Kurds would mean an opportunity to study the
problems caused by weapons of mass destruction."

Salih, who is forty-one, often speaks bluntly, and is savvy about
Washington's enduring interest in ending the reign of Saddam Hussein.
Unwilling publicly to exhort the United States to take military action,
Salih is aware that the peshmerga would be obvious allies of an American
military strike against Iraq; other Kurds have been making that argument
for years. It is not often noted in Washington policy circles, but the
Kurds already hold a vast swath of territory inside the country—including
two important dams whose destruction could flood Baghdad—and have at least
seventy thousand men under arms. In addition, the two main Kurdish parties
are members of the Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress,
which is headed by Ahmad Chalabi, a London-based Shiite businessman; at the
moment, though, relations between Chalabi and the Kurdish leaders are

Kurds I talked to throughout Kurdistan were enthusiastic about the idea of
joining an American-led alliance against Saddam Hussein, and serving as the
northern-Iraqi equivalent of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance. President
Bush's State of the Union Message, in which he denounced Iraq as the
linchpin of an "axis of evil," had had an electric effect on every Kurd I
met who heard the speech. In the same speech, President Bush made reference
to Iraq's murder of "thousands of its own citizens—leaving the bodies of
mothers huddled over their dead children." General Simko Dizayee, the chief
of staff of the peshmerga, told me, "Bush's speech filled our hearts with

Prime Minister Salih expressed his views diplomatically. "We support
democratic transformation in Iraq," he said— half smiling, because he knows
that there is no chance of that occurring unless Saddam is removed. But
until America commits itself to removing Saddam, he said, "we're living on
the razor's edge. Before Washington even wakes up in the morning, we could
have ten thousand dead." This is the Kurdish conundrum: the Iraqi military
is weaker than the American military, but the Iraqis are stronger than the
Kurds. Seven hundred Iraqi tanks face the Kurdish safe haven, according to
peshmerga commanders.
General Mustafa Said Qadir, the peshmerga leader, put it this way: "We have
a problem. If the Americans attack Saddam and don't get him, we're going to
get gassed. If the Americans decided to do it, we would be thankful. This
is the Kurdish dream. But it has to be done carefully."

The Kurdish leadership worries, in short, that an American mistake could
cost the Kurds what they have created, however inadvertently: a nearly
independent state for themselves in northern Iraq. "We would like to be our
own nation," Salih told me. "But we are realists. All we want is to be
partners of the Arabs of Iraq in building a secular, democratic, federal
country." Later, he added, "We are proud of ourselves. We have inherited a
devastated country. It's not easy what we are trying to achieve. We had no
democratic institutions, we didn't have a legal culture, we did not have a
strong military. From that situation, this is a remarkable success story."

The Kurdish regional government, to be sure, is not a Vermont town meeting.
The leaders of the two parties, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, are
safe in their jobs. But there is a free press here, and separation of
mosque and state, and schools are being built and pensions are being paid.
In Erbil and in Sulaimaniya, the Kurds have built playgrounds on the ruins
of Iraqi Army torture centers. "If America is indeed looking for Muslims
who are eager to become democratic and are eager to counter the effects of
Islamic fundamentalism, then it should be looking here," Salih said.

Massoud Barzani is the son of the late Mustafa Barzani, a legendary
guerrilla, who built the Democratic Party, and who entered into the
ill-fated alliance with Iran and America. I met Barzani in his
headquarters, above the town of Salahuddin. He is a short man, pale and
quiet; he wore the red turban of the Barzani clan and a wide cummerbund
across his baggy trousers—the outfit of a peshmerga.

Like Salih, he chooses his words carefully when talking about the
possibility of helping America bring down Saddam. "It is not enough to tell
us the U.S. will respond at a certain time and place of its choosing,"
Barzani said. "We're in artillery range. Iraq's Army is weak, but it is
still strong enough to crush us. We don't make assumptions about the
American response."

One day, I drove to the Kurdish front lines near Erbil, to see the forward
positions of the Iraqi Army. The border between the Army-controlled
territory and the Kurdish region is porous; Baghdad allows some
Kurds—nonpolitical Kurds—to travel back and forth between zones.

My peshmerga escort took me to the roof of a building overlooking the Kalak
Bridge and, beyond it, the Iraqi lines. Without binoculars, we could see
Iraqi tanks on the hills in front of us. A local official named Muhammad
Najar joined us; he told me that the Iraqi forces arrayed there were
elements of the Army's Jerusalem brigade, a reserve unit established by
Saddam with the stated purpose of liberating Jerusalem from the Israelis.
Other peshmerga joined us. It was a brilliantly sunny day, and we were
enjoying the weather. A man named Aziz Khader, gazing at the plain before
us, said, "When I look across here, I imagine American tanks coming down
across this plain going to Baghdad." His friends smiled and said,
"Inshallah"—God willing. Another man said, "The U.S. is the lord of the


A week later, I was at Shinwe, a mountain range outside Halabja, with
another group of peshmerga. My escorts and I had driven most of the way up,
and then slogged through fresh snow. From one peak, we could see the
village of Biyara, which sits in a valley between Halabja and a wall of
mountains that mark the Iranian border. Saddam's tanks were an hour's drive
away to the south, and Iran filled the vista before us. Biyara and nine
other villages near it are occupied by the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam,
or Supporters of Islam. Shinwe, in fact, might be called the axis of the
axis of evil.

