The Halabja Poison Gas Attack (Kurdish: Kîmyabarana Helebce), also known as the Halabja Massacre or Bloody Friday was a genocidal attack on the Kurdish people that took place on March 16th, 1988 towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war, when chemical weapons used by Iraqi government forces on the Kurdish city of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The attack resulted in about 5,000 deaths and over 11,000 injures. Thousands more died from complications, diseases, and birth defects in the following years after the attack. The incident 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. This act of hatred has still not been recognized by the central Iraqi government as an act of genocide.
Recalling the scenes at Halabja, Golestan described the scene 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 said. He was shocked by the scenes on his arrival in the town, though he had seen gas attacks before during the brutal Iran-Iraq War:
It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.
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. The United States government, which at the time was allied with Iraq in its war with Iran, said the images could not be verified to be the responsibility of Iraq.
Survivors said the people died in a number of ways: some just dropped dead while others died of laughing. Others took a few minutes to die, first burning or coughing up green vomit.
This was the single largest attack using gas on a certain type of people since WWII. The Genocide perpetrated over decades, known collectively as the Anfal, began with the arabisation of villages around Kirkuk in 1963. It involved the deportation and disappearances of Faylee Kurds in the 1970s-80s, the murder of 8,000 male Barzanis in 1983, the use of chemical weapons in the late 1980s, most notably against Halabja, and finally the Anfal campaign of 1987-88. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people perished, families were torn apart, with continuing health problems, and 4,500 villages were destroyed between 1976 and 1988 undermining the potential of Iraqi Kurdistan’s agricultural resources.
If you are a citizen of the UK or you know someone who lives in the UK: please tell them to sign this petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014 to urge the Government to recognise formally the Genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan and to encourage the EU and UN to do likewise. This will enable Kurdish people, many in the UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss. It would also enable Britain, the home of democracy and freedom, to send out a message of support for international conventions and human rights.
Let us never forget. Let this never happen again.