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Iraqi Kurds sue French companies for Halabja chemical attack

A woman looks at a memorial for the Halabja victims
A woman looks at a memorial for the Halabja victims AFP

Twenty Iraqi Kurds have taken legal action to expose French firms who supplied poison gas to Saddam Hussein in 1988. The plaintiffs were among the victims of a chemical weapon attack that killed 5,000 in the town of Halabja during the Iran-Iraq war.

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Four of the victims – two of whom suffer from respiratory problems - travelled to France for the opening of the court case on Monday.

“We want the French courts to severely punish these companies,” said victims’ spokesperson Kamil Abulqadir Wais Mohammed, who lost an eye and suffers from damaged lungs. “And we want the courts to help the victims medically and economically. Many people who have survived the massacre and need medical attention don’t have the money.”

“All that matters to me is that the company bosses, the engineers and the chemists are punished,” said Mardin Mahmood Fatah, who was five years old at the time and lost her whole family in the attack.

The victims’ lawyers say that two French companies – whom they have not yet named – were among the 20 or more companies that helped Saddam construct a chemical weapons arsenal.

“The French companies we have targeted notable made equipment for producing chemical agents, reactors and columns and steel tanks to contain toxic agents to be used to make gas,” said lawyer David Père. “We want the individuals and companies that knowingly helped Saddam Hussein’s regime acquire chemical weapons which were used to commit crimes against humanity to be forced to face up to their responsibilities.”

Although 20 victims have taken legal action in France, Père says that he represents 721 survivors of the attack, which was ordered by Saddam-era minister Ali Hassan al-Majid after Kurdish rebels took control of the town with Iran’s backing.

Al-Majid, widely known as “Chemical Ali”, was hanged in 2010 after receiving several death sentences, including one for the Halabja assault.

A Dutch businessman who sold Iraq chemicals used in the attack was ordered to pay 400,000 euros to some of the victims in April.

Père and his colleague Gavriel Mairone are also planning to take legal action in other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands.

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