Further Reading
Case Study:
The Anfal Campaign
(Iraqi Kurdistan), 1988

Kurdish Human Rights ProjectSummary

The anti-Kurdish "Anfal" campaign, mounted between February and September 1988 by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, was both genocidal and gendercidal in nature. "Battle-age" men were the primary targets of Anfal, according to Human Rights Watch/Middle East (hereafter, HRW/ME). The organization writes in its book Iraq's Crime of Genocide: "Throughout Iraqi Kurdistan, although women and children vanished in certain clearly defined areas, adult males who were captured disappeared en masse. ... It is apparent that a principal purpose of Anfal was to exterminate all adult males of military service age captured in rural Iraqi Kurdistan" (pp. 96, 170). Only a handful survived the execution squads.

The background

The Kurds are considered the world's largest nation without a state of their own. Numbering approximately 20-25 million people, their traditional territory is divided among the modern states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, with a small number in the states of the former Soviet Union. Just over four million of these Kurds live in Iraq, constituting about 23 percent of the population.

Map of Kurdistan

In the wake of World War I, with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's call for "self-determination" echoing loudly, the Kurds were promised a homeland -- Kurdistan -- in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920). However, the victorious allies backed away from their pledge in an attempt to court the new Turkish regime of Kemal Ataturk, and in fear of destabilizing Iraq and Syria, which were granted to Britain and France, respectively, as mandated territories. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne thus reneged on Kurdish independence and divided the Kurds among Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Ataturk's discrimination against Turkey's Kurdish population began almost immediately, with Kurdish political groups and manifestations of cultural identity banned outright. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the Kurds of Iran, with Soviet support, succeeded in establishing the first independent Kurdish state (the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad). But this was quickly crushed by Iranian troops.

In 1946, an Iraqi Kurd, Mustafa Barzani, founded the Kurdistan Democratic Party - Iraq (KDP). Barzani died in 1979, but the KDP remains one of the most prominent Kurdish resistance organizations. Its more radical rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was founded in 1975 by Jalal Talabani. It was the PUK that would bear the brunt of the Anfal campaign in 1988.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Saddam HusseinThe ascent to power of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1968 (though he did not become president until 1979) at first seemed to augur well for the Iraqi Kurds. In 1970, Saddam's Ba'ath Party reached a wideranging agreement with the Kurdish rebel groops, granting the Kurds the right to use and broadcast their language, as well as a considerable degree of political autonomy. But the agreement broke down when the Ba'ath Party "embarked on the Arabization of the oil-producing areas in Kurdistan, evicting Kurdish farmers and replacing them with poor Arab tribesmen [and women] from the south, guarded by government troops." In March 1974, the KDP rose up against Saddam, sparking a fullscale war the following year, when some 130,000 Kurds fled to Iran. "In March 1975," writes Khaled Salih, "tens of thousands of villagers from the Barzani tribes were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to barren sites in the desert south of Iraq, where they had to rebuild their lives by themselves, without any form of assistance." (Khaled, "Anfal: The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq".)

It was these displaced populations of Barzani tribespeople who, after the onset of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, would fall prey to one of the largest gendercidal massacres of modern times. Martin van Bruinessen writes:

In [July-]August 1983, Iraqi security troops rounded up the men of the Barzani tribe from four resettlement camps near Arbil. These people were not engaged in any antigovernment activities. ... Two of Barzani's sons at that time led the Kurdistan Democratic Party and were engaged in guerrilla activities against the Baghdad government, but only a part of the tribe was with them. ... All eight thousand men of this group, then, were taken from their families and transported to southern Iraq. Thereafter they disappeared. All efforts to find out what happened to them or where they had gone, including diplomatic inquiries by several European countries, failed. It is feared that they are dead. The KDP [Kurdish Democratic Party] has received consistent reports from sources within the military that at least part of this group has been used as guinea pigs to test the effects of various chemical agents. (van Bruinessen, "Genocide in Kurdistan?," in George J. Andreopoulos, ed., Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions ([University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994], pp. 156-57, emphasis added.)

