Iranian Victims Recall Saddam's Attacks

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 28, 2007; 2:14 PM

ZARDEH, Iran -- Nineteen years after their mountain village was targeted by Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons, survivors still recall the attack that killed 275: Villagers wheezing, staggering blindly and vomiting blood, as birds dropped lifeless from trees.

With Saddam's main henchman now slated for the gallows, many still cope with lingering ills.

"Our relatives suffered pain for just a few minutes and then were dead. But we, the survivors, have endured an agonizing, painful life for nearly 20 years. This is a life of gradual death," said Ahmad Hosseini, who lost seven relatives to the attack and still has burn marks on his leg and hands.

The attack took place on July 22, 1988, as villagers and hundreds of Muslim pilgrims gathered for a religious celebration outside a shrine in Zardeh, 400 miles west of the capital, Tehran.

On Thursday, Iran marked the 20th anniversary of the first chemical attack on its soil, which hit the town of Sardasht, killing 120 people and injuring 6,000. Iranian newspapers regularly carry news briefs about veterans dying from chemical-related disorders.

Saddam's main henchman, Ali Hassan al-Majid, has been sentenced to death for leading a military campaign against the Kurds of northern Iraq in the 1980s, a campaign that included chemical attacks on Kurdish towns that earned him the nickname "Chemical Ali."

But Iranians are bitter there is no sign of justice for the dozens of chemical attacks the Iraqi military carried out against Iranian towns during the bloody 1980-88 war between the two countries.

In Zardeh, dozens of villagers suffer from the attack's effects, with some paralyzed for life and others afflicted with chronic coughing.

The village, which had about 700 residents at the time of the attack and about the same now, is believed to have been hit by tabun, a nerve gas that causes convulsions and paralysis before death.

Next to the village mosque, Sanjan Salimzadeh, 65, slapped her cheeks in mourning as she remembered her four relatives killed in the attack.

"I buried my daughter and my grandchildren by my own hands," she said at their graves. Salimzadeh lost her right leg in the early 1980s to an Iraqi air raid and has scars on her arm from the shrapnel.

A placard hanging from a tree next to Salimzadeh read, "For what sin were they killed?"

Saddam's military was known to have used nerve gas and mustard gas for attacks in Iran and Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. The attacks on Iraq's own Kurdish population _ such as a 1988 gas attack that killed 5,000 people in the town of Halabja _ became notorious around the world.

The gas attacks on Iran have attracted far less attention, perhaps because the casualties they caused were only a fraction of the 1 million killed on both sides in the war. Iran estimates chemical weapons killed 5,000 of its people and left more than 100,000 veterans and civilians suffering ailments caused by exposure.

Iran urged the Iraqi special tribunal prosecuting members of the ousted regime to try Saddam for war crimes during the Iran-Iraq war. But he was hanged in December after being convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes tied to a 1982 crackdown on the Shiite town of Dujail in Iraq.

The Iraqi tribunal is scheduled to try other cases against former Saddam cohorts, but it has not yet agreed to hold a trial on the war with Iran.

Iranians were glad to see Saddam face justice but were saddened he didn't have to answer for his attacks on them.

"We are disappointed that Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iran has been largely ignored. I wanted Saddam just to say why he ordered the use of chemical weapons against my people," said a Zardeh villager, Fereidoun Hosseini.

Hosseini, who lost five family members in the gas attack, blames Western countries for providing Saddam with chemical weapons. "They were accomplices in this horrible crime," he said.

Villagers complain Zardeh has been ignored by the world.

"How is it that if dozens of crabs die, Western media will extensively write about it, but you ignore the painful death of hundreds of human beings due to the use of weapons of mass destruction?" asked Mansour Safari.

"We are the forgotten generation," he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press