30 Oct 2016

Text: Corinna / Translation: Miriam & Daniel

# The genocide against the Iraqi Kurds

The Kurdish people form the fourth largest community in the Middle East and have been victim of cruel human rights violations many times before – such as in Dersim, Turkey.

The conflict between the State and the Kurds had been smouldering for decades but only developed into genocide when Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party came into power.1

Saddam HusseinPhoto: Saddam Hussein von Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

The Ba’ath regime spread fear and panic throughout society. From the beginning of the 1970s, Saddam Hussein implemented a campaign of arabisation. Approximately 250,000 Kurds were ousted from their ancestral land because the government wanted full control over the oilfields, fertile pastures and natural resources in those regions.2

# Iran-Iraq War 1980-88

A large number of the ousted Kurds fled to Iran, which Saddam Hussein attacked in 1980. The Kurdish people allied with Iran during these brutal conflicts. This made it possible for Hussein to disguise his planned destruction of the Kurds as a military defensive action.3

In 1983 the Ba’ath regime committed a mini-genocide against the Barzani clan, headed by a historical Kurdish leader. All men between the ages of 7 and 70, along with approximately 8,000 family members were killed.4

AnfalPhoto: Brian Hillegas/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

# Anfal

The Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds happened between the 23rd February and the 6th September 1988 and claimed the lives of between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians. The operation consisted of 8 attacks in 6 different regions. It was planned to be the “final solution” to the Kurdish problem.5

All attacks followed the same pattern. First, the air force dropped mustard gas and nerve gas on Kurdish towns and Peshmerga6 bases. These air raids were followed by military lightning operations: ground troops and the jash (national defence battalion) invaded Kurdish villages, destroying everything, looting homes, seizing animals and burning down all villages and pastureland. They also placed land mines so that the locals could not return to their villages. Less than 1,000 of the 5,000 villages were left standing.7

Villagers were deported to concentration camps where they were divided, tortured and killed. The men were usually shot, whereas women, children and the elderly mostly died of disease or starvation. Masses of refugees were captured and immediately killed by troops. Approximately 1,5 million Kurds were deported to so-called model villages (concentration camps). More than 60,000 fled from the country.8

This was the first time in history that a state had used chemical weapons against their own citizens. Thousands of people died immediately, and many more sustained skin and eye burns. The attacks also resulted in illnesses, such as cancer, birth defects, infertility and so on.9

The first extensive use of mustard gas and nerve gas, although not linked to the Anfal campaign, took place in March 1988. The city of Halabja was the target of this attack. Approximately 5,000 civilians died instantly, 10,000 were injured and died of resulting illnesses.10

AnfalPhoto: Adam Jones/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

# Perpetrators

Orders for the Anfal campaign and the accompanying genocide were given by Ali Hasan al-Majid (also known as “Chemical Ali”). Al-Majid was the governor of the northern provinces of Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s first cousin. In an attempt to solve the Kurdish problem, he was given extraordinary powers.11

He was assisted by various military and security units, such as:

# the 1st and 5th unit of the Iraqi army

# various command sections

# the air force

# the Republican Guard

# Amn (internal state security)

# Istikhabarat (military news service)

# Mukhabarat (the Ba’ath party’s news service)

# units of the Ba’ath military12

Some Kurds (jash) were forced to collaborate but never gained the state’s full trust because they frequently helped their fellow countrymen to flee.13

# Amnesty

On the 26th September 1988, the Iraqi government declared victory over the Kurds and proclaimed general amnesty. According to the proclamation, acts of violence against the Kurds were to cease and the prisoners were to be released. Nevertheless, the violence continued. Women, children and the elderly were released from the concentration camps, but nearly all men were kept in custody. All Kurds were forcibly resettled to regions without infrastructure, compensation or support. Many people fell victim to starvation and disease.14

AnfalPhoto: Jan Sefti/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

# Genocide or an act of self-defence?

The Iraqi government defines Anfal as an act of self-defence against the Peshmerga. This does not, however, mean that the campaign was not a genocide. According to the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), a genocide can happen in both war time and times of peace. Thousands of civilians were killed; villages were destroyed and chemical weapons were used. Prisoners were often killed days or weeks after they had been captured, long after any immediate threat of a counter-attack could present itself. These facts contradict the declaration that the campaign was an act of self-defence.15

After the end of the 1st Iran-Iraq-War 1992 and Saddam Hussein’s arrest 2003, countless documents proving the plans to destroy the Kurdish people were confiscated. The Ba’ath regime kept detailed records of their deeds. Among other things, the documents included a statement by al-Majid: “carry out random bombardments … at all times of the day and night in order to kill the largest number of persons” and “those between the ages of 15 and 70 must be executed”.16

During a meeting with Human Rights Watch in 1991, al-Majid denied that nearly 180,000 people had been killed during the Anfal campaign, stating it could not have been more than 100,000 people.17

# Global community

Few showed interest in the Kurds’ fate. The United States were occupied with Iran and even viewed Saddam Hussein as a regional ally. Russia and China did not protest against the Ba’ath regime’s offences and other countries didn’t take action against the genocide. Conversely, Arabic, Turkish and Iranian nationalists even supported the actions taken in the Anfal campaign because they also viewed the Kurds as a problem.18

# Justice

After the Ba’ath regime had been overthrown, there were attempts to seek justice but Saddam Hussein was never held accountable for the Kurdish genocide. He was instead sentenced to death for the execution of 148 Shiite oppositionists; and the Anfal indictment was dropped after his execution. Al-Majid and other perpetrators were sentenced to death and executed for genocide by the Iraqi criminal court.19

The detailed Human Rights Watch report can be found here: www.hrw.org/reports/pdf/i/iraq.937/anfalfull.pdf


HRW (1993) „Human Rights Watch Introduction: Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds“ Abrufbar unter: http://www.hrw.org/reports/1993/iraqanfal/ANFALINT.htm (Stand: 30.08.2015)

Spencer, P. (2012) Genocide since 1945 – Making of the Contemporary World. London and New York: Routledge.

1 Spencer (2012) S. 78- 79
2 Spencer (2012) S. 78- 79
3 Spencer (2012) S. 78- 79
4 Spencer (2012) S. 78- 79
5 HRW (1993)
6 Peshmerga: military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan
7 HRW (1993)
8 Spencer (2012) S. 80
9 Spencer (2012) S. 80
10 Spencer (2012) S. 80
11 Spencer (2012) S. 80- 81
12 Spencer (2012) S. 80- 81
13 Spencer (2012) S. 80- 81
14 HRW (1993)
15 HRW (1993)
16 Spencer (2012) S. 81
17 Spencer (2012) S. 81
18 Spencer (2012) S. 82
19 Spencer (2012) S. 82

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