The Halabja Bombing, 26th April 1974

Yasin Aziz

By Yasin Aziz:

Extracts from the novel,  ‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’, based on the real events of April 1974.

This was an example of a crime against humanity, a crime of genocide committed by the Iraqi Ba’athist Regime, when it deliberately bombed a civilian population twice within three days.  When four French-made Iraqi Soukhoi air force jets came to bomb Halabja at 16:20 mid-afternoon,  many people were expecting the bombing because the town of Qaldzyia, 100 miles away, had been bombed on 24th April, causing around two hundred civilian deaths, and many more wounded.   Many people in Halabja had left the town, but there were still some people, a majority of whom were young volunteers who stayed to assist with self-defence and help with casualties.

The volunteers dug many holes in the ground, and prepared shelters. One of the biggest bombs dropped in the middle of the bazaar, creating a three by four metres crater, and bursting the town’s main water pipe.  The surrounding shops all collapsed and caught fire, and many shopkeepers, and passers-by were killed, mutilated and wounded. .

Sajid’s brother Ali, who had witnessed the bombing, a few minutes earlier, was near where one of the big bombs dropped and exploded.  He told the story of what he saw:

“I went to the sweetshop with a bank note to get some changes.  It was just minutes before the bombing, I saw my father across the street, he was standing in front of his shop.   A few minutes later when I heard the siren, I was about a hundred yards further north of where the TNT bomb dropped, in the town centre.

“As I was desperate to find shelter and to protect myself, I went into a small shop.   In such a desperate moment, I went under a metal table in the shop.  A huge explosion shook everywhere so violently that all the aluminium shop shutters were hurled out from the shop fronts and a piece of the shop’s metal hit the table I was under to seek protection. The metal table protected me, but many shops that were already closed had their shutters hurled out as if they all were open.

“There were many Peshmarga forces ready to help the victims, a few minutes after the bombing, I left the shop and came out, saw that two of my cousins nearby were ok. I was very worried about my family, so I hurried home to find out if they were all right, and then started looking for my father.

“When I was on the way home, I saw many doors and windows of shops and houses all wide open from the force of the explosion.  I saw a young man’s body, his back badly wounded, and the flow of blood from his wounds was subsiding.  He was one of my friends.  It did not take long until he passed away.  For the first time, I saw the town in such a horrific state.

 “There was such a terrifying silence; I started shouting at the top of my voice, desperate to hear someone. From my relatives, family and neighbours, no one replied, still I was desperately shouting like mad.  All the people were so shocked, no one would utter a word.  I headed towards the mosque with an unconscious willingness in my pace, as if I was leaping forward with desperate steps, looking for my father.  I found one of my neighbour’s sons and I asked about my father. ‘No, I haven’t seen him,’  the young man said.

“I turned and started running towards my father’s shop.  I looked at the sweetshop where I had gone to get some change minutes before the bombing.  It had collapsed, and nearby, there was a ten-year-old boy, the son of my father’s friend. He had been caught in the bombing, and had just lost his life.  I felt his body, it was still warm, I checked his pulse for any sense of life, but there was none.

“He was the only son the family had, but the young boy’s father was murdered in the bombing too.  A young innocent child killed because of his race. They did not let him live more than 10 years; at a young age; he was blown apart by the fascist Ba’athist bomb.  Nearby, there was a big hole from the TNT bomb in the middle of adjoining streets – in the middle of bazaar – which caused most of the killing, destruction and fire.

“The flowing water from the burst pipe created a big pond.  Many more people who survived the bombing gathered to put out the fire.  They were collecting corpses and taking the injured to the local hospital.  One of the shops that caught fire was my father’s. There were about 20 bodies in the place where the TNT bomb had dropped.  ‘A few minutes ago, they took a few more corpses to the mosque,’ a young man told me. There were many more to take to the other mosques around the town.

“I kept looking for my father, but I could not find him. I went to the mosques to check clothes of the victims piled up, whose corpses were ready to take to the graveyard, but none of the clothes were my father’s.  I kept going around, checking all the Halabja mosques.  When I heard that some of the corpses had been taken to the Sirwan village’s mosque, I headed towards Sirwan village, about five kilometres further down from Halabja.  All the town’s mosques were overwhelmed with corpses.   On the way to Sirwan mosque, I came across my sisters and my brother, as they were looking everywhere to find him.  They were on their way back from Sirwan mosque when I met them. They assured me he was not there, so I went back with them, and hoped that he was alive or at least amongst the wounded.  However the time was hard, and we passed the night without knowing any news about our father and, again, early in the morning, we started looking for my father with a few more relatives and friends who came to be with us.  Many more friends and relatives were there to assist us, searching the debris of the collapsed shops and buildings.  Even the following day, there was no trace of him. We were still looking for him, and could not find him.

“On the night followed the second day, we were desperate to find him. My sister woke up early in the morning, as she’d had a dream, ‘I saw my father’, she said. ‘Come I am here, I am here, you can find me here’, my father told her in her dream.   She woke up like mad, still crying. ‘I know, I know, wake up, let’s go, I know where he is,’ she called us and kept crying.  The two-story-building, that was above the sweetshop had collapsed, across the high street from his shop, and close to where the TNT bomb exploded, and it had made a big hole in the ground.  We began raising the debris of the collapsed building.  We found him. He was in such a terrible state, flattened by the weight of the collapsed building like a piece of paper.

“It was such a spectacle, that no one would ever wish to see.  It was so horrific; the scene would never leave our memories.  That was what Arab Muslim brothers did to Kurds.  That was a stark sign of the hypocrisy of what these Muslim brothers did for many years of occupation.

“It was so distressful to see my father in a state like this. Neighbours, cousins, relatives and friends were with us. They moved the debris of the collapsed building, and removed his body which was not in the shape of a normal human body.  They collected his body in a sack and took it to the mosque. The agony of trying to find him was followed with a certainty of grief.  He had nothing to do with the politics of the revolution.  He was around sixty years old; he was one of 63 people killed in the bombing with over a hundred injured”.

That was an episode in life of the revolution in Halabja, but no one knew if that was the ultimate reality of distress in the revolution, or a natural process in the brutality of occupation.  At the time, hardly anyone knew that there were much more to come.  Many naively thought that this was the ultimate grief and distress.

Even the presence of anti air-force guns firing at the four French-made Iraqi air force jets – especially the gunner on the fourth floor of the ‘TankihTobacco’ building, he kept shooting with a submachine gun – was obviously not enough to deter the aeroplanes from dropping the TNT bombs on the high street, on the civilian population.  It was the centre of the town, where many shops and bazaar were situated.   Targeting a purely civilian population certainly amounted to the crime of genocide, as they had also committed two days earlier to the town of Qaladiza, killing over 200 civilians mainly college and university students.

 The bombing failed to destroy the revolution; in fact, it added more sore wounds to the determination of the revolutionaries to fight even harder than ever before.

Yasin Mahmoud Aziz is from Halabja and lives in the UK.  He is the author of ‘Dum Dum Castle’ and two books in Kurdish and he is planning several more books. ‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’ is due to be published later this year. Email:

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