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Mar 16, 10:20 AM EDT

Iraq's Kurds observe 30th anniversary of deadly gas attack

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AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed

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IRBIL, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's Kurdish region on Friday commemorated the 30th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's 1988 gas attack in the northeastern Kurdish town of Halabja that killed 5,000 people.

Kurdish officials delivered speeches to a crowd of hundreds gathered for the ceremony at a stadium in the town.

At a cemetery where many of those killed in the attack are buried, relatives of victims, survivors of the attack and officials laid flowers beside rows of headstones.

From Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the attack as a "crime that shook the conscience of the world," according to a written statement released by his office.

As the country commemorates the Halabja attack "we affirm our pride in the unity of our people," he said in the statement.

Tensions between Iraq's Kurds and the central government have spiked recently following a controversial vote on independence held by the autonomous Kurdish region in September.

In Halabja, residents described decades of government neglect.

"We are still carrying the same suffering that we suffered in the past. Until now, those injured in the chemical attack have not received proper treatment," said Hikmat Faiq Arif, a 45-year old resident, adding that much of the city also remains damaged.

"Iraq must be obligated to pay compensation for the destroyed city of Halabja, because it is a part of Iraq," he said.

The 1988 attack was ordered by Saddam's government as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north and came to symbolize the brutality of his rule.

The vast majority of those killed in the nerve and mustard gas attacks were Kurds. Many survivors still suffer from the after-effects.

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