We were close enough to see trucks belonging to Ansar al-Islam making their
way from village to village. The commander of the peshmerga forces
surrounding Biyara, a veteran guerrilla named Ramadan Dekone, said that
Ansar al-Islam is made up of Kurdish Islamists and an unknown number of
so-called Arab Afghans—Arabs, from southern Iraq and elsewhere, who trained
in the camps of Al Qaeda.

"They believe that people must be terrorized," Dekone said, shaking his
head. "They believe that the Koran says this is permissible." He pointed to
an abandoned village in the middle distance, a place called Kheli Hama.
"That is where the massacre took place," he said. In late September,
forty-two of his men were killed by Ansar al-Islam, and now Dekone and his
forces seemed ready for revenge. I asked him what he would do if he
captured the men responsible for the killing.

"I would take them to court," he said.

When I got to Sulaimaniya, I visited a prison run by the intelligence
service of the Patriotic Union. The prison is attached to the
intelligence-service headquarters. It appears to be well kept and humane;
the communal cells hold twenty or so men each, and they have kerosene heat,
and even satellite television. For two days, the intelligence agency
permitted me to speak with any prisoner who agreed to be interviewed. I was
wary; the Kurds have an obvious interest in lining up on the American side
in the war against terror. But the officials did not, as far as I know,
compel anyone to speak to me, and I did not get the sense that allegations
made by prisoners were shaped by their captors. The stories, which I later
checked with experts on the region, seemed at least worth the attention of
America and other countries in the West.

The allegations include charges that Ansar al-Islam has received funds
directly from Al Qaeda; that the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein has
joint control, with Al Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam; that Saddam
Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992; that a
number of Al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan have been secretly brought
into territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam; and that Iraqi intelligence
agents smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and
biological weapons, into Afghanistan. If these charges are true, it would
mean that the relationship between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda is far
closer than previously thought.

When I asked the director of the twenty-four-hundred-man Patriotic Union
intelligence service why he was allowing me to interview his prisoners, he
told me that he hoped I would carry this information to American
intelligence officials. "The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. haven't come out yet,"
he told me. His deputy added, "Americans are going to Somalia, the
Philippines, I don't know where else, to look for terrorists. But this is
the field, here." Anya Guilsher, a spokeswoman for the C.I.A., told me last
week that as a matter of policy the agency would not comment on the
activities of its officers. James Woolsey, a former C.I.A. director and an
advocate of overthrowing the Iraqi regime, said, "It would be a real shame
if the C.I.A.'s substantial institutional hostility to Iraqi democratic
resistance groups was keeping it from learning about Saddam's ties to Al
Qaeda in northern Iraq."

The possibility that Saddam could supply weapons of mass destruction to
anti-American terror groups is a powerful argument among advocates of
"regime change," as the removal of Saddam is known in Washington. These
critics of Saddam argue that his chemical and biological capabilities, his
record of support for terrorist organizations, and the cruelty of his
regime make him a threat that reaches far beyond the citizens of Iraq.
"He's the home address for anyone wanting to make or use chemical or
biological weapons," Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi dissident, said. Makiya is the
author of "Republic of Fear," a study of Saddam's regime. "He's going to be
the person to worry about. He's got the labs and the know-how. He's
hellbent on trying to find a way into the fight, without announcing it."

On the surface, a marriage of Saddam's secular Baath Party regime with the
fundamentalist Al Qaeda seems unlikely. His relationship with secular
Palestinian groups is well known; both Abu Nidal and Abul Abbas, two
prominent Palestinian terrorists, are currently believed to be in Baghdad.
But about ten years ago Saddam underwent something of a battlefield
conversion to a fundamentalist brand of Islam.

"It was gradual, starting the moment he decided on the invasion of Kuwait,"
in June of 1990, according to Amatzia Baram, an Iraq expert at the
University of Haifa. "His calculation was that he needed people in Iraq and
the Arab world—as well as God—to be on his side when he invaded. After he
invaded, the Islamic rhetorical style became overwhelming"—so overwhelming,
Baram continued, that a radical group in Jordan began calling Saddam "the
New Caliph Marching from the East." This conversion, cynical though it may
be, has opened doors to Saddam in the fundamentalist world. He is now a
prime supporter of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and of Hamas, paying
families of suicide bombers ten thousand dollars in exchange for their
sons' martyrdom. This is part of Saddam's attempt to harness the power of
Islamic extremism and direct it against his enemies.

Kurdish culture, on the other hand, has traditionally been immune to
religious extremism. According to Kurdish officials, Ansar al-Islam grew
out of an idea spread by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former chief of the
Egyptian Islamic Jihad and now Osama bin Laden's deputy in Al Qaeda. "There
are two schools of thought" in Al Qaeda, Karim Sinjari, the Interior
Minister of Kurdistan's Democratic Party-controlled region, told me. "Osama
bin Laden believes that the infidels should be beaten in the head, meaning
the United States. Zawahiri's philosophy is that you should fight the
infidel even in the smallest village, that you should try to form Islamic
armies everywhere. The Kurdish fundamentalists were influenced by

Kurds were among those who travelled to Afghanistan from all over the
Muslim world, first to fight the Soviets, in the early nineteen-eighties,
then to join Al Qaeda. The members of the groups that eventually became
Ansar al-Islam spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan, according to
Kurdish intelligence officials. One Kurd who went to Afghanistan was Mala
Krekar, an early leader of the Islamist movement in Kurdistan; according to
Sinjari, he now holds the title of "emir" of Ansar al-Islam.

