Halabja poison gas attack
|Halabja poison gas attack|
|Part of Iran-Iraq War
Operation Zafar 7
A street of Halabja after the attack
A photo by Iranian photographer Sayeed Janbozorgi (three more). Janbozorgi died in 2003 due to chemical weapon injuries from the war.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ali Hassan al-Majid|
|Casualties and losses|
|3,200-5,000 killed; 7,000-10,000 injured|
The Halabja poison gas attack (Kurdish: کیمیابارانی ھەڵەبجە Kîmyabarana Helebce), also known as Halabja massacre or Bloody Friday, was a genocidal massacre against the Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, during the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War, when chemical weapons were used by the Iraqi government forces in the Kurdish town of Halabja in Southern Kurdistan.
The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people, and injured around 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians; thousands more died of complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack. The incident, which has been officially defined as an act of genocide against the Kurdish people in Iraq, was and still remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history.
The Halabja attack has been recognized as a separate event from the Anfal Genocide that was also conducted against the Kurdish people by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi High Criminal Court recognized the Halabja massacre as an act of genocide on March 1, 2010, a decision welcomed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The attack was also condemned as a crime against humanity by the Parliament of Canada.
It was an event that is historically separate from the Operation Anfal (the 1986–1989 campaign conducted by Saddam Hussein's regime's in order to terrorize the Kurdish rural population and end the peshmerga rebellions by brutal means), as the Iranian troops allied to the rebels were also involved in the Halabja events. Nevertheless, the victims of the tragedy are often included in accounting the deaths attributable to the Anfal campaign, which was characterised by the widespread and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by Iraq.
Chemical attacks 
The five-hour attack began early in the evening of March 16, 1988, following a series of indiscriminate conventional (rocket and napalm) attacks, when Iraqi MiG and Mirage aircraft began dropping chemical bombs on Halabja's residential areas, far from the besieged Iraqi army base on the outskirts of the town. According to regional Kurdish rebel commanders, Iraqi aircraft conducted up to 14 bombings in sorties of seven to eight planes each; helicopters coordinating the operation were also seen. Eyewitnesses told of clouds of smoke billowing upward "white, black and then yellow"', rising as a column about 150 feet (46 m) in the air.
Survivors said the gas at first smelled of sweet apples; they said people died in a number of ways, suggesting a combination of toxic chemicals (some of the victims "just dropped dead" while others "died of laughing"; while still others took a few minutes to die, first "burning and blistering" or coughing up green vomit). It is believed that Iraqi forces used multiple chemical agents during the attack, including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX; some sources have also pointed to the blood agent hydrogen cyanide (most of the wounded taken to hospitals in the Iranian capital Tehran were suffering from mustard gas exposure).
The first images after the attack were taken by Iranian journalists who later spread the pictures in Iranian newspapers; a film of the atrocity was also shown worldwide via news programmes. Some of those first pictures were taken by Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan, who described the scene to Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times. He was about eight kilometres outside Halabja with a military helicopter when the Iraqi MiG-23 fighter-bombers flew in: "It was not as big as a nuclear mushroom cloud, but several smaller ones: thick smoke." He was shocked by the scenes on his arrival in the town, though he had seen gas attacks before at the front lines:
Saddam Hussein's government officially blamed Iran for the attack. The international response at the time was muted and the United States even suggested Iran was responsible.
Destruction and partial restoration of Halabja 
After Halabja was retaken from the hands of the Iranian and Kurdish rebel forces, Iraqi troops in NBC suits came to Halabja to study the effectiveness of their weapons and attacks. The town, littered with unburied dead, was then systematically razed by the Iraqi forces using bulldozers and explosives. It was partially rebuilt by the returning Kurds later, even as chemical weapons contaminated the food and water supplies, soil, and animal populations. In 2003, some 50,000 people lived in the town, compared to some 80,000 in 1988. As of 2008, it is believed there are still undiscovered mass graves in Halabja.
Medical and genetic consequences 
In surveys by local doctors, a higher percentage of medical disorders, miscarriages (14 times higher), and colon cancer (10 times higher) was found in Halabja compared to Chamchamal; additionally, "other cancers, respiratory ailments, skin and eye problems, fertility and reproductive disorders are measurably higher in Halabja and other areas caught in chemical attacks". Some of those who survived the attack or were apparently injured only lightly at the time, later developed medical problems doctors believe stemmed from the chemicals, and there are concerns that the attack may be having a lasting genetic impact on the Kurdish population, as preliminary surveys show increased rates of birth defects.
