Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century
Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century

Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century

Stephanie Schoppert - April 28, 2017

Deadly Smoke: The Worst Chemical Weapons Attacks of the 20th Century
A woman visits the graves of her realtives who died during teh attack. rferl.org

Halabja Chemical Attack

On March 16, 1988, the Iran-Iraq war was coming to a close. The Kurdish rebellion was largely extinguished by the mid-1980s, but the Ba’athist regime under Saddam Hussein wanted to remove all Kurdish resistance in the north. There was an order to strike down the Peshmerga rebels and Kurdish resistance by any means possible, including attacks on large civilian populations.

The Kurdish city of Halabja fell to the Iranians as part of Operation Zafar 7. 48 hours after the Iranians took the city the Iraqi forces retaliated as part of their Al-Anfal Campaign. For five hours, Iraqi MiG and Mirage aircraft dropped chemical bombs on the residential areas of Halabja. The bombs were dropped far away from the besieged Iraqi army base on the outskirts of the town. The attack remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian populated area in history.

Eyewitnesses reported a range of smells and colors of the gas. Some reported rotten eggs and others said they smelled apples. Rebel commanders in the area reported clouds of white, black and yellow smoke rising up from the city. Those who survived the attack reported that some people died instantly, others died laughing and some burned, blistered and coughed up green vomit. The ensuing panic caused many others to die as people tried to flee by car.

Between 3,200 to 5,000 people were killed in the attack. 7,000 to 10,000 were injured. Once the chemicals were dispersed, Iraqi forces were able to retake the city. Once Halabja was back in Iraqi possession, the entire town was systematically razed with bulldozers and explosives. Today people in the region suffer from increased rates of birth defects and cancer. Some doctors have become concerned that the chemicals used may have had lasting genetic effects on the population due to the increased rates of birth defects.

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