In 1998, the first force of Islamist terrorists crossed the Iranian border
into Kurdistan, and immediately tried to seize the town of Haj Omran.
Kurdish officials said that the terrorists were helped by Iran, which also
has an interest in undermining a secular Muslim government. "The terrorists
blocked the road, they killed Kurdish Democratic Party cadres, they
threatened the villagers," Sinjari said. "We fought them and they fled."
The terrorist groups splintered repeatedly. According to a report in the
Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, which is published in London, Ansar
al-Islam came into being, on September 1st of last year, with the merger of
two factions: Al Tawhid, which helped to arrange the assassination of
Kurdistan's most prominent Christian politician, and whose operatives
initiated an acid-throwing campaign against unveiled women; and a faction
called the Second Soran Unit, which had been affiliated with one of the
Kurdish Islamic parties. In a statement issued to mark the merger, the
group, which originally called itself Jund al-Islam, or Soldiers of Islam,
declared its intention to "undertake jihad in this region" in order to
carry out "God's will." According to Kurdish officials, the group had
between five hundred and six hundred members, including Arab Afghans and at
least thirty Iraqi Kurds who were trained in Afghanistan.

Kurdish officials say that the merger took place in a ceremony overseen by
three Arabs trained in bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, and that these men
supplied Ansar al-Islam with three hundred thousand dollars in seed money.
Soon after the merger, a unit of Ansar al-Islam called the Victory Squad
attacked and killed the peshmerga in Kheli Hama.

Among the Islamic fighters who were there that day was Rekut Hiwa Hussein,
a slender, boyish twenty-year-old who was captured by the peshmerga after
the massacre, and whom I met in the prison in Sulaimaniya. He was
exceedingly shy, never looking up from his hands as he spoke. He was not
handcuffed, and had no marks on the visible parts of his body. We were
seated in an investigator's office inside the intelligence complex. Like
most buildings in Sulaimaniya, this one was warmed by a single kerosene
heater, and the room temperature seemed barely above freezing. Rekut told
me how he and his comrades in Ansar al-Islam overcame the peshmerga.

"They thought there was a ceasefire, so we came into the village and fired
on them by surprise," he said. "They didn't know what happened. We used
grenades and machine guns. We killed a lot of them and then the others
surrendered." The terrorists trussed their prisoners, ignoring pleas from
the few civilians remaining in the town to leave them alone. "The villagers
asked us not to slaughter them," Rekut said. One of the leaders of Ansar
al-Islam, a man named Abdullah al-Shafi, became incensed. "He said, 'Who is
saying this? Let me kill them.' "
Rekut said that the peshmerga were killed in ritual fashion: "We put cloths
in their mouths. We then laid them down like sheep, in a line. Then we cut
their throats." After the men were killed, peshmerga commanders say, the
corpses were beheaded. Rekut denied this. "Some of their heads had been
blown off by grenades, but we didn't behead them," he said.

I asked Rekut why he had joined Ansar al-Islam. "A friend of mine joined,"
he said quietly. "I don't have a good reason why I joined." A guard then
took him by the elbow and returned him to his cell.

The Kurdish intelligence officials I spoke to were careful not to oversell
their case; they said that they have no proof that Ansar al-Islam was ever
involved in international terrorism or that Saddam's agents were involved
in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But they do have
proof, they said, that Ansar al-Islam is shielding Al Qaeda members, and
that it is doing so with the approval of Saddam's agents.
Kurdish officials said that, according to their intelligence, several men
associated with Al Qaeda have been smuggled over the Iranian border into an
Ansar al-Islam stronghold near Halabja. The Kurds believe that two of them,
who go by the names Abu Yasir and Abu Muzaham, are high-ranking Al Qaeda
members. "We don't have any information about them," one official told me.
"We know that they don't want anybody to see them. They are sleeping in the
same room as Mala Krekar and Abdullah al-Shafi"—the nominal leaders of
Ansar al-Islam.

The real leader, these officials say, is an Iraqi who goes by the name Abu
Wa'el, and who, like the others, spent a great deal of time in bin Laden's
training camps. But he is also, they say, a high-ranking officer of the
Mukhabarat. One senior official added, "A man named Abu Agab is in charge
of the northern bureau of the Mukhabarat. And he is Abu Wa'el's control

Abu Agab, the official said, is based in the city of Kirkuk, which is
predominantly Kurdish but is under the control of Baghdad. According to
intelligence officials, Abu Agab and Abu Wa'el met last July 7th, in
Germany. From there, they say, Abu Wa'el travelled to Afghanistan and then,
in August, to Kurdistan, sneaking across the Iranian border.

The Kurdish officials told me that they learned a lot about Abu Wa'el's
movements from one of their prisoners, an Iraqi intelligence officer named
Qassem Hussein Muhammad, and they invited me to speak with him. Qassem, the
Kurds said, is a Shiite from Basra, in southern Iraq, and a twenty-year
veteran of Iraqi intelligence.

Qassem, shambling and bearded, was brought into the room, and he genially
agreed to be interviewed. One guard stayed in the room, along with my
translator. Qassem lit a cigarette, and leaned back in his chair. I started
by asking him if he had been tortured by his captors. His eyes widened. "By
God, no," he said. "There is nothing like torture here." Then he told me
that his involvement in Islamic radicalism began in 1992 in Baghdad, when
he met Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Qassem said that he was one of seventeen bodyguards assigned to protect
Zawahiri, who stayed at Baghdad's Al Rashid Hotel, but who, he said, moved
around surreptitiously. The guards had no idea why Zawahiri was in Baghdad,
but one day Qassem escorted him to one of Saddam's palaces for what he
later learned was a meeting with Saddam himself.

