Across northern Iraq, Kurds observed a moment of silence Sunday to remember the day 15 years ago when Saddam Hussein's forces launched a chemical attack on Halabja, killing 5,000 men, women and children.
The March 16, 1988, attack gave this city a painful place in history. As the U.S. prepares for war against Baghdad, American officials often cite the attack during the Iran-Iraq war as an example of the Iraqi president's cruelty.
Halabja, where nearly every resident lost at least one friend or relative that day, fell silent at 11:20 a.m. Sunday.
"It all comes back fresh into my mind," said Kamal Khosraw, 23, who works in Halabja's bazaar. "I remember how it was, escaping that day and seeing all the corpses, and it makes me want to cry."
In Irbil, sirens blared for five minutes as nearly the entire city halted. Shopkeepers stood in silence in doorways. Traffic stopped, and thousands of people lined the streets.
Tahir Kahyat, who was 24 at the time, said he lost his parents, three brothers and three sisters in the attack. All of them hid in their house when it began. Kahyat remembers waking up two days later and discovering that he was the only survivor in his family.
"I couldn't see or talk," said Kahyat, who after medical treatment traveled aimlessly for more than a decade before returning home. "Halabja cost me my family and 12 years of my life."
At the Kurdish parliament in Irbil, lawmakers rose for 20 seconds of silence during a memorial session. About 20 Halabja survivors listened as lawmakers praised the expected U.S.-led military campaign.
"This will help ease my painful memories, but nothing can erase it. Saddam Hussein destroyed my life," said Osman Hamasalah Ahmed, 65, who lost 12 relatives in the attack.