Halabja, the “gift” in embers

17 March 2008 by Philippe Mischkowsky

In 2001, Jalal Talabani, historical leader of Iraqi Kurdistan and current president of Iraq, decided to build a monument in memory of the 5,000 Kurds who were gassed at Halabja on March 16, 1988 on the orders of Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan Al-Majid. Halabja was the first act of the Anfal campaign, which killed between 120,000 and 200,000 Kurds in 1988. Al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", was sentenced to death for genocide in June 2007 by the Iraqi High Tribunal [IJT-71]. His execution, approved by the Iraqi Presidential Council on February 29, is imminent.

From the outset, the Halabja memorial was a political act. The memorial's director, Sarkhel Ghafar Hama-Khan, describes it as a "gift to the people" even though the local population was not meaningfully consulted about its creation. The monument was also part of Talabani's strategy to build up his power base following the fratricidal war with the other major Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani. That conflict ended in 2001 with the Kurdish zone, now autonomous, being split: the east to Talabani, the west to Barzani.

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