On this day March 16, 1988

The Kurdish town of Halabjah in Iraq was attacked with a mix of poison gas and nerve agents, killing 5000 people and injured about 10000 people. Thousands more died of horrific complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack.

The incident, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) defined as an act of genocide, was as of 2008 the largest-scale chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history.

The gas attack began early in the evening of 16 March 1988, after a series of napalm and rocket attacks, when a group of up to 20 Iraqi MiG and Mirage aircraft began dropping chemical bombs.

According to pro-Iranian Kurdish commanders in Halabja, there were up to 14 aircraft sorties, with seven to eight planes in each group. Iraqi helicopters coordinating the operation were also seen. Eyewitnesses have told of clouds of smoke billowing upward “white, black and then yellow”‘, rising as a column about 150 feet (46 meters) in the air. Survivors said the gas at first scented with the smell of sweet apples.

The attack involved multiple chemical agents, including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, soman, tabun and VX. Some sources have also pointed to the blood agent hydrogen cyanide.

The survivors said people died in a number of ways, suggesting a combination of toxic chemicals: some “just dropped dead” while others “died of laughing”; still others took a few minutes to die, first “burning and blistering” or coughing up green vomit. Most of the wounded taken to hospitals in the Iranian capital Tehran were suffering from mustard gas exposure.

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