Saddam Hussein’s role in the gassing of Halabja

Title: Saddam Hussein’s role in the gassing of Halabja
Format: Journal Article
Publication Date: August 2021
Published In: Non Proliferation Review
Publisher Taylor and Francis


Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurdish civilians in 1987 and 1988 is among the most morally troubling events in the latter half of the twentieth century. Most of the questions surrounding the attack, including why, when, and how, have been addressed in path-breaking research by Joost Hiltermann and other researchers from Human Rights Watch. However, even as more records and internal documents from the period have come to light, one question remains unresolved: Did Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s leader, directly order the gassing of Iraqi Kurds? This study reassesses the Halabja attack of 1988—in particular, Saddam’s thinking and behavior relating to the attack—in light of the post-2003 evidence. It synthesizes insights from the Iraqi records at the Conflict Records Research Center and Stanford University; debriefings of Iraqi principals, which the authors obtained in response to Mandatory Declassification Review requests; recent memoirs of Iraqi and US officials; and other previously unexplored sources. Although these records provide no direct proof that Saddam Hussein issued an explicit order to gas Halabja, it is clear he created a command environment in which the indiscriminate gassing of Iraqi Kurds was considered permissible and even desirable.

Ivan Allen College Contributors:
External Contributors: David D. Palkki
Related Departments:
  • School of International Affairs