One Barzani woman described the roundup of the menfolk: "Before dawn, as people were getting dressed and ready to go to work, all the soldiers charged through the camp [Qushtapa]. They captured the men walking on the street and even took an old man who was mentally deranged and was usually left tied up. They took the preacher who went to the mosque to call for prayers. They were breaking down doors and entering the houses searching for our men. They looked inside the chicken coops, water tanks, refrigerators, everywhere, and took all the men over the age of thirteen. The women cried and clutched the Qur'an [Koran] and begged the soldiers not to take their men away." In 1993, Saddam Hussein strongly hinted at the final fate of the Barzani men: "They betrayed the country and they betrayed the covenant, and we meted out a stern punishment to them, and they went to hell." As Human Rights Watch noted, "In many respects, the 1983 Barzani operation foreshadowed the techniques that would be used on a much larger scale during the Anfal campaign." (Human Rights Watch, Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 4, 26-27.) Khaled Salih notes that "No doubt, the absence of any international outcry encouraged Baghdad to believe that it could get away with an even larger operation without any hostile reaction. In this respect the Ba'ath Party seems to have been correct in its calculations and judgement of the international inaction." (Khaled, "Anfal: The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq"; see also "Who was responsible?," below.)

Aftermath of Iraqi chemical attack on Halabji, March 1988.
Aftermath of chemical attack on Halabji.
Among the most horrific features of the Iraqi campaigns against the Kurds in the 1980s was the regime's resort to chemical weapons strikes against civilian populations. On April 16, 1987, a chemical raid on the Balisan valley killed dozens of civilians; in its wake, "some seventy men were taken away in buses and, like the Barzanis, never seen again. The surviving women and children were dumped on the plain outside Erbil and left to fend for themselves." (Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?, p. 230.) Less than a year later, on March 16, 1988, a far more concentrated chemical attack was launched on the town of Halabji, near the Iranian border, which had briefly been held by a combined force of Kurdish rebels and Iranian troops. Thousands of civilians died, and with the town still under Iranian occupation after the raid, journalists and photographers were able to reach the scene. "Their photographs, mainly of women, children, and elderly people huddled inertly in the streets or lying on their backs with mouths agape, circulated widely, demonstrating eloquently that the great mass of the dead had been Kurdish civilian noncombatants." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 72.) Although it took place during the Anfal campaign, however, the attack on Halabji is not normally considered part of that campaign.

The gendercide

The male is born to be slaughtered.
      - Kurdish proverb
Your men have gone to hell.
      - Iraqi soldier to a survivor of the attack on Qaranaw village, Fourth Anfal, May 1988

The Attack on the KurdsIn March 1987, Saddam Hussein's cousin from his hometown of Tikrit, Ali Hassan al-Majid, was appointed secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party's Northern Region, which included Iraqi Kurdistan. Under al-Majid, who "even by the standards of the Ba'ath security apparatus ... had a particular reputation for brutality," control of policies against the Kurdish insurgents passed from the Iraqi army to the Ba'ath Party itself. This was the prelude to the intended "final solution" to the Kurdish problem undertaken within months of al-Majid's arrival in his post. It would be known as "al-Anfal" ("The Spoils"), a reference to the eighth sura of the Qur'an, which details revelations that the Prophet Muhammad received after the first great victory of Islamic forces in A.D. 624. "I shall cast into the unbelievers' hearts terror," reads one of the verses; "so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them ... the chastisement of the Fire is for the unbelievers." Anfal, officially conducted between February 23 and September 6, 1988, would have eight stages altogether, seven of them targeting areas controlled by the PUK. For these assaults, the Iraqis mustered up to 200,000 soldiers with air support -- matched against Kurdish guerrilla forces that numbered no more than a few thousand.

On June 20, 1987, a crucial directive for the Anfal campaign, SF/4008, was issued under al-Majid's signature. Of greatest significance is clause 5. Referring to those areas designated "prohibited zones," al-Majid ordered that "all persons captured in those villages shall be detained and interrogated by the security services and those between the ages of 15 and 70 shall be executed after any useful information has been obtained from them, of which we should be duly notified." However, it seems clear from the application of this policy that "those between the ages of 15 and 70" meant "those males" in the designated age range. HRW/ME, for example, takes this as given, writing that clause 5's "order [was] to kill all adult males," and later: "Under the terms of al-Majid's June 1987 directives, death was the automatic penalty for any male of an age to bear arms who was found in an Anfal area." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 11, 14.) A subsequent directive on September 6, 1987, supports this conclusion: it calls for "the deportation of ... families to the areas where there saboteur relatives are ..., except for the male [members], between the ages of 12 inclusive and 50 inclusive, who must be detained." (Cited in Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 298.)

