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Genocide in Iraq: Further Reasons for a Criminal Tribunal

(January 14, 2003) Saddam Hussein is known for his brutality but some of his most brutal acts of genocide have focused on the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. He directed an atrocious campaign involving mass evacuations, mass executions, and massive military actions, including chemical attacks, against Kurdish men, women and children. The town of Halabja was the victim of the most notorious chemical weapons attack. And the people of that area are still suffering serious illnesses and deformities as a result.

History will certainly judge Saddam Hussein as amongst the cruelest and most dangerous dictators of all time. He is notorious for his vengeful and sadistic actions. Anyone whose loyalty becomes suspect risks a trip to one of Saddam's torture chambers, even a final visit to the "Palace of the End" in Baghdad. If Saddam becomes irked, that victim may well be thrown into one of the palace's acid pools.

But some of Saddam's most intense tortures are reserved for his Kurdish prisoners. Applying hot irons and electric currents while nailed to a wall are standard treatments of torture.

These crimes against individuals are inexcusable by any moral standards. But even more serious are Saddam Hussein's policies of genocide, crimes for which he has yet to be held accountable. Although vast numbers of the Shi'a population in the south of Iraq have also been victims of Saddam's repression, the term "genocide" is definitely to be applied to what has happened to the Kurds in Iraq.

"Al-Anfal" refers to a chapter in the Koran invoking Muslim armies to recompense themselves for their efforts in war by seizing the properties of infidels. It speaks of striking terror "into the hearts of the enemy of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know."

Saddam probably interpreted this verse from the Koran as sufficient to justify a vicious two-year crusade of extermination of the Kurds. The Kurds, it should be remembered, are also Muslims.

Saddam placed one of his first cousins, Hassan Ali al-Majid, as the man in charge for this operation, appropriately called "Operation Al-Anfal." Beginning in April 1987, Operation al-Anfal was designed to bring the Kurdish "problem" to an "ultimate solution." His strategy was designed to create mass evacuations of the Kurdish people from the mountainous regions of Iraq, the destruction of all their villages, and the physical elimination of all Kurdish populations believed hostile to Saddam's regime.

al-Majid A leading candidate for crimes of genocide.

For the Kurdish villages that were too difficult to reach by Al-Majid's troops, he targeted them for chemical weapons attacks. The chemical attacks began at the beginning of the campaign and proved extremely effective.

In June 1987, al-Majid gave orders that a zone encompassing 1,000 villages were to be declared prohibited zones to all humans and animals. To be found in this area meant instant death.

When Operation al-Anfal came to an end in April 1989, ninety percent of the Kurdish villages had been simply obliterated, along with some 20 larger towns. Saddam then ordered his army to plant mines throughout the prohibited area, some 15 million mines. The effectiveness of the campaign resulted in 1.5 million Kurds forced into crude camps. The exact number of people killed is as yet unknown, but al-Majid was said to have protested at the accusation by the Kurds that 182,000 persons were unaccounted for and feared dead. He responded that the Kurds were great exaggerators and that he actually killed no more than 100,000.

Human rights organizations have detailed the vast violations of human rights in Iraq as well as what certainly seems to be mass executions and genocide. And interestingly enough, these horrors are well documented by Iraqi government agencies. This is largely because the Iraqi intelligence service was trained by the East German intelligence service, the Stasi. The Stasi favored detailed records and thus trained the Iraqis to keep such detailed records. Secondly, al-Majid wanted all the documented horrors, including films and photographs, to convince Saddam that their campaign was advancing well. The Kurdish resistance obtained eighteen tons of such records in their 1991 uprising and turned them over to Human Rights Watch.

One incident of Operation al-Anfal became known worldwide. This incident was the chemical bombing of Halabja, a culturally important Kurdish town of some 105,000 near the Iranian border. In March 1988, the Iraqi regime obtained reports that a Kurdish resistance group had taken control of Halabja.

On March 16, following conventional artillery bombardments, the Iraqi air force dropped canisters of mustard gas and a range of nerve agents, probably sarin, tabun and VX. This became the largest chemical weapons attack on civilians in history. Some 5,000 men, women and children died a horrible and agonizing death on that infamous day. Another 10,000 were wounded.

Victims of Halabja numbered in the thousands. Several of the gassing victims at Halabja.
The chemical weapons attack may be largely forgotten by many, but the Kurds will always remember that fateful day. Not only because of the loss of loved ones, but also because of the illnesses that still affect the population. The area of Halabja has an abnormally high rate of illnesses. For example, colon cancer has a rate five times higher in Halabja than a nearby town that was not attacked with the chemical weapons. Miscarriages are 14 times higher, and one doctor has stated that sterility is "at Hiroshima" levels. Survivors of the Halabja attacks are often affected by blindness, chronic lung problems and severe depression. The surviving children of Halabja have various physical and psychological problems, including liver cancer and leukemia.

Today, the Kurdish victims are still attempting to resolve the physical and psychological aftermath of Saddam Hussein's campaign of genocide against them. They all hope that one day they will witness Saddam and his cohorts in an international tribunal facing justice for this crime against humanity.
Harry Hayes -- January 14, 2003

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