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.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits