Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Halabjans Ponder Chemical Ali Trial

Many chemical attack victims say its mastermind should be tried and executed in Halabja, but others want him to confront consequences of his actions.
By Talar Nadir

Pensioner Soiba Muhammed lost her two daughters, three sons and husband when the Baathist regime dropped chemical bombs on the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Halabja 16 years ago. She herself was blinded. “We don’t need to have witnesses at Ali Hasan Majeed’s trial,” she said. “The whole world bore witness to his crimes. The sooner he is dealt with, the better."


For clog maker, Mu'min Hama-Arif, who lost 24 members of his family in the attack, seeing the man known as Chemical Ali go on trial is a dream come true.


"I'm just afraid he won't be executed because people start talking about human rights,” he said. “What does that man know about human rights?”


While some Halabja victims would prefer that Majeed not be executed, none of them are talking about forgiveness. Eight members of Maliha Ali Faraj’s family were killed in the attack. “I hope he rots away in jail and gets eaten by worms,” he said.


Chia Hama-Saeed, a civil servant at Halabja’s Martyrs Hospital, shares Maliha's view. Both Hama-Saeed and her brother were half-blinded by the poisonous gas attack, and their mother died of a cancer they relate directly too the chemical doses they received. “Chemical Ali should be kept in a jail where he can see the graveyard and the destroyed streets of our town,” she said. “He and Saddam should not be killed, they should be made to die a little every day."


Despite the pain that Majeed’s name conjures up for Halabja’s victims, most of them have welcomed the news of his impending trial. Asaeesh Khalid had planned to study law at the University of Baghdad, but was forced to give up her place when it became clear that her parents were still too ill to live alone, “My mother suffers from several diseases and my father was blinded. What could be more fitting for me than to see the person who hurt my family prosecuted before my very eyes.”


The Imam of Halabja’s Abu Bakri Siddiq Mosque, Ahmed Muhammed, believes Majeed should feel the full force of Islamic law, preaching an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. “He treated people violently and should suffer accordingly,” he said, but stops short of recommending he receive the death penalty. “He should be made to confront his crimes before the whole world."


Some Halabjans, however, feel the trial is nothing more than a showpiece. “Taking someone to court won’t bring 5,000 people back from the dead,” argued student Sardar Ali.


Haseeba Muhamed, who lost 12 members of her family and suffers from eye, throat and chest diseases, agrees. After living in the central Iraqi city of Samara for 11 years, she recently returned to Halabja. "The only fitting punishment would be to hand him over to me to cut out a piece of his flesh everyday,” she said.


A large majority of Halabjans are adamant that Majeed’s trial must take place in the town itself, not Baghdad. Salar Mahmood, a member of the National Guard, voiced the opinion of many, saying, “He needs to be prosecuted before the eyes of the people of Halabja."


Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.