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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

'HELL' REMEMBERED

In a gripping speech about "hell" in the sky and poisonous gas on the ground, the Iraqi ambassador this week commemorated the anniversary of Saddam Hussein's genocide against Iraqi Kurds.

Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie said the residents of the small, mountain town of Halabja "were subjected to a most horrendous attack ordered and executed by a vicious and totally callous regime that had no regard for human life."

He recalled that the day of the attack - March 16, 1988 - dawned as an ordinary morning, as men set out to their orchards and women tended children and looked after their homes.

"Then, they were in hell. The sky burst into flames of fire and terrifying explosions, raining napalm and poison gasses," Mr. Sumaida'ie said.

Iraqi war planes flew 14 bombing raids over the village in what has been recognized as the largest chemical-weapons attack against a civilian population in history. Five hours later, up to 5,000 Kurds were dead, another 10,000 were wounded, and many others would die from exposure to the poisonous gases in the years after the attack.

At the time, Saddam was fighting a massive war against Iran and a smaller one against Kurdish rebels seeking independence.

"In remembering Halabja and its victims, we must say, 'Never again!' Never again will there be force used against Kurds by Arabs, against Shia by Sunnis and vice versa," the ambassador said.

Mr. Sumaida'ie noted that advances Iraq has made since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam in 2003 and warned guests at the Iraqi Embassy commemoration that democracy is a vulnerable system.

"An accountable democratic system could never perpetrate such an atrocity," he said. "This is one reason why we should always stand against dictatorship ...

"This is why we must be vigilant against the little nascent dictators lurking in the hearts and minds of some of our leaders, and we must act to stop them when it becomes clear that they are leading us into the slippery slope to dictatorship and new Halabjas."

GREEK PARTNERSHIP

A top member of the Greek parliament this week met with congressional leaders to reinforce what he called the "strategic partnership" between Greece and the United States.

Konstantinos Vrettos said his visit is "an indication of my determination to contribute to the further strengthening of the ties and cooperation between our two legislatures."

Mr. Vrettos, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, discussed Afghanistan, Somali piracy, energy security and European Union membership for western Balkan countries in talks with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

He met with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and committee chairwoman; Howard Berman, California Democrat and former chairman; and Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Europe and Eurasia subcommittee.

Mr. Vrettos also discussed defense issues with Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

"My presence here ... is also further confirmation of the historic ties and strategic partnership that link our two nations, based on shared values and principles and plain geostrategic realities," Mr. Vrettos said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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