Iraq's Kurds mark day Saddam gassed Halabja

Kurds in northern Iraq marked Sunday the 20th anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja in which more than 5,000 Kurds perished. ( dpa )

Officials from the Kurdish Autonomous Region unveiled the Halabja attack memorial, which commemorates a Kurdish man, Omar Khawir, whose photograph carrying a dead child epitomized the infamous attack, local media reported.

The details of the Halabja attacks emerged a few days after the air force of former President Saddam Hussein dropped chemicals on the city, including mustard gas and the nerve gas sarin in March 1988.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 people are also believed to have been injured in the attack in Halabja, 240 kilometres north-east of the capital Baghdad.

The injured survivors showed classic symptoms of mustard gas poison - blistered skin, blindness, vomiting and repiratory difficulties.

"Crimes of the Baath Party regime are like an incurable wound in our bodies," wrote Mullah Ahmed in the Kurdish daily Khabat on the anniversary of the atrocity.

The Halabja attack was an Iraqi assault against Iranian forces and their Kurdish allies and the city's civilians during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).

The mastermind of the attack, Saddam's deputy and cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid - also known as Chemical Ali - was sentenced to death in June 2007 over charges of crimes against humanity in a campaign against Kurds in the 1980s.

"The death sentence passed against Chemical Ali augurs well for all Kurds, particularly the people of Halabja, whose sufferings and pain are soothed by the sentence," wrote Shamal Ahmed in the newspaper Kurdistan Noi.

Twenty years after the attack, the population of Halbaja, still scarred by painful memories, languishes amid poverty and unemployment.

Iraq's Kurdish region has done so much to commemorate the anniversary of the attack every year by hoisting black banners and organizing cultural events, Muhammed Sheikh wrote in the Rosenamah daily.

But the government, said Sheikh, has neglected the dire economic situation in the city with a largely unemployed population.

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