During the Iran/Iraq war, when the Americans were taking the side of the Iraqi army which had the upper hand, the Iranian government tried to open up a new front. At that time the Kurdistan Nationalist Front had an agreement with Khomeini and his Iranian government, who'd promised them some kind of Kurdish autonomy. Together they planned to "liberate" Halabja, a town of 100,000 people which was about 36 kilometres from the Iranian border. With that in mind, they occupied it. The Iraqi army was weak in the Halabja region and basicaIiy only in situ to keep the Kurds down, its offensive might concentrated in the middle and south of Iraq. In order to insure the success of the occupation of Halabja, the Iranians attacked army bases with rockets, but many missed and killed civilians in the town. People there were, in any case, very cautious about the occupation and now, after the poorly-aimed rockets, tried to leave. But the peshmergas kept people in, only allowing out those who could pay them loads of money. The town itself was pretty rebellious, full of army deserters and recently there had .been demos condeming both sides in the war. So on March 17th, 1988, in order to crush the occupation and Halabja's rebellious inhabitants, the Iraqi regime bombarded the town with chemical weapons (cyanide and mustard nerve gas, manufactured in the West, especially by the German company A.G.Farben, and sold to Saddam). Thousands died instantly and among the casualties were workers, students, children and conscripts. The finaI death toll was well over 5000. It was the most serious incident of the war and was a factor in bringing it to an end a few months later. That, together with a general stalemate in which both sides saw that there was no economic advantage they could gain from it. Increasingly, Iraq's position had weakened, with Iran on the offensive, although, to counteract this the Americans had given more weaponry to Iraq. The war which cost a million lives devastated the economies of both countries.
After the genocide in Halabja many locals became refugees in the Iranian mountains, where they were treated quite badly in camps. Consequently many returned to Iraq, although not to the Halabja region. But further punishment was in the offing: because of the stigma of Halabja, many workers couldn't get jobs and students couldn't return to college etc. There were suicides and some former residents were Ieft to starve in prison camps. The stigma even extended to the far south and Halabja workers couldn't get employment even there.
The Nationalists' popularity in Kurdistan, aIready scarce, vanished completely because they'd been a part of this equation which had resulted in genocide. Moreover, after the attack, the peshmergas went through the empty town, looting houses, nicking fridges, cookers, etc. - even bracelets from dead women - to sell them elsewhere, in Iran. The money didn't even go to funding the parties but lined their own pockets. Needless to say, peshmerga officers thieved the most - so publicly, that some of their names are well known to the people of the area.
Back to Main Text
Back to Pamphlet Index
Jack Campin's Home Page