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The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds

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This report is a narrative account of a campaign of extermination against the Kurds of northern Iraq. It is the product of over a year and a half of research, during which a team of Middle East Watch researchers has analyzed several tons of captured Iraqi government documents and carried out field interviews with more than 350 witnesses, most of them survivors of the 1988 campaign known as Anfal. It concludes that in that year the Iraqi regime committed the crime of genocide. Anfal- "the Spoils" - is the name of the eighth sura of the Koran. It is also the name given by the Iraqis to a series of military actions which lasted from February until September 6, 1988. While it is impossible to understand the Anfal campaign without reference to the final phase of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Anfal was not merely a function of that war. Rather, the winding-up of the conflict on Iraq's terms was the immediate historical circumstance that gave Baghdad the opportunity to bring to a climax its longstanding efforts to bring the Kurds to heel. For the Iraqi regime's anti-Kurdish drive dated back some fifteen years or more, well before the outbreak of hostilities between Iran and Iraq.




The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds. A Middle East Watch Report. Human Rights Watch.


Anfal was also the most vivid expression of the "special powers" granted to Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of President Saddam Hussein and secretary general of the Northern Bureau of Iraq's Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, al-Majid was granted power that was equivalent, in Northern Iraq, to that of the President himself, with authority over all agencies of the state. Al-Majid, who is known to this day to Kurds as "Ali Anfal" or "Ali Chemical," was the overlord of the Kurdish genocide. Under his command, the central actors in Anfal were the First and Fifth Corps of the regular Iraqi Army, the General Security Directorate (Mudiriyat al-Amn al-Ameh) and Military Intelligence (Istikhbarat). The pro-government Kurdish militia known as the National Defense Battalions, or jahsh, assisted in important auxiliary tasks.1 But the integrated resources of the entire military, security andcivilian apparatus of the Iraqi state were deployed, in al-Majid's words, "to solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs."

The campaigns of 1987-1989 were characterized by the following gross violations of human rights:

• mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages;

• the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or Sarin, against the town of Halabja as well as dozens of Kurdish villages, killing many thousands of people, mainly women and children;

• the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, which are described in government documents as having been "burned," "destroyed," "demolished" and "purified," as well as at least a dozen larger towns and administrative centers (nahyas and qadhas);

• the wholesale destruction of civilian objects by Army engineers, including all schools, mosques, wells and other non-residential structures in the targeted villages, and a number of electricity substations;

• looting of civilian property and farm animals on a vast scale by army troops and pro-government militia;

• arbitrary arrest of all villagers captured in designated "prohibited areas" (manateq al-mahdoureh), despite the fact that these were their own homes and lands;

• arbitrary jailing and warehousing for months, in conditions of extreme deprivation, of tens of thousands of women, children and elderly people, without judicial order or any cause other than their presumed sympathies for the Kurdish opposition. Many hundreds of them were allowed to die of malnutrition and disease;

• forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of villagers upon the demolition of their homes, their release from jail or return from exile; these civilians were trucked into areas of Kurdistan far from their homes and dumped there by the army with only minimal governmental compensation or none at all for their destroyed property, or any provision for relief, housing, clothing or food, and forbidden to return to their villages of origin on pain of death. In these conditions, many died within a year of their forced displacement;

• destruction of the rural Kurdish economy and infrastructure.

Like Nazi Germany, the Iraqi regime concealed its actions in euphemisms. Where Nazi officials spoke of "executive measures," "special actions" and "resettlement in the east," Ba'athist bureaucrats spoke of "collective measures," "return to the national ranks" and "resettlement in the south." But beneath the euphemisms, Iraq's crimes against the Kurds amount to genocide, the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such."

The campaigns of 1987-1989 are rooted deep in the history of the Iraqi Kurds. Since the earliest days of Iraqi independence, the country's Kurds-who today number more than four million--have fought either for independence or for meaningful autonomy. But they have never achieved the results they desired.

In 1970, the Ba'ath Party, anxious to secure its precarious hold on power, did offer the Kurds a considerable measure of self-rule, far greater than that allowed in neighboring Syria, Iran or Turkey. But the regime defined the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in such a way as deliberately to exclude the vast oil wealth that lies beneath the fringes of the Kurdish lands. The Autonomous Region, rejected by the Kurds and imposed unilaterally by Baghdad in 1974, comprised the three northern governorates of Erbil, Suleimaniyeh and Dohuk. Covering some 14,000square miles - roughly the combined area of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island - this was only half the territory that the Kurds considered rightfully theirs. Even so, the Autonomous Region had real economic significance, since it accounted for fully half the agricultural output of a largely desert country that is sorely deficient in domestic food production.

