Yesterday marked the 4th year since the start of the Syrian Civil War and today marks the anniversary of the Halabja Chemical massacre that happened in 1988.
From the 80’s to today, the Middle East changed a lot to say the least. Saddam was toppled in 2003 following the American Invasion, what resulted was a sectarian war and the growth of terrorism due to the power vacuum. IS, the acronym of the so-called “Islam State” was born indirectly because of the 2003 war. It also grew substantially because of the Syrian Civil War and the Chaos it created. That’s just the big picture.
The Halabja Chemical attack killed between 3200 and 5000 people, most of them civilians. It targeted the Kurdish people and punished them in the al Anfal campaign. Saddam wasn’t too happy with the Kurdish rebellion and the Iranian support. He answered with blood and gas.
Here’s what a witness remembered it :
It was a beautiful spring day. As the clock approached 11:00 in the morning, I felt a strange sensation; my heart convulsed as if it were telling me that we were on the verge of a major calamity. Within minutes, artillery rounds began to explode in Halabja and planes began dropping bombs on the town. The bombing was concentrated on the northern neighborhoods, so we ran and hid in our basement. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, as the intensity of the bombing wound down, I carefully sneaked out of the basement to the kitchen and carried food to my family. When the bombing stopped, we began to hear noises that sounded like metal pieces falling on the ground. But I didn’t find an explanation.
I saw things that I won’t forget for as long as I live. It started with a loud strange noise that sounded like bombs exploding, and a man came running into our house, shouting, ‘Gas! Gas!’ We hurried into our car and closed its windows. I think the car was rolling over the bodies of innocent people. I saw people lying on the ground, vomiting a green-colored liquid, while others became hysterical and began laughing loudly before falling motionless onto the ground. Later, I smelled an aroma that reminded me of apples and I lost consciousness. When I awoke, there were hundreds of bodies scattered around me. After that I took shelter again in a nearby basement and the area was engulfed by an ugly smell. It was similar to rotting garbage, but then it changed to a sweet smell similar to that of apples. Then I smelled something that was like eggs.
When you hear people shouting the words ‘gas’ or ‘chemicals’ — and you hear those shouts spreading among the people — that is when terror begins to take hold, especially among the children and the women. Your loved ones, your friends, you see them walking and then falling like leaves to the ground. It is a situation that cannot be described — birds began falling from their nests; then other animals, then humans. It was total annihilation. Whoever was able to walk out of the town, left on foot. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.
One cannot but parallel this chemical attack with the one in Syria that happened in Ghouta back in August 2013. Sarin use killed hundreds, yet the responsible is still not known.
The Syrian Civil War killed more than 220,000 people, the UN estimates. It has displaced more than 3.5 millions Syrians and may have destroyed a generation of Syrians, thus their future.
The Arab Spring brought hope to the Arabs civilians that were repressed by dictators. Tunisia, the first country that saw changes, is the only country that didn’t go into full chaos. Egypt replaced one dictator with another. (and of course he is supported by the Western democracies). Libya is divided by literally half and Syria divided the whole world.
I still have a candid hope for this region, a foolish hope, I cannot allow myself to have none. I know many have the same feeling. I have especially hope for the Palestinian struggle, despite the relentless massacres on Gaza, Israel has never been so lonely, and without any support, Israel will have to stop its racist apartheid.