"We were useless. They said it was unjust to waste bread on us."
-- Rahman Hamid Nader of Darbarou village, Taqtaq, on his release from Nugra Salman prison.
Decree no. 736 of the Revolutionary Command Council was read out on the radio early on the afternoon of September 6, just after the mid-day prayers. It declared "a general and comprehensive amnesty for all Iraqi Kurds...both inside and outside of Iraq"--with the sole exception of "the traitor Al-Talabani...because of his wilful and repeated violations of law and order, even after he was granted opportunities to reform his ways." Ali Hassan al-Majid was infuriated by the amnesty, he later told aides, but went along with it as a loyal party man.1
The optimists among the peshmerga believed that the amnesty came as the result of outside pressure, that the regime of Saddam Hussein had been compelled to back down by the international reaction to revelations that chemical weapons had been used during the Final Anfal. But such outrage as there was over the Badinan attacks was not a significant contributing factor to the amnesty. The most scathing comments, and those likely to have had the greatest influence on Iraq, came from U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. But these comments were not made until September 8, a full two days after the amnesty hadbeen declared.2 It is clear from the Fifth Corps report on the Final Anfal that the decision to declare a general amnesty was made because Baghdad was convinced by September 6 that the peshmerga forces had been crushed. In the words of the press release that accompanied the amnesty, "These [traitorous] Kurds had relinquished control of their cities and villages to Khomeini's troops, but God foiled their evil plans."3
The next day, September 7, the Presidential Cabinet issued an additional order granting Ali Hassan al-Majid and the Northern Bureau of the Ba'ath Party special powers to facilitate the return of refugees from Turkey, where their stories had been causing Iraq considerable embarrassment and annoyance--despite the best efforts of the Turkish government to minimize the tragedy.4
The refugees would only be allowed to return at two approved entry points, where special reception camps would be set up. One was the Ibrahim Khalil international bridge outside Zakho. The other site was "to be determined by the First Army Corps with all due swiftness." After processing by a newly constituted Returnee Reception Committee (Lajnet Istiqbal al-'A'idin), which would operate under Ba'ath Party control, the refugees would be assigned to complexes. There, they would have the responsibility of building their own homes; the plot allocated to them would become their property free of charge after five years--"on conditionthat the family receives a favorable assessment by the Party and Security authorities of its conduct from the point of view of loyalty."5
Once the assignment to a mujamma'a had been made, the Kurds who returned under the amnesty would not be allowed to move. They were obliged, in fact, to sign or affix their thumbprint to a sworn statement which read: "I, the undersigned (....) testify that I live in the governorate of (....), in the section of (....), residence number (....), and I recognize that I will face the death penalty should the information indicated be false, or should I alter my address without notifying the appropriate administration and authorities. To this I affirm my support."6
The refugees were granted only until 6:00 p.m. on October 9, barely a month, to "return to the national ranks." Anyone who surrendered to the government after this grace period had expired would be taken into military custody and handed over to the Ba'ath Party's Northern Bureau Command--for what purpose it was not stated.7
A flurry of other decrees followed, for although the regime spoke of a "general" amnesty, it by no means intended that all Kurds should escape further punishment. First, on September 8, the Revolutionary Command Council decreed that any amnestied Iraqi Kurds who had been affiliated with the armed forces, the domestic security services or the jahshwere henceforth discharged and barred from re-enlisting as volunteers.8 The authorities were also worried that those "returning to the national ranks" would offer fertile soil for any attempt at reorganization by the peshmerga--even if the "saboteurs" seemed, for the time being, to present no further threat. Accordingly, Ali Hassan al-Majid resolved that it was necessary for those who benefited from the amnesty to have their civil rights radically curtailed and their activities strictly monitored. "Kurdish citizens shall be treated by the same standards applied to any other Iraqi citizen in so far as their rights and duties are concerned," the Northern Bureau ordered, "with the exception of those Kurds who benefited from the amnesty decree no. 736 of September 8, 1988."
These shall not be treated on an equal footing with other Iraqis in terms of rights and duties, unless they can effectively match good intentions with proper conduct and demonstrate that they have ended all collaboration with the saboteurs, and that they are more loyal to Iraq than their peers who have benefited from the above-mentioned amnesty decree.
In dealing with such cases, the following parameters shall apply:
1: These Kurds shall not be entitled to be nominated for membership in the National Assembly (Al-Majlis al-Watani), the Legislature (Al-Majlis al-Tashri'i), the People's Councils (Majlis al-Sha'ab), the Municipal Councils (Majlis al-Baladiya) or mass organizations.
