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Last Updated:  Sunday, 16 March, 2003, 17:35 GMT
Kurds mark Iraq gas attack
The BBC's Jim Muir
By Jim Muir
BBC correspondent in northern Iraq

Halabja gas attack victims
Thousands died in the attack
The Kurds of northern Iraq are marking the 15th anniversary of the chemical attack carried out by Iraqi Government forces on the town of Halabja, where at least 5,000 people, many of them women and children, died in a single day.

With another war apparently looming, many Kurds today fear that Saddam Hussein's forces may again lash out at them with chemical weapons in revenge for their opposition to his regime.

Some things may be forgotten over 15 years but not a disaster or atrocity of this magnitude.

Practically everybody in Halabja lost close relatives or friends that day.

Some tried to escape the bombing by sheltering in basements, not knowing that poison gas is heavier than air.

Others tried to flee but were caught in the deadly clouds and died where they fell, mothers clutching their dead babies to them.

Long-term effects

It is not just the scale of the loss that makes this still a living reality.

I fell unconscious when the bombardment started
Dana Nazif

Many people who escaped death were affected by the cocktail of chemicals that was used against them.

Some have developed respiratory or visual problems.

Doctors report that cancers and birth abnormality rates are much higher than in other areas.

There are fears of genetic damage.

This 15th anniversary comes at a poignant moment, with fears that another war may be imminent.

More than 300,000 people in the province which includes Halabja have signed a petition calling on the Americans and their allies to protect the Kurds against possible retaliation by the Baghdad regime.

More than most, the people of Halabja would love to see the end of Saddam Hussein but many are sceptical about American motives, pointing out that Washington was backing him at the time and tried to blame nearby Iran for the chemical attack on Halabja.

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