Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?

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It has been nearly three years since the chemical bombardment of Halabja, a small town on Iraq's northeastern border with Iran in which up to 5,000 civilians, mostly women and children, died a painful and well publicized death. Despite the international outcry over this one infamous event, little was heard in the United States about Saddam Hussein's brutal treatment of his own people until his invasion of Kuwait last August 2. Even now, virtually no mention is made of the many other times the Iraqi government has gassed its large Kurdish minority. Halabja was not the first time Iraq had turned its chemical arsenal on the Kurds. Thousands -- and most likely tens of thousands -- of civilians were killed during chemical and conventional bombardments stretching from the spring of 1987 through the fall of 1988. The attacks were part of a long-standing campaign that destroyed almost every Kurdish village in Iraq -- along with a centuries-old way of life -- and displaced at least a million of the country's estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population. Since the outset of the Kuwait crisis, however, Halabja has become a leitmotif for Saddam Hussein's disregard of human rights, and a major rationale for the war. Although chemical weapons were not seen in action in the latest Persian Gulf war, no one is disputing that Iraq has them and is willing to use them. Yet, over the past three years the international community has done practically nothing to help the Halabja survivors, or the other tens of thousands of Kurds driven out of their country by Iraq's chemical warfare. Around 140,000 people fled the country in 1988 alone. This newsletter traces the fate of the Kurdish refugees who have fled the Iraqi gas attacks.

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