2: Those Kurds who took advantage of the Amnesty Decree shall not be entitled to sell, buy or lease state lands or concerns for which ownership is attributed to the state. Nor shall they be entitled to enter into any contract with any state organ or to engage in private business, whether as professionals or workers, until a period of two years has elapsed since their return to the national ranks.
3: The competent authorities will monitor the behavior of those who benefited from the amnesty decree, and will determine their inclinations through the placement of thorough and diligent informers in their midst.9
In its attempt to understand the thinking of the few "saboteurs" who survived, Amn scrutinized a communique in which the Kurdish opposition-in-exile gave its response to the general amnesty decree.10 Kurdish propagandists were presenting the decree as a victory, Amn reported; it had been issued "to try and absorb part of the resentment inside the country, and to ease the worldwide campaign of protest." In the wake of its crushing of the Kurds, the regime no doubt found this show of bravado amusing. "The subject has been brought to the attention of the Struggling Comrade Ali Hassan al-Majid, Secretary General of the Northern Bureau," the Amn report concluded, "and his excellency's view of the matter was this: that those who betray Iraq or remain abroad should no longer be entitled to keep their nationality."11
Guards broke the news of the amnesty to the women and children at the Dibs army base and the Salamiyeh prison, to the old people who had survived the summer in Nugra Salman, and to the last groups of prisoners who remained at the Popular Army camp of Topzawa. Refugees in Iran and Turkey learned of the amnesty from Baghdad Radio and reported by the thousand to army border posts. According to former field officers in Badinan, the order came down instructing them no longer to kill their prisoners.12 Even fighters returning from Iran were not mistreated at the border. One group of former peshmerga who turned themselves in at the military base at Piramagroun, close to the destroyed PUK headquarters at Sergalou, was briefly questioned before being released. "We were asked about the size of our forces, the kinds of weapons we used, and our reasons for fleeing to Iran. They asked us what we wanted. I answered that we were Kurds and that we wanted our rights. The government gave us one document to get us through the checkpoints, and another that gave us permission to be in the new mujamma'at where we had been assigned to live."13
One group, however, seems to have been singled out for a harsher welcome. These were the draft dodgers and deserters who had eluded capture in the mountains, warding off starvation by eating wild grasses and the crops that had been left in the fields outside abandoned and bulldozed villages. Some of these Kurds were returned to their old units and detained for as long as five months--in the custody, ironically, of the same army that had "Anfalized" their families and destroyed their homes. One group of sixty deserters from the Shwan area surrendered to the army in Kirkuk after four months on the run. Each man was given a letter to his old military unit and detained at that unit's base. "We were put in small overcrowded rooms with no space to sleep and very little food, and soldiers and officers beat me with cables," said Rezgar, a young man who was imprisoned at the army's Khaled camp, outside Erbil. From here, he was transferred to a training camp in the city, where he spent weeks being drilled and listening to lectures from a Kurdish officer on the virtues of the Ba'ath Party. "'What good is theBa'ath Party?' we asked. 'If the Ba'ath Party is so good, where are our families and our villages?' They had no answer to this." After two months the men were released, but not before the army confiscated ten dinars (then $30) from each of them--"for the rebuilding of Fao," scene of the costliest battle of the Iran-Iraq War.14
For the inmates of Topzawa, Dibs and Nugra Salman, the regime used two principal dispersal points, and a number of secondary ones. Most of the detainees were abandoned either in Suleimaniyeh city or in nearby Arbat. A few were taken on as far as Chamchamal, where they were eventually resettled in the new Shoresh complex, or to Kalar, where their final home would be the complex of Sumoud. One old woman from the Taqtaq area reported being left off a little closer to her former home, at a government building in Dukan. Officials there asked her only a few questions. Had her sons been peshmerga? they wanted to know:
"No," she replied, "they are with the government."
"Al-hamdu lillah," the men replied. Thanks be to God.
"Stand in line, you criminals," a guard snapped at the several thousand elderly inmates who had survived the rigors of Nugra Salman. "You must remember this experience forever, and you shall never think of doing anything against our leader, Saddam Hussein. You have been granted amnesty." The Amn guards registered their names once more and began to sort everyone out into different groups. It was time to get rid of these useless people by dumping them in the cities, the loathsome Lt. Hajjaj was heard to remark.15
The prisoners were released from Nugra Salman at weekly intervals. Convoys of vehicles arrived every Saturday, and took them away in fearful and crying groups of about five hundred at a time. Occasionally army IFAs were used, sometimes windowless military transports of the kind used for the mass execution victims, but more often large civilian buses--"open and pleasant" vehicles with seats, accommodating fifty or sixty people each. The lame, the blind and the infirm were the first to be allowed to leave. If a person was sick or ailing, then his or her entire family was let go from Nugra Salman at the same time.
