Potential environmental health threat uncovered in Halabja, Iraq

Landmines and other unexploded ordinance are notorious for maiming people long after wars have ended. In an unfortunate twist to this continuing lesson, a plane was excavated in Halabja, Iraq containing unexploded chemical weapons (see picture), injuring some of those nearby.

Halabja is notorious for being blanketed with chemical weapons in Saddam Hussein’s 1988 bombing against the northern Kurds. The chemical weapons attacks on Halabja killed around 5,000 and wounded at least 10,000. They were part of the larger Anfal Campaign, labeled by Human Rights Watch as genocidal, in which the Iraqi government led by Hussein systematically attacked Kurdish populations and other non-Arab minorities in northern Iraq between 1986 and 1989. According to Human Rights Watch, 50-100,000 civilians died during the campaign, and over 4000 villages were destroyed.

Therefore while it might be unsurprising to find unexploded ordinance from the bombing campaign, it was slightly more shocking to find the remains of an entire plane in addition to leftover chemical weapons while excavating land to create a park in downtown Halabja. The chemical weapon leaked while trying to remove the plane, which was identified as coming from an Iraqi fleet, injuring seven or eight of those on site.  Those affected are now stable, according to reports.

Much is still unclear, however, such as the chemical agent in the weapon, and the full extent of the injuries of those exposed. More information is pending further reports.

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