Qassem's capture by the Kurds grew out of his last assignment from the
Mukhabarat. The Iraqi intelligence service received word that Abu Wa'el had
been captured by American agents. "I was sent by the Mukhabarat to
Kurdistan to find Abu Wa'el or, at least, information about him," Qassem
told me. "That's when I was captured, before I reached Biyara."

I asked him if he was sure that Abu Wa'el was on Saddam's side. "He's an
employee of the Mukhabarat," Qassem said. "He's the actual decision-maker
in the group"—Ansar al-Islam—"but he's an employee of the Mukhabarat."
According to the Kurdish intelligence officials, Abu Wa'el is not in
American hands; rather, he is still with Ansar al-Islam. American officials
declined to comment.

The Kurdish intelligence officials told me that they have Al Qaeda members
in custody, and they introduced me to another prisoner, a young Iraqi Arab
named Haqi Ismail, whom they described as a middle- to high-ranking member
of Al Qaeda. He was, they said, captured by the peshmerga as he tried to
get into Kurdistan three weeks after the start of the American attack on
Afghanistan. Ismail, they said, comes from a Mosul family with deep
connections to the Mukhabarat; his uncle is the top Mukhabarat official in
the south of Iraq. They said they believe that Haqi Ismail is a liaison
between Saddam's intelligence service and Al Qaeda.

Ismail wore slippers and a blanket around his shoulders. He was ascetic in
appearance and, at the same time, ostentatiously smug. He appeared to be
amused by the presence of an American. He told the investigators that he
would not talk to the C.I.A. The Kurdish investigators laughed and said
they wished that I were from the C.I.A.

Ismail said that he was once a student at the University of Mosul but grew
tired of life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Luckily, he said, in 1999 he
met an Afghan man who persuaded him to seek work in Afghanistan. The
Kurdish investigators smiled as Ismail went on to say that he found himself
in Kandahar, then in Kabul, and then somehow—here he was exceedingly
vague—in an Al Qaeda camp. When I asked him how enrollment in an Al Qaeda
camp squared with his wish to seek work in Afghanistan, he replied, "Being
a soldier is a job." After his training, he said, he took a post in the
Taliban Foreign Ministry. I asked him if he was an employee of Saddam's
intelligence service. "I prefer not to talk about that," he replied.

Later, I asked the Kurdish officials if they believed that Saddam provides
aid to Al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups or simply maintains channels of
communication with them. It was getting late, and the room was growing even
colder. "Come back tomorrow," the senior official in the room said, "and
we'll introduce you to someone who will answer that question."


The man they introduced me to the next afternoon was a twenty-nine-year-old
Iranian Arab, a smuggler and bandit from the city of Ahvaz. The
intelligence officials told me that his most recent employer was bin Laden.
When they arrested him, last year, they said, they found a roll of film in
his possession. They had the film developed, and the photographs, which
they showed me, depicted their prisoner murdering a man with a knife,
slicing his ear off and then plunging the knife into the top of the man's

The Iranian had a thin face, thick black hair, and a mustache; he wore an
army jacket, sandals, and Western-style sweatpants. Speaking in an almost
casual tone, he told me that he was born in 1973, that his real name was
Muhammad Mansour Shahab, and that he had been a smuggler most of his adult

"I met a group of drug traffickers," he said. "They gave us drugs and we
got them weapons," which they took from Iran into Afghanistan. In 1996, he
met an Arab Afghan. "His name was Othman," the man went on. "He gave me
drugs, and I got him a hundred and fifty Kalashnikovs. Then he said to me,
'You should come visit Afghanistan.' So we went to Afghanistan in 1996. We
stayed for a while, I came back, did a lot of smuggling jobs. My
brother-in-law tried to send weapons to Afghanistan, but the Iranians
ambushed us. I killed some of the Iranians."

He soon returned with Othman to Afghanistan, where, he said, Othman gave
him the name Muhammad Jawad to use while he was there. "Othman said to me,
'You will meet Sheikh Osama soon.' We were in Kandahar. One night, they
gave me a sleeping pill. We got into a car and we drove for an hour and a
half into the mountains. We went to a tent they said was Osama's tent." The
man now called Jawad did not meet Osama bin Laden that night. "They said to
me, 'You're the guy who killed the Iranian officer.' Then they said they
needed information about me, my real name. They told Othman to take me back
to Kandahar and hold me in jail for twenty-one days while they investigated

The Al Qaeda men completed their investigation and called him back to the
mountains. "They told me that Osama said I should work with them," Jawad
said. "They told me to bring my wife to Afghanistan." They made him swear
on a Koran that he would never betray them. Jawad said that he became one
of Al Qaeda's principal weapons smugglers. Iraqi opposition sources told me
that the Baghdad regime frequently smuggled weapons to Al Qaeda by air
through Dubai to Pakistan and then overland into Afghanistan. But Jawad
told me that the Iraqis often used land routes through Iran as well. Othman
ordered him to establish a smuggling route across the Iraq-Iran border. The
smugglers would pose as shepherds to find the best routes. "We started to
go into Iraq with the sheep and cows," Jawad told me, and added that they
initiated this route by smuggling tape recorders from Iraq to Iran. They
opened a store, a front, in Ahvaz, to sell electronics, "just to establish
relationships with smugglers."

