Halabja Riot against America
Kurds in Halabja went on a rampage on Thursday, protesting the Kurdistan Regional Government’s inattention to social services. They assaulted the monument to the victims of Saddam’s 1988 gas attack, an attack they said that the local government always used to excuse its ineptitude.
Security sources told al-Hayat that a boy was killed and six other persons were wounded by the bullets of the Peshmerga paramilitary, who opened fire to disperse the demonstrators. The source says that the situation got out of hand and that supplementary forces have now reached the city to restore order.
Al-Hayat said that he demonstrators carried placards blaming America and its agents. These slogans raised suspicions in official Kurdish circles that the Kurdish Islamist were behind the incident.
[Update 3/18: I’ve now heard from 2 sources in Kurdistan, both of whom deny anti-American feeling. One considered Islamist involvement plausible, and one denied it altogether.]
Kurds accuse Saddam Hussein and Ali Hasan al-Majid–“Chemical Ali– for killing 5,000 Kurds in a 1988 gas attack.
Al-Hayat says that in 1998, radical Kurdish Muslim groups such as the Army of Islam, the Army of the Ansar al-Sunnah, and the Islamic Group imposed on the people of Halabja and Taliban-like local municipal regime. Alcohol was forbidden, veiling imposed on women, religion education was substituted for secular schooling, and the shaving of the beard forbidden.
President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, responded by insisting on the “need to continue the struggle against the criminal excommunicator (takfiri) gangs that have launched a war of extermination on all Iraqis.”
[It now seems likely that the Islamists were cleared out of Halabja long ago, and that this demonstration was against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s poor government, and that Talabani is just scapegoating the Islamists to cover up popular discontent with his party’s regional government.]
Even if the riot was the work of local Muslim fundamentalist groups, it is not good news that even some of the people in Halabja are not “grateful” for being liberated by the US from Hussein, and even blame the US, apparently for collusion with the Baath regime in the gas attacks.
The Reagan and then Bush senior administrations allied with Saddam 1984-1990, until he invaded Kuwait. During the 1980s, as I showed in this Truthdig.com piece, the Reagan administration winked at Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, and at his efforts to acquire more. Donald Rumsfeld met Saddam twice, the second time to mollify him over State Department condemnation of the chemical weapons. The Reagan administration also permitted private US companies to supply to Saddam chemicals and anthrax precursors. No senior Reagan administration official protested the Halabja gassings. So the Halabja demonstrations against Reagan administration complicity contain a kernel of hideous truth.