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Iraqi PM Promises Kurdish Gas Victims Justice


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (left) tours the Kurdish city of Halabja.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (left) tours the Kurdish city of Halabja.

HALABJA, Iraq (Reuters) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised Kurds he would not rest until members of Saddam Hussein's government and military who ordered poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages were punished.

Maliki, who met the largely autonomous Kurdish region's President Masud Barzani on August 2, is on a fence-mending mission to defuse a bitter dispute over land and oil, and improve relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government (KRG).

Thousands of Kurds were killed in the gas attacks, including about 5,000 in an attack on the town of Halabja in 1988.

"We will not give up, will not stop, will not be silenced, until a just verdict and punishment is found," Maliki said after visiting a Halabja cemetery on August 3 where he spoke to gas attack victims and their relatives, while his guards distributed cash.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam's, known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poison gas, is on trial for the Halabja gas attacks, along with three men including former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim, and a former army chief of staff, Hussein Rashid Muhammad.

Majid, Hashim, and Muhammad have already received death sentences for their role in the Anfal military campaign in which Saddam killed tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s. But political wrangling has so far prevented the death sentences from being carried out.

Iraq's Presidency Council, consisting of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his two deputies, a Sunni and a Shi'a, has not ratified the Anfal sentences because of a row over whether Hashim and Muhammad were guilty.

Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi says they were just carrying out orders and should be treated as soldiers.

U.S. troops have intervened in standoffs between Kurdish peshmerga soldiers and Iraqi forces over disputed territory and U.S. officials see the tensions between the Arab-led Baghdad government and the KRG as the greatest threat to Iraq's security.

The United States has urged the two to work towards peace.

Maliki's Arab-led government has called oil deals the KRG has made independently with foreign firms illegal and disputes KRG claims to territories along its border.

Barzani has accused Maliki of acting like a tyrant and sidelining the Kurdish minority. On August 2 the two leaders agreed to hold further talks.
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