Today we joyfully remember the 11th anniversary of the toppling of the Saddam regime! Liberation day is a nation-wide holiday commemorating the day when the American-led forces finally freed Iraq from the Baathist tyranny.
To appreciate the date, imagine what it must have meant for an area like Halabja. From 1980 on the town was shelled by the Iranians. It became a war zone. People gradually became used to the hardships and miseries of war. They learned how to survive and developed strategies how to escape the attacks: One of the best options was to hide in the basements. In March 1988 Iranian troops together with Kurdish Peshmerga succeeded to capture the town. The former attackers became the new protectors. But only three days later Saddam’s troups bombarded the town with poison gas. Shortly before the attack the people were warned through public loudspeakers. They expected “just” another bombardment. Many fled in the mountains, and many hid in the basements, as usual. But this time this was a fatal decision. Poison gas is heavier than air, it concentrated on the ground. Countless were killed in the cellars, and countless in the streets.
The whole town became a prohibited zone for more than two years. Only in 1991 it was reopened and the remaining survivors returned. Still they managed to survive, although there were no intact houses, no clean water, no clean food, no electricity, and not even medical service which was desperately needed given all the people suffering from the various late-time effects of the poison gas. Then in 1993 the civil war between the two major Kurdish factions began. Halabja was one of the epicenters of the fightings. When the civil war ended in 1997, a radical Islamist group named Ansar al-Islam took over the area and continued their brutal and crazy reign until they were finally ousted by the invading American troups in 2003. It is only 11 years that the region has been living without war and constant fear. We remember.