The final releases from "the pit of Salman" were not complete until well into November. One woman who left at the end of October said that many of those who remained were originally from the Qara Dagh or Halabja areas.16 But the greatest mystery surrounds the two large groups of women and children from southern Germian, who had been brought here from Dibs--the first after about six weeks, and the second not until August. Numbering about five hundred in all, they were held in separate quarters at Nugra Salman and forbidden to have any contact with the elderly prisoners. During their detention, dozens reportedly died of starvation and disease.
The survivors of this group were the last to be released from Nugra Salman, with the exception of three old men from the Kifri area of southern Germian who refused to go until their daughters went too. "When I was released [in November]," said a teenage girl from Omerbel, "there was no one left there. We were the last ones."17 Yet some of the group were never accounted for, such as two adult women and four children from the village of Benaka (nahya of Tilako). Their disappearances added to the already immense weight of tragedy that struck this part of southern Germian in the wake of the Third Anfal.
After release from Nugra Salman, the first stop was sometimes Topzawa, sometimes Samawa. Sometimes the buses and their Amn guards travelled north in dog-legged fashion, stopping in both places. Many of those who were processed through Topzawa had the unnerving experience of passing once more through the same building--even in some cases spending a night in the same cell--that had housed them on their outward journey several months earlier. Others had their namestaken one more time at the Kirkuk office of the Ba'ath Party. Some of the deportees were issued with new ID papers that bore the words "Affected by Anfal Operations."18
At Samawa, the nearest town to Nugra Salman, the newly released prisoners spent anywhere from an hour to a week. The fittest of them paused only briefly to have their names registered yet again. Those who were sick were "treated very kindly" by army personnel in an empty school or in the wards of an old military hospital. Everyone was cleaned up; the old men were shaved. "We looked like monsters," commented an old man from the nahya of Aghjalar, "we had to be made presentable."19 After the privations of Nugra Salman, the diet was almost too rich. There was meat, fruit and rice. "They wanted to show that the government was treating us well," remembered a middle-aged man from the Qara Dagh region. "We were given medicine and good food, like chicken and fish. The guards told us we had to sing and enjoy ourselves. The government is nice, they told us; it is going to set you free."20
On arrival at Suleimaniyeh and Arbat, there was one final name check. Fingerprints were taken, release papers signed. In the provincial capital some of the prisoners were taken to a security building "like a big hospital," where friendly city residents tossed food in over the high walls. Others ended up at the Suleimaniyeh soccer stadium, where the huge crowds were divided into groups according to their nahya of origin and told that they were free to go--anywhere but to their home villages (which, in any case, no longer existed). Anyone who strayed into the prohibited areas, one group was warned, "will be taken in a helicopter to heaven and dropped to the ground, or executed without trial."21
At the Ba'ath Party office in Arbat, the message was the same. Here, a few prisoners were asked to fill in questionnaires about their family members and issued with new papers. "Do you know why you were released?" one Ba'ath "comrade" asked a man from the Kalar area. "Because God saved me," the man answered. After some brief ritual questioning of this sort, the deportees were told that they should now proceed to "modern villages"--mujamma'at--such as Sumoud and Bayinjan, where they would be given good housing.
The few who were driven on to Chamchamal had a somewhat different experience. Here, the newcomers were received by the qaym maqam, the civilian head of the qadha of Chamchamal. There were the usual harsh warnings: "They told us not to go to the villages, it was forbidden. We could not go beyond the paved highway. If they found us out there, we would be punished."22 New housing would be made available in local complexes such as Shoresh and Benaslawa. But more significantly, the prisoners could not go free until local citizens vouched for them and agreed to take them temporarily into their homes. In some cases these guarantees were demanded for prisoners in groups of four. There was no shortage of guarantors: the residents of Chamchamal distinguished themselves once more, as they had during the April protest to free the Anfal prisoners, by their spontaneous display of generosity toward their fellow Kurds.
The survivors of Anfal ended up in more than a dozen complexes, according to their place of origin. Those from the southern part of Germian gravitated above all to Sumoud ("Steadfastness"), the large complex outside the town of Kalar. Most people from northern Germian found their way to Shoresh ("Revolution"), on the outskirts of Chamchamal. Those from the Lesser Zab Valley were mainly relocated in Benaslawa and Daratou, on the plain south of Erbil. But the harshest fate of all awaited the survivors of the Final Anfal in Badinan, who were dumped in their tens of thousands on the barren earth north of Erbil.