On December 23, 2005, a Dutch court sentenced Frans van Anraat, a businessman who bought chemicals on the world market and sold them to Saddam's regime, to 15 years in prison. The court ruled that Saddam committed genocide against the people of Halabja; this was the first time the Halabja attack was described as an act of genocide in a court ruling. In March 2008, the government of Iraq announced plans to take legal action against the suppliers of chemicals used in the poison gas attack.
Saddam Hussein was not charged by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes against humanity relating to the events at Halabja. However, the Iraqi prosecutors had "500 documented baskets of crimes during the Hussein regime" and Hussein was condemned to death based on just one case (the 1982 Dujail Massacre). Among several documents revealed during the trial of Saddam Hussein, one was a 1987 memo from Iraq's military intelligence seeking permission from the president's office to use mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin against Kurds. A second document said in reply that Saddam had ordered military intelligence to study the possibility of a "sudden strike" using such weapons against Iranian and Kurdish forces. An internal memo written by military intelligence confirmed it had received approval from the president's office for a strike using "special ammunition" and emphasized that no strike would be launched without first informing the president. Saddam himself told the court: "In relation to Iran, if any military or civil official claims that Saddam gave orders to use either conventional or special ammunition, which as explained is chemical, I will take responsibility with honor. But I will discuss any act committed against our people and any Iraqi citizen, whether Arab or Kurdish. I don't accept any insult to my principles or to me personally."
Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (who commanded Iraqi forces in northern Iraq in that period, which earned him a nickname of "Chemical Ali") was condemned to death by hanging by an Iraqi court in January 2010, after being found guilty of orchestrating the Halabja massacre. Al-Majid was first sentenced to hang in 2007 for his role in a 1988 military campaign against ethnic Kurds, codenamed Anfal, and in 2008 he also twice received a death sentence for his crimes against the Iraqi Shia Muslims, in particular for his role in crushing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq and his involvement in the 1999 killings in the Sadr City district of Baghdad (then called Saddam City). He was executed on January 25, 2010.
International sources for technology and chemical precursors 
The know-how and material for developing chemical weapons were obtained by Saddam's regime from foreign sources. The largest suppliers of precursors for chemical weapons production were in Singapore (4,515 tons), the Netherlands (4,261 tons), Egypt (2,400 tons), India (2,343 tons), and West Germany (1,027 tons). One Indian company, Exomet Plastics (now part of EPC Industrie Ltd.) sent 2,292 tons of precursor chemicals to Iraq. The Kim Al-Khaleej firm, located in Singapore and affiliated to United Arab Emirates (UAE), supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX, sarin, and mustard gas precursors and production equipment to Iraq.
The provision of chemical precursors from United States companies to Iraq was enabled by a Ronald Reagan Administration policy that removed Iraq from the State Department's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Leaked portions of Iraq's "Full, Final and Complete" disclosure of the sources for its weapons programs shows that thiodiglycol, a substance needed to manufacture mustard gas, was among the chemical precursors provided to Iraq from US companies such as Alcolac International and Phillips. Both companies have since undergone reorganization and Phillips, once a subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum is now part of ConocoPhillips, an American oil and discount fossil fuel company, while Alcolac International has since dissolved and reformed as Alcolac Inc. Alcolac was named as a defendant in the Aziz v. Iraq case presently pending in the United States District Court (Case No. 1:09-cv-00869-MJG).
Allegations of Iranian involvement 
The U.S. State Department, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, took the official position based on examination of available evidence that Iran was partly to blame. A preliminary Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study at the time reported that it was Iran that was responsible for the attack, an assessment which was used subsequently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for much of the early 1990s. The CIA's senior political analyst for the Iran-Iraq war, Stephen C. Pelletiere, co-authored an unclassified analysis of the war which contained a brief summary of the DIA study's key points. The CIA altered its position radically in the late 1990s and cited Halabja frequently in its evidence of weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Pelletiere claimed that a fact that has not been successfully challenged is that Iraq was not known to have possessed the cyanide-based blood agents determined to have been responsible for the condition of the bodies that were examined, and that blue discolorations around the mouths of the victims and in their extremities, pointed to Iranian-used gas as the culprit. Leo Casey writing in Dissent Magazine argued that "none of the authors of these documents [...] had any expertise in medical and forensic sciences, and their speculation doesn't stand up to minimal scrutiny." Some[who?] opponents to the sanctions against Iraq have cited the DIA report to support their position that Iraq was not responsible for the Halabja attack.
