Documents: Saddam ordered plan for chem attack on Kurds
Saddam Hussein ordered plans drawn up for a chemical weapons attack on Kurdish guerrilla bases in northern Iraq in 1987, according to a letter signed by his personal secretary that is among documents recently declassified by the US military.

The documents - a series of memos between Saddam's office, military intelligence and the army chief of staff found by US troops in Iraq - do not say whether the attack was carried out.

But a doctor who travelled with Kurdish troops at the time says some were injured in a mustard gas attack 10 days after the last memo.

The disclosure, as Saddam's trial on unrelated massacre charges is underway, could shed new light on deaths of Kurds that the former Iraqi leader could be tried for in the future. Although Saddam has long been blamed for chemical attacks, the memos are some of the first documents to be made public that appear to directly link him to use of chemical weapons.

It is known that Iraq's armed forces were using chemical weapons against Iranian troops during the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran, then led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The planned attack outlined in the new documents appears to have been part of the 1987-88 Anfal campaign that left more than 180 000 Kurds dead and demolished hundreds of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. In the most notorious attack, Saddam's army bombed the town of Halabja with mustard and nerve gas on on March 16 1988, killing an estimated 5 000 residents. The memos date to about a year before the Halabja attack and concern an area about 200km to the northwest.

A March 11 1987 report from the head of military intelligence outlines a number of bases for Kurdish rebels led by Ibrahim Barzani and Iranian troops in the area.

Saddam's office responds with a March 12 letter signed by his personal secretary, saying: "The leader Mr President has ordered that your department study with experts a suprise attack with special ammunition in the areas of Barzani's gangs and the Khomeini Guards."

"Special ammunition" is the phrase used throughout Saddam's regime for chemical weapons. Later documents in the series of memo mention specifically the nerve agent Sarin and mustard gas.

The order sets off discussion among military commanders over how best to use the weapons. The military intelligence chief recommends in one memo that any strike and the joint Kurdish-Iranian bases be put off until June because snows in the area will reduce the effect of Sarin and mustard gas.

But in a March 31 letter, military intelligence recommends two alternative targets: Kurdish guerrilla bases near the towns of Balisian and Qaradagh, "considered suitable because they are in a low-lying area, which helps chemical agent sedimentation".

It recommends using two-thirds of the stores of Sarin and a third of the stores of mustard gas and says the attack could be done by mid-April.

A message from Saddam's office, signed by his secretary, approves the strike.

Two last memos from April 5 and 6, from the chief of Military Intelligence and then-Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Saadeddine Aziz Mustafa ordering the Army's 1st and 5th Corps to draw up plans for the strike within days.

None of the documents show that the strike was carried out.

According to the Washington-based Henry L Stimson centre think tank, there were two documented chemical weapons attacks in 1987 - one in April in the southern province of Basra, killing or wounding 5 000 Iranians, the other in October in the southeastern province of Wassit, killing or wounding 3 000 Iranians. Both are far from the Kurdish regions of the north.

Saddam and seven of members of his regime are currently on trial for killing of Shi'ites in a crackdown launched in the town of Dujail in 1982. The case does not involve the use of chemical weapons.

But Saddam and others are likely to go on trial later for charges related to the Anfal campaign and the Halabja gas attack, and prosecutors have said they hold documents related to those charges.

Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - better known as Chemical Ali for use of chemical weapons against Kurds - commanded the Anfal campaign and is now in American custody.

None of the newly declassified documents appear to bear Saddam's signature or mention al-Majid.

The approvals for the attack come from Saddam's office and are signed by his secretary. The signature is not legible, but the man who held the post at the time was Hamed Youssef Hamadi, who is in custody and was brought to testify last month in the Dujail trial.

US President George W Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq after accusing Saddam of hiding weapons of mass destruction, but no weapons have been found since Saddam's regime fell in April 2003.

The weapons of mass destruction appear to have been destroyed by UN experts following the 1991 Gulf War.
or moved out of the country or buried or ....
The memos are among hundreds of documents gathered by the US military since the invasion of Iraq that are now being declassified. The US military cautioned on its website that the government "has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein".
Posted by: lotp 2006-03-19