Victims of Halabja chemical attacks honored
Iraq, Politics, 3/18/2008
Thousands of Kurdish people gathered in the town of Halabja, northern Iraq, on Sunday to mark a grim anniversary where 20 years ago when reportedly clouds of poison gas swept through the town, killing as many as 5,000 people.
The chemical bombings, part of the US-backed Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurdish people, began on March 16, 1988, and continued through the night.
On Sunday, ceremonies commemorated the dead and paid homage to the more than 200 survivors who suffer lingering effects from the poisons used in the bombings.
The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki called for a moment of silence and a reading of a verse from holy Quran.
One survivor, Ismail Abdullah, 50, who helped bury the dead after the attacks, died on Saturday.
Luqman Muhammad, a spokesman for relatives of the Halabja victims, said Abdullah had died from health problems caused by the chemical bombings. "He needed treatment, but the necessary medicines were not available for him in the provincial hospitals," Muhammad said.
When the attacks began, many residents, believing that the bombs were conventional explosives, ran to their basements, but they could not escape the gas. Some victims died immediately, while others, vomiting and gasping for breath, died later, survivors said.
For several years after the attacks, Halabja, a village of unpaved streets and old stone buildings, was abandoned. Survivors suffered health problems, including sterility and breathing difficulties, and had children born with deformities.
Civil organizations in the Kurdish populated province of Iraq joined surviving relatives on Sunday in demanding the immediate execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, who led the Anfal campaign that killed as many as 180,000 Kurdish citizens.
"We don't care if Chemical Ali will be executed in Halabja or somewhere else, all we want is his death," said Aras Abid, who said he had lost 24 relatives in the gas attacks.
Iraqi leaders have been wrangling over the fates of Mr. Majid and two other former military commanders, all of whom have been sentenced to death.
On Sunday, Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for the American military in Iraq, said Mr. Majid remained in American custody because the Iraqi government had not formally requested that he be turned over to them.
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