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This Day in History

World History

Wednesday, March 16, 1988. :   The northern Iraq Kurdish city of Halabja is bombarded with chemical weapons, killing thousands of civilians.

     The war between Iran and Iraq, also known as the First Persian Gulf War, began when Iraq invaded Iran on 22 September 1980. The two countries had a long history of border disputes, going right back to when the countries were the kingdoms of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and Persia (Iran). Catching Iranian forces by surprise, Iraq held the advantage early in the war. However, Iran mounted a successful counter-offensive in 1982, regaining lost ground.

The Halabja poison gas attack was the largest-scale chemical weapons attack against a civilian population in modern times. It began early in the evening of 16 March 1988, when a group of eight aircraft maintained a chemical bombardment all night on Halabja, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq. The attack involved multiple chemical agents, including mustard gas, and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX. The final death toll was between 3,200 people and 5,000, whilst up to 10,000 more were injured. Initially the bombardment was believed to have originated from Iran. However, evidence now suggests that the attack was an Iraqi assault against Iranian forces, pro-Iranian Kurdish forces and Halabja's citizens during a protracted battle.

The United Nations Security Council repeatedly called upon both countries to end the conflict, but it was not until August of 1988 that a ceasefire was agreed to. Ultimately, the war changed the balance of power in the Persian Gulf, and led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

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