Thirty years on, Halabja wounds continue to bleed

Iraqi-Kurds hold pictures of dead relatives as they gather in Halabja on Friday to mark the 30th anniversary of the massacre. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Thirty years on, Halabja wounds continue to bleed

HALABJA, Iraq: Thousands of Iraqi Kurds clad in black and many tearful on Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the Halabja gas massacre that killed some 5,000 people.
They died when deadly gas was released on the northeastern Iraqi town by the forces of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, in what is believed to have been the worst-ever gas attack targeting civilians.
The mourners, including some survivors, carried pictures of the victims, most of whom were women and children, as they walked down a red carpet to the Halabja Memorial Monument to lay wreaths for the dead.
The families, then gathered in a nearby cemetery where tombstones were covered in the Kurdish red-white-green-yellow flag, to pray for their relatives.
Fatima Mohammad, who was 17 when Halabja was gassed with what experts say was mustard gas, is among thousands of wounded survivors.
Each day, for the past three decades, she still suffers from “respiratory problems.”
“I am in pain and I take medication,” she told AFP as she joined the town’s now 200,000-strong inhabitants to remember those killed in the gas attack.
The attack on Halabja came from the skies after ethnic Kurdish fighters who had sided with Iran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war withdrew from the rural farming town.
It marked the culmination of a ruthless campaign of retribution by Saddam against those seen as siding with his arch-foe Iran.
Iraqi and Kurdish officials, as well as diplomats based in the country, took part in the commemoration.
Kurds observed on Friday a minute of silence in tribute to the Halabja dead across Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Twenty years after the massacre, Saddam’s cousin Gen. Ali Hassan Al-Majid was sentenced to death for ordering the gas attack.
Known as “Chemical Ali,” he was executed by hanging in 2010.
Three years after he was ousted in a US-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam was hanged in 2006 for the massacre of Shiite villagers.


US has ‘no plan’ as Syria pullout proceeds: ex-envoy

Updated 1 min ago
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US has ‘no plan’ as Syria pullout proceeds: ex-envoy

WASHINGTON: The United States has no plan for Syria as it proceeds with President Donald Trump’s order to pull American troops out of the country, a top official who quit in protest at the policy said on Sunday.
Brett McGurk, who was America’s envoy to the US-led global coalition against the Daesh group, said “there’s no plan for what’s coming next” and this is increasing the risk to US forces.
He spoke in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” after a suicide bomber on Wednesday killed four Americans and 15 others in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. It was the deadliest attack to hit US troops since they deployed to Syria in 2014 to assist local forces against the Daesh group.
The bombing came after Trump’s announcement last month that he was ordering a full withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops from Syria, shocking allies and leading to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as well as McGurk.
Senior US officials have since given contradictory statements about US intentions, but the Pentagon said it had begun the withdrawal, although how long it would take remained uncertain.
“The president has made that clear — we are leaving. And that means our force should be really with one mission: to get out and get out safely,” McGurk told “Face the Nation.”
But he added: “Right now we do not have a plan. It increases a vulnerability of our force... It is increasing the risk to our people on the ground in Syria and will open up space for Daesh,” another acronym for IS.
Most importantly, said McGurk, the US cannot expect “a partner” such as NATO-ally Turkey to take the place of the United States.
“That is not realistic. And if our forces are under order to withdraw, as at the same time they are trying to find some formula for another coalition partner to come in, that is not workable. That is not a viable plan.”
Trump announced the US withdrawal because, he said, IS had been defeated — something McGurk and other experts dispute.
McGurk has previously warned that the US pullout would shore up Syria’s President Bashar Assad and lessen America’s leverage with Russia and Iran.