Joost Hiltermann, who was the principal researcher for Human Rights Watch between 1992–1994, conducted a two-year study of the massacre, including a field investigation in northern Iraq. According to his analysis of thousands of captured Iraqi secret police documents and declassified U.S. government documents, as well as interviews with scores of Kurdish survivors, senior Iraqi defectors and retired U.S. intelligence officers, it is clear that Iraq carried out the attack on Halabja, and that the United States, fully aware of this, nevertheless accused Iran, Iraq's enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. This research concluded there were numerous other gas attacks, unquestionably perpetrated against the Kurds by the Iraqi armed forces. According to Hiltermann, the literature on the Iran-Iraq war reflects a number of allegations of chemical weapons use by Iran, but these are "marred by a lack of specificity as to time and place, and the failure to provide any sort of evidence". Hiltermann called these allegations "mere assertions" and added that "no persuasive evidence of the claim that Iran was the primary culprit was ever presented." An investigation into responsibility for the Halabja massacre, by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders, Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute also concluded in 2007 that Iraq was the culprit, and not Iran. The 2002 International Crisis Group (ICG) no. 136 "Arming Sadaam: The Yugoslav Connection" concludes it was "tacit approval" by many world governments that led to the Iraqi regime being armed with weapons of mass destruction, despite sanctions, because of the ongoing Iranian conflict.
2006 Halabja memorial riot 
In March 2003, the Monument of Halabja Martyrs was built in the still largely ruined city. On March 16, 2006, a few thousand angry residents rioted at the site in protest of what they perceived as the neglect of the living and capitalizing on the tragedy by the Kurdish leadership. The memorial was set on fire, destroying most of its archives; one of the rioters was shot dead by the police and dozens of people were injured. It was later rebuilt as the Halabja Memorial Monument aka Halabja Monument and Peace Museum.
In popular culture 
- The industrial band Skinny Puppy included a track "VX Gas Attack" on their 1988 album VIVIsectVI, based on the Halabja poison gas attack. The backing video for this song used on their Too Dark Park album tour featured various video clips showing victims of the attacks being treated for their injuries, as well as the bodies of those who perished in the attacks.
- The character Sniper Wolf from the 1998 video game Metal Gear Solid is a Kurdish survivor of the attack, which forms part of her motivation for revenge against the world.
- The 2002 British post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later features a scene where the protagonist walks into a deserted diner and finds a dead mother clutching her dead child on the floor. The director's audio commentary reveals the scene was inspired by footage and pictures of the Halabja gas attack.
- The 2006 documentary film Screamers about the Armenian American band System of a Down featured a significant segment on the Halabja gas attack.
- The Dutch death metal band The Monolith Deathcult composed a track about the gassing on the album 2008 Trivmvirate, titled "Wrath of the Ba'ath".
- In 2008, Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider released the album Silent City in memory of the Halabja Massacre. As Kalhor has writes on the back cover, "The piece commemorates the Kurdish village of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is based on an altered Aminor scale and uses Kurdish themes to remember the Kurdish people." In 2011, Kayhan Kalhor, Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble performed Silent City at Sanders Theater. Silk Road Project released video of last part of the performance on YouTube.
See also 
- BBC ON THIS DAY | 16 | 1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack
- "Halabja, the massacre the West tried to ignore"
- Death Clouds: Saddam Hussein’s Chemical War Against the Kurds
- 1988 Kurdish massacre labeled genocide, UPI, 8 March 2010
- Pike, John. Chemical Weapons Programs: History, Federation of American Scientists, 8 November 1998
- Kinsley, Susan. Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?, Human Rights Watch, 11 March 1991
- Kurdish gov. lauds Iraq recognized Halabja as genocide, AK News, 1 March 2010
- "House adopts Karygiannis Motion on Halabja Gassing as a Crime Against Humanity". 2010-03-16. Retrieved 2010-03-19.
- Iraqi Kurds grieve Halabja victims, Al Jazeera, 16 March 2008
- The Smell of Apples, BBC, 06/07/06
- Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?, HRW, March 11, 1991
- A committed defender of free expression
- Halabja: America didn't seem to mind poison gas, NYT, January 17, 2003
- Long term hazards of chemical weapon agents: Analysis of soil samples from Kurdistan
- Kurds look back with fear, BBC News, 22 July 2002
- Saddam's 'Dutch link', BBC News, 23 December 2005
- Iraq says to sue Halabja chemical weapons suppliers, LA News, March 27, 2003
- Hussein executed with 'fear in his face', CNN, December 30, 2006
- Saddam says responsible for any Iran gas attacks, Boston Globe, December 18, 2006
- Saddam admits Iran gas attacks, The Age, December 19, 2006
- 'Chemical Ali' executed in Iraq after Halabja ruling, BBC News, 25 January 2010
- German and European firms were involved
- What Iraq Admitted About its Chemical Weapons Program
- Made in the USA: A guide to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction
- FMFRP 3-203 - Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War
- IRAQ'S CHEMICAL WARFARE
- Iran Chemical Weapon Update - 1998
- Casey, Leo (Summer 2003). "Questioning Halabja". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- International Currency Review, Volume 34
- Iranian Use of Chemical Weapons: A Critical Analysis of Past Allegations | March 7, 2001 by Jean Pascal Zanders, SIPRI Chemical and Biological Warfare Project
- Memorial to Gas Attack Victims Spurs Controversy, PBS, September 2006
- Silent City, Amazon.com
- Silk Road Project: Silent City, Youtube.com
- Joost R. Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (2007) ISBN 0-521-87686-9
- Michael J. Kelly, Ghosts of Halabja: Saddam Hussein & the Kurdish Genocide (2008) ISBN 0-275-99210-1
- Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2003) ISBN 0-06-054164-4
- Lawrence Potter, Gary Sick, Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War (2004) ISBN 1-4039-6450-5
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Halabja chemical attack|
- Halabja gas attack and the Al-Anfal campaign, Human Rights Watch report, 11 March 1991
- Saddam's secret weapon, Channel 4, 16 March 1998
- The 1988 Chemical Weapons Attack on Halabja, Iraq by Christine M. Gosden, Professor of Medical Genetics, University of Liverpool, 2001
- Rumsfeld should know: Who minded Iraqi mustard gas in 1983?, International Herald Tribune, 29 November 2002
- Gas attack town cries out for vengeance, The Telegraph, 20/02/2003
- Saddam's Chemical Weapons Campaign: Halabja, 16 March 1988, U.S. State Department, 14 March 2003
- Eyewitness: Halabja gas attack, BBC News, 16 March 2003
- Iraqi Kurds remember day Saddam gassed them, The Telegraph, 17/03/2003
- Kurdish town of Halabja remembers Saddam's chemical attack, CNN, 17 March 2003
- 'We blame Saddam for everything', The Guardian, 17 March 2003
- Experiencing chemical warfare: Two physicians tell their story of Halabja in Northern Iraq, CMA, 9 September 2004
- Mass grave found in northern Iraq, BBC News, 10 September 2004
- Halabja survivors seek justice, BBC News, 19 October 2005
- Eyewitness in Halabja, Wildcat 13, 1989
- Halabja watches Hussein's trial and waits for Its day in court, Kurd Net, 26.12.2005
- Kurds Turn Violent in Protest Against Their Leaders, The New York Times, 16 March 2006
- Hundreds protest as Kurds remember Halabja gas attack, The Independent, 17 March 2006
- Kurds Destroy Monument in Rage at Leadership, The New York Times, 17 March 2006
- Halabja Bears Scars 18 Years After Chemical Attack, Voice of America, 16 July 2006
- Halabja: whom does the truth hurt?, openDemocracy, 4-09-2007
- Halabja 1988: Largest poison gas massacre of civilians since the Second World War, Society for Threatened Peoples, 13 March 2008
- Halabja: the politics of memory by Joost R Hiltermann, openDemocracy, 14-03-2008
- Halabja: Lessons of a tragedy, interview with Joost Hiltermann, Kurd Net, 15.3.2008
- Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal, Kurd Net, 15.3.2008
- Revisiting Halabja, 20 years after chemical attack, town still bears scars, Kurd Net, 15.3.2008
- Iraqi Kurds Mark 20th Anniversary of Halabja Poison Gas Attack, Voice of America, 16 March 2008
- Iraqi Kurds mourn Halabja attack victims, AFP, 16 March 2008
- Victims of Halabja chemical attacks honored, Islamic Republic News Agency, 17 March 2008