Saddam's Hanging Came Too Soon for Kurds
Monday, February 19, 2007; 1:28 PM
HALABJA, Iraq -- These are bitter times in the town that Saddam Hussein gassed. It's painful enough that many people still suffer the aftereffects of nerve and mustard gas nearly 20 years ago. It's even worse, some lament, to feel largely forgotten and cheated of what they call a rightful revenge. On Dec. 30 the people of the Kurdish Iraqi town of Halabja saw Saddam hanged for crimes against Shiites, but not for crimes against Kurds.
"It is unfair," said Nesreen Shamerani, now 53, who lost her father, two brothers and a sister in the 1988 gassing. "We lost our loved ones, too. They could have waited" to execute Saddam until a Halabja trial could be held, she cried.
There is little sign that comfort is at hand.
Saddam was hanged for the killings of Shiites following a 1982 attempt to assassinate him in the town of Dujail. After his death, a second trial in which he was also a defendant _ for the deaths of 100,000 Kurds in the so-called Anfal campaign _ continued without him in Baghdad.
Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly using chemical weapons against Kurds, is one of six defendants still on trial for the Anfal campaign.
But the Anfal case does not include the Halabja deaths _ widely considered the biggest use of chemical weapons on civilians in modern times.
An estimated 5,600 people died on one day in March 1988, in a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, which Saddam saw as aiding Iran in the final months of its war with Iraq.
Officially, Iraqi prosecution officials say the Halabja deaths are still being investigated and they won't decide whether to file charges until after the inquiry ends.
But on a practical level, a second Kurdish trial does not seem to be a priority even for Kurdish leaders, preoccupied with pushing for larger aims, including making the key city of Kirkuk part of their semi-independent northern zone.
Some Kurdish politicians say people in Halabja must accept that the trials are meant to achieve justice, not revenge.
Many here feel that the lack of attention to their case in the courts is mirrored by indifference to their physical pain.
Shoulders bent, her head hidden behind a black scarf, Nasreen Jaffar is partially blinded in one eye, has scars on her legs and says she has trouble breathing. She says she cries herself to sleep at night because of the pain in her legs.