33 years after chemical attack in Iraq, survivors still demand justice

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33 years after chemical attack in Iraq, survivors still demand justice


Halabja (Iraq) (AFP)

Hawker Saber is one of the survivors of the chemical attack ordered by Saddam Hussein on the Kurdish town of Halabja 33 years ago, but he needs a ventilator to stay alive.

Saber, who is addicted to the machine for more than 20 hours a day, was only three years old at the time but he still has terrible memories of March 16, 1988.

That day, for five hours, the Iraqi Air Force rained a deadly cocktail of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, on Halabja in the mountains of northeastern Iraq, according to reports. experts.

In retaliation for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters backing Iran in its eight-year war with Iraq, around 5,000 Iraqi Kurds, the majority of whom are women and children, were killed in the largest chemical weapons attack ever against civilians.

The attack still haunts Halabja as its inhabitants, now estimated at around 200,000, are still fighting for justice, treating the sick and looking for missing relatives.

“There are still 486 seriously ill people following the chemical attack in Halabja,” Loqman Abdelqader, president of an association of victims of the attack, told AFP.

“They have breathing difficulties and vision problems,” said Abdelqader, who himself lost six of his family in the massacre.

“Neither the federal authorities nor the Iraqi Kurdish authorities have set up a care program to help them,” he added.

– “None kept their word” –

Until the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it was Iran which took care of several patients each year, but always on an ad hoc basis.

Halabja’s families are also trying to locate children who went missing amid the chaos of the attack, many of whom were hosted and treated in Iran, just 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.

“142 children are still missing,” said Ayad Arass, who heads the local child protection commission.

Swiba Mohammed, 60, a resident of Halabja, believed for some time that justice would be served.

She even traveled to Baghdad in 2006 to testify against Saddam’s cousin and henchman Ali Hassan al-Majid – an infamous general better known as “Chemical Ali”.

Majid was hanged four years later for ordering the attack, which he said was carried out to protect Iraq from its powerful neighbor Iran.

But his death brought little respite for Mohammed, who lost five of his children in the massacre, as well as his eyesight.

“For years, the authorities have promised to send me abroad for surgery so that I can finally see the faces of my surviving children,” she told AFP.

“But none of them kept their word,” she said between two sobs.

– European accomplices? –

Saddam, overthrown in 2003 after a US-led invasion, was hanged in 2006, sentenced to death for the massacre of 148 Shia Muslims – who constitute the majority in Iraq but who have faced repression under the regime. Sunni dictator.

His death ended the “genocide” prosecution against him over the deaths of 180,000 Kurds – including those killed in Halabja – during the ruthless “Anfal” campaign of 1987-1988.

Unable to condemn Saddam, the people of Halabja are now trying to force his accomplices out of the woods.

On March 13, 2018, a total of 5,500 relatives of the victims sued 25 European companies and individuals, including Iraqis, who they said helped Saddam’s regime build up its stockpile of chemical weapons, one of the officials said. their lawyers, Ayad Ismail.

“There have already been eight hearings and the next one is scheduled for June,” Ismail told AFP, adding that “summons will be sent to the companies named who have requested to see the evidence.”

But for Abdelqader, time is running out.

Since the fall of Saddam, he said that “116 survivors of the attack have died”, and their living testimony of the massacre with them.

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