HALABJA / ANFAL 1988 - 2013
The Return of the Suppressed
Reminder – Commemoration – Compensation
An Appeal by Wadi e.V. + MESOP e.V.
Without German support for Iraq’s chemical weapons program the attack on the Kurdish city in 1988 would not have been possible.
25 years after the poison gas attack on the city of Halabja, the victims are still waiting for compensation and assistance from Germany. The German government has been dragging its feet for more than 20 years now and systematically plays down its responsibility for the build-up of the Iraqi chemical weapons program. Yet, German assistance in building up a chemical weapons production was essential: Without German economic aid the Iraqi chemical weapons production would not have been possible.
The German government declines to accept this responsibility. Rather, it would see German business to flourish again in the region. Peter Ramsauer, federal Minister for Construction, spoke in the beginning of February at the German-Kurdish Economic Forum in Erbil of “extraordinary investment and development potential”. German companies were ready to help with expertise and know-how. He did not mention the poison gas attacks and the German expertise which only made them possible.
The 25th anniversary of the poison gas attacks on the Kurdish city of Halabja will be commemorated worldwide in March. The British Parliament has already recognized the military campaign against the Kurdish population in the 1980s named after a Quran Sura “Anfal” (i.e. the prey) as genocide.
The topic is also on the agenda of parliaments in the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada. The attack on the city of Halabja has become a symbol of what can follow from irresponsible economic assistance that knowingly risks helping genocide – in this case on the Kurds. The German government must face up to this responsibility.
Yet, still in 2010 the German government stated in response to a parliamentary enquiry: “The responsibility for the events of Halabja lies with the past Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein.” Many documents and sources, though, not only suggest that German cooperation was essential for the Iraqi poison gas program. They also show that there was already some awareness about this in Germany back then. All the same, the relevant goods were delivered.
»Petro-Dollar-Recycling« was the name of the politically wanted deal with Iraq. Saddam Hussein received weapons and know-how and delivered oil and gas in return. The war of Iraq against Iran promised a double dividend: economically continuous weapon deals, politically the weakening of the troublemaker Iran. The economic advancement of the Iraqi military program was no accident. It was supported by the close cooperation of German companies active in Iraq with German state agencies back home. At the same time there could not be any doubt about the will of the Iraqi regime to make use of its weapons of mass destruction. The use of poison gas by the Iraqi army had been reported since 1980. The renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) counted more than 130 poison gas attacks against Iranian positions till 1984. The New York Times reported in 1984 about the involvement of the German companies Karl Kolb and Pilot Plant in the development and production of poison gas. In the same year, German involvement in the production of mustard gas and tabun in Iraq was enquired in the German Bundestag. In 1987 the Iraqi army first attacked Kurdish villages near the Iranian border, and later in June the Iranian-Kurdish city Sardasht. At this time, the German government supported German-Iraqi economic cooperation with export credit guaranties and loans.
In the early morning hours of March 16th 1988 Iraqi MiG-23 fighter jets flew the first attacks on Halabja. Repeated attack waves followed while chemical agents were dropped over the city. A so called cocktail of several chemicals was applied. It certainly contained Sarin and Tabun. Residues of Cyanid were also found.
The Usage of different agents was to hamper treatment of the victims. A reporter of the Financial Times who had been just outside the city during the attack and was one of the first international witnesses setting foot on the site reported: “It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (...) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl's mouth and she died in my arms."
80.000 people lived in Halabja. At the time of the attack, only civilians had been in the city. Between 5.000 and 7.000 of them died during or as a direct result of the attack. Corpses, distorted in painful poses and turned blue, piled up in the streets. More than 10.000 people are estimated to have died by now from after effects of the attack. The conditions induced by exposition to the poison gas include heavy respiratory distress and suffocation, cancer, severe birth deformities, still births, skin und eye diseases, infertility, neurological dysfunctions and severe psychic disorders.
The German government is jointly responsible for the suffering of the people of Halabja. 70 percent of the equipment for Iraqi chemical weapons plants were delivered by German companies. German foreign intelligence service personnel had been present in at least one of these companies. Most parts to enhance Iraq’s rockets, grenades and missiles were delivered from Germany. The military-economic cooperation was backed politically by export credit guaranties. The armament of Iraq was wished for. That the regime of Saddam Hussein made use of weapons of mass destruction was disclosed by the latest in the 1980ies. Long before the Iraqi army attacked Halabja, it was known that a military campaign was taking place in the North and North East against the Kurdish civilian population. Pointing to the immediate responsibility of the then Iraqi government is trite.
The subsidized armament of Iraq is a particularly dirty chapter of German economic and Middle East policy. The involved people working in German government agencies continue to be not fully disclosed. Every German government ever asked about Germany’s co-responsibility points to the Iraqi government and private German businesses. Only in 1991, when Iraq had already been placed under a United Nations embargo, the Federal Minister of Economic affairs was asked to prepare a report on the German-Iraqi economic cooperation. The so called “Möllemann-Report” was classified as confidential. Only a short version of a few pages was released to the public. Even more sordid then it’s former Iraq commerce is the way in which Germany deals with its victims. To this day, there has been no recognition of co-responsibility. Consequently, there was no attempt to substantially assist the suffering population. In 2010 the federal government pointed vaguely to some small projects of German NGOs that it supported in the region, as well as to a “constructive dialogue with the Iraqi central-government and the government of the Region of Iraqi-Kurdistan-Irak.« (Bt-Drs. 17/1022) Something more substantial than „constructive dialogue“ would be rather more becoming for the federal government after 25 years.
People in Halabja and the surrounding communities urgently require assistance in coping with the consequences of the attack: medically, socially, but also historically. There is no local collection of data and studies on the attack. People are deeply disquieted over long-term effects. There is a lack of medical, social, and psychological counseling. Halabja is stuck in the past ever since the attack, a place that constantly reminds its citizens of their collective suffering without showing them a way to the future.
Living up to one’s responsibilities would entail to take on duties in a partnership with Halabja. Aiding the Kurdish city of Halbja to overcome the consequences of the poison gas attack must be of special concern to Germany – quite irrespective of any judicially established guilt. To give Halabja a future is a moral duty not only to the people in Kurdistan, but also to those sharing historic responsibility.
There has to be full and complete admission of the German Federal Government of having given the means for genocide to the Iraqi regime by way of its past policies of economic cooperation. Rather than supporting German commerce in Iraq, it should see to the needs of those who still suffer the consequences of its former policies to this day. Responsible economic cooperation would pursue the following goals:
- study the long term effects of poison gas attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan
- make medical rehabilitation and proper treatment available to the victims
- reimburse communities for lasting damages
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Wadi e.V. + MESOP are supporting the activities of the network Spey, an association of activists from the villages and cities which had been bombarded with poison gas. In preparation of the 25th anniversary Spey conducted an opinion survey in Halabja, which was presented on March 6th to the press. On March 13th the group presented a study about the medical long term affects of the poison gas attacks.
Since 20 years Wadi is supporting different projects in close cooperation with local groups.