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Peace News log archive: March 2013

Articles from the Peace News log.
For archive articles from the whole site, look here

REPORT FROM IRAQ: Non-violent protests by the people of Halabja at the 25th anniversary commemorations of the town's gassing help highlight the political misuse of the massacre.

ImageSaturday was the 25th anniversary of the March 16, 1988 gassing of the town of Halabja, which is north-east of Baghdad and whose backdrop is the mountains that make up part of the Iran-Iraq border. This attack killed upwards of 5000 civilians, mostly women and children, injuring thousands more as Iraqi planes dropped chemical bombs on the town.

Having previously visited the town in April 2009 I returned to Halabja on Saturday to be part of the commemorations, although, for reasons I'll explain later, this most recent trip can only just be described as an actual visit to Halabja as it was a very sanitised version of the town, where the true impoverished nature of the place was kept hidden from visiting eyes.

Away from ceremony and international attention, the first time I visited Halabja I met a man who had lost 24 members of his family of which he was the only one to survive, he lost brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, his parents and his grandparents. He himself only survived because he had been injured in a previous 'conventional' attack a couple of days earlier and had shrapnel in his leg. For this reason alone he was outside the centre of the town receiving treatment as the chemical attack rained down on his family and all the others that were murdered on that March day in 1988.

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REPORT FROM IRAQ: Cross-border Turkish bombings continue to claim civilian lives and disrupt livelihoods in northern Iraq.

ImageBack in November I wrote a blog piece for Peace News about what was essentially a media blackout on cross-border attacks by the Turkish military into the northern regions of Iraq. These Turkish attacks into Iraq have a long and deadly history, taking and disrupted many lives and have historically, in the main, been largely under-reported or simply unreported. It is in part due to this lack of coverage and critical challenge in the media that these attacks have been able to continue, resulting in more lives being lost and torn apart. As such, it is more than unfortunate to report that Turkish cross-border bombings have continued in the months since.

In writing the blog in November last year I cited a human rights organisation that have a team based in Iraqi Kurdistan, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), who had met with one of those who was injured during the Turkish bombings in November, Rebaz Ahmed Ismail. At that time only the wire agencies had carried news reports on the deployment of Turkish ground troops into Iraq, an event that is now relatively rare as most of the attacks are carried out from the air, and even then these agencies misreported the fact that civilians had indeed been killed during these attacks; CPT reported the day after the attacks that at least two civilians had been killed in a single Turkish bombing raid along the Iraqi border with Iran.

The last time I myself was in Iraq was in April-May 2009 and I had gone specifically to support the work by international NGOs to document these cross-border attacks that were claiming the lives of many and disrupting the livelihoods of even more who farm and herd animals on the grasses high in the Iraqi mountains. The lushly green covered mountains offer grazing, particularly in the summer months, when the lower lands become arid due to the heat. One only has to look at a map to see that the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian border region of Iraq is mountainous and fertile compared to the rest of Iraq which is mainly flat and outside the banks of its two major rivers distinctly lacking in plant life. One of the people I traveled to Iraq with in 2009 now works full time in Iraqi Kurdistan and was one of the CPT members that met with Rebaz, who lost a leg and two friends in an F16 fighter-aircraft attack in early November 2012.

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