One day in 1999, Othman got a message to Jawad, who was then in Iran. He
was to smuggle himself across the Iraqi border at Fao, where a car would
meet him and take him to a village near Tikrit, the headquarters of Saddam
Hussein's clan. Jawad was then taken to a meeting at the house of a man
called Luay, whom he described as the son of Saddam's father-in-law, Khayr
Allah Talfah. (Professor Baram, who has long followed Saddam's family,
later told me he believes that Luay, who is about forty years old, is close
to Saddam's inner circle.) At the meeting, with Othman present, Mukhabarat
officials instructed Jawad to go to Baghdad, where he was to retrieve
several cannisters filled with explosives. Then, he said, he was to arrange
to smuggle the explosives into Iran, where they would be used to kill
anti-Iraqi activists. After this assignment was completed, Jawad said, he
was given a thousand Kalashnikov rifles by Iraqi intelligence and told to
smuggle them into Afghanistan.

A year later, there was a new development: Othman told Jawad to smuggle
several dozen refrigerator motors into Afghanistan for the Iraqi
Mukhabarat; a cannister filled with liquid was attached to each motor.
Jawad said that he asked Othman for more information. "I said, 'Othman,
what does this contain?' He said, 'My life and your life.' He said
they"—the Iraqi agents—"were going to kill us if we didn't do this. That's
all I'll say.

"I was given a book of dollars," Jawad went on, meaning ten thousand
dollars—a hundred American hundred-dollar bills. "I was told to arrange to
smuggle the motors. Othman told me to kill any of the smugglers who helped
us once we got there." Vehicles belonging to the Taliban were waiting at
the border, and Jawad said that he turned over the liquid-filled
refrigerator motors to the Taliban, and then killed the smugglers who had
helped him.

Jawad said that he had no idea what liquid was inside the motors, but he
assumed that it was some type of chemical or biological weapon. I asked the
Kurdish officials who remained in the room if they believed that, as late
as 2000, the Mukhabarat was transferring chemical or biological weapons to
Al Qaeda. They spoke carefully. "We have no idea what was in the
cannisters," the senior official said. "This is something that is worth an
American investigation."

When I asked Jawad to tell me why he worked for Al Qaeda, he replied,
"Money." He would not say how much money he had been paid, but he suggested
that it was quite a bit. I had one more question: How many years has Al
Qaeda maintained a relationship with Saddam Hussein's regime? "There's been
a relationship between the Mukhabarat and the people of Al Qaeda since
1992," he replied.

Carole O'Leary, a Middle Eastern expert at American University, in
Washington, and a specialist on the Kurds, said it is likely that Saddam
would seek an alliance with Islamic terrorists to serve his own interests.
"I know that there are Mukhabarat agents throughout Kurdistan," O'Leary
said, and went on, "One way the Mukhabarat could destabilize the Kurdish
experiment in democracy is to link up with Islamic radical groups. Their
interests dovetail completely. They both have much to fear from the
democratic, secular experiment of the Kurds in the safe haven, and they
both obviously share a hatred for America."


A paradox of life in northern Iraq is that, while hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of children suffer from the effects of chemical attacks, the
child-mortality rate in the Kurdish zone has improved over the past ten
years. Prime Minister Salih credits this to, of all things, sanctions
placed on the Iraqi regime by the United Nations after the Gulf War because
of Iraq's refusal to dismantle its nonconventional-weapons program. He
credits in particular the program begun in 1997, known as oil-for-food,
which was meant to mitigate the effects of sanctions on civilians by allowi
ng the profits from Iraqi oil sales to buy food and medicine. Calling this
program a "fantastic concept," Salih said, "For the first time in our
history, Iraqi citizens—all citizens—are insured a portion of the country's
oil wealth. The north is a testament to the success of the program. Oil is
sold and food is bought."
I asked Salih to respond to the criticism, widely aired in the West, that
the sanctions have led to the death of thousands of children. "Sanctions
don't kill Iraqi children," he said. "The regime kills children."

This puzzled me. If it was true, then why were the victims of the gas
attacks still suffering from a lack of health care? Across Kurdistan, in
every hospital I visited, the complaints were the same: no CT scans, no
MRIs, no pediatric surgery, no advanced diagnostic equipment, not even
surgical gloves. I asked Salih why the money designated by the U.N. for the
Kurds wasn't being used for advanced medical treatment. The oil-for-food
program has one enormous flaw, he replied. When the program was introduced,
the Kurds were promised thirteen per cent of the country's oil revenue, but
because of the terms of the agreement between Baghdad and the U.N.—a
"defect," Salih said—the government controls the flow of food, medicine,
and medical equipment to the very people it slaughtered. Food does arrive,
he conceded, and basic medicines as well, but at Saddam's pace.

On this question of the work of the United Nations and its agencies, the
rival Kurdish parties agree. "We've been asking for a four-hundred-bed
hospital for Sulaimaniya for three years," said Nerchivan Barzani, the
Prime Minister of the region controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party,
and Salih's counterpart. Sulaimaniya is in Salih's territory, but in this
case geography doesn't matter. "It's our money," Barzani said. "But we need
the approval of the Iraqis. They get to decide. The World Health
Organization is taking its orders from the Iraqis. It's crazy."

Barzani and Salih accused the World Health Organization, in particular, of
rewarding with lucrative contracts only companies favored by Saddam."Every
time I interact with the U.N.," Salih said, "I think, My God, Jesse Helms
is right. If the U.N. can't help us, this poor, dispossessed Muslim nation,
then who is it for?"