Accordingly, when captured Kurdish populations were transported to detention centres (notably the concentration camp of Topzawa near the city of Kirkuk), they were subjected to the classic process of gendercidal selection: separating adult and teenage males from the remainder of the community. According to HRW/ME,

With only minor variations ... the standard pattern for sorting new arrivals [at Topzawa was as follows]. Men and women were segregated on the spot as soon as the trucks had rolled to a halt in the base's large central courtyard or parade ground. The process was brutal ... A little later, the men were further divided by age, small children were kept with their mothers, and the elderly and infirm were shunted off to separate quarters. Men and teenage boys considered to be of an age to use a weapon were herded together. Roughly speaking, this meant males of between fifteen and fifty, but there was no rigorous check of identity documents, and strict chronological age seems to have been less of a criterion than size and appearance. A strapping twelve-year-old might fail to make the cut; an undersized sixteen-year-old might be told to remain with his female relatives. ... It was then time to process the younger males. They were split into smaller groups. ... Once duly registered, the prisoners were hustled into large rooms, or halls, each filled with the residents of a single area. ... Although the conditions at Topzawa were appalling for everyone, the most grossly overcrowded quarter seem to have been those where the male detainees were held. ... For the men, beatings were routine. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 143-45.)

After a few days of such treatment, without a single known exception, the men thus "processed" were trucked off to be killed in mass executions. According to HRW/ME, the "standard operating procedures" of the gendercidal killings (extended, in some cases, to other segments of the population -- see below) were "uncannily reminiscent of ... the activities of the Einsatzkommandos, or mobile killing units, in the Nazi-occupied lands of Eastern Europe":

Some groups of prisoners were lined up, shot from the front, and dragged into predug mass graves; others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses, before being killed; still others were tied together, made to stand on the lip of the pit, and shot in the back so that they would fall forward into it -- a method that was presumably more efficient from the point of view of the killers. Bulldozers then pushed earth or sand loosely over the heaps of corpses. Some of the grave sites contained dozens of separate pits and obviously contained the bodies of thousands of victims. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 12.)

Excavating the skeleton of a Kurdish man
killed at Koreme, final Anfal.

Excavating skeleton of Koreme victim.The genocidal and gendercidal focus of the Iraqi killing campaign varied from one stage of Anfal to another. No mass killings of civilians appear to have taken place during first Anfal (February 23-March 19, 1988). The most exclusive targeting of the male population, meanwhile, occurred during the final Anfal (August 25-September 6, 1988). This was launched immediately after the signing of a ceasefire with Iran, which allowed the transfer of large amounts of men and matériel from the southern battlefronts. It focused on "the steep, narrow valleys of Badinan, a four-thousand-square mile chunk of the Zagros Mountains bounded on the east by the Greater Zab River and on the north by Turkey." Here, uniquely in the Anfal campaigns, lists of the "disappeared" provided to HRW/ME by survivors "invariably included only adult and teenage males, with the signal exception of Assyrian and Caldean Christians and Yezidi Kurds," who were subsidiary targets of the slaughter. Many of the men of Badinan did not even make it as far as "processing" stations, being simply "lined up and murdered at their point of capture, executed by firing squads on the authority of a local army officer." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 178, 190, 192; on the fate of the Christians and Yezidi Kurds, see pp. 209-13.) The best-known case is the assault on the village of Koreme, where a forensic investigation conducted by Middle East Watch and Physicians for Human Rights in May-June 1992 uncovered the bodies of 27 men and adolescent boys executed on August 28. (See Middle East Watch/Physicians for Human Rights, The Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan: The Destruction of Koreme [Human Rights Watch, 1993].)

Even amidst this most systematic slaughter of adult men and boys, however, "hundreds of women and young children perished, too," though "the causes of their deaths were different -- gassing, starvation, exposure, and willful neglect -- rather than bullets fired from a Kalashnikov [rifle]." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 191.) The fate of other segments of the Kurdish community throughout Anfal receives attention in the following section.

Genocide against women,
the elderly, and children

Depiction of Anfal horrors by Jewad Salim.In its landmark study of the Iraqi genocide in Kurdistan, HRW/ME calls the decisions surrounding the deaths of thousands of women, children, and elderly Kurds "one of the great enigmas of the Anfal campaign." "Many thousands of women and children perished," the organization notes, "but their deaths were subject to extreme regional variations, with most being residents of two distinct 'clusters' that were affected by the third and fourth Anfals." One factor apparently was "whether the [Iraqi] troops encountered armed resistance in a given area," something which characterized "most, but not all, the areas marked by the killing of women and children." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 13, 96.)

