Hillsborough and Halabja - The Search for Justice and Truth

25/09/2012 10:28 BST | Updated 25/09/2012 10:28 BST

One Saturday 23 years ago many people watched in horror as 96 Liverpool fans were crushed and suffocated at Hillsborough. Police officers made serious crowd control mistakes and colluded with an MP and a major newspaper to switch the blame to the fans. They concocted black propaganda that portrayed the innocent fans as drunk or robbing and abusing the dead. It caused outrage in a distinctive British region and there has been a campaign for truth and justice ever since.

The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader eloquently apologised for the failure of successive governments to break the silence and establish the truth. It was a festering sore and now we know. Nothing will bring back the dead but those who lost loved ones can live with themselves better now. Guilty parties may be punished.

Labour's Andy Burnham, who has been a central figure in exposing injustice at Hillsborough, wrote in a diary for the Observer that just before the Commons statement he had spoken at an event for Hand in Hand for Syria, a charity supporting doctors who face arrest if they treat people opposed to the regime, which he said was "a timely reminder that terrible injustice is not just in the past but happening everywhere, all the time."

I am making another comparison in support of the campaign for the UK and the wider international community to recognise other events that finished 24 years ago: the genocide against the Iraqi Kurds which began in 1963 and culminated in the use of weapons of mass destruction, most notoriously at Halabja in 1988.

It took time to establish that mustard gas was used in Halabja and Iran was blamed at first. The truth is out but far too few people are aware of the history. Some say it is better to move on.

My response is that the Kurds are not wallowing in self-pity but that the continuing legacy of the genocide is still a live issue. Many people lost family members and many do not know for certain if they are dead or alive. Agriculture remains a major untapped resource and people who were moved to the cities have lost their farming skills. Above all, it is morally correct that this genocide be added to the roll call of barbarism and support can be given at

The campaign faces formidable obstacles given that so few know about the events and given the weight of what I call Bliarism.

A strong minority still believes that Tony Blair was a liar - hence Bliar. It is said that he deliberately deceived the public about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and war caused the deaths of up to a million or more people.

This can easily be mocked. Is it seriously possible that Blair and Bush calculated that no-one would find out about invented WMD. The death toll was bad enough without plucking figures from the air to make it worse. If a million people have been killed then logically we can expect the same number or probably at least twice that number to have been injured. Where are they?

To be fair, such arguments are at the extreme end of the spectrum. There should have been a much better debate between those who took different positions in 2003. There were honourable reasons for opposing the war and it is wrong to say that a million marched to save fascism.

One of our best writers, Ian McEwan has written a novel called Saturday, set on the day of the big march in London. It includes a dialogue of the deaf between the central character Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon who has treated Iraqis bearing the signs of torture and with some knowledge of "the massacres in the Kurdish north", and his young anti-war daughter.

Perowne pointedly asks: "Why is it among those two million idealists today I didn't see one banner, one fist or voice raised against Saddam." She replies, "He's loathsome, it's a given." He retorts, "No, it's not. It's a forgotten."

The force of this came to me at a recent gathering of young political researchers. An old hand said that most people in the room would not have even heard of Halabja. I checked and they hadn't. Significantly, one said that he hadn't heard of Halabja but had heard of Fallujah, which for him was a symbol of gross American mistakes in the aftermath of ousting the dictator.

Fallujah cannot be ignored but the near absence of memories, especially for people under the age of, say, 40 hinders the campaign to break the silence on the genocide against the Kurds.

Breaking the juvenile virus of Bliarism is also vital to getting the debate on an even keel. Intervention had costs but so would non-intervention. A sober debate would not only enhance the health of politics but also remove obstacles that prevent many good people from identifying with Iraqi democrats now. Too many young idealists think that such solidarity would be tainted. People don't have to change their minds about the war to work together but there has to be some mutual respect.

Most people are fair-minded. They can see that knowing the truth about the Hillsborough football disaster is cleansing and healing a terrible wound. How much more so it would be for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.