Many Kurds believe that Iraq's friends in the U.N. system, particularly
members of the Arab bloc, have worked to keep the Kurds' cause from being
addressed. The Kurds face an institutional disadvantage at the U.N., where,
unlike the Palestinians, they have not even been granted official observer
status. Salih grew acerbic: "Compare us to other liberation movements
around the world. We are very mature. We don't engage in terror. We don't
condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people.
Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority
areas to the Palestinian national authority of Mr. Arafat. We have spent
the last ten years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society.
What has he built?"

Last week, in New York, I met with Benon Sevan, the United Nations
undersecretary-general who oversees the oil-for-food program. He quickly
let me know that he was unmoved by the demands of the Kurds. "If they had a
theme song, it would be 'Give Me, Give Me, Give Me,' " Sevan said. "I'm
getting fed up with their complaints. You can tell them that." He said that
under the oil-for-food program the "three northern governorates"—U.N.
officials avoid the word "Kurdistan"—have been allocated billions of
dollars in goods and services. "I don't know if they've ever had it so
good," he said.

I mentioned the Kurds' complaint that they have been denied access to
advanced medical equipment, and he said, "Nobody prevents them from asking.
They should go ask the World Health Organization"—which reports to Sevan on
matters related to Iraq. When I told Sevan that the Kurds have repeatedly
asked the W.H.O., he said, "I'm not going to pass judgment on the W.H.O."
As the interview ended, I asked Sevan about the morality of allowing the
Iraqi regime to control the flow of food and medicine into Kurdistan.
"Nobody's innocent," he said. "Please don't talk about morals with me."

When I went to Kurdistan in January to report on the 1988 genocide of the
Kurds, I did not expect to be sidetracked by a debate over U.N. sanctions.
And I certainly didn't expect to be sidetracked by crimes that Saddam is
committing against the Kurds now—in particular "nationality correction,"
the law that Saddam's security services are using to implement a campaign
of ethnic cleansing. Large-scale operations against the Kurds in Kirkuk, a
city southeast of Erbil, and in other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan under
Saddam's control, have received scant press attention in the West; there
have been few news accounts and no Security Council condemnations drafted
in righteous anger.

Saddam's security services have been demanding that Kurds "correct" their
nationality by signing papers to indicate that their birth records are
false—that they are in fact Arab. Those who don't sign have their property
seized. Many have been evicted, often to Kurdish-controlled regions, to
make room for Arab families. According to both the Kurdistan Democratic
Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, more than a hundred thousand
Kurds have been expelled from the Kirkuk area over the past two years.

Nationality correction is one technique that the Baghdad regime is using in
an over-all "Arabization" campaign,
whose aim is to replace the inhabitants of Kurdish cities, especially the
oil-rich Kirkuk, with Arabs from central and southern Iraq, and even,
according to persistent reports, with Palestinians. Arabization is not new,
Peter Galbraith, a professor at the National Defense University and a
former senior adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says.
Galbraith has monitored Saddam's anti-Kurdish activities since before the
Gulf War. "It's been going on for twenty years," he told me. "Maybe it's
picked up speed, but it is certainly nothing new. To my mind, it's part of
a larger process that has been under way for many years, and is aimed at
reducing the territory occupied by the Kurds and at destroying rural

"This is the apotheosis of cultural genocide," said Saedi Barzinji, the
president of Salahaddin University, in Erbil, who is a human-rights lawyer
and Massoud Barzani's legal adviser. Barzinji and other Kurdish leaders
believe that Saddam is trying to set up a buffer zone between Arab Iraq and
Kurdistan, just in case the Kurds win their independence. To help with
this, Barzinji told me last month, Saddam is trying to rewrite Kirkuk's
history, to give it an "Arab" past. If Kurds, Barzinji went on, "don't
change their ethnic origin, they are given no food rations, no positions in
government, no right to register the names of their new babies. In the last
three to four weeks, hospitals have been ordered, the maternity wards
ordered, not to register any Kurdish name." New parents are "obliged to
choose an Arab name." Barzinji said that the nationality-correction
campaign extends even to the dead. "Saddam is razing the gravestones,
erasing the past, putting in new ones with Arab names," he said. "He wants
to show that Kirkuk has always been Arab."

Some of the Kurds crossing the demarcation line between Saddam's forces and
the Kurdish zone, it is said, are not being expelled but are fleeing for
economic reasons. But in camps across Kurdistan I met refugees who told me
stories of visits from the secret police in the middle of the night.

Many of the refugees from Kirkuk live in tent camps built on boggy fields.
I visited one such camp at Beneslawa, not far from Erbil, where the mud was
so thick that it nearly pulled off my shoes. The people at the camp—several
hundred, according to two estimates I heard—are ragged and sick. A man
named Howar told me that his suffering could not have been avoided even if
he had agreed to change his ethnic identity.

"When you agree to change your nationality, the police write on your
identity documents 'second-degree Arab,' which they know means Kurd," he
told me. "So they always know you're a Kurd." (In a twist characteristic of
Saddam's regime, Kurdish leaders told me, Kurds who agree to "change" their
nationality are fined for having once claimed falsely to be Kurdish.)

