Halabja massacre survivors seek compensation from Iraqi gov

Halabja massacre survivors seek compensation from Iraqi gov
Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan marked the 36th anniversary of the Halabja gas attack, pressing for more support for survivors and compensation from Baghdad.
4 min read
17 March, 2024
Currently, there are more than 400 survivors of the attack, and most of them are suffering from chronic diseases. Dana Taib Menmy/TNA

Kurds in the Iraqi Kurdistan region have commemorated the 36th anniversary of the Halabja gas attack on Saturday calling on authorities to compensate the massacre's survivors.

During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussien attacked the people of Halabja with chemical weapons on 16 March 1988, killing more than 5,000 people, and wounding tens of thousands. 

The event stood as one of the most horrific instances of chemical warfare targeting civilians.

Thirty-six years since the attack, relatives of the victims and survivors held the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) responsible for failing to gain any compensation.

"After 36 years from the massacre, I still have health issues in my lungs, unfortunately, I am yet to be registered by the KRG as a victim of attacking Halabja with chemical weapons," Omed Hama Ali Rashid told The New Arab, a survivor and now an employee at Halabja Monument.

He recalled how he miraculously survived the attack in 1988, regaining consciousness while inside a coffin after medics at an Iranian hospital thought he was killed along seven members of his family.

Currently, there are more than 400 survivors, and most of them suffering from chronic diseases, especially in their lungs due to inhaling the poisonous gases. 

"As the legal successor of Iraq’s former regime, the Iraqi federal government has a legal and moral duty to compensate the people of Halabja," Rashid said.

Iraq's prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, was expected to visit Halabja on Saturday but neither he nor any senior official from the KRG attended the commemoration. 

"I wished PM Sudani to come here and see with his own eyes, what the former Iraqi officials had done to this city," Rashid said.

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Jamil Farhad, another survivor from Khurmal sub-district of Halabja province told TNA that he lost two brothers and a sister in the attack.

"I lost one eye and hardly see with the other as a result of the chemical attack. The KRG only did little for the relatives of Halabja victims," Farhad said. 

He said although the Kurdish and Iraqi officials often say they will compensate the people of Halabja, their words have failed to translate into action.

Currently, the KRG authorities in Halabja are struggling to provide basic services to residents and the city has witnessed an increase in unemployment rates and environmental issues. 

Saddam's regime was toppled following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and the former dictator was captured in December 2003.

He was hung three years later following his conviction for crimes against humanity, including the Halabja massacre.  

In March 2018, a Chicago-based American human rights law firm lodged a lawsuit representing 4,811 Kurds.

The lawsuit pointed fingers at numerous European companies, alleging their involvement in providing chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime. The firms were accused of being fully aware that these arms were intended for the eradication of the Kurdish population.

According to The Tennessean, the Chicago-based law firm MM-Law has initiated legal action against multiple companies, alleging their complicity in the Halabja massacre.

The lawsuits target several European entities, including German companies TUI A.G., Water Engineering Trading GmbH, and Karl Kolb; French companies Groupe Protec and De Dietrich Process Systems; Dutch company Melspring International; and Luxembourg-based General Mediterranean Holding.

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The trial of European companies accused of selling chemical weapons to the Iraqi Ba'ath regime is yet to reach its conclusion.

Speaking to the reporters in front of the Halabja Monument, Yann Braem, Consul General of France in Erbil, emphasised France's commitment to preventing another tragedy like the Halabja massacre by supporting the prohibition of chemical weapons and ensuring proper treatment for survivors. 

He said France's had contributed to constructing a dedicated hospital for the survivors. However, Braem did not address inquiries from TNA regarding efforts to hold Western companies accountable for supplying chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime.

During the concluding months of the eight-year Iraq-Iran conflict, Kurdish fighters aligned with Iran seized control of Halabja, a significant agricultural center, on March 15.

In response, the Iraqi military launched artillery barrages and airstrikes, prompting Kurdish combatants and many male residents to retreat to nearby hills, while leaving behind women, children, and the elderly.

The subsequent day witnessed Iraqi warplanes circling Halabja for five hours, dispersing a lethal concoction of poisonous gases. Kurdish fighters descending from the hills alerted international journalists, who promptly converged on the site.

By March 23, the initial harrowing images depicting streets strewn with lifeless bodies were broadcast on television, highlighting the scale of the tragedy.