Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988

The Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988 was a United States Senate bill to punish Iraq for chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds at Halabja during the Iran–Iraq War. It was defeated after intense lobbying of Congress by the Reagan-Bush White House which then supported Iraq's Saddam Hussein as a counterbalance to post-revolutionary Iran.


In the Halabja poison gas attack of March 16–March 17, 1988, Iraqi government forces used chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja - killing 3,200-5,000, most of them civilians.[1] This was during the Iran–Iraq War, in which the US government supported Iraq's Saddam Hussein.[2]

On learning of the use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians[3][4] the US government sought to obscure the facts by falsely suggesting Iran bore equal responsibility[5] - and opposed any sanctions against Iraq.

Support and defeat

Peter W. Galbraith, then a staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations drafted the bill. Senators Claiborne Pell, Jesse Helms, Christopher S. Bond, Wendell H. Ford, Al Gore, Carl Levin, Richard G. Lugar and William Proxmire sponsored it.[6]

The bill aimed to punish Iraq by embargoing all dual-use technological exports, stopping all Export-Import bank credits, banning US imports of Iraqi oil, and mandating US opposition to any loans by the International Monetary Fund or any other multilateral financial institution.

This legislation will help demonstrate to the Iraqi regime just how seriously our country views its campaign against the Kurds. In addition, it will help assure that US tax dollars do not subsidize the Iraqis.
Jesse Helms

The bill was defeated – in part due to intense lobbying of Congress by the Reagan-Bush White House and a veto threat from President Reagan.[7] U.S. Representative Bill Frenzel publicly opposed it, arguing it was unlikely to prevent genocide but sure to cause Americans economic loss.[8]

Later significance

The history of the bill marks legal efforts to deter genocide, or punish those responsible. American politicians later cited the Halabja poison gas attack to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is a man who is willing to gas his own people, willing to use weapons of mass destruction against Iraq citizens." --President George W. Bush, March 22, 2002
"As he said, any person that would gas his own people [sic] is a threat to the world."--Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary, May 31, 2002

See also


  1. Ala'Aldeen, Dlawer Abdul Aziz (1 May 1991). "Death Clouds: Saddam Hussein's Chemical War Against the Kurds". Retrieved 2011-08-21.
  2. Tyler, Patrick E. (August 18, 2002). "Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas". New York Times.
  3. Pear, Robert (September 15, 1988), "U.S. Says It Monitored Iraqi Messages on Gas", New York Times
  4. Chadwick, Alex & Shuster, Mike. U.S. Links to Saddam During Iran–Iraq War National Public Radio. September 22, 2005.
  5. Hiltermann, Joost R. (January 17, 2003). "Halabja: America didn't seem to mind poison gas". International Herald Tribune.
  6. "Bill Summary & Status - 100th Congress (1987 - 1988) - S.2763 - All Information - THOMAS (Library of Congress)". Retrieved 2011-08-21.
  7. Gore, Al (September 29, 1992). "Rewind: Gore Blasts G.H.W. Bush for Ignoring Iraq Terror Ties". Breitbart TV (C-SPAN). Retrieved 2008-06-22.
  8. Urosevich, Kerrie. "Kurdistan". In Reveron, Derek S.; Murer, Jeffrey Stevenson. Flashpoints in the war on terrorism. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0-415-95490-8.
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