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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 07:05 GMT
Iraqi Kurds recall chemical attack
Mass grave for 25 of the victims at Halabja
More than 5,000 civilians were killed
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By the BBC's Hiwa Osman

Iraq's Kurdish region came to a standstill at 11 am on Saturday to observe a five-minute silence in memory of those killed by Iraq's chemical weapons attack in the Kurdish city of Halabja 14 years ago.

Iraqi aircraft shelled Halabja with chemical weapons on 16 March 1988, in an attack which left 5,000 dead and 7,000 injured or with long-term illnesses.

I lost 120 of my relatives. I'm the only one left

Kurdish woman

The event was remembered in different way across the region.

Kurdistan TV displayed a black band throughout its broadcast.

Vigils, performances and exhibitions about the tragedy were organised across the region.

The chemistry department at the university of Salah al-Din organised a seminar on the effects of chemical weapons.

Thousands marched to the city of Halabja to lay wreaths on the graves of victims, whose surviving relatives received the visitors.

"I lost 120 of my relatives, who were in Halabja for a wedding" said a woman to Kurdistan TV. "I'm the only one left"

On the road to Halabja, gas masks and shells of the chemical bombs - painted with question marks - were displayed at the entrance to the city.


The chemical after-effects of the attack are still affecting people.

School destroyed during bombing
Schools and other buildings were ruined
"Traces of the chemicals agents are still residing in the water, air and food," said one surgeon.

Since the chemical attacks, the number of various forms of cancer, birth deformities, still-born babies and miscarriages is reported to have dramatically increased.

Four years ago, Christine Gosden, a doctor from Liverpool, carried out a survey on the health situation in Halabja which suggested blood disorders, including leukaemia had increased three to five times in Halabja and surrounding areas.

She is now leading a campaign to meet the health needs of victims by training doctors from the region to treat the various illnesses.

Bitter memories

Woman who lost all her family
Some people saw all their families killed
"Halabja is a black mark on the reputation of the international community, " said the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Prime Minister Barham Salih, addressing a gathering in Halabja.

"Had it not been for Iran and the voices of Danielle Mitterrand, Anne Clwyd, Andrei Sakharov [Russian Nobel prize winner] and Senator Pell, the perpetrators of the crime would not have been exposed to the world," he said.

The attack on Halabja took place during the Iran-Iraq war when Iraq enjoyed the support of the west against Iran.

US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said: "Saddam Hussein's regime must never be permitted to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction programmes".

There is increasing speculations that the US-led war on terror could target Iraq because of its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The Kurdish region would then have a key role to play, as it could become a base for attacks against Baghdad.

But Kurds are wary of declaring their support for such a war.

"The world did nothing when Halabja took place. Saddam is still there. Who says he is not going to do it again?" said a Kurdish journalist.

See also:

15 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurd leader tours region
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Saddam renews Kurdish threats
13 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney prepares US troops for action
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