REMEMBER ANFAL : On the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide

By Kawa Rash: Kurdistan Tribune

Deriving from ‘Suratal-Anfal’ in the Qur’an, ‘al Anfal’ literally means ‘the spoils’ (of war) and the term was used by Saddam’s Iraqi regime to describe the 1988 military campaign of extermination and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid.

However, the ruling Ba’athists distorted what the Qur’an says. ‘Anfal’ in the Qur’an does not refer to genocide, but the regime used it used as a code word for their systematic attacks against the Kurdish population. This campaign also targeted the villages of minority communities, including Christians.

The Saddam regime systematically persecuted and oppressed ethnic and religious groups over many years. No group suffered more than the Iraqi Kurds. This year, 25 years on, we remember in particular the atrocity of the 1988 attack on Halabja, when Iraqi planes used poison gas to kill thousands of Iraqi Kurds.

On Thursday 28 February 2013 the British House of Commons passed a motion relating to the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide:

“That this House formally recognises the genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan; encourages governments, the EU and UN to do likewise; believes that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; and further believes that it would enable the UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; and further believes that it would enable the UK, the home of democracy and freedom, to send out a message of support for international conventions and human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals”.

Several other European parliaments have voted likewise.

It remains the British government’s view that it is not for them to decide whether a genocide has been committed, since this is a complex legal question. Where an international judicial body finds a crime to have been genocide, however, this will often play an important part in ensuring global recognition of the extent of the crimes. Regardless of governments’ legal and semantic arguments, the use of the term ‘genocide’ is a clear reminder of the extent of the suffering of Iraqi Kurds under Saddam Hussein, whose ultimate conviction was for his crimes against humanity.

It is also serves a reminder that any use of chemical or biological weapons is abhorrent and that responsible countries must consider their on-going production, stockpiling or use to be completely unacceptable. Recognising the Kurdish persecution as genocide will send a strong message to totalitarian regimes around the world.

The genocide perpetrated over decades, known collectively as the Anfal, began with the Arabisation of villages around Kirkuk in 1963. It involved the deportation and disappearances of Faylee Kurds in the 1970s-80s, the murder of 8,000 male Barzanis in 1983, the use of chemical weapons in the late 1980s, most notably against Halabja, and finally the Anfal campaign of 1987-88. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people perished, families were torn apart, causing continuing health problems, and 4,500 villages were destroyed between 1976 and 1988, undermining the potential of Iraqi Kurdistan’s agricultural resources.

The Kurdish Genocide: The Facts

Genocide in Kurdistan

The campaign had a number of phases and reached a peak in 1988. Human Rights Watch reported in its 1993 comprehensive report on Anfal in Iraq that at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds are estimated to have been killed at the hands of the Ba’ath regime. However, since then, several sources have stated that as many as 182,000 or even more people were killed in that operation.

Gendercide: Throughout the Kurdish Anfal, men and boys of ‘battle age’ were rounded up and ‘disappeared’ en masse. Most of these men and boys were captured, transported to mass graves and shot in mass executions. Of the total victims of Anfal, an estimated 70% were men, approximately aged 15 to 50.

Thousands of women and children also vanished. Unlike the men, however, they were taken from specific areas as opposed to throughout the region. Evidence also shows that many were taken to internment camps where they were executed or died from deprivation.

During the 1980s, the Kurdish population was attacked with chemical weapons, killing thousands of men, women and children indiscriminately.

During the Anfal, 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed.

Anfal campaign 1988

The Anfal campaign in 1988 was performed in eight stages. Thousands of villages were destroyed, bringing the total destroyed since the 1970s to 4,500 The eight stages were orchestrated as follows:

21 February 1988 – 18 March 1988: The first stage of the Anfal campaign started in Dolli Jafayty March

22 March 1988 – 14 March 1988: The second stage of the Anfal campaign started in the Qaradakh district

31 March 1988 – 14 April 1988: The third stage of the Anfal campaign started in the Garmyan district

20 April 1988 – 18 April 1988: The fourth stage of the Anfal started in the Askar district, Goptapa, Shwan, Qala, Swaka, Dashti Koya

24 May 1988 to 31 August 1988: The fifth, sixth, seventh stages of the Anfal campaign started in Shaqlawa and Rewandiz districts

25 August 1988 – 6 September 1988: The eighth stage of Anfal campaign started in the Badinan district

Kawa Rash is based in the UK and has previously written for newspapers in south Kudistan, including ‘Hawlati’ and ‘Awene’.