Sumoud and Shoresh had both existed in rudimentary form since a year before Anfal, having been laid out originally to house the relocated inhabitants of the 1987 program of village clearances in Germian and the Erbil plain. As Anfal swept through these areas in 1988, many fleeingvillagers found refuge in the two complexes, though without official permission. After the September amnesty, both were enormously expanded to house the survivors. According to estimates of the Kurdish administration, the population of Sumoud had grown by 1992 to 50,000, 85 percent of whom were Anfalakan. Shoresh was even larger. Subdivided into four geographical areas, it housed 60,000 people, including the entire population of the former district center of Qader Karam, who were brought here after the town was bulldozed in May 1988. Fully seventy percent of those housed in Shoresh were Anfal survivors.23
The word "housed" may give a misleading impression, for all that the new arrivals ever received from the Ba'ath government was a piece of paper giving them nominal title (subject to good behavior) to a small plot of land and, in a few cases, a bare cement floor. "Build your house," a former inmate of Nugra Salman was told when he was released in Kalar. "But how could I build?" he asked Middle East Watch rhetorically. "I had no children, no son, no food, no money, no mats."24 Gradually, however, two squalid townships came into existence, with rough cinderblock homes and eventually electric power lines and running water. The complexes were controlled by police and army posts, and no one could venture beyond the perimeter without an official pass.
To this arrangement there was no alternative. The villages and their adjoining farmlands were prohibited, on pain of death, and Iraqi government files contain many references to individuals and groups of people executed after being found in "prohibited" areas in the post-Anfal period as residents of the towns left standing after Anfal were warned over loudspeakers that anyone sheltering Anfalakan would be punished. The sweeps even went into the cities, especially Suleimaniyeh; most, if not all, of the families in the complexes had lost their male breadwinners, and there was no question of compensation for the lives, homes and property that had been destroyed and pillaged. There was also no foodwithout ration cards. Entitlement to these had been based on the 1987 census; each person's card, stamped with the seal of the Ba'ath Party, was marked with the village and nahya of residence. Now they could only be obtained by registering as a resident of one of the complexes--or by the time-honored means of bribery. Some residents of the mujamma'a of Ber Hoshter were reportedly told by Ba'ath officials that they would receive food and other privileges if they joined the ruling Party.25 Those who did so found that the promise was an empty one.
Many Anfalakan also found it impossible to obtain new identity documents, without which there could be no public sector employment, no education for the children, no access to health care, or other government services. According to one Anfal widow who was shuttled between the complexes of Shoresh and Jedideh Zab:
When I went to look for a job, I was told that Anfal families were not allowed to work. At the school, I was told that Anfal families could not register their children. At the hospital, we were denied treatment for the same reason. I wanted to get IDs for my children, but the authorities were not allowed to issue them. At the school they told me I needed a citizenship card for the children. They sent me to Chamchamal and Erbil, and from there to Baghdad, to the Secretary General of Amn. I finally got a letter saying my husband was lost in Anfal, but this was less of a help than a hindrance. It marked me. The police station at the Jedideh Zab complex told me this letter should make things easier for me, but when people saw it I was always turned down.26
A half-dozen camps--for want of a better word--straggled across the barren, windswept scrubland northeast of the city of Erbil. At a Northern Bureau meeting on September 7, Ali Hassan al-Majid decidedto have the survivors of the Badinan campaign trucked to this inhospitable area from the prison at Salamiyeh, from the fort at Dohuk, from the smaller army posts at Atrush and Aqra, and from the Turkish border, where they had now begun to arrive in response to the previous day's amnesty. The largest single contingent was to be dumped, in many cases at dead of night, on a patch of wasteland near the complex of Baharka. The site came to be known as Jezhnikan, after a nearby Kurdish village destroyed in an earlier army campaign. Over time, the twin settlements of Baharka-Jezhnikan, housing 4,241 families, effectively merged into one single, huge complex.27
There was nothing here to welcome the new arrivals: just bare earth, thorn bushes and guard towers with machine guns. It was September, and while the days still brought fierce heat, the nighttime chill heralded the approach of winter. There was no protection from the elements. "They gave us nothing, we had to sleep on the ground, we were starving," said one man who came to Baharka.28 With no infrastructure, no food or water, no housing or shelter, it was clearly a matter of complete indifference to the planners of Anfal whether these deportees lived or died, and the camp guards frequently told them as much.
