by Nawzad Mahmoud – RUDAW – 22.5.2013 – SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – A committee from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) met with officials from Halabja last week to discuss details of turning the town into a province – a long overdue promise that Kurdish opposition parties say will never be honored.
“The committee, from the KRG interior ministry, wanted to discuss the future administrative boundary of Halabja,” said Hassan Abdulla, the town’s representative in the Sulaimani Provincial Council. He said that drawing up the boundaries would take no longer than six months, and that the province would be the smallest in Iraq. For years, every time officials flock to the town for the anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s March 1988 poison gas attack that killed 5,000 people, they repeat promises of turning the town into a province. While attending the latest ceremonies on the 25th anniversary of the attack, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani reiterated that his government is looking into the possibility.
“We will form a legal committee to initiate this plan,” Barzani’s deputy promised.
The renewed promises, and steps on the ground such as studying the boundaries, have raised public hopes that this time words may turn to deeds.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the ruling partner in the KRG with Barzani’s larger Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has already appointed a candidate for governor of the future province. Kazim Ali, a Halabja resident, is highly optimistic. “Our long efforts have not gone in vain,” he said. “Even though such steps take time, it is great to know our efforts finally pay off,” said another resident, Omed Muhammad, adding that fulfilled promises would help heal the deep scars of this wounded town.
The decision to make Halabja a province was first made in 1969 by the former Baath rulers. It was again discussed in 2003, when the Kurdish parliament approved the decision. Proponents of the plan say Halabja possesses great economic potential, but opposition parties accuse the government of making false promises – especially with local elections in the Kurdistan Region due in September. Hakim Salih, who has conducted research about Halabja’s natural resources and farmlands, said that, “After six years, Halabja will become the only economically independent province throughout Iraq.” According to his research, the area’s soil is suitable for agriculture, and for making bricks and glass. Salih added that the border point of Bashmakh in Penjwin, one of the main commercial hubs between Iran and the Kurdistan Region, would be on the boundary of Halabja. The KRG committee that has been tasked with drawing up the administrative boundary of Halabja has not yet finalized its work. However, Bakr Sidiq, an MP in the Iraqi parliament, estimates that the size of Halabja would be about 3,600 square kilometers, and it would have a population of nearly 400,000.