Carmel Valley company translates classified documents on Halabja chemical attack

By Kristina Houck

A local company has a crucial role in an effort to have the United States recognize the chemical weapons attack on Halabja as genocide.

In an attempt to get the U.S. Congress to officially declare the former Iraqi government’s attack as genocide, Carmel Valley-based Imani Lee, Inc. translated documents about the March 16, 1988 massacre.

“We’re honored to do this project,” said Bahar Martin, vice president of Imani Lee and wife of Lee Martin, founder and owner of the language and translation services company. She lived in Sulaymaniyah at the time of the attack, which is about an hour away from the northern Iraq town of Halabja.

“I’m proud we’re a part of this history. We want to announce it to the world that this happened.”

Imani Lee received the documents from an official Kurdish delegation on Aug. 14. It took the team 72 days to translate, harmonize, certify and notarize 108 pages, which include official government and military documents as well as eyewitness accounts of the attack.

Saddam Hussein signed one of the documents, “Decree No. 160.”

The decree officially declared Ali Hassan al-Majid — Hussein’s cousin who was known as “Chemical Ali” — as the president’s official representative in the northern Iraqi region, including in the autonomous state of Kurdistan. This decree gave al-Majid full authority over this section of the military grid, the military’s actions in the area, and consequently the attack on Halabja, which took place almost a year after the decree was issued in March 1987.

“It took me back to the time when Saddam’s regime was running the country. We suffered a lot,” said Project Manager Raid Behnam, who also served as Arabic editor, and worked alongside English senior editor Rebecca Christian, assistant editor Joon Park, and a team of three linguists.

An Iraqi native, Behnam, served in the Iraqi military and the coalition forces, and later worked as a linguist for the U.S. military.

“This is the first time I had a look at some of these hidden documents,” he said. “During Saddam’s regime, a normal person wouldn’t take a look at top-secret documents.”

The attack, which occurred in the days preceding the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq War, killed about 3,000-5,000 Iraqi Kurds and injured about 7,000-10,000 others.

The post-Hussein Iraqi government executed al-Majid in January 2010 for his role in the attack on the Kurdish town and other crimes against humanity. In 2011, a majority of the Iraqi parliament voted to officially recognize the attack as genocide.

The Kurdistan regional government hopes the U.S. will now officially recognize the attack as genocide. In the coming weeks, the English translations will be submitted as evidence to a congressional committee tasked with drafting the resolution. The delegation expects the Congress to vote in December.

In addition to pursuing a congressional vote, the delegation plans to present the documents for display in the Library of Congress and the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

“This is a very important project. This is the first time a Kurdish team, along with an American team, are working on such an important project,” said Huner Aswer, project manager and senior U.S. Embassy liaison. Just 5 years old at the time of the attack, Aswer and his family fled about 80 miles to Iran.

“We want to help the case be recognized globally. We want to remember this tragedy every year so that it does not happen, not just in Iraqi Kurdistan, but in any other part of the world.”

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