Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Kurds in Northern Iraq yesterday commemorated the anniversary of the 1988 Halabja chemical attack, which killed over 5,600 people. For the first time in history Iraq’s central government has marked the occasion by calling for a minute of silence to remember the victims. However the city remains synonymous of the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime against the Kurdish population. Yesterday hundreds of relatives along with local authorities gathered in the city, lighting 19 candles symbolic of the 19 years since the massacre.
On March 16 1988, Saddam Hussein launched an attack on Halabja as part of the wider “Anfal” (Spoils of War) campaign, aimed at quashing the Kurdish rebellion in Northern Iraq. It is estimated that between 1987 and 1988 there were over 100 thousand civilian people were killed during the offensive, which also saw hundreds of toxic gas attacks on Kurdish and Christian villages.
There is an ongoing case to try those responsible for the Anfal campaign, including the former Iraqi President who was sentenced to death for the Shiite massacre of Dujail and hung in December 2006. Among the 6 remaining suspects on trial, Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al Majid, other wise known as “Chemical Ali”.
Officials from the Kurdish Regional Government affirm that Baghdad’s decision to commemorate the anniversary is a sign of “changing times”. But the local population claims that the authorities are doing little to help them: thousands of people still carry the scars of the chemical attacks, birth defects and miscarriages are high and many fear the soil remains contaminated.