Yet most of them survived as the result of a prodigious private voluntary relief effort. The Kurdish citizens of Erbil were the first to help, bringing food, water, tea, sugar and blankets to the Anfalakan, often at great personal risk. In time they were helped by relatives of the camp inmates--those who had survived Anfal because their place of residence was a town or a mujamma'a. The first volunteers were fired on as they tried to approach Baharka and Jezhnikan across the open scrub; laterthey were detained by soldiers, questioned and beaten. But in the end the authorities turned a blind eye to the relief operation, perhaps because they feared the spread of disease from the camps.29
By the end of the year, epidemics were rife. There were outbreaks of typhoid and hepatitis, as well as the more routine--but still deadly--scourges of influenza and dysentery. Despite the best efforts of the people of Erbil, many of the camp residents failed to make it through that first autumn and winter.30 The great majority of those who died were children, many of them from villages in Dohuk governorate that had been exposed to chemical weapons. Villagers from Tilakru, Warmilleh and Warakhal all reported burying many of their infants in Baharka, and one elderly woman from Gizeh, herself injured in a poison gas attack, lost three small grandchildren in Jezhnikan. They were Zana Muhammad Sharif (age two), Nahida (age two) and her brother Saman Abd-al-Rahman (age four).31
For the first few months the deportees lived in makeshift "shades" of blankets or plastic sheeting on a crude framework of wooden stakes or poles. During this time the only solid structures were the guard towers, and the offices of Amn and Istikhbarat. Although the camp residents--having been victims of Anfal--were not able to obtain building loans from the state Real Estate Bank, after a year or so they had begun to build more substantial homes, thanks to the cheap sale or outright donation ofcinderblocks from a local factory. Gradually, the complexes began to take on the semi-permanent appearance of the dozens of others that the Iraqi regime had built during earlier waves of Kurdish resettlement. At first no one was allowed to leave the camps for more than an hour a day, and then only with a permit. But after three months or so these rules were relaxed, and the Ba'ath Party issued passes that allowed people to travel to Erbil to shop and, eventually, to work. Some of the able-bodied teenage boys and elderly men managed to find jobs as laborers on construction sites, although most families remained without any significant source of income.
Free now to move outside the camp, many of the women journeyed to Erbil to inquire after their missing husbands and brothers. The police and officials at the governorate gave them the runaround: "We have no information...perhaps in a couple of days...don't worry, they are on their way." The more persistent women were referred to the authorities in Dohuk, or Mosul, or Baghdad. But there was never any news, and none of their men were ever seen again.
By the summer of 1990, with government control of Iraqi Kurdistan fully restored, the inmates of Baharka-Jezhnikan were told that they were free to leave. There was no question of their being allowed to return to their home villages, which were now rubble. But many accepted the alternative of resettlement in one of the smaller complexes in Dohuk governorate--Hizawa, Gri Gowr, Telkabber and others--that were closer to their former homes in a Kurmanji-speaking area. Others stayed where they were, and two years after they arrived the government finally supplied the complex with water and electricity and opened primary and secondary schools. And there some 15,000 of the Badinan deportees remained until the spring of 1991, the Gulf War and the failed Kurdish uprising (raparin) that followed. As the uprising spread to the bleak camps on the Erbil plain, their inmates tore down the Amn post and the police station and took control of their own affairs for a few short days. But then the Republican Guard retook the complexes and drove the Anfalakan of Baharka-Jezhnikan into exile in Iran, leaving them homeless and destitute once more.
Barely two weeks after the arrival of the first deportees at Baharka--a number of testimonies suggest that the exact date was September 23 or 24, 1988--the official loudspeakers announced that a number of the camp's inmates should present themselves at the police station without delay. Those who were singled out in this way were either Assyrian and Chaldean Christians or members of the Yezidi sect of ethnic Kurds. What happened to these two groups remains one of the great unexplained mysteries of Anfal: a brutal sideshow, as it were, to the Kurdish genocide.
Despite Kurdish demands for autonomy, Iraqi Kurdistan is far from ethnically homogenous. Although its minority populations have declined sharply in number in the course of the 20th century, as the result of massacre, flight and religious conversion, the region is still home to three important groups. In addition to the Yezidis and the Assyrians (and their Catholic subgroup, the Chaldeans), there is an important Turkoman concentration in the mixed city of Kirkuk and several neighboring towns. With the exception of male deserters and draft dodgers, the Turkomans have long lived in government-controlled areas and have sometimes had tense relations with the Kurds. The Assyrians and the Yezidis are quite different cases, and despite violent conflicts with the Kurds earlier this century, the two groups have made common cause with them since the 1960s, sharing a common legacy of oppression by the regime in Baghdad.