In the wake of the autonomy decree, the Ba'ath Party embarked on the "Arabization" of the oil-producing areas of Kirkuk and Khanaqin and other parts of the north, evicting Kurdish farmers and replacing them with poor Arab tribesmen from the south. Northern Iraq did not remain at peace for long. In 1974, the long-simmering Kurdish revolt flared up once more under the leadership of the legendary fighter Mullah Mustafa Barzani, who was supported this time by the governments of Iran, Israel, and the United States. But the revolt collapsed precipitately in 1975, when Iraq and Iran concluded a border agreement and the Shah withdrew his support from Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

After the KDP fled into Iran, tens of thousands of villagers from the Barzani tribe were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to barren sites in the desert south of Iraq. Here, without any form of assistance, they had to rebuild their lives from scratch.

In the mid and late 1970s, the regime again moved against the Kurds, forcibly evacuating at least a quarter of a million people from Iraq's borders with Iran and Turkey, destroying their villages to create a cordon sanitaire along these sensitive frontiers. Most of the displaced Kurds were relocated into mujamma'at, crude new settlements located on the main highways in army-controlled areas of Iraqi Kurdistan. The word literally means "amalgamations" or "collectivities." In their propaganda, the Iraqis commonly refer to them as "modern villages"; in this report, they are generally described as "complexes." Until 1987, villagers relocated to the complexes were generally paid some nominal cash compensation, but were forbidden to move back to their homes.

After 1980, and the beginning of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, many Iraqi garrisons in Kurdistan were abandoned or reduced in size, and their troops transferred to the front. In the vacuum that was left, the Kurdish peshmerga--"those who face death"--once more began to thrive. The KDP, now led by one of Barzani's sons, Mas'oud, had revived its alliance with Teheran, and in 1983 KDP units aided Iranian troops in their capture of the border town of Haj Omran. Retribution was swift: in a lightning operation against the complexes that housed the relocatedBarzanis, Iraqi troops abducted between five and eight thousand males aged twelve or over. None of them have ever been seen again, and it is believed that after being held prisoner for several months, they were all killed. In many respects, the 1983 Barzani operation foreshadowed the techniques that would be used on a much larger scale during the Anfal campaign. And the absence of any international outcry over this act of mass murder, despite Kurdish efforts to press the matter with the United Nations and Western governments, must have emboldened Baghdad to believe that it could get away with an even larger operation without any adverse reaction. In these calculations, the Ba'ath Party was correct.

Even more worrisome to Baghdad was the growing closeness between the Iranians and the KDP's major Kurdish rival, Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The Ba'ath regime had conducted more than a year of negotiations with the PUK between 1983-1985, but in the end these talks failed to bear fruit, and full-scale fighting resumed. In late 1986 Talabani's party concluded a formal political and military agreement with Teheran.

By this time the Iraqi regime's authority over the North had dwindled to control of the cities, towns, complexes and main highways. Elsewhere, the peshmerga forces could rely on a deep-rooted base of local support. Seeking refuge from the army, thousands of Kurdish draft-dodgers and deserters found new homes in the countryside. Villagers learned to live with a harsh economic blockade and stringent food rationing, punctuated by artillery shelling, aerial bombardment and punitive forays by the Army and the paramilitary jahsh. In response, the rural Kurds built air-raid shelters in front of their homes and spent much of their time in hiding in the caves and ravines that honeycomb the northern Iraqi countryside. For all the grimness of this existence, by 1987 the mountainous interior of Iraqi Kurdistan was effectively liberated territory. This the Ba'ath Party regarded as an intolerable situation.

With the granting of emergency powers to al-Majid in March 1987, the intermittent counterinsurgency against the Kurds became a campaign of destruction. As Raul Hilberg observes in his monumental history of the Holocaust:

A destruction process has an inherent pattern. There is only one way in which a scattered group can effectively be destroyed. Three steps are organic in the operation:

Definition | | Concentration (or seizure) | | Annihilation

This is the invariant structure of the basic process, for no group can be killed without a concentration or seizure of the victims, and no victims can be segregated before the perpetrator knows who belongs to the group.

The Kurdish genocide of 1987-1989, with the Anfal campaign as its centerpiece, fits Hilberg's paradigm to perfection.

There remain many unsolved mysteries about the Anfal campaign, some of which may be answered by future study of the captured Iraqi documents.

The identity of the uniformed men who made up the Anfal firing squads may remain forever a secret. Were they Amn agents? Members of the Republican Guard? Or were they, as seems more likely, "comrades" of the Ba'ath Party itself?

Why were the women and children only killed in certain areas? Did their execution reflect patterns of combat and resistance, or was some other criterion used? Where are the graves of all those who died, and how many bodies do they hold? The answer cannot conceivably be less than 50,000, and it may well be twice that number.

