- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

TEHRAN — A year before Saddam Hussein etched Halabja, Iraq, in history as a place of infamy and horror, he conducted a trial run in the Iranian town Sardasht. Its residents are still waiting to see him answer for it.

“The greatest aspect of this crime was the silence we heard from both Iran and the international community,” Hossein Mohammadian, a 44-year-old survivor of the Sardasht bombing, said in a telephone interview from his hometown.

“If this court trying Saddam is to be a just and humane court and not be a tool for political and economic interests, it must include Sardasht.”

On March 28, 1987, Saddam’s forces dropped seven 550-pound bombs containing mustard gas on a civilian population of 20,000, inflicting lifelong trauma on its inhabitants.

“This was definitely a crime,” said Shariar Khateri, a physician dedicated to treating the victims of chemical weapons used during the Iran-Iraq war.

Iranian officials have already begun preparing a case against Saddam for crimes during the Iran-Iraq war to present to the special tribunal now meeting in Baghdad.

Among the seven charges filed against Saddam last week were the chemical bombardment of Halabja in eastern Iraq and Iraq’s invasion and attempted annexation of Kuwait. Salem Chalabi, executive director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, said there was still time to add more charges, such as Sardasht.

“The hearing [last week] was one in which just some of the principal — though not exclusive — charges were laid out,” he said in response to an e-mail inquiry.

Mr. Mohammadian recalls it was about 4 p.m. when the planes flew over Sardasht. Four bombs hit the center of the city and another three hit the outskirts of the loosely knit Kurdish town in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.

He smelled something strange and ran home to gather up his family. They packed into a beaten Land Rover and headed out of the city.

“Saddam Hussein used a mixture of mustard gas and some very hazardous material like silica, which made them more dangerous agents,” said Dr. Khateri, who conducts his research under the auspices of the Tehran-based Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support.

Mr. Mohammadian managed to get out of the city when he was stuck by blindness and found he had trouble breathing. He and others were rushed to Tehran for treatment, but he continues to suffer to this day.

Some 6,000 residents of the town — one-third of the 1987 population — continue to suffer from mustard-gas poisoning, which is more often debilitating than fatal.

The use of such weapons, whether on civilians or soldiers, is banned under several international treaties, including the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Bringing the matter up at Saddam’s trial could at least force him to explain the bombing.

“It’s been 17 years,” said Mr. Mohammadian, who today heads a nonprofit advocacy group and is the author of a book chronicling the bombing. “Even if the international community would just acknowledge what happened, we’d be grateful.”

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