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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
'First step to justice' say Kurds
By Penny Spiller
BBC News Online

The victims of a chemical attack in Halabja in 1988
Thousands of Kurds lost their lives under Chemical Ali
News of the capture in Iraq of Ali Hassan al-Majid brought a day of double delight for proud mother Berivan Doski.

Earlier, she had learned her son - who came close to dying at the hands of the man dubbed Chemical Ali - had just passed his school exams.

Her son was just seven months old when they fled to Iran to escape the chemical bombs being dropped on the Kurdish region in northern Iraq by the Saddam Hussein regime.

"For a year afterwards I thought he would die, I thought I would die," said Berivan, who works for the London-based Kurdish Housing Association.

"He had a form of diarrhoea that doctors thought was incurable, and I devoted all my time to nursing him through it. The doctors were amazed when he began to recover."

I want him to stand in court and answer the questions - tell the people where their loved ones are
Rebwar Fatah
But Berivan and her family were among the lucky ones. Thousands of Kurds were killed in chemical attacks between 1987 and 1988 - 5,000 in the city of Halabja alone.

Many more were executed or disappeared in the campaign against the Kurds. Some estimate 50,000 people lost their lives.

Street executions

The man mainly held responsible is Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of the deposed leader who was in charge of northern Iraq - and the Kurdish region - at the time.

"The Kurdish people around the world will be very happy today," said Nazaneen Rashid, who lived in Sulaymaniyah before making her home in London.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as
Ali Hassan al-Majid may stand trial in Iraq
"Even the birds and the trees will be happy to hear of his arrest, because they too were affected by what this man did."

Nazaneen remembers a life lived under the constant threat of death. Anyone considered critical of the regime disappeared or was killed - often executed in public as a warning to others.

Her cousin was taken away in 1984 because of his perceived links to the communist party and his body was returned to the family two weeks later, blackened from the electric shocks.

"Afterwards, his wife and their four children were arrested and taken south. They were there for about a year, and were treated terribly badly. The children suffered a lot, and I think she is still suffering."

Rebwar Fatah lost his brother and never established what happened to him. "He was arrested in late 1988. Some papers were found in offices, raided during the uprising in Sulaymaniyah in 1989, which said he was killed by two bullets to his head. That's all we know."

While he is delighted at the arrest of Al-Majid, Rebwar says it is only a first step in the process to justice.

Accountability

"So many people disappeared and their whereabouts have never been determined. I know mothers who keep hoping their son will appear on the doorstep," said Rebwar, who now runs Kurdishmedia.com in southern England.

"I want him to stand in court and answer the questions - tell the people where their loved ones are."

His words are echoed by Berivan Doski.

"Today is a good day, but I won't be satisfied until he is brought to justice. I want to know exactly how the international community will handle him," she said.

"He has caused pain and suffering to thousands and thousands of people and he must have a punishment that will serve as a lesson to others that you cannot treat people this way and get away with it."

Dilshad Miran, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said Iraq's Governing Council - of which the KDP is a part - is currently setting up a court to try figures from the fallen regime.

"We do not have a date set," he said, adding that he hoped the system would be up and running within the year.

"We feel happy that people like Chemical Ali should be tried in an Iraqi court and by the Iraqi people themselves," he said.


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