Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

ENCORE!

Depardieu and Huppert reunite in Cannes

Read more

FASHION

Fashion houses present their cruise collections

Read more

#TECH 24

Tackling e-waste

Read more

#THE 51%

Modern-day slavery in Mexico

Read more

REPORTERS

A year after coup, Thai opposition resists junta rule

Read more

FOCUS

Ireland votes in world's first referendum on same-sex marriage

Read more

YOU ARE HERE

The Mont Saint-Michel, between sea and stone

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Massive trade bill clears key hurdle in US Senate

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Why should the U.S. fight for the Iraqis?'

Read more

An in-depth report by our senior reporters and team of correspondents from around the world. Every Saturday at 9.10 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

2015-05-21 Thailand

A year after coup, Thai opposition resists junta rule

On May 22 last year, Thailand’s military seized control of the country after months of protests against the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Since then,...

Read more

2015-05-14 Jacques Chirac

Are there lessons to be learned from Chirac’s foreign policy?

20 years after Jacques Chirac was voted into power, how should we view the foreign policy of a president who famously said "non" to the US war on terror?

Read more

2015-05-08 Colombia

Colombia’s toxic war on drugs

Colombia is one of the world’s largest cocaine-producing countries. To fight coca production and weaken the FARC guerrilla, whose main source of revenue is narcotics trafficking,...

Read more

2015-04-30 Syria

Syria: On the trail of looted antiquities

As the war in Syria enters its fifth year, the trafficking of looted antiquities is adding a new dimension to the tragic conflict. Many Syrian artefacts are smuggled across the...

Read more

2015-04-24 World War I

Saving French soldiers' WWI trench carvings

In 1914, a former underground quarry in Picardy in northern France is requisitioned by the French army. For almost four years, hundreds of soldiers were stationed there. Many...

Read more