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By Hamish de Bretton Gordon.HBG

Sitting with the Peshmerga forces of Iraqi Kurdistan in Gwer, not far from Mosul, the juxtaposition between the genocide of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein and what is happening to innocent civilians, like Omar Daqneesh in Aleppo is horrifyingly similar.  However, it offers, in a somewhat lateral fashion, some hope.

I’m here to advise and train the Peshmerga to counter the increasingly frequent mustard agent and chlorine attacks which have the potential to delay their advance on Mosul to push ISIS out of Iraq.

During the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s Saddam killed up to 400,000 Kurds with chemical weapons, including 5,000 in one day at Halabja, amid indiscriminate bombing of defenceless villages.

After the liberation of Kuwait, which I still remember quite graphically as a young tank officer, Saddam turned with an even greater vengeance on the Kurds.  But it was Britain, led by Sir John Major who forced the International Community to set up a No Fly Zone.  This saved the Iraqi Kurds, prevented huge numbers being murdered, and millions more becoming refugees.  It is these very Kurds, the highly effective Peshmerga who are defeating ISIS in Iraq and in the last few days have pushed ISIS back to within 20 kms of Mosul.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon with the Peshmerga.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon with the Peshmerga.

In Syria, there are at least 500,000 dead civilians from the current bloody conflict, and the majority have been killed by the regimes indiscriminate barrel bombs many filled with chemical weapons, napalm and high explosives.  Assad killed up to 1,500 civilians in a single day at Ghouta, 21 Aug 13, using the same deadly nerve agent, Sarin, and the same operating procedures as Saddam had done at Halabja on 16 Mar 88.  After Halabja the International Community ‘sat on its collective hands’ for 3 years, the same as Ghouta.

This is an opportunity for history to repeat itself in Syria, but this time in a positive fashion.  Today,  3 years after the Ghouta chemical attack, there is the opportunity to introduce a No Fly Zone for helicopters over civilian areas to stop this needless killing.  It is these helicopters, and their illegal barrel bombs which are the war crimes and crimes against humanity leading to the genocide unfolding on our TV screens, in the papers and social media. This surely cannot be denied by anybody who possesses the merest hint of decency.  Every senior politician I have lobbied in the last 6 months, except Jo Cox and Andrew Mitchell, told me this No Fly Zone is not possible because of the Russians. I do not believe the Russians are dropping barrel bombs and I have heard both Putin and Lavrov say that Russian aircraft are not targeting civilians or hospitals, so why would they not agree to it?

I call on, I plead with our new Prime Minister, who I gauge has the quiet understated steel of Sir John Major, to lead the International Community again to this No Fly Zone approach.  Tracking and stopping slow moving helicopters which drop barrel bombs, is relatively straightforward with the array of technology that the Coalition has at its control, and is potentially quick to put into effect.  Britain even has the Royal Navy assets in the Eastern Mediterranean today, to do this ourselves, I judge.

It must be time now for ‘good men and women’ to act, to ensure that Omar Daqneesh and his generation survive to build a new Syria and not to be another statistic in this genocide or to become the Jihadists of tomorrow.

Adapted from an article originally at the Daily



2 Comments on "Syria’s Halabja: Why We Must Act"

  1. ‘During the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s Saddam killed up to 400,000 Kurds with chemical weapons, including 5,000 in one day at Halabja, amid indiscriminate bombing of defenceless villages’

    Firstly, human rights watch put the figure of Kurds killed in the Anfal campaign at between 50-100,000. Kurdish sources say it could be as high as 182,000. Most of these were not killed by chemical weapons but were murdered by Iraqi troops or starved to death. Out of 4000 villages wiped out, human rights watch estimates 250 were attacked with chemical weapons. Whether 50,000 or 182,000 it is still a huge number of people but your inflation of the figure and misleading statement that they were killed with chemical weapons calls into question anything else you may have to say.

  2. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon | 20th August 2016 at 11:42 am | Reply

    Rob I probably didn’t make it clear that the indiscriminate bombing was conventional as well as chemical just as in Syria at the moment. The figures I quote are Peshmerga figures who I have just spent another week with. it also doesn’t include the missing. Just as in Syria the figures quoted by human rights organisations and NGOs in the main are hugely conservative and I expect the number of dead in Syria is plus of 500K and not the 200K many quote. I understand why these organisation have to take the lowest figures but as one who has spent time with the Peshmerga and in Syria I am happy to use these figures and try and garner some action from the International Community who continue to sit on their collective hands as another genocide akin to the Anfal campaign is played out in front of our eyes in the media.

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