Another refugee, Shawqat Hamid Muhammad, said that her son had gone to jail
for two months for having a photograph of Mustafa Barzani in his
possession. She said that she and her family had been in the Beneslawa camp
for two months. "The police came and knocked on our door and told us we
have to leave Kirkuk," she said. "We had to rent a truck to take our things
out. We were given one day to leave. We have no idea who is in our house."
Another refugee, a man named Ibrahim Jamil, wandered over to listen to the
conversation. "The Arabs are winning Kirkuk," he said. "Soon the only
people there will be Arabs, and Kurds who call themselves Arabs. They say
we should be Arab. But I'm a Kurd. It would be easier for me to die than be
an Arab. How can I not be a Kurd?"

Peter Galbraith told me that in 1987 he witnessed the destruction of
Kurdish villages and cemeteries—"anything that was related to Kurdish
identity," he said. "This was one of the factors that led me to conclude
that it is a policy of genocide, a crime of intent, destroying a group
whole or in part."


In a series of meetings in the summer and fall of 1995, Charles Duelfer,
the deputy executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission, or
UNSCOM—the now defunct arms-inspection team—met in Baghdad with Iraqi
government delegations. The subject was the status of Iraq's
nonconventional-weapons programs, and Duelfer, an American diplomat on loan
to the United Nations, was close to a breakthrough.

In early August, Saddam's son-in-law Hussein Kamel had defected to Jordan,
and had then spoken publicly about Iraq's offensive biological, chemical,
and nuclear capabilities. (Kamel later returned to Iraq and was killed
almost immediately, on his father-in-law's orders.) The regime's
credibility was badly damaged by Kamel's revelations, and during these
meetings the Iraqi representatives decided to tell Duelfer and his team
more than they had ever revealed before. "This was the first time Iraq
actually agreed to discuss the Presidential origins of these programs,"
Duelfer recalled. Among the most startling admissions made by the Iraqi
scientists was that they had weaponized the biological agent aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin, which is produced from types of fungi that occur in moldy
grains, is the biological agent that some Kurdish physicians suspect was
mixed with chemical weapons and dropped on Kurdistan. Christine Gosden, the
English geneticist, told me, "There is absolutely no forensic evidence
whatsoever that aflatoxins have ever been used in northern Iraq, but this
may be because no systematic testing has been carried out in the region, to
my knowledge."

Duelfer told me, "We kept pressing the Iraqis to discuss the concept of use
for aflatoxin. We learned that the origin of the biological-weapons program
is in the security services, not in the military—meaning that it really
came out of the assassinations program." The Iraqis, Duelfer said, admitted
something else: they had loaded aflatoxin into two Scud-ready warheads, and
also mixed aflatoxin with tear gas. They wouldn't say why.

In an op-ed article that Duelfer wrote for the Los Angeles Times last year
about Iraqi programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, he offered
this hypothesis: "If a regime wished to conceal a biological attack, what
better way than this? Victims would suffer the short-term effects of
inhaling tear gas and would assume that this was the totality of the
attack: Subsequent cancers would not be linked to the prior event."

United Nations inspectors were alarmed to learn about the aflatoxin
program. Richard Spertzel, the chief biological-weapons inspector for
UNSCOM, put it this way: "It is a devilish weapon. Iraq was quite clearly
aware of the long-term carcinogenic effect of aflatoxin. Aflatoxin can only
do one thing—destroy people's livers. And I suspect that children are more
susceptible. From a moral standpoint, aflatoxin is the cruellest weapon—it
means watching children die slowly of liver cancer."

Spertzel believes that if aflatoxin were to be used as a weapon it would
not be delivered by a missile. "Aflatoxin is a little tricky," he said. "I
don't know if a single dose at one point in time is going to give you the
long-term effects. Continuous, repeated exposure—through food—would be more
effective." When I asked Spertzel if other countries have weaponized
aflatoxin, he replied, "I don't know any other country that did it. I don't
know any country that would."

It is unclear what biological and chemical weapons Saddam possesses today.
When he maneuvered UNSCOM out of his country in 1998, weapons inspectors
had found a sizable portion of his arsenal but were vexed by what they
couldn't find. His scientists certainly have produced and weaponized
anthrax, and they have manufactured botulinum toxin, which causes muscular
paralysis and death. They've made Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that
causes gas gangrene, a condition in which the flesh rots. They have also
made wheat-cover smut, which can be used to poison crops, and ricin, which,
when absorbed into the lungs, causes hemorrhagic pneumonia.

According to Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on
Nuclear Arms Control, whose Iraq Watch project monitors Saddam's weapons
capabilities, inspectors could not account for a great deal of weaponry
believed to be in Iraq's possession, including almost four tons of the
nerve agent VX; six hundred tons of ingredients for VX; as much as three
thousand tons of other poison-gas agents; and at least five hundred and
fifty artillery shells filled with mustard gas. Nor did the inspectors find
any stores of aflatoxin.

Saddam's motives are unclear, too. For the past decade, the development of
these weapons has caused nothing but trouble for him; his international
isolation grows not from his past crimes but from his refusal to let
weapons inspectors dismantle his nonconventional-weapons programs. When I
asked the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya why Saddam is so committed to these
programs, he said, "I think this regime developed a very specific ideology
associated with power, and how to extend that power, and these weapons play
a very important psychological and political part." Makiya added, "They are
seen as essential to the security and longevity of the regime."

