The horror of the Halabja attack was first revealed to the world by Iranian photographer Ahmed Nateghi, who had been embedded with an Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit fighting on the front lines with Iraq.
Several days before the chemical weapons strike, the Iranians had “liberated” Halabja, which is near the Iranian border, and had paraded through the city streets in uniform accompanied by Iraqi civilians.
Nateghi and a few colleagues prepared to enter Halabja on a victory tour on the afternoon of March 16. But as they approached the city, they noticed aircraft dropping bombs, and further along, they came across abandoned houses and dead animals.
And then, they stumbled upon the corpses: men and women slumped over children whose bodies they had been trying to protect, seemingly struck down by some monstrous scourge that had sucked the life out of them.
A few days later, the Iranian regime brought in photographers and TV crews from around the world to document the killing. Because of those photographs, the world now knows what happened at Halabja.
The nerve gas used by Saddam’s Air Force in Halabja was produced in German-built factories in Samarra and Fallujah. It was delivered for the most part in Spanish-made bombs, from Russian, French, and Swiss-built aircraft.
Gavi Mairone, a human rights lawyer working with the Global Justice Group, has spoken with more than 1,000 survivors and relatives of victims of the Halabja and other chemical weapons attacks. He announced on Thursday in Erbil a strategy to get justice for the victims and their families.
“The victims want to return hatred and death with compassion,” he said. “They want to give the companies involved in building Saddam’s chemical weapons factories an opportunity to make amends at a truth, reconciliation, and reparations conference on October 1-3 in The Hague. If they decline, we are prepared to file lawsuits against 20 companies, nine in Germany, two French, two Dutch, two Spanish, one Indian, one Japanese, and one American.”
Mairone’s firm, MM-Law of Chicago, has been working on the case for three years and has assembled more than 10,000 documents. Most of the companies have been identified in declassified documents from the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
Adalat Omar, 43, is a Kurdish researcher who has spent much of the past 13 years documenting the genocide of the Kurds.
One of the tools she used was the official Iraqi government census. “I compared the list of villages in Kurdish areas from 1977, to 1987, and then to 1997, and found more than 4,000 villages that were erased from the map during the genocide.”
She also found the orders signed by Saddam Hussein to use “special weapons” against the Kurds, starting as early as 1983. Many of her documents were used in the trial of Saddam Hussein by the Iraqi court that ultimately sentenced him to death in 2006.
“We want to make sure that the companies who profited from building chemical weapons in Iraq are never able to do this again,” said Mairone. “We’re looking for an end to impunity.”
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the founder and president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran. He is working as a consultant to the Global Justice Group in the Halabja case.