The Assyrians, who number more than a million, are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. Most of them now live in the cities--Mosul, Dohuk and Erbil all have large Christian populations, as does the resort town of Shaqlawa. By the time of Anfal their once large rural presence had dwindled to a handful of villages in the mountains of Badinan. These were attractive places, with pretty churches, neatly laid out gardens and orchards, and sophisticated irrigation systems. Those Christians who live in Iraqi Kurdistan speak Kurmanji as well as their own Aramaic dialects. Although they are not ethnic Kurds, they also wear Kurdish clothes. Yet the regime officially classified them as Arabs in the 1977 census, a designation that many Assyrians and Chaldeans indignantly reject. "Saddam Hussein calls us Arabs unfairly," one Chaldean Christian told Middle East Watch, pointingindignantly to the headscarf that he wore as any Muslim Kurd would.32 Having taken an active part in the Kurdish movement for years, they are sometimes referred to in everyday parlance as "Christian Kurds."33
The Yezidis are a quite different matter. Kurmanji-speaking ethnic Kurds, they belong to a syncretist sect that worships the Peacock Angel (Malak Tawus), and are sometimes incorrectly spoken of as "devil worshippers."34 In northern Iraq, the Yezidis are mainly concentrated in the hilly plains that stretch from the southern edge of the Badinan mountains as far as the Tigris river, to the north of the city of Mosul--areas that are also home to a number of Assyrian Christians.
This pattern of settlement had left the Yezidis and Christians prey to a number of earlier campaigns of village destruction by the Iraqi regime, and it left them prey to Anfal too. Several thousand Yezidis were displaced from their homes in Jabal Sinjar, west of Mosul, in early 1973. Along with their Muslim Kurdish neighbors, many Yezidis and Christians in the Sleivani and Sheikhan areas were removed from their villages during the Arabization campaign of the mid-1970s. The border clearances of 1977 destroyed a dozen Christian churches in Badinan, some of them more than a thousand years old.35 Yet more Yezidis were removed from their homes and resettled in complexes to make way for the construction of the gigantic Saddam Dam on the Tigris in 1985. It is apparent that Ali Hassan al-Majid had nothing but contempt for the Yezidis. "We must Arabize your area," he snaps at an unnamed official from Mosul in one taperecorded meeting during the Anfal campaign. "And only real Arabs--not Yezidis who one day say that they are Kurds and the next that they are Arabs. We turned a blind eye to the Yezidi people joining the jahsh in the beginning, in order to stop the saboteurs from growing. But apart from that, what use are the Yezidis? No use."36
Al-Majid seems to have little more regard for the Assyrians, and the "first stage" of his 1987 program of village clearances leveled a number of Christian villages in the north. The death of the village of Bakhtoma that April was vividly described to Middle East Watch by an Assyrian priest in Dohuk:
I had been told that they would destroy Bakhtoma because they had already destroyed most of the surrounding villages. It was around noon when I went to the church of St. George to remove the furniture, but Iraqi Army tanks and bulldozers were already beginning to roll into the village. I was the last one to pray in the church. After finishing my prayers, I removed the furniture to take it with me to Dohuk. It was a very sad day. The Iraqi soldiers and army engineers put the equivalent of one kilo of TNT at each corner of the church. After five minutes they blew up the building, and then went on to demolish every house in the village. Later they paid me compensation of 3,000 dinars. I went to the head of the Ba'ath Party in Dohuk, to ask why they were destroying our villages. He replied, "You are Arabs and we decide what you should do. That is all there is to it." I left his office then; what could I say?37
In Anfal there was not even the hope of compensation, and Assyrian villages like Kani Balaf (in the nahya of Berwari Bala), Mezeh (Sarseng) and Gund Kosa (Al-Doski) were burned and bulldozed along with those of their Muslim Kurdish neighbors. Some of the people from these villages took to the mountains together with the fleeing Kurds. Hundreds more sought refuge in Turkey. All of them waited where they were until they heard news of the September 6 amnesty, at which point they surrendered. A few days after the amnesty a large contingent of Christian and Yezidi refugees crossed the Khabour river in Turkish buses and gave themselves up to the Iraqi Army at the border post of Ibrahim Khalil. The Istikhbarat officers monitoring the repatriation asked the Yezidis and Christians to identify themselves and then ordered them to form a separate line off to one side. They said only that the men were to be returned to their army units if they were deserters, and that the women and children would be sent back to their homes. The Muslim Kurds who were present were given a piece of paper, marked "To be sent to Erbil"; the Assyrians and Yezidis left empty-handed. The Kurds were at a loss to explain this, but assumed that their neighbors were being shown some special favor.38
After surrendering under the amnesty, the Christians and Yezidis were sent to Dohuk, like everyone else. The majority of the group were Yezidis, according to a witness who saw them there, and they occupied six rooms on the second floor of the fort, segregated from the Muslim Kurdish prisoners. Word of the new arrivals spread rapidly, and relatives who heard the news rushed to Dohuk in an attempt to visit them. Isho, an elderly Chaldean Catholic from the village of Mezeh, came to inquire after his four sons. None of them was a peshmerga, although three were deserters and the other a draft dodger. But it was a fruitless visit; Isho learned that all the Christian and Yezidi men had been taken away the day before in nine sealed vehicles. It was the last time they were seen alive. The women and children and the elderly, meanwhile, after a single night in Dohuk, were bussed to the barren camps of Baharka and Jezhnikan.
