A woman holds a picture of her son, who was a victim of the 1988 chemical attack, as she poses for the camera in the Kurdish town of Halabja, Iraq September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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When poison gas killed thousands of Kurds in Halabja in 1988, its residents never imagined they would ever escape Saddam Hussein's grip, let alone vote one day in a referendum on secession from Iraq.It will be a bittersweet moment for the people of Halabja, a rundown city of around 75,000 people still facing the aftereffects of the attack by Iraqi government forces.The region's roughly 30 million ethnic Kurds were left scattered across four countries – Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.Although they were widely mistreated, the Kurds suffered a particularly brutal fate in Iraq.Halabja marked the peak of his campaign against the Kurds.Saddam accused the Halabja Kurds of siding with Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.The U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam in 2003 enabled the Kurds to eventually set up a semiautonomous region.But neighboring countries worried that Iraqi Kurdish ambitions would embolden their own restive Kurdish populations to agitate for change. Kurdish officials were not immediately available for comment on the allegations that Halabja has been neglected.
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