Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 01 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Coverage of Gaza in the Israeli media

Read more

REPORTERS

1914-1918: The Depths of Hell

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 01 August 2014

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Exclusive: Israel's US ambassador speaks to FRANCE 24

Read more

#THE 51%

World War One: The war that changed women’s lives

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Ségolène Royal goes for green

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

A look back at some of the Observers' best stories

Read more

DEBATE

Argentina Defaults: Kirchner Cries Foul Over 'Vulture Funds' (part 2)

Read more

An in-depth report by our senior reporters and team of correspondents from around the world. Every Saturday at 8.40 pm Paris time.

REPORTERS

REPORTERS

Latest update : 2014-05-02

Iraq: In the shadow of the Halabja massacre

© FRANCE 24

Twenty-five years ago, Saddam Hussein orchestrated one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Baghdad regime accused the Kurds of treason and collaboration with the Iranian army. In retaliation, on March 16th, 1988, the town of Halabja, in Iraqi Kurdistan, was bombarded with chemical weapons. In just a few hours, 5,000 people were killed. Today, the wounds of this massacre have still not healed. Our reporters went to Halabja.

Operation Anfal, led by Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (nicknamed “Chemical Ali”), destroyed the city of Halabja and wiped out a large part of its population.

On March 16, 1988, from 10.45am, Iraqi army MiG and Mirage fighter jets flew over the area for five hours and dropped chemical bombs containing a mixture of mustard gas and Tabun, Sarin and VX nerve gases. A thick white, then yellow, cloud rose. A sickening smell of apple filled the air. The inhabitants, trapped, collapsed one after the other. The attack killed up to 5,000 people, mostly women and children, and injured thousands more.

A quarter of a century later, what has become of the region? What are the long-term consequences of such a massacre? How do the survivors and their descendants live today? With these questions in mind, we travelled to Halabja.

We discovered that all the inhabitants of this Kurdish city located 250 kilometres north-east of Baghdad were affected in one way or another by the massacre. In every house, people keep apples in memory of the dead. Everyone remembers stories, each more tragic than the next.

We met survivors of Operation Anfal, who still bear the scars of the massacre. Cancer, respiratory and dermatological problems are the daily lot of those in the region. We also saw indirect victims of the massacre; children born with birth defects, or others who became ill after discovering a mass grave. There are also the unexploded bombs that farmers stumble upon in their fields.

‘Genocide’?

Despite this, there is no psychologist or specialised doctor present in the region. Victims travel to neighbouring Iran to see doctors and accrue debts in order to have treatment. For several years, a specialized centre for the victims has been under construction in Halabja, but it has not yet been completed.

Today, the Kurds want the Halabja massacre to be recognised as a “genocide". The international community remains silent. Because it supported Iraq against Iran at the time, it looked the other way. Only the Iraqi High Criminal Court and the Court of Appeal of The Hague employed the term "genocide" in 2007.

Meanwhile, some Western companies are accused of providing unconventional weapons to Saddam Hussein. Last year, on June 10, 2013, twenty Iraqi Kurds filed a lawsuit in Paris for "complicity in crimes against humanity". They are asking for an investigation into the role of several French companies and individuals who may have made ​​the chemical weapons massacre possible. Aside from the conviction of possible accomplices, the victims of Halabja also want the courts to grant them medical and financial aid.

By Sophia MARCHESIN , Marine COURTADE

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2014-08-01 France

1914-1918: The Depths of Hell

100 years ago, on August 3rd, 1914, Germany declared war on France. Europe was thrown into chaos, and the world plunged into total war. Machine guns, tanks, toxic gas, planes,...

Read more

2014-07-25 Islam

Halal tourism on the rise

The race to corner France’s Muslim market, which has already seen the development of such products as halal candy, cosmetics and clothing, has extended to holiday packages.

Read more

2014-07-18 Hong Kong

Hong Kong in rebellion against the 'motherland'

In 1997 Hong Kong was proud to re-establish its Chinese identity after more than 150 years under British colonisation. But the atmosphere has changed and Hong Kong is now in open...

Read more

2014-07-11 Pakistan

Exclusive: an unlikely victim of the 'War on Terror'

In the wake of the 9/11 terror attack, questions have been asked about the tactics used in former US president George W. Bush's "War on Terror". Extraordinary rendition saw many...

Read more

2014-07-04 Italy

Italy: Toxic Naples

Industrial sludge, all kinds of garbage and even nuclear waste... For years, organised crime dumped millions of tons of toxic waste on the outskirts of Naples. This contamination...

Read more