And there, after two weeks or so, came the curious call that the Christians and Yezidis should all report to the police station or the camp'sBa'ath Party office. Istikhbarat officers drove through the complexes in a Toyota Landcruiser to broadcast the announcement. The agents were thorough: later, they went around the camps to deliver the message individually to each family in turn, as they huddled beneath their temporary "shades." But there seemed nothing to fear, especially when an Assyrian priest repeated the request. "You are going to be taken back to the places where we took you from," one Istikhbarat agent said. "We are going to take you to your men," said another--a choice of phrasing that may have euphemistically conveyed the brutal truth.
At the police station, names were read out and checked off against a master list. One witness recalled that Istikhbarat then ordered the prisoners to divide themselves up into three groups: Christians; Yezidis who had surrendered in Dohuk governorate; and Yezidis who had turned themselves in to the army at Aqra, in the neighboring governorate of Nineveh. This last distinction made some people suspicious, and several of them lied about their place of capture, lining up with those who had surrendered in Aqra.39
Other residents of the camp said they watched enviously as the Yezidi prisoners waited by the main gate for the minibuses that they believed would take them to their homes in the Sheikhan area. A few days later, a single khaki-colored military bus arrived, accompanied by an army officer and nine or ten soldiers, to pick up twenty-six people from the Assyrian Christian village of Gund Kosa. Now only a handful of Christians remained, along with the Yezidis who had surrendered in Aqra--and these people stayed in Baharka-Jezhnikan until the summer of 1990, when the restrictions on movement were lifted. None of those who were bussed away from the camps ever reached their homes, and none was ever seen in the complexes, like Mansuriya (Masirik) and Khaneq,that were set aside for relocated Christians and Yezidis. The inescapable conclusion is that all of them were murdered. An Assyrian priest interviewed by Middle East Watch said that he had assembled a list of some 250 Christians disappeared during Anfal and its immediate aftermath.40
Isho, the elderly Chaldean man from Mezeh village, embarked on a long and anguished search for his four missing sons. He wrote a petition to President Saddam Hussein, but received no reply. He begged Amn and Istikhbarat agents at the Baharka camp to tell him what could have happened to his sons. They answered that the four would not have been covered by the September 6 amnesty, since it only applied to ethnic Kurds (although evidently not to Yezidis). "If we had known that," the old man replied bitterly, "we would never have surrendered." At some risk to his own life, he even visited the fort at Dohuk, only to be told that the Christian and Yezidi men had already been taken away to an unknown destination.
Although the old man's petititon to the president went unanswered, it did trigger--unknown to him--an internal inquiry by military intelligence. The results of that Istikhbarat investigation came to light during Middle East Watch's analysis of the captured Iraqi documents. Detailed below at pp.340-342, they shed important light on the chain of command of the Anfal operation. But they do not explain why the Christians and Yezidis should have been disappeared en masse, even after an amnesty was in force.
One plausible explanation is this: These obstinate minorities had refused to be part of the "national ranks" as defined by the Iraqi authorities. To aggravate their crime, they also refused to accept the regime's designation of their ethnicity. Not only did they want to be treated like Kurds, they also acted like bad Arabs. Accordingly, they were to be considered traitors on two counts, and punished accordingly.
