Clueless at NPR: Kurds Blame Who?

Say you’re the host of a radio show on a relatively-respected news network about to interview an Iraqi Kurdish politician. The topic is Saddam Hussein’s latest trial, on charges of genocide for the conduct of the Anfal campaign against the Kurdish people, including the use of chemical weapons to kill thousands of people at Halabja in March 1988. How much preparation do you do for the five-minute segment? How much do you have to do?

Personally, I’d take at least a quick look online — or have my researchers prep some material for me — to refresh myself about dates, the international reaction at the time — it was nearly twenty years ago — and little details that may have slipped my mind. But I was an adult at the time, and it’s not like Iraq’s been out of the news for the past three or four years. I seem to remember President Bush mentioning something about Saddam Hussein gassing his “own people” once or twice. So I don’t think that I’d have been as surprised as NPR “Day to Day” host Madeleine Brand was in this interview with Iraqi Parlimentarian Mahmoud Othman today. It was actually a little funny to hear, but I’ve made a transcript.

If you listen to NPR’s RealAudio stream, this exchange begins about half-way through, at 2:13, otherwise, just imagine the closest thing to a spit take you’ve ever heard on NPR:

MADELEINE BRAND: If Saddam is found guilty, what kind of punishment would you like to see him receive?

MAHMOUD OTHMAN: Well, I, uh, don’t have anything specific. I think, uh, the court should decide on that. We hope there will be also information revealed about who helped Saddam. Many countries outside Iraq were helping Saddam when he committed these crimes. We hope those countries will be revealed. That’s very important for our people.

BRAND: Which countries do you suspect helped him?

OTHMAN: Well, uh, United States first. Soviet Union. The European countries — Germany — some other European countries, and some companies who, they gave him material — they say they are giving these materials for agriculture but he used — he made chemical weapons of them — and they knew about it so, I think those companies and those countries should be held responsible, and they should compensate our people and the victims of those tragic operations for life. They have a responsibility towards them.

BRAND: Do you think the United States has a responsibility?

OTHMAN: Yes, definitely, because they were very friendly to him at that time and, uh, they were helping him and everything. Because he was in war with Khomeini, and they thought Khomeini was the main enemy, and they should help Saddam against him.

BRAND: Iran’s leader, Ayotollah Khomeini.


BRAND: (draws deep breath) Well — but — you’re not saying that the US facilitated the massacre of the Kurds, are you?

OTHMAN: They are indirectly responsible because they knew that those weapons are in the hands of Saddam, and Saddam is using them, and when he used them to kill all those people the US government didn’t do anything. They are indirectly, yes, responsible for what happened.

Comment at Daily Kos crosspost.

[UPDATE 2006-08-22] Kos commenter 3rdeye pointed out there that “Day to Day” followed up Othman’s comment today in an interview with Peter Galbraith. That’s a good thing, but neither Galbraith or Madeline Brand mentioned Galbraith’s work as an advocate for the Kurdish government over the past few years. Galbraith also downplayed the US’s ties to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, glossing over the sales of “crop dusting” aircraft and helicopters and other armaments. The Saddam/Rumsfeld meeting five years before Halabja went unremarked. Galbraith was able to paint the picture he wanted without any questioning or context because — once again — the host wasn’t really prepared for the interview.