Mar 17, 2008

Iraqi Kurdistan: Commemorate Halabja Victims

Iraqi Kurds commemorate the gassing and bombing of 5000 people who perished during of the Halabja massacre, now 20 years ago.

Iraqi Kurds commemorate the gassing and bombing of 5000 people who perished during of the Halabja massacre, now 20 years ago.

Below is an article written by Daniel Schaerf published by Voice of America:

Iraq has marked the 20th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's chemical bombing and gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the northeast city of Halabja. At least 5,000 Kurdish men, women, and children were killed in one day of bombings. Daniel Schearf reports for VOA from Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdish soldiers stand in the graveyard of the victims of the Halabja massacre, on its 20th anniversary in Halabja, Iraq, 16 Mar 2008

Iraq ordered traffic stopped for one minute of silence Sunday [16 March 2008] in honor of the victims of the Halabja attack.

Thousands were killed in 1988 when Iraqi forces bombed the city with mustard gas and nerve agents.

Saddam Hussein's government said the attack was needed to put down insurgents hiding in the city during the bloody Iran-Iraq war. But, evidence emerged that almost all the victims were civilians, most of them women and children.

Iraqi national television broadcast live coverage Sunday of a ceremony in Halabja marking the atrocity.

Community leaders spoke of the pain and suffering caused by the attack and the need to compensate victims still suffering from the effects of the poison gas.

The bombing of Halabja was part of a wider campaign of attacks on Iraqi Kurds known as Anfal.

Iraqi Kurdistan Deputy Prime Minister Omar Fatah spoke at the ceremony. He criticized the international community for staying silent at the time of the attack in order to keep their good relations with Saddam Hussein's government.

He says their silence gave the dictator government of Baghdad more power to continue the Anfal operations. He says Saddam's government killed 182,000 Kurds after the Halabja attacks and if the world had stopped them, perhaps the Anfal campaign would not have continued. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds were displaced and deported during the Anfal campaign and 4,000 villages were destroyed.

Saneia Sallah, a 42-year-old Kurd who was forced from her village of Neow Showan in 1988, says some like her escaped, but most were arrested, including women, kids, and old men. She says her aunt with two young girls, her husband, her brother, and cousins were taken and have never been heard from again. She says the army […] with helicopters and tanks burned everything, even her baby as it was sleeping in its cradle.

Many Kurds are still suffering respiratory and vision problems from the effects of chemical bombs.

Residents of Halabja complain they have received little support from the government and in 2006 held large-scale demonstrations and set fire to a museum in the city.

Deputy Prime Minister Fatah says the government has pledged millions of dollars for new projects, including a $12 million hospital for treating chemical diseases and a research center on the biological effects of chemical weapons.

This weekend Baghdad announced it would spend $6 million for reconstruction in Halabja and would file legal actions against companies who sold chemicals used in the attacks.

A court in The Hague in 2005 sentenced a Dutch trader to 15 years in prison for selling chemicals used in the attacks.


"If you can bring these crimes on the surface," said Fatah. "I think that will bring not only stability for Kurdistan or for Iraq, I think it will help us as an international community to move forward. Without recognizing that, it will be very difficult for the wounds to heal."