This month marks the twentieth anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja by the military forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That attack killed five-thousand Iraqi Kurdish civilians within hours and maimed, blinded, or disfigured ten-thousand others. At ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol marking the Halabja attack, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq’s representative to the U.S., said the world must never forget:
“It is important to remember that March, for us, is a bittersweet month. Because, not only does it mark our new year, Nowruz, not only does it mark the fifth. . .anniversary of the liberation of Iraq. But it also is, in this case, the twentieth anniversary of the Halabja tragedy. We must remember the past. We must remember what happened. And that past must give us strength to move forward.”
The attack on Halabja was part of the Saddam Hussein regime’s “Anfal” campaign aimed at terrorizing Iraqi Kurds living in the northern part of Iraq. On March 16, 1988, Iraqi forces, under the command of Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid, later known as “Chemical Ali,” attacked Halabja. The Iraqi forces struck first with conventional bombs and artillery shells, driving Halabja’s more than fifty-thousand inhabitants into basements and shelters. The Iraqi military then dropped various chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin nerve gas, on the defenseless city. “Halabja, once a vibrant center of Kurdish culture, was, in a day, turned into a symbol of Kurdish tragedy,” said Mr. Talabani.
The Saddam Hussein regime was toppled after the U.S. and its coalition allies entered Iraq in March 2003. What coalition troops found there, said President George W. Bush, was truly horrific:
“They [coalition forces] uncovered children’s prisons, and torture chambers, and rape rooms where Iraqi women were violated in front of their families. They found videos showing regime thugs mutilating Iraqis deemed disloyal to Saddam. And across the Iraqi countryside they uncovered mass graves of thousands executed by the regime.”
“Because we acted,” said President Bush, “Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children.”