USIS Washington 

27 April 1998


(Evidence shows long-term genetic damage to Halabja residents) (690)

By Peter Sawchyn

USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Ten years after Saddam Hussein ordered chemical and
poison gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds in the northern city of
Halabja, a British scientist says she has found evidence of long-term,
irreversible genetic damage among the survivors.

Dr. Christine Gosden, a professor of medical genetics at the
University of Liverpool, visited Halabja earlier this year to study
what happened over the course of three days in 1988, and to learn
about the effects of the "chemical cocktail" Iraqi authorities dumped
on an unsuspecting civilian population.

What she found, Gosden says, "shocked and horrified" her to an extent
she had not thought possible.

Gosden talked about her findings, and her efforts to help the people
of Halabja, during a recent Washington visit where she testified April
22 before a senate panel on the dangers of chemical and biological
weapons. She also spoke April 25 at a program organized by the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Gosden was accompanied by Gwynne Roberts, an independent British
filmmaker and journalist who was among the few individuals to capture
on film the 1988 attack on Halabja. He returned to Halabja with Gosden
to record her findings in a new documentary, "Saddam's Secret Time

"My trip to Iraq was made on entirely humanitarian grounds," Gosden
told a combined senate panel on technology, terrorism, government, and
intelligence. "I was shocked by the devastating effects of these
(chemical) weapons, which have caused problems such as cancers,
blindness and congenital malformations," she said.

"This journey and the horrifying findings have shocked and devastated
me to an extent which I had not believed possible. It is the
deliberate use of weapons of this ferocity, which have the power to
kill or maim in perpetuity, which I find so terrible," Gosden told the

An estimated 5,000 people were killed, and another 10,000 injured in
the chemical attack on Halabja -- the largest such attack against
civilians in modern times. According to eyewitness accounts, the
attack on the city of 80,000 and on roads leading out of Halabja began
March 16 and continued for two more days.

During that time, scores of Iraqi aircraft sorties dropped a mix of
chemical agents, including mustard gas, and the nerve agents Sarin,
Tabun, and VX. According to Gosden, there also are reports that
cyanide was used in the attack. In addition, she said there is some
indication that a biological agent mixed with tear gas may have been
part of the lethal chemical mixture.

Until now there has been no systematic research carried out in
Halabja, and the city and its suffering people have been virtually
forgotten, Gosden said. However, she said she hopes to change that by
launching a detailed study of the population and the long-term effects
of the damage caused by chemical weapons.

Gosden said the list of long-term effects she uncovered with the help
of local physicians in Halabja is in itself evidence of the terrible
effects of these weapons. They include: respiratory, eye, and skin
problems, severe depression and an increase in suicides, a range of
cancers, including leukemia and lymphomas in children, infertility,
and a miscarriage rate four times higher than that of other nearby
Iraqi towns.

"What we have found is sobering, if not frightening," Gosden told the
senators. "This must serve as a wake-up call to all of us about the
need for improving our medical preparedness and national and
international response plans to chemical weapons attack."

Moreover, Gosden said her findings clearly destroy a popular
misconception that chemical and biological weapons kill rapidly and
mercifully. According to her findings, which Gwynne Roberts documented
on film, Gosden said some would argue that those who died in the
attack a decade ago were more fortunate than the survivors.

"Future generations (in Halabja) are being destroyed," Roberts says in
his film. "Saddam has set off a genetic time bomb that continues to
explode in these people's lives."

(For more information on this subject, contact our special Iraq
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