The hardest-hit area of all appears to have been the region of southern Germian, abutting the Arab heartland of Iraq, which was targeted during the third Anfal (April 7-20, 1988). Southern Germian was apparently a special focus for "root-and-branch" genocide because it was the heartland of the PUK resistance and strongly supportive of the Kurdish PUK rebels. "Although males aged fifteen to fifty routinely vanished from all parts of Germian," writes HRW/ME, "only in the south did the disappeared include significant numbers of women and children. Most were from the Daoudi and Jaff-Roghyazi tribes," and they accounted for more than half the "disappeared" in the affected regions. Mass executions involving "an estimated two thousand women and children" took place at a site on Hamrin Mountain, between the cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 115, 171.)

Taimour being
interviewed.

Taimour being interviewed.
One such execution left a survivor, a young boy named Taimour Abdullah Ahmad, "the only eyewitness to the mass killing of women and children" (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 171). His account received extensive attention in the western press, and describes scenes virtually identical to the Einsatzgruppen-style massacres of "battle-aged" males which preceded the killing of women, children, and the elderly from southern Germian. For a lengthy interview with Taimour, see "An Interview with the Anfal Survivor, Taimour".

Most members of the Kurdish community who remained after "battle-age" men had been "disappeared" were trucked off to resettlement camps to the south. To the extent that women, children, and the elderly were killed in mass executions, these were usually perpetrated after a period of detention in such camps. Those not slaughtered in this fashion were usually transported to relocation camps where conditions were squalid and unsanitary; thousands -- especially children -- died from deprivation and neglect.

The infrastructure of life in Iraqi Kurdistan, meanwhile, was left almost totally destroyed by the Anfal campaign and its predecessors. "By the time the genocidal frenzy ended, 90% of Kurdish villages, and over twenty small towns and cities, had been wiped off the map. The countryside was riddled with 15 million landmines, intended to make agriculture and husbandry impossible. A million and a half Kurdish peasants had been interned in camps. ... About 10% of the total Kurdish population of Iraq had perished [since 1974]." (Kendal Nezan, "When our 'friend' Saddam was gassing the Kurds", Le Monde diplomatique, March 1998.)

How many died?

According to HRW/ME, "at least fifty thousand rural Kurds ... died in Anfal alone, and very possibly the real figure was twice that number ... All told, the total number of Kurds killed over the decade since the Barzani men were taken from their homes is well into six figures." "On the basis of extensive interviews in Kurdistan and perusal of extant Iraqi documents, Shoresh Resoul, a meticulous Kurdish researcher ... conservatively estimated that 'between 60,000 and 110,000' died during [al-]Majid's Kurdish mandate," i.e., beginning shortly before Anfal and ending shortly afterwards. (Randal, After Such Knowledge ..., p. 214.) Other Kurdish estimates are even higher. "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." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 14, 230.)

It is impossible to state with certainty what proportion of the victims of Anfal were adult men and adolescent boys. The most detailed investigation, conducted by HRW/ME, tabulated the number of "disappeared" from the various stages of Anfal, based on field interviews with some 350 survivors. The organization gathered the names of 1,255 men, 184 women, and 359 children -- "only a fraction of the numbers lost during Anfal." This would suggest that some 87 percent of the adults "disappeared," all of whom were apparently executed, were male; and that about 70 percent of all those who "disappeared" were "battle-age" males. (See Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 266-68.) These calculations do not, however, include the large number of Kurdish civilians killed indiscriminately in chemical attacks and other generalized assaults.

Most recently, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, has referred to "100,000 Kurdish men and boys machine-gunned to death during the 1988 Anfal genocide." (Roth, "Show Trials Are Not the Solution to Saddam's Heinous Reign", The Globe and Mail, 18 July 2003.)

Who was responsible?

