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A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja 1ST Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521876865
ISBN-10: 0521876869
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Editorial Reviews


"Joost Hiltermann has written an authoritative account of the real use of weapons of mass destruction in the contemporary Middle East - Saddam Hussein's massive use of chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980s. His research documents with great persuasiveness not only Iraqi crimes but also the culpability of those in the international community who carefully looked the other way or tacitly collaborated. "
Gary Sick, former member of the National Security Council staff, Director of the Gulf/2000 Project, Columbia University

"In A Poisonous Affair Joost Hiltermann has crafted a gripping narrative out of some of the most chilling events of the last two decades. But A Poisonous Affair is not simply a rigorous and important piece of history. By revisiting Saddam Hussein's worst massacre and the US response to it, Hilterman masterfully excavates the roots of our current predicament. He shows how the traumatization of the Kurds spawned their mistrust of all things Iraqi, fueling the separatism of the present. He reveals the degree to which America's support for Saddam while he was gassing his own people bred fierce and lasting skepticism about whether Washington could be trusted in the region. And he demonstrates how America's indifference to Saddam's chemical attacks on Iran helped convince Iran to go it alone, and to acquire its own weapons of mass destruction. Hilterman has given us a necessary book about a ghastly crime, the legacy of which we will be managing for decades to come."
Samantha Power, Harvard University, and author of A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide

"Joost Hiltermann is one of the Iraq observers that journalists and policymakers count on most for historical memory and acute analysis. In A Poisonous Affair he has produced a gracefully written and timely reminder that the combination of weapons of mass destruction, geo-political mendacity, and vast human suffering has a rich history in Iraq. The story of Halabja reveals at once why the regime of Saddam Hussein deserved to fall and why America was a dubious agent of its demise."
George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

"[A] comprehensive and powerful delineation not only of what happened that day but of all those who helped bring it about...Although Hiltermann's overall account of the background to Halabja is indispensable, it is his theme of witting US complicity, backed by years of meticulous research, that strikes the most chilling note." - Andrew Cockburn, The Nation

"Hiltermann's A Poisonous Affair is a chilling account of the gassing of Halabja, a village in Iraq's Kurdish region, in March 1988 and the subsequent counterinsurgency campaign known as Anfal ("The Spoils"), in which some 80,000 Kurdish civilians were driven from their homes by poison gas, hauled to transit centers, sorted by age and sex, and carted off to execution sites in Iraq's western desert." - The Washington Post

"Here is a model of investigative reporting. Hiltermann has tracked down seemingly every available source, weighed conflicting accounts in the record, and provided a dispassionate accounting. His conclusions are that during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons early and often, whereas Iran essentially did not, if only because it lacked the capacity to do so effectively. Iraq's use of chemical weapons reached a horrible crescendo in early 1988, a few months before the end of the war, with the notorious Anfal campaign against its own Kurdish citizens in and around the town of Halabja, which resulted in the slaughter of likely well over 100,000 people. During these war years, the United States, intent on making sure that Iran did not prevail, moved toward ever more active support of Iraq and refrained from any meaningful condemnation of the Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Hiltermann concludes that the fallout of these developments has been an enhanced readiness among states to stock and prepare to use weapons of mass destruction, an Iran set on never again being without such weapons, and a determination by the Kurds to never again be subject to rule from Baghdad. - Foreign Affairs

"Here is a model of investigative reporting." - L. Carol Brown, Foreign Affairs

"The book is meticulously researched."
Mike Amitay, Middle East Journal

"Hiltermann recounts the events surrounding the Halabja massacre in detail, highlighting the confusion the followed the attacks..."
-Michael Rubin, Middle East Quarterly

"...the book makes a positive contribution in understanding the complex results emanating from the mingling of regional and international groups with the affairs of other states and the communities which live with them."
- Magid Shihade, Canadian Journal of History

Book Description

This is the story of the gassing of Halabja during the Iran-Iraq war. It tells how Iraq was able to amass chemical weapons to target its victims as America turned a blind eye. Today, as the Middle East sinks into turmoil, these policies are coming back to haunt the West.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1ST edition (June 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521876869
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521876865
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #496,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Scott Peterson on December 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a journalist who has covered Iran and Iraq--and US policy towards both--for 17 years, I have always found that the story of Halabja, and the use of poison gas by the Iraqis during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, was lost in the shadows of claim and counter-claim.

Joost Hiltermann's "A Poisonous Affair" sheds light on this critical period in a way that no other book or report ever has. Based on years of painstaking research--including access to the 18 tons of documents spirited from northern Iraq to the United States in 1991--this book is the most cogent, detailed and rigorous analysis likely to be produced about those events, and the first use of Weapons of Mass Destruction since World War II.

Made clear in this important text is Iraq's singular usage of chemical weapons and work on an array of nerve agents; the impact of poison gas on the psyche of Iraq's Kurds--and how they use that horrific experience of Halabja as a tool to claim special status today--and of the deliberate doubt sown by US officials at the time to portray Iran as equally to blame. Hiltermann deconstructs the quiet US effort that sought to indicate that Iran, too--with all evidence to the contrary--had used chemical weapons in Halabja and elsewhere along the front line.

Today, the author argues, that example of the US supporting Saddam Hussein during the war, even as it knew Iraq was using chemical weapons, and Washington's reluctance to challenge Iraq while it fought its "greater" enemy the Islamic Republic, is one reason Iran distrusts US and Western promises regarding its nuclear program.

Piecing together these historical events, which continue to resonate today with cautionary lessons learned, Hiltermann has produced an indispensable book for any reader who wants to better understand current, sometimes precipitous, policies of the US, Iraqi Kurds, and Iran.
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Please to disregard N. Massjouni's agit-prop. While the US did not go far enough in condemning Iraq it lacked the power to constrain Saddam even if it had wanted to do so. In the eighties the US had far less leverage with the regime than did the Europeans and Soviets. US weapons sales to the Iraqi military were tiny compared to European and Warsaw Pact sales. The idea that the US was some kind of ally of Iraq at the time is absurd, for that you'll have to look to France and the USSR. Yes, the US provided anthrax spores to Iraq, unwisely as it turned out. But this was within the framework of medical research, the transfers being between university researchers, no different from dozens of other such international transfers. Unwise in that peculiarly naive Western way, yes, but not evidence of support for Iraqi WMD programs. US military and diplomatic support of Iraq was intended to prevent an Iranian victory, just as US and Israeli support for Iran after the invasion was intended to prevent an Iraqi one. Soulless balance-of-power realism no doubt, but the US had very little influence on either regime. People forget that for years after Halabja much progressive opinion sneered at reports of it as US propaganda.
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Format: Hardcover
It should be made clear that the US was not only complicit in the crimes committed against the Kurds and Iranians by Iraq. They actively provided Iraq with the biological germs required to produce these weapons.
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