Certainly, the threat of another Halabja has kept Iraq's citizens
terrorized and compliant. Amatzia Baram, the Iraq expert at the University
of Haifa, told me that in 1999 Iraqi troops in white biohazard suits
suddenly surrounded the Shiite holy city of Karbala, in southern Iraq,
which has been the scene of frequent uprisings against Saddam. (The Shiites
make up about sixty per cent of Iraq's population, and the regime is
preoccupied with the threat of another rebellion.) The men in the white
suits did nothing; they just stood there. "But the message was clear,"
Baram said. " 'What we did to the Kurds in Halabja we can do to you.' It's
a very effective psychological weapon. From the information I saw, people
were really panicky. They ran into their homes and shut their windows. It
worked extremely well."

Saddam's weapons of mass destruction clearly are not meant solely for
domestic use. Several years ago in Baghdad, Richard Butler, who was then
the chairman of UNSCOM, fell into conversation with Tariq Aziz, Saddam's
confidant and Iraq's deputy Prime Minister. Butler asked Aziz to explain
the rationale for Iraq's biological-weapons project, and he recalled Aziz's
answer: "He said, 'We made bioweapons in order to deal with the Persians
and the Jews.' "

Iraqi dissidents agree that Iraq's programs to build weapons of mass
destruction are focussed on Israel. "Israel is the whole game," Ahmad
Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, told me. "Saddam is
always saying publicly, 'Who is going to fire the fortieth missile?' "—a
reference to the thirty-nine Scud missiles he fired at Israel during the
Gulf War. "He thinks he can kill one hundred thousand Israelis in a day
with biological weapons." Chalabi added, "This is the only way he can be
Saladin"—the Muslim hero who defeated the Crusaders. Students of Iraq and
its government generally agree that Saddam would like to project himself as
a leader of all the Arabs, and that the one sure way to do that is by
confronting Israel.

In the Gulf War, when Saddam attacked Israel, he was hoping to provoke an
Israeli response, which would drive America's Arab friends out of the
allied coalition. Today, the experts say, Saddam's desire is to expel the
Jews from history. In October of 2000, at an Arab summit in Cairo, I heard
the vice-chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, a man named
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, deliver a speech on Saddam's behalf, saying, "Jihad
alone is capable of liberating Palestine and the rest of the Arab
territories occupied by dirty Jews in their distorted Zionist entity."

Amatzia Baram said, "Saddam can absolve himself of all sins in the eyes of
the Arab and Muslim worlds by bringing Israel to its knees. He not only
wants to be a hero in his own press, which already recognizes him as a
Saladin, but wants to make sure that a thousand years from now children in
the fourth grade will know that he is the one who destroyed Israel."

It is no comfort to the Kurds that the Jews are now Saddam's main
preoccupation. The Kurds I spoke with, even those who agree that Saddam is
aiming his remaining Scuds at Israel, believe that he is saving some of his
"special weapons"—a popular euphemism inside the Iraqi regime—for a return
visit to Halabja. The day I visited the Kalak Bridge, which divides the
Kurds from the Iraqi Army's Jerusalem brigade, I asked Muhammad Najar, the
local official, why the brigade was not facing west, toward its target.
"The road to Jerusalem," he replied, "goes through Kurdistan."

A few weeks ago, after my return from Iraq, I stopped by the Israeli
Embassy in Washington to see the Ambassador, David Ivry. In 1981, Ivry, who
then led Israel's Air Force, commanded Operation Opera, the strike against
the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. The action was ordered by Prime
Minister Menachem Begin, who believed that by hitting the reactor shortly
before it went online he could stop Iraq from building an atomic bomb.
After the attack, Israel was condemned for what the Times called
"inexcusable and short-sighted aggression." Today, though, Israel's action
is widely regarded as an act of muscular arms control. "In retrospect, the
Israeli strike bought us a decade," Gary Milhollin, of the Wisconsin
Project, said. "I think if the Israelis had not hit the reactor the Iraqis
would have had bombs by 1990"—the year Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Today, a satellite photograph of the Osirak site hangs on a wall in Ivry's
office. The inscription reads, "For General David Ivry—With thanks and
appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi nuclear program in
1981, which made our job much easier in Desert Storm." It is signed "Dick

"Preëmption is always a positive," Ivry said.

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power.
After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed
his facilities. Those who have followed Saddam's progress believe that no
single strike today would eradicate his nuclear program. I talked about
this prospect last fall with August Hanning, the chief of the B.N.D., the
German intelligence agency, in Berlin. We met in the new glass-and-steel
Chancellery, overlooking the renovated Reichstag.

The Germans have a special interest in Saddam's intentions. German industry
is well represented in the ranks of foreign companies that have aided
Saddam's nonconventional-weapons programs, and the German government has
been publicly regretful. Hanning told me that his agency had taken the lead
in exposing the companies that helped Iraq build a poison-gas factory at
Samarra. The Germans also feel, for the most obvious reasons, a special
responsibility to Israel's security, and this, too, motivates their desire
to expose Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. Hanning is tall,
thin, and almost translucently white. He is sparing with words, but he does
not equivocate. "It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in
three years," he said.

There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam
will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if
unchecked, will have them soon, and a nuclear-armed Iraq would alter
forever the balance of power in the Middle East. "The first thing that
occurs to any military planner is force protection," Charles Duelfer told
me. "If your assessment of the threat is chemical or biological, you can
get individual protective equipment and warning systems. If you think he's
going to use a nuclear weapon, where are you going to concentrate your

There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his
stocks of biological and chemical weapons. When I talked about Saddam's
past with the medical geneticist Christine Gosden, she said, "Please
understand, the Kurds were for practice."

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