On March 16, 1988 the Iran-Iraq War was already going on for eight years. According to an eyewitness around eleven o'clock, Iraqi Migs and Mirage jet fighters started bombing the city of Halabja in Northern Iraq. Clouds that were "white, black and then yellow" started billowing from the area that were bombed. Another witness that that was quoted in a Human Rights Watch report from 1991 said " I got some gas in my eyes and had trouble breathing. You always wanted to vomit and when you did, the vomit was green."
The bombing was part of the Al-Anfal Campaign orchestrated by the Iraqi
Baathist regime against the Kurdish rebels in the north of Iraq. The campaign were directed by Saddam Hussien's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid who acquired a nom de guerre "Chemical Ali" as result. From the start of the Iran-Iraq war Kurdish fighters accepted money and arms from Iran. Iran hoped proxy fighters such as the Kurds would help them in their fight against Saddam's forces. At the time the Kurdish forces were split between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Jalal Talibani and Massoud Barzani who lead the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Al-Majid was arrested by U.S forces 2003 and was handed over to Iraqi authorities. He was executed in 2010 after a trial that lasted four years.
Halabja Gas-Attack Survivors Fight For Lives, Justice 30 Years On
48 hours before the attack Iranian troops with the help of the Kurds took the town of Halabja. On the Iranian side the operations were lead by Ali Sayad Shirazi. Shirazi was among a handful of commanders who got their military education in the United States before the ouster of the Shah but were not purged after the revolution. After the attack Iran saw the potential of a propaganda victory and invited foreign journalists to tour Halabaja.
Before the journalists arrived the Iraqi jets attacked Halabja. One of the first accounts of the incident got to the outside world was through Kaveh Golestan. He noted, "It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl's mouth and she died in my arms." According to experts the chemicals that were used were a deadly cocktail of VX, Sarin, Tabun and mustard gas.
Halabja's Lost Son
Produced by Stuart Greer, Roman Kupka and Peter Kubalek