The tens of thousands of Anfal deaths, according to HRW/ME,

did not come in the heat of battle -- as 'collateral damage,' in the military euphemism. Nor were they the result of acts of aberration by individual commanders whose excesses passed unnoticed or unpunished by their superiors. Rather, these Kurds were systematically put to death in large numbers by order of the central Iraqi government in Baghdad days or weeks after being rounded up in villages marked for destruction or while fleeing army assaults in "prohibited areas." ... Documentary materials captured from the Iraqi intelligence agencies demonstrate with great clarity that the mass killings, disappearances, and forced relocations associated with Anfal and the other anti-Kurdish campaigns of 1987-89 were planned in a coherent fashion. Although power over these campaigns was highly centralized, their success depended on the orchestration of the efforts of a large number of agencies and institutions at the local, regional, and national level, from the office of the president of the republic down to the lowliest jahsh [pro-Iraqi Kurdish] unit. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. xvii, 9-10. For more on the role of the pro-regime Kurdish forces, which were crucial in the Anfal roundups, see pp. 109-12, and Kanan Makiya, Cruelty and Silence, pp. 143-45.)

Noam Chomsky called Saddam Hussein's Iraq "perhaps the most violent and repressive state in the world." (Quoted in Makiya, Cruelty and Silence, p. 273; see also the analysis of Iraqi conscription policies elsewhere on this site.) Atop the state structure stood the murderous dictator. In classic "patrimonial" fashion, Saddam constructed a brutal one-party regime consisting largely of his relatives from Tikrit and surrounding areas. (For a powerful description of Saddam's rule-by-terror, see Kanan Makiya, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq.) The Ba'ath Party's "point man" during the worst of the atrocities in Iraqi Kurdistan was, as noted, Ali Hassan al-Majid. After Anfal, he was transferred from his post, to become -- in August 1990 -- the governor of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.

Saddam Hussein admires portraits of himself.
Saddam admires portraits of himself.

Saddam's dictatorship reached to the grassroots of Iraqi society through the intertwined institutions of the Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi army and security forces. At every level, its violence exhibited strong patriarchal overtones. Jonathan Randal describes the "perverted form of male bonding" evident in an internal purge that Saddam carried out in 1979, in which "surviving ministers and senior party officials [were obliged] to join the firing squad which executed the condemned men." The "pattern [was] repeated throughout the chain of command: from the lowliest secret-police operative on up they shared responsibility in the executions, thus enforcing loyalty and subservience to Saddam Hussein." Such practices "were also useful in intimidating anyone less inclined to terror and cruelty." (Randal, After Such Knowledge ..., p. 208.)

The international community must accept a share of the blame for Saddam's genocide against the Iraqi Kurds. For the duration of the Iran-Iraq war -- which also witnessed most of the horrors against the Kurds -- Saddam was considered an important bulwark against the spread of Iranian-style Islamic fundamentalism to the strategic and oil-rich countries of the Middle East. Accordingly, the West supplied and armed him throughout his campaigns against both the Iranians and the Kurds, eventually providing the critical intelligence information that allowed Iraq to emerge victorious in the war against Iran. In August 1988 -- with the Anfal campaign nearly over, and in the wake of a year-and-a-half of vicious chemical attacks on civilian populations -- "the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights voted by 11 votes to 8 not to condemn Iraq for human rights violations. Only the Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada, together with bodies like the European Parliament and the Socialist International, saved their honour by clearly condemning Iraq." (Nezan, "When our 'friend' Saddam was gassing the Kurds".)

The aftermath

Kurdish rebels seize control in 1991.
Kurdish rebels seize control in 1991.In August 1990, the Iraqi regime finally overreached with its invasion of neighbouring Kuwait, sparking the Gulf War, in which a U.S.-led coalition succeeded in expelling the Iraqi occupying forces. At the tail end of the war, in March 1991, the Kurdish population of northern Iraq launched a general uprising against the Iraqi regime, and briefly managed to expel it from the region. When the Iraqis counterattacked, nearly half a million Kurds fled to Turkey and Iran; the resultant humanitarian crisis led the members of the Allied coalition to declare a "safe haven" in the northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan. A coalition of seven Kurdish parties then established authority over the enclave, which exists to the present day -- despite the outbreak of serious fighting between the PUK and KDP in May 1994, which killed an estimated 1,000 people. In September 1998, the two rebel groups forged a new power-sharing agreement brokered by the United States.

