Iraqi Kurds mourned on Sunday the deaths of around 5,000 villagers from Halabja who were massacred 20 years ago in chemical attacks blamed on Saddam Hussein's forces during the Iran-Iraq war.
Ismail Abdallah Rashid was buried two days ago in the northern Iraqi village of Halabja -- his body finally succumbed to the effects of gas attacks carried out by Saddam Hussein's forces on this day 20 years ago.
Rashid becomes the latest in the still-growing toll of around 5,000 villagers from Halabja who have so far died from the chemical attacks carried out on March 16, 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war.
Dozens of others are still suffering the after-effects of one of the biggest military strikes by Saddam's forces on Iraq's Kurds and two decades later, survivors continue to bury loved ones poisoned by the gas.
"Ismail had been helping bury the victims of the gas attacks on Halabja when he himself was poisoned by the chemicals. He died on Friday," said Luqman Mohammed, one of the founders of Halabja Victims' Society, a non-profit organisation representing victims.
Mohammed added that Rashid had since the poisoning suffered severe asthma, which slowly killed him.
The attack on Halabja was among a series of military assaults carried out by Saddam's forces in the 1980s in the northern Kurdish regions of Iraq.
Bahar Hassan, 40, a primary school teacher, recalls the "terrible" events of March 16, 1988, which she says are still fresh in her mind.
"Dozens of children and women were killed by the chemical bombing. Their pain and trauma needs to be addressed," Hassan told AFP.
"We need more private hospitals to deal with the victims who are still suffering."
The Halabja Victims' Society wants the perpetrators of the gas attacks to be hanged.
"We are demanding that the government execute Ali Hassan al-Majid and his associates," said Aras Abid, spokesman for the organisation.
"We are not concerned whether he is executed in Halabja or not. What is important is that he is executed somewhere in Iraq."
Majid, the top hatchet man of Saddam and who spearheaded the strikes against the Kurds, has been sentenced to death for genocide after he was found guilty of overseeing the killing of 180,000 Kurds in the 1988 Anfal campaign in which around 4,000 villages were attacked.
At the end of February Iraq's presidency endorsed the execution of Majid, known to the world as "Chemical Ali", but no date has been set to carry it out.
Saddam's regime said the Anfal campaign was a necessary counter-insurgency operation during Iraq's 1980-1988 war with Iran.
Majid's execution has been delayed following a series of legal wranglings.
"We are vehemently criticising the delay in Majid's execution. He ruined and destroyed the area," said a statement by another local group, the Halabja Organisation for Anfal Resistance.
Local Kurds have demanded that the Iraqi government take measures to reconstruct the village, which they say has still not recovered from the gas attacks.
"Halabja is still suffering. The Iraqi government is not concerned about Halabja," said Nemat Marof, 36.
"Halabja is a symbol of national tragedy. It needs a big budget so that it can be rebuilt."
Date created : 2008-03-16