03/16 – The Halabja Chemical Attack

Clouds of mustard gas and other unidentified chemical substances rise into the air over Halabja. (Kurdistan.net)

On this day in 1988, SU-22 jets from the Iraqi Air Force began dropping chemical munitions on Halabja, a Kurdish town located in Northern Iraq. Taking place during the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi air raid was, ostensibly, an effort to drive the Iranian army out of the city. But as the munitions landed in Halabja in the evening of March 16th, it became clear that the attack would prove devastating for the city’s Kurdish population. Iranian troops quickly donned their protective gear and pulled back, but as the mustard gas (a WWI-era cytotoxin) fell, ordinary people began dying in droves. According to a Kurdish man caught in the gas…

…I saw people lying on the ground, vomiting a green-colored liquid, while others became hysterical and began laughing loudly before falling motionless onto the ground. Later, I smelled an aroma that reminded me of apples and I lost consciousness. When I awoke, there were hundreds of bodies scattered around me – that is when terror begins to take hold […]. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.

A crowd of Kurdish refugees in the early 1990s, a result of the Iraqi regime’s merciless attacks on their population. The Kurds are attempting to enter Turkey. (Reddit)

Roughly 5,000 people died in the Iraqi chemical attack; Halabja was abandoned, and later destroyed, by Iraqi troops. Although the attack was apparently aimed at Iranian positions, the deaths of the local Kurds was not an accident. During the Iran-Iraq war, many in Kurdistan – a semi-autonomous administered by Iraq – joined insurgent groups in an effort to secure their independence. In response, the Iraqi government sanctioned attacks on Kurdish civilians resulting in the deaths of roughly 180,000 people. Known as the Anfal Genocide, the Iraqi campaign against the Kurds prompted global condemnation of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist regime at large. To date, the massacre at Halabja is the single worst instance of chemical warfare against civilians.

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