Kurdish Lesson 06 - Halabja

Lesson 05 was a written about 6 weeks ago and, at the end of it, I promised that the next lesson would cover Halabja.

Today, Kirkuk is arguably the most important Kurdish city to which we should be paying attention. In fact, just this week the Kurdish members of the Iraqi parliament walked out over it. Kirkuk will probably be lesson 07.

Kirkuk's prominence in Kurdish news today is directly tied to the events which led up to the tragedy of Halabja; Saddam Hussein's genocidal campaign against the Kurds.


On March 16, 1988, the Iraqi government attacked the kurdish city of Halabja with chemical weapons killing 5,000 people and injuring 10,000 others. As of today, it's the worst chemical attack on a civilian population in history.

This image of a man shielding a young child has become an icon in Kurdistan.


The grinding Iran-Iraq war was coming to a close in 1988 and the border city of Halabja was caught in the middle. Claiming that the Irani army was in the city, the Iraqi air force attacked.

The air force began bombing the city with conventional weapons driving the people of Halabja into their cellars. The gas used in the chemical weapons were heavier than the air, so the cellars where perhaps the worst places to hide. This is one reason why the death toll was so high.

This attack on the Kurds can be considered as part of Iraq's Anfal campaign. Anfal was the systematic genocide of the Kurdish population of northern Iraq. From 1986 to 1999 up to 200,000 Kurds were murdered by the Ba'ath regime. 4,000 villages were destroyed and 250 towns and villages were exposed to chemical weapons (see wikipedia article).

Recommended Reading:

Obviously what I've written is only a brief summary. The US Department of State published an article on their website which I highly recommend.

The Lessons of Halabja

In truth, it was probably written as propaganda during the build up to the invasion. However, that doesn't make it any less true.


Now that Saddam is gone and the Kurdish region of Iraq has autonomy, the Kurds of Halabja are still dealing with the aftermath of the gas attack. The city was made virually unlivable following the attack, but many of the survivors stayed.

In 2003, the Kurdish government erected a memorial for the attack and in 2006 an angry mob burned it down.

This to me is one of the most interesting parts of the story. 18 years after the attack the city of Halabja still had yet to receive any significant government assistance - and since 1991, that means Kurdish government assistance. On the anniversary of the attack each year, Kurdish politicians would make the trip to Halabja and make promises to the people and use the events of 1988 as a rallying cry for unity behind the government in power.

In 2006, fed up with empty promises, the people of Halabja staged a protest on the anniversary and torched the monument reclaiming their tragedy from the hands of their ineffective leaders.

Ok, that's all I have. Be sure to read the article I referenced above.


Mobea said...

I know that I 'm being very selfish, but I would have loved to have heard about how Nila first birthay went. But now that it is history too, I guess that history #5 on Kurdistand will have to do.

rdmeeker said...

Hey, Mo,

We won't keep the details of Nila's 1st birthday from you. Never fear.


You'll have to wait. She wasn't born until September 1st.

As of today, she's only 11 months and 1 day.