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CNN’s eyewitness to Halabja chemical attack

September 12th, 2013
10:03 AM ET

By Mick Krever

The world may hardly have known of the chemical attack that occurred in Syria on August 21 were it not for the startling images that emerged in the immediate aftermath.

“The images from this massacre are sickening,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his address on Syria this week. “Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas; others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath; a father clutching his dead children.”

But in 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed the Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja, the only way for news organizations to get images of the massacre was to send their own cameramen to the scene.

Rich Brooks, one of CNN’s longest-serving photojournalists, travelled to the scene, and told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday what it was like.

“We weren't sure what we were going to see exactly,” he said. “But what I remember vividly was entering the village and just how still and silent it was. Initially, we saw birds on the ground and then we saw cattle and sheep. And then we turned a corner into a street that was just full of bodies. And you've seen it before and the smell was overwhelming.”

It was, he told Amanpour, “most likely the worst thing I've seen in my career.”

Seeing the images that have emerged from Syria’s Damascus suburbs have brought all the memories right back.

“They're seared into my mind,” he said. “These were women, children, older people; they were not combatants and they were just dead where they fell.”

“There's that image of the woman clutching her child – trying to take shelter in her house, I can imagine. And recently there was an image I saw that just brought all those images back to me in such a way that I couldn't help but think of Halabja. The video of the animals piled high, and that's exactly what we saw in Halabja.”

Brooks told Amanpour he finds it hard to believe how history is repeating itself.

“People need to see this,” he said, “and we need to not sanitize it when it's aired on TV and let people know exactly what's going on.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Syria
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Tariq waled

    Well :the real story for halabja is not gassed by saddam hussien many american agencies after visted the site and collected many samples the final report was that the chemeical agent that caused the deathof the civilians is the cyineed gas iraq dose not manfacturingsuch chemical agents
    Iran belivied to used this kind of gasses
    This is american reports issuied by special inviestgation
    But Chrstiane amanpour want remind us Of her iranian orgin and want to look for any mean to attack and blame
    The persone who stood for years an obsticle for her own peopel schems in the region even after his death Saddam still To be mentioned
    Thanks christiane this time again the iranian cyinde agent is thecause of death of the syrian assad gassese is of iranian orgin too

    September 12, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • naiem

      Iran did not (and probably still does not) have chemical weapons at Shah's time.By the time of chemical attack to Halabje, Iran, a country just came out of revolution would have not been able to develop them as well.
      I well remember the plastic covers we had as a kid in school to wear at the incident of chemical bombardment. There was even a special Siren for chemical attack. Good Saddam did not use these weapons on any major city.

      September 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  2. ashok

    Does it not mock the victims of this terrible tragedy to suggest that we don't really know who did this ?

    September 12, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
  3. Agnelo

    People of the world. DONT watch CNN and BBC. Both news channels are controlled by israeli and war mongers of US. They have brain washed Americans for a long time and now brainwashing that assad used chemical weapons, without any credible evidence. The news about Syria is always one sided. They just show the pictures of the chemical attacks to brain wash the americans. Everybody knows the US helped rebels used the Chemical weapons. Shame on you CNN. Fake news channel.

    September 12, 2013 at 11:25 am | Reply
  4. Agnelo

    Amannour you take just one side like you are paid. shame on you

    September 12, 2013 at 11:26 am | Reply
  5. samoosapur

    White PHOSPHORUS in Palestine???

    September 12, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply
  6. thinker1958

    I have my own sick theory: the US won't drop these chemicals on civilians of course, but they are more than willing to give them to dictators, that are supported by a minority and might use them (Assad) or have issues with their neighbours (Saddam), because the US wants to see the results of its use. If a dictator uses them so be it (for the US). Afterwards they will check the effects, the potency, the area cover, or who knows what. But the sick part is that they can't wait for 'somebody else' to use them in others.

    September 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  7. Chris

    And who exactly supplied GAs and the means to deliver it to Sadaam Hussain. Who provided him with Biological and Chemical agents? Who supplied the dual use facilities knowing they would be used for the manufacture of such things? Who negotiated the deal? Who provided Government approval for the exports. Who made money out of this? These are the things that need to be published. I would like to see a bit more in depth reporting not just surface visual effects.

    September 13, 2013 at 5:40 am | Reply
  8. Rufus Reeta

    After reading the article i nearly commented without much thought. After a little consideration i reckon what i can say is that the descerning should read very carefully about the goings on in this World. Do Folks recognise the re-alignment of the World that is taking shape in preparation for the final showdown. It is amazing how the written word as said in the Bible is showing or taking shape. Alliances i never thought would happen during my lifetime as written in the Bible are being forged! Alliances of the evil and merciless that are going to result in a battle to end all battles!

    September 13, 2013 at 7:50 am | Reply
  9. Joseph Frankel.

    Obviously the rebels planted the chemical weapons. The rebels refused to let the UN inspection team in, delayed their entry,used sniper fire on them, and finally allowed them in – evidentially they wanted crooked time to plant evidence. the rebels also were loosing the battle and desperately needed US and French help to weaken and subdue Assad. The Islamic Al Quida led rebels are bigger brutal murderers than Assad. Russia did a wonderful job of calling out the liars , and strongly supporting Syria,and sending a strong chilling message,we will defend Syria – whatever that means !

    September 13, 2013 at 10:50 am | Reply
  10. cmossetti

    Mr Brooks seems concerned about how it's possible some countries still using such chemical weapons and NOT wondering how it's possible no one taking serious measures against who IS producing and selling such weapons...Sadly all is just a theater's stage!!

    September 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  11. Feliciano Cuadra, Jr.

    Obama must STEP down, He is doing as he was born to DO! Was to destroy the creditability and respect of the United States. He is a loser–that got lucky– a nobody that won the LOTTO and didn't KNOW what to do with his winnings!!!

    September 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Reply
  12. dr berdan xarpet

    turkey also used chemical weapons a lot of time against kurdish gerilla when had no success aginst them. turkey repead always war crimes.

    September 14, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Reply

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