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Photographer's Note

On March 16, 1988, the people of Halapja rose to a beautiful spring morning. It was five days before Newroz, the Kurdish New Year. Kurds of all ages and both sexes were getting ready for the festive celebration. The women were donning their colorful and beautiful clothes. The men were anxiously waiting to take part in the ritual to honor a time of freedom and liberty in the past.

But 1988 also marked the eighth year of war between Iraq and Iran. Most Kurds had stayed away from the conflict. Some had hoped that the adversaries of the Kurds, the Arabs and the Persians, would weaken each other and offer the Kurds the opportunity of peace, freedom and liberty, at long last. The war cost almost a million lives, but it also hunted the Kurds in sinister and persistent ways, continuing to this day.

Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Baghdad, accused the Kurds of aiding and abetting the pasdarans, the Iranian soldiers. The punishment for such an act was total and unequivocal. The Kurds must die. Their homes and villages must be destroyed. The dictator of Baghdad conceived the idea of Al-Anfal. His governor, Ali Hasan Al-Majeed, the all-powerful ruler of Iraqi Kurdistan, executed his plan.

The Kurds who have survived the ordeal of Al-Anfal describe it to mean "genocide". Their experience, if scrutinized closely, resembles that of survivors of The Holocaust. Ali Hasan Al-Majeed, known to Kurds as Chemical Ali, went about his business with the precision of a scientist and the hatred of a wounded beast. Some Kurds were gassed or exposed to nerve agents. Others were collected into concentration camps, machine gunned en masse and buried with bulldozers.

As though it was to be made an example of the raw power of Saddam and of his ability to inflict total annihilation on a people with impunity, the entire city of Halapja fell victim to Chemical Ali's assault in Iraqi Kurdistan. On that March day in 1988, he ordered the Iraqi Air Force to drop mustard gas and nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX over the city that some of you used to call home. In a matter of seconds, 5,000 of your compatriots fell down like dry leaves. Thousands of others who inhaled the gas were crippled for life and still, today, are unable to find treatment or comfort.

A British geneticist, Dr. Christine Gosden, paid a visit to the city of Halapja ten years after the deadly attack. What she saw and reported in an article in the Washington Post shocked readers and compounds your pain. The survivors were reported to envy the lot of the dead. Their limbs were distorted, their bodies ached relentlessly, they were unable to work or care for themselves and the women were not able to bear children.

Saddam Hussein's use of chemical and biological weapons against a civilian population is a crime against humanity. Those who claim to speak for the world owe it to you and to all of us to press for his prosecution now. Can we begin to find some vindication for the suffering of your brethren in Halapja.

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Additional Photos by Mahmut KACAN (noahsark) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 306 W: 87 N: 183] (1092)
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