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3/18/03 - REMEMBERING HALABJA - 2003-03-18

There is no doubt that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons. The regime has used such weapons against the Iraqi people. This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the terror faced by the citizens of Halabja.

This city of fifty-thousand people lies near Iraq’s border with Iran. It had no warning of the nightmare that descended on March 16th, 1988. Halabja had the misfortune of being on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war, a conflict then in its eighth year. The attack on Halabja began with an Iraqi air and artillery bombardment that drove the inhabitants to underground shelters. After those raids, Iraqi helicopters and planes returned and unleashed mustard gas and nerve agents.

As the noxious fumes spread, animals died. Birds fell from the skies. And the people of Halabja fled from their homes. But as Nouri Hama Ali, one of the survivors, recounted, “Many of the women and children began to die. The chemical clouds were on the ground. They were heavy.... Many children were left on the ground, by the side of the road. Old people as well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die.”

Some five-thousand innocent Iraqi men, women, and children were killed by Saddam’s military. Many of the survivors continue to suffer today. Some have scarred lungs, others are blinded. The chemical weapon attacks also contaminated food and water supplies. Medical experts have documented that the survivors of Halabja suffer from increased levels of colon cancer and respiratory diseases, and high rates of miscarriages and infertility among women.

The attack on Halabja was neither an aberration nor a desperate act of a regime caught in a stalemated war. Instead, it was a part of a deliberate campaign called Al-Anfal, intended by Saddam Hussein to kill and displace the predominately Kurdish inhabitants of northern Iraq.

A study published in 1994 by Human Rights Watch concluded that the Al-Anfal campaign resulted in at least fifty-thousand deaths and perhaps as many as one-hundred-thousand deaths. Halabja and Al-Anfal are not simply history lessons but portents of what Saddam Hussein and his regime would be capable of doing in the future. The lives of Iraqi citizens will improve dramatically when Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.