View Full Version : Kurds remember Saddam's WMD

09-16-03, 03:46 AM
16/09/2003 09:25 - (SA)

Halabja, Iraq - If sceptics doubt US claims that Saddam Hussein was a ticking bomb with weapons of mass destruction, this Kurdish town showed on Monday it had 5 000 reasons to believe.

Halabja gave a hero's welcome to US Secretary of State Colin Powell as he flew in trumpeting the US victory in ousting Saddam, accused by Washington of developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons

No stocks have been found but Esmail Abdulrahim Saleh and others here needed no convincing: they remember the 5 000 Halabja residents gassed to death in 1988 by Saddam's troops suppressing a Kurdish revolt.

"We fled to the mountains to hide in caves," said Saleh, a schoolteacher who was 12 years old at the time. "It was the Iranians who came to find us to take us to the hospitals in Tehran.

"Today there are still people who have respiratory attacks and serious skin diseases," he said.

Kadhaz Hama-Amin has a 15-year-old daughter who was a baby at the time of the massacre and still suffers from breathing problems.

"I've seen a lot of doctors about my daughter, but no one is able to say how she will pull through," she said.

Residents turned out in force on Monday to welcome Powell, who arrived by helicopter in this farming town on the second day of a trip aimed at bolstering support for the troubled five-month-old US occupation of Iraq.

They lined the route of his convoy, mixing the traditional Kurdish dress of puffed trousers and wide belt with the fatigues of peshmerga fighters. Women in black headscarves carried flowers or pictures of their loved ones.

Children issued smart military salutes while the crowd held aloft portraits of US President George W Bush and banners emblazoned with: "Our liberators are welcome," "We love America" or "Thank you President Bush".

The chief US diplomat spent several emotionally wrenching hours here, visiting a small monument built to mark the tragedy surrounded by 1 000 gravestones on the edge of the town.

At a ceremony with hundreds of relatives of those who perished from the town of 40 000 people, Powell stood flanked by US civil administrator Paul Bremer and Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani.

Powell toured a memorial museum housing a vast collection of photographs, many of them showing children struck down dead in the street as the toxins engulfed the town. The walls were etched with the names of the 5 000 dead.

After a minute's silence, the American stopped to speak to a mother carrying photographs of her dead children, before lighting candles in the centre of the room with the other officials.

But nobody here required any reminding of the horror that hit the town on the afternoon and evening of March 16, 1988, a day after it was captured by Iraqi Kurds from the Tehran-backed Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Largest gas attack

Iraqi planes exacted a fierce reprisal, swooping down for five hours and dropping dozens of chemical bombs in what experts said was the largest gas attack ever unleashed on civilians during combat.

The victims were essentially the elderly, women and children. The guerrillas and most of the men had earlier fled to the hills after the town was bombed by Saddam's men.

Experts say Iraq used a concoction of substances including concentrated tear gas, mustard gas and the nerve agent VX, shipped by the United States, France and Britain which backed Saddam in his eight-year war with Iran.

On Sunday Powell flew into Iraq preaching patience in a process of political and economic reform he said was threatened by "terrorists." On Monday, Halabja provided the perfect backdrop for his defence of the US-led invasion.

"This town is marked in history forever," Powell told the crowd. "The world should have acted sooner. What happened here in 1988 is never to happen again."