Iraq Kurd town marks 25 years since deadly gas attack

Hundreds of people joined in sombre commemorations on Saturday for the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's gassing of thousands of Kurds in the town of Halabja near Iraq's border with Iran.

Many of those paying their respects held pictures of some of the estimated 5,000 people who were killed, mostly women and children, in what is now thought to have been the worst ever gas attack targeting civilians.

Others gathered around the martyrs' monument in Halabja, some holding Kurdish flags.

In a speech marking the occasion, Kurdish regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani called for March 16 to be recognised as an international day against chemical weapons.

Those commemorating the anniversary observed a minute's silence at 11:35 am (0835 GMT), the time in 1988 when Saddam's forces began gassing the town.

"Our family died here," said Hounas, a 22-year-old from the nearby provincial capital of Sulaimaniyah. "We have to learn from this disaster -- to forgive, but not to forget."

Parked in front of the monument was a pickup truck that residents say was hit by a rocket during the 1988 attack. Next to it were the remains of the rocket they say hit it.

Leaflets were scattered around Halabja that read: "From Tears to Hope," and "From Hatred to Forgiveness."

"From far away, I saw the bodies of children, and women, and men," recalled Abu Mohammed, now 32. "They were lying in the street. It was a tragedy."

Saaman, a 23-year-old fine arts student whose parents lived in Halabja but managed to escape the massacre, said his mother had told him of how the day had unfolded.

"It was a nice day, and the family was all together in the house," he said.

"My mother heard the sound of the planes, and then she heard the bombs. All of my family went outside -- some of them died, and some of them escaped, including my mom and dad, who escaped to Iran."

In March 1988, as Iraq's eight-year war with Iran was coming to an end, Kurdish peshmerga rebels, with Tehran's backing, took over the farming community of Halabja near the border with the Islamic republic.

The Iraqi army bombed the area, forcing the rebels to retreat into the surrounding hills, leaving their families behind.

Iraqi jets then swooped over the small town and for five hours sprayed it with nerve agents.

Three-quarters of the victims at Halabja were women and children.

"This terrible crime was but one of many in Hussein's Anfal campaign, in which tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis were slaughtered," US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

"On this solemn occasion, we honour the memories of the husbands, wives, sons, and daughters who perished at Halabja and throughout... Anfal."

Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known by his macabre nickname "Chemical Ali," was hanged in January 2010 after receiving multiple death sentences, including one for the Halabja attack.

As dictator Saddam's enforcer, he ordered the gas attack to crush the uprising. Majid said he took action against the Kurds, who had sided with Iraq's enemy in the war, for the sake of Iraqi security and refused to express remorse.

Officials marked the anniversary of the attack last year by handing local authorities in Halabja the rope used to hang Majid.

  • How a mom stole a car in under 60 seconds 11 hours ago
    How a mom stole a car in under 60 seconds

    “I didn't steal your car but I think my mom may have. It's a long story. I'll explain, but your car is safe and sound," read the flier posted in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a strange tale that began when Cheyrl Thorpe was asked by her daughter Nekisia Davis to dog sit her Pomeranian at her apartment, according to New York Magazine.

  • All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground 13 hours ago
    All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground

    Much of Subaru’s modern day success in America can be attributed to one car: the Outback. Born in 1994 as a response to the growing popularity of SUVs, the Outback established a winning formula of combining a high-riding suspension, butch body cladding and big round fog lights to its comfortable, no-nonsense Legacy wagon. It is the kind of unique product that only a quirky company like Subaru could build, and was one that kept Subaru from slipping into ubiquity even as traditional SUVs and crossovers have taken over the world.

  • Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers 14 hours ago
    Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers

    For the record, it's the year 2014. I mention that in case someone reading this story about a push to replace horses with motorized carriages thinks they've stumbled onto some archival piece by accident. It's been more than 100 years since the first vehicles began to trundle around Manhattan, but the last remaining vestiges of horse-powered transport in the city could be nigh — if the backers of a massive electric wagon get their way.

  • Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers
    Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers

    Singaporeans on social media reacted angrily to news that tissue sellers at hawker centres and street corners are being required to pay for an annual licence.

  • Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry
    Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation. Nearly 300 people -- most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island -- are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-Jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the South Korean media.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...