Iraqi document captured in 1991: A report on 46 persons executed (including 19 for 'being present in the villages prohibited for security reasons, in accordance with Clause 5 of the June 20, 1987 decreee of the [Bureau for the] Organization of the North'; 47 people sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court; and 2532 people and 1869 families 'sent to Popular Army Camp in Ta'mim [Kirkuk] Governorate from among those seized during the heroic Anfal operations.' Signed: Sulaymaniyya Governorate Security Director, October 29, 1988.During the March 1991 uprising, Kurdish forces managed to seize some four million documents from Iraqi archives in the region, and transported these to safe areas. These documents, combined with the investigative missions undertaken in the Kurdish zone by HRW/ME and other organizations, allowed a definitive reconstruction of the events of Anfal. As HRW/ME noted, "To have the opportunity to speak to survivors of human rights violations, to dig up the bones of those who had not survived, and then to read the official account of what had taken place -- all while the regime that had carried out the outrages was still in power -- was unique in the annals of human rights research." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. xx.) In light of this mountain of documentation, eyewitness testimony, and forensic data, the organization announced its "confidence" that "concerning the crucial 1987-1989 period ... the evidence is sufficiently strong to prove a case of genocidal intent on the part of the Iraqi Government," and has called for the creation of a war-crimes tribunal at the Hague such as those established for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Kosovo. (HRW/ME, Bureaucracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its Own Words [Human Rights Watch, 1994], p. x.)

A number of observers have noted the still-visible evidence of gendercide among the Kurdish population of northern Iraq. In September 1988, as Anfal was officially winding down, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, "recalled travelling westward from Sulaimaniyah ... and coming across large groups of disconsolate women and children standing next to their meager bundled belongings on the roadside. 'They were obviously without menfolk. I suspected the authorities meant me to see them.'" (Randal, After Such Knowledge ..., p. 223.) In 1999, the Christian Aid organization noted that "Many Kurdish households are headed by widows -- their husbands have disappeared." ("Working in Iraq: Christian Aid's Experience 1990-98".) Retired U.S. Brigadier-General Jeffrey Pilkington, who commanded the relief campaign "Operation Provide Comfort" in 1993-94, reported from a trip to the Kurdish zone that

The signs of almost total economic stagnation were everywhere. Fields were mostly bare -- for lack of fertilizer or insecticide or because there was no market for the wheat grown or no-one who could afford to buy it. Factories which had employed hundreds of workers were now deserted. ... Many villages were populated by only women and children, the majority of men having been detained or killed. (Pilkington, "Beyond Humanitarian Relief: Economic Development Efforts in Northern Iraq", in Forced Migration Review.)

Likewise, the Iraq Assessment undertaken by the Country Information and Policy Unit of the British Home Office (April 2000) stated that "there is an unusually high percentage of women in the Kurdish areas, purportedly caused by the disappearances of tens of thousands of Kurdish men during the Anfal Campaign. The Special Rapporteur reported that the widows, daughters, and mothers of the Anfal Campaign victims are economically dependent on their relatives or villages because they may not inherit the property or assets of their missing family members." (On the plight of the widows of the Anfal victims, see also Teresa Thornhill, "Anfal Widows: Saddam's Genocide," New Internationalist, no. 247 [September 1993].)

In March 2003, the United States launched its long-threatened invasion to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, which collapsed after only brief resistance, although substantial guerrilla resistance was continuing at the time of writing. In the wake of the regime's disappearance, Iraqis across the country began digging up mass graves of those executed by Saddam's forces. According to the Baltimore Sun (6 May 2003), "Human rights groups estimate up to 300,000 Iraqis disappeared over the past 23 years, the vast majority of them men and teen-age boys." However, Sun reporter Todd Richissin noted noted that early exhumations showed that "Hussein's deadly sweeps took in mothers [and] sisters, too," in the words of the article's headline, which cited "female victims ... [found] in unexpected numbers." With regard to Anfal, it was a poignant fact that, as of December 2003, "in the eight months since the Iraqi dictator was deposed, not a single person who disappeared during the Anfal military campaign of 1988 has returned alive." (Richard C. Paddock, "An Awful Truth Sinks In", Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2003.)

Saddam in custodyIn December 2003, U.S. forces announced the capture of a dishevelled Saddam (see photo), hiding in a hole at a farmhouse along the Tigris River, within sight of one of his former palaces. It was unclear what type of tribunal he faced for his crimes, but there was now the possibility of administering justice for some of his many atrocities, including the genocidal ravages of the Anfal Campaign against Iraqi Kurds.

Note: New Zealand scholar and Gendercide Watch affiliate Heval Hylan has contributed a powerful dissertation on "Genocide in Kurdistan" to this site.

FURTHER READING[ Further reading ]   [ Back to main ]   [ Back to top ]

Researched and written by Adam Jones.
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