- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus (Agence France-Presse) About 5,000 Kurds, mostly women and children, perished 15 years ago yesterday a few minutes after Iraqi fighter jets spread poison gas over Halabja in Iraq's Kurdistan region.
Iraq, which was at war with Iran at the time, became angry with the Kurds after fighters from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with the help of Iran, took over Halabja an agricultural town of about 40,000, 155 miles from Baghdad but seven miles from the Iranian border.
The Iraqi army started by bombing the Halabja area with artillery and fighter planes, which led the Kurdish fighters to retreat to the surrounding hills, leaving women and children in town.
In the afternoon of March 16, 1988, Iraqi jets swooped over the town dropping chemical bombs in a raid that lasted about five hours, Kurdish eyewitnesses said.
This was to be the largest gas attack on civilians, analysts said. About 5,000 were killed, 75 percent of them women and children, and more than 7,000 were injured, according to Kurdish estimates.
"Even today, people are still dying of cancer and leukemia, suffering from asthma and sterility and miscarriages. The impact of this attack will be felt for many generations," a Kurdish physician said recently.
At the time, word of what took place at Halabja became known quickly to the outside world as Kurdish fighters coming down from the surrounding hills alerted foreign journalists and photographers.
The world was awakened by images of dozens of Kurds lying lifeless in front of their homes, many with blood pouring out of their noses as they attempted to flee the attacks.
The Iraqis had used a deadly cocktail of mustard gas, and nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX, according to testimony given to the Senate by Dr. Christine Gosden, a genetics specialist at the University of Liverpool, who visited Halabja in 1998.
"The occurrences of genetic mutations and carcinogenesis in this population appear comparable with those who were one to two kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and show that the chemicals used in the attack have a general effect on the body similar to that of ionizing radiation," Dr. Gosden said.
It was not the first time Iraq used its arsenal of chemical weapons. An estimated 20,000 Iranian soldiers were killed in Iraqi chemical attacks from 1983 to 1988, said a statement by the State Department on the 10th anniversary of the Halabja attack.
"The only way to ensure that the Saddam Hussein regime will never again be able to possess or use weapons of mass destruction, against the Iraqi people or anyone else, is for U.N. weapons inspectors to have immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to inspect any site in Iraq," the State Department said.

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