By Lock Bailey
Iraqi-Kurdistan President Barzani turned down a White House invitation last month. Barzani has asked the American government for years to remove the Kurdish people from Washington’s terrorist list yet he has been denied each time. Barzani’s refusal to visit sends a clear plea: The Kurds are not terrorists, but a peaceful people long oppressed and victims of genocide.
In 1988, at the tail end of the eight year war between Iraq and Iran, Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath pilots dropped chemical weapons on over 20 Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. The last town bombed seemed to be a coup de grace from Hussein who killed nearly 185,000 Kurds during his twenty year reign.
The wind in the Kurdish town Halabja in Northern Iraq smelled first of sweet apples. But soon walls of smoke billowed 150 feet high—white, black, yellow—and blanketed the civilian town of 45,000. Song birds soon fell from the skies and dogs in the streets choked on their tongues. More than 5,000 men, women, and children suffocated on their vomit or maddeningly laughed to their deaths from breathing in the mustard gas and the saran chemicals.
An additional 10,000-15,000 others suffered injuries in the five hour bombing, later named Bloody Friday. Still today, numerous Kurdish children born from mothers fleeing the town have birth defects ranging from paralysed legs to severe mental handicaps. It remains the worst case in history of chemical weapons on civilians.
During the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration aided Iraq with military intelligence and weapons (the guns and tanks were gathered from various countries so as to conceal the donor). The US blamed Iran for the chemical bombs despite evidence from human rights organizations verifying Iraq as the perpetrator and despite the fact that the Kurds were allied with Iran.
It was only Iranian aircraft after all that flew the Kurds away from the poisoned towns and villages. And it was Iranian journalists who joined in the rescues. One journalist, Sayeed Janbozorgi, died years later from the chemical exposure. Another Iranian journalist, Kaveh Golestan, reported that “We were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”
Washington continued to believe that Iran bombed the Kurds until 2003. US President George W. Bush and his advisors then turned the blame of the chemical bombings to Iraq as it now fitted nicely with their plans of invasion. Yet despite the years of denial from the United States, the Kurds happily and readily joined alongside the American soldiers to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Kurdistan has never been safer. The areas around it are riddled with bullets. Sectarian warfare and civil war surround its borders. It remains vulnerable to attack and is still not an independent state. Yet none of this keeps the thousands of civilians in Basra and Baghdad and the Kurdish refugees from Syria from travelling to its encircling arms.
Yet the United States was the first to oppose Iraqi-Kurdistan from building an oil pipeline to Turkey—their largest trading partner—a guarantee to lift their unstable economy. And the United States continues to blacklist the Kurdish people as terrorists.
President Barzani and the Kurdish people ask simply to be seen as the peaceful people they have long proven to be.