Hundreds protest as Kurds remember Halabja gas attack

Outraged at Kurdish government neglect hundreds of Kurdish demonstrators in Halabja yesterday set fire to a memorial to the 1988 poison gas attack by the Iraqi armed forces in which 5,000 people died.

Kurdish security forces shot dead one man and wounded at least eight others when they opened fire on protestors on the 18th anniversary of what became the most notorious atrocity of Saddam Hussein. "The Kurdish government exploited Halabja to draw attention to the plight of the Kurds and get donations that have never reached us," said one angry protestor.

Although the poison gas attack on Halabja is frequently invoked as a symbol of their people's suffering by Kurdish leaders the inhabitants of Halabja complain that their houses are dilapidated and supplies of water and electricity are poor. They had earlier announced that officials would be banned from attending the meeting commemorating the gas attack.

"We plan to block any official from entering because every year they came and make empty promises," said Zakaria Mahmood, a 22-year-old organizer of the protest, according a report by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. "Officials visit Halbja just for publicity," said Mohammed Kareem, 61, a shopkeeper five of whose children were killed by the gas. "Halabja looks the same as the day it was attacked."

When the memorial meeting started at about 10am local people were infuriated when a Kurdish government official called Shahu Mohammed Saed tried to address the crowd. They shouted him down and stormed the one-storey circular museum where they set fire to displays reconstructing the gas attack on 15 March 1988 as well as photographs of victims and glass cases containing the clothes of the dead.

By the time the demonstration ended people in Halabja had a fresh victim to mourn. "We have received one body and eight wounded people," said a doctor in Halabja's Malabar hospital adding that the dead man was 18 years old.

Halabja, south east of the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, was sealed off after the shooting by Pesh Merga and police of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. They confiscated video film showing what had taken place. Adnan Mufti, the Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament and a PUK leader, told The Independent in Arbil yesterday that part of the problem was that before 2003 Halabja was partly under the control of Islamic parties and had received little aid. Mr Saed, whose ill-timed speech provoked the riot, claimed that neighbouring states, presumably Iran or Turkey, were responsible for the violence.

The riot in Halabja is likely to prove embarrassing to Kurdish leaders who are often accused of corruption and greed for power by their own people. The violence was clearly not spontaneous since a month ago residents had demonstrated to demand better services. A protest was planned at which participants would simply carrying blank white banners bearing no slogans but as a sort of mute protest.

The Iraqi army fired gas shells into Halabja on 15 March 1988 after the town was captured by the PUK and Iranian forces. Soon the gas, smelling of apple and garlic, was seeping everywhere, even into air raid shelters. Soon the streets were filled with the dead bodies of animals and towns people. In addition to the 5,000 dead another 10,000 were severely injured. A complaint of the protestors is that the latter receive little help from the government.

As the riot erupted in Halbja many of the Kurdish leaders were attending the opening of the Iraqi parliament in the Green Zone in Baghdad. To allow the meeting to take place traffic was banned from the streets of the capital and all shops were closed. Even during the short 30 minute meeting there were signs of rancour with disagreement even over the oath to be taken by the 275 lawmakers who were chosen in an election on 15 December.

The US is pushing for a national unity government but the length of time it is taking to create one underlines that a future administration will be anything but united. The US, Kurdish and Sunni parties are trying to oust Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shi'ite prime minister, but the Shi'ite coalition sees this as an attempt to roll back their election victory.

The three Kurdish provinces in north have hitherto been the only peaceful part of Iraq but the demonstration in Halabja shows that Kurds are also dissatisfied with their rulers. In all parts of Iraq there is a growing feeling that government is simply a patronage machine through which politicians enrich themselves.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect