Anfal and Halabja: The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq
The operation was called “Anfal Campaign;” Anfal means “Spoils of war” in Arabic. This was a genocidal campaign that was followed by a series of systematic attacks against the Kurdish population and their means of livelihood – villages, agriculture, infrastructures, roads, etc.
The operation was carried from early 1986 until late 1989 and it took the lives of more than 2,150,000 mostly women, children, and elders as most of these areas were only inhabited by civilians; destroyed 4,000 villages; displaced at least a million; 860 became widows with greater number of orphans (1).
Then, in 1988, in a separate operation yet during the same time, there was another operation that was carried in the city of Halabja and its surroundings. This came to become the symbol of the tragedies of Iraqi-Kurdistan and of Anfal. Halabja and the surrounding cities were bombarded with chemical agents such as: mustard gas; nerve agents sarin, tabun, and VX as well as blood agent hydrogen cyanide; or more commonly known as Weapons of Mass Destruction.
As the bombings occurred, residents sensed “pleasant smell in the air; smell of sweet apples, orange, and garlic” and within few minutes, the residents started to have hard time breathing. Few more minutes: “some people just dropped dead, some people died laughing, while still some others took a few minutes to die, first burning and blistering or coughing up green vomit”.
The Halabja Genocide killed around 5,000 men, women, children, and elders; injured more than 10,000; thousands still missing; thousands more died later of complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years later. Those residents who survived suffered from a higher percentage of medical disorders such as miscarriages (14 times higher), colon cancer (10 times higher), other cancers, respiratory ailments, skin and eye problems, and fertility and reproductive disorders compared with the rest of the country. The chemical attacks have a lasting genetic impact (which some believe this being the main objective) on the Kurdish population and that is evident through major birth defects in the cities attacked.
Not too long after the attack, some Iranian journalists went inside the city of Halabja. One of the journalist, Kaveh Golestan, described what he first witnessed:
It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.
Saddam Hussein was never tried for the genocide in Halabja against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq because he was immediately sentenced to death and executed on the 1982 Dujail Massacre case; but Saddam Hussein’s cousin, Ali al Hasin al Majid, who was nicknamed “Chemical Ali” for being the main player in the genocide, of course with the consent of his boss Saddam Hussein, was tried on the Halabja Genocide case and was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on 25 January 2010.
During many times in the Kurdish history, the popular Kurdish saying “No Friends but the Mountains” have proved true; and yet again during the Anfal Operation and Halabja Genocide, the saying proved true as not a single nation in the world not only not condemned the Saddam Hussein regime on this crime against humanity, they also did not speak out against it while it was being carried out. The “champion of democracy” (USA) did not speak out against it; the American media did not cover anything. The European Union did not voice out against it; the country that is based on the victims of Holocaust Genocide (Israel) did not speak out who know, unfortunately, very well about genocides and its extreme, tremendous suffering; and not the organization (United Nations) who was established for this very same reason, to prevent and /or act upon such occurring speak anything. Not a single country spoke out against it. This was the day, for the Kurds at least, that the world became mute, went deaf, and became blind. This was a day that humanity was ashamed, disgraced, and condemned and all those nations, every single nation should look back at themselves, or their past government of 1988, and should condemn them and be ashamed of them. In 1988 it happened to the Kurds; in 1993 it happened to the Rwandans; in the 1930s and 1940s to the Jews; in the beginning of 20th century to the Armenians. Because of our silence on genocides and profit-over-human-lives attitude, we are to witness many more genocides in the world, as we may already witnessing the on-going genocide in Bahrain; and the on-going genocide, cultural genocide, and linguistic genocide against the Kurds being perpetuated by Iran, Turkey, and Syria. And yet again, the world is in a stand-mode and watching Bahrain and the Kurds go through these genocides.
(1) David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, 504 pp., I.B. Tauris, 2004, pp. 359, 391