Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the chemical attack on the city of Halabja by the regime led by Saddam Hussein.
Halabja, a small agricultural center of about 70,000 inhabitants, is bombed with a compound of mustard gas, nerve gas and other lethal agents. A bomb was dropped every twenty meters. Five Soviet Sukhoi were used to release them, and they flew low over the houses for six interminable hours. Instantly the victims are estimated at over five thousand; later there will be talk of twelve thousand victims, but thousands are those who will suffer permanent serious injuries.
The inhabitants did not immediately notice what was happening: the attack was rapid, concentrated and well organised to the point of not allowing a large part of the population to escape to safety. Many were found lifeless as they prepared to perform daily gestures: breastfeeding babies, children walking with their parents, vendors or simple passers-by.
This attack was part of the military operation called "Operation Anfal", which led to the deaths between 1986 and 1989 between 50,000 and 182,000 people and which was part of a campaign of "Arabization" perpetrated by the Regime of Saddam Hussein and led by General Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "the Chemist". The name of the campaign was chosen from the eighth sura (Al-Anfal) of the Quran.
It was the media of neighboring Iran that initially gave media coverage to the story, attracting the attention of the major international newspapers, which soon flocked to the ruins of Halabja to document what happened. One of the photos taken, presumably a mother holding a girl held tightly in her arms, will become a sculpture, placed on the memorial erected in memory of the victims.
For the trial of the war criminals who carried out the carnage it will take twenty years and Ali the Chemist will be sentenced to hang in 2010, together with other generals of the Regime.
Today a "boot-hill" has been set up on the hills of Halabja, scattered with commemorative plaques, arranged in geometric order on the slopes behind the city and bearing the names of the 5,000 who lost their lives that day.
Sweden, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom have recognized Anfal as a case of genocide.