When Kurdish leaders met with Iraqi government officials in the wake of the spring 1991 uprising, they raised the question of the Anfal dead and mentioned a figure of 182,000--a rough extrapolation based on the number of destroyed villages.

Ali Hassan al-Majid reportedly jumped to his feet in a rage when the discussion took this turn. "What is this exaggerated figure of 182,000?" he is said to have asked. "It couldn't have been more than 100,000"- as if this somehow mitigated the catastrophe that he and his subordinates had visited on the Iraqi Kurds.

The identity of the executioners, and the precise number of their victims, may never be known--or at least not until the files in Baghdad can be opened. But whatever the answers to these lingering questions, there can be no doubt that the Northern Bureau of the ruling Ba'ath Party, and its parallel Command, headed by RCC member Taher Tawfiq, functioned as both the Alpha and the Omega of the Anfal operation. And it was Ali Hassan al-Majid - "Ali Anfal," "Ali Chemical," Iraqi's present Minister of Defense--who gave the killers their orders.

Al-Majid appears almost defensive in talking about the Anfal operation with unnamed Northern Bureau officials in January 1989. "How were we supposed to convince them to solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs?" he asks them, alluding to the misgivings of senior military officers about the Anfal operation. In addition, he adds, what was to be done with so many captured civilians? "Am I supposed to keep them in good shape?" al-Majid asks. "What am I supposed to do with them, these goats?...Take good care of them? No, I will bury them with bulldozers." And that is what he did.

The above is the Introduction to a much longer report.

The full report can be accessed at

Here is a list of chapter headings:

Chapter One:

Ba'athis and Kurds

Kurdish Autonomy and Arabization

Exploiting Kurdish Divisions

1985-1987: Open War

Chapter Two:

Prelude to Anfal

The Chemical Threshold

The Spring 1987 Campaign: Village Destruction and Resettlement

Early Uses of al-Majid's Special Powers

Orders for Mass Killing

Defining the "National Ranks": The Census of October 17, 1987

Chapter Three:

First Anfal: The Siege of Sergalou and Bergalou, February 23-March 19, 1988

The March 16 Chemical Attack on Halabja

The Fall of the PUK Headquarters

Chapter Four:

Second Anfal: Qara Dagh, March 22-April 1, 1988

The Exodus from Qara Dagh

Flight to Southern Germian

Chapter Five:

Third Anfal: Germian, April 7-20, 1988

The Plan of Campaign: (1) Tuz Khurmatu

The Plan of Campaign: (2) Qader Karam and Northern Germian

The Plan of Campaign: (3) Sengaw and Southern Germian

The Collection Points

The Ambiguous Role of the Jahsh

Chapter Six:

Fourth Anfal: The Valley of the Lesser Zab, May 3-8, 1988

The Chemical Attacks on Goktapa and Askar

The Anfal Dragnet: East of Taqtaq

The Shwan Area

Zbeida's Story

The Fourth Anfal Collection Points

Chapter Seven:

Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Anfals: The Mountain Valleys of Shaqlawa and Rawanduz, May 15 -August 26, 1988

The PUK's Last Stand

Chapter Eight: The Camps

The Popular Army Camp at Topzawa

The Popular Army Camp at Tikrit

The Prisoners from Bileh and Halabja

The Women's Prison at Dibs

A Prison Camp for the Elderly

Deaths at Nugra Salman

Chapter Nine: The Firing Squads

Muhammad's Story

Ozer, Omar and Ibrahim

Mustafa's Story

Taymour's Story

Chapter Ten: Final Anfal: Badinan, August 25-September 6, 19

Badinan on the Eve of the Final Anfal

"Apples and Something Sweet": The Chemical Attacks of August 25 269

On-the-Spot Mass Executions

The Fort at Dohuk and the Women's Prison at Salamiyeh

Chapter Eleven: The Amnesty and its Exclusions

Dispersal of the Camp Survivors

The Mujamma'a Dumping Operation

The Fate of the Christians and Yezidis

Chapter Twelve: Aftermath

Continued Village Clearances

Continued Mass Killings: Yunis's Story

Continued Mass Killings: Hussein's Story

The End of the "Exceptional Situation"

Chapter Thirteen: The Vanishing Trial

The Ba'ath Party: Alpha and Omega of the Anfal Campaign


Appendix A: The Ali Hassan al-Majid Tapes

Appendix B: The Perpetrators of Anfal: A Road-Map to the Principal Agencies and Individuals

Appendix C: Known Chemical Attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan, 1987-1988

Appendix D: Sample Mass Disappearances During Anfal, by Region

Appendix E: Glossary of Arabic and Kurdish Terms

Created by keza
Last modified 2004-11-26 07:21 AM

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