1 Iraqi News Agency, as reported in Al-Thawra, September 7, 1988. Other, broader amnesties were also decreed in the immediate post-Anfal period. On November 30, 1988, Revolutionary Command Council decree no. 860 announced "a comprehensive and general amnesty" for all "persons who have engaged in dissident political activities and subsequently gone into hiding." On February 28, 1989, RCC decree no. 130 declared a general amnesty for all Iraqis who have fled the country, although again "with the exception of the traitor Jalal al-Talabani and agents of the Iranian regime." Al-Majid's comments on the amnesty are from an audiotaped meeting held on April 15, 1989.
2 At its noon briefing on September 8, after Shultz had met with Iraqi Minister of State Saadoun Hammadi, the State Department described Iraq's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds as "unjustifiable and abhorrent" and "unacceptable to the civilized world." See Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 108-110.
3 Al-Thawra, September 7, 1988.
4 Two versions of the document spelling out al-Majid's powers over refugee resettlement have come to light. One, apparently the original order, is an unclassified letter to various departments from the Presidential Office of the Iraqi Republic, no. Q/1509 of September 7, 1988. The other, dated September 12, is "secret and confidential" letter no. Sh 3/13631, from Amn Erbil to all Security Directorates in the governorate.
5 Letter no. Q/1509, dated September 7, 1988, from the Presidential Office of the Iraqi Republic to "[illegible] Deputy Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Respected Defense Minister, Respected Interior Minister and Ali Hassan al-Majid, Respected Secretary General of the Northern Bureau."
6 Middle East Watch has examined many files of these sworn statements, duly filled in by returnees and dated at various times in September and October 1988. The documents also bear the signatures of representatives of the civil administration, the police, security and intelligence agencies and the local Ba'ath Party branch.
7 This procedure is spelled out in two documents, both issued by the local office of Amn in Shaqlawa. One is a letter to the Ba'ath Party's Returnee Reception Committee, dated October 7, 1988; the other is a letter (#5823) to all police stations, dated October 11, 1988.
8 The reader might imagine that this would hardly constitute punishment for a Kurd. However, entry into the military, the jahsh or the security forces had always been seen as an option that offered economic benefits as well as immunity from the regime's anti-Kurdish activities. The prohibition was therefore a blow to Kurdish aspirations as well as a further erosion of the civil rights of the Iraqi Kurdish minority. These modifications to the amnesty were set forth in Revolutionary Command Council decrees nos. 737 (September 8, 1988) and 785 (September 29, 1988).
9 Letter no.14951, dated November 23, 1988 and classified "Secret and Confidential" from the Secretariat of Amn for the Autonomous Region to Amn Suleimaniyeh, citing instructions of the Northern Bureau Command.
10 The organization in question here is the Political Command of the Iraqi Kurdistan Front (Al-Qiyadeh al-Siyasiyeh lil-Jabha al-Kurdistaniyeh al-Iraqiyeh), a seven-party body (later eight) dominated by the PUK and the KDP.
11 "Reactions to the General Amnesty for the Kurds." Letter no. Sh.S Sh 3/5089, dated October 18, 1988 and classified "Secret and Confidential," from Amn Chamchamal to all security directorates.
12 Middle East Watch interview, Zakho, June 24, 1992.
13 Middle East Watch interview, Taqtaq, April 24, 1992.
14 Middle East Watch interview, Taqtaq, April 24, 1992.
15 Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, April 23, 1992.
16 Middle East Watch interview, Zarayen complex, July 28, 1992.
17 Middle East Watch interview, Kifri, March 30, 1993. This account of the southern Germian women in Nugra Salman also draws on interviews in Basirma complex, March 24, 1993; Suleimaniyeh, April 1, 1993; and Zakho, April 8, 1993.
18 Middle East Watch interview, Benaslawa complex, April 20, 1992.
19 Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, April 23, 1992.
20 Middle East Watch interview, Ja'faran, Qara Dagh, May 11, 1992.
21 Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, April 23, 1992.
22 Middle East Watch interview, Taqtaq, April 24, 1992.
23 These figures were provided by Jawhar Nameq, speaker of the new Kurdish Parliament, elected in May 1992. Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, June 18, 1992.
24 This man last saw his two sons, aged eleven and thirteen, in detention in Tikrit. He also lost fifteen other members of his family in Anfal. Middle East Watch interview, Suleimaniyeh, May 12, 1992.
25 Middle East Watch interview with former resident of Ber Hoshter, Zarayen complex, July 28, 1992.
26 Middle East Watch interview, Jedideh Zab complex, May 2, 1992.
27 The decisions of the Northern Bureau meeting are reported in an Amn Erbil letter dated September 16, 1988. It reads, "It is possible to house the families returning to the national ranks in the new towns of our governorate, up to a maximum of 12,714 families, to be distributed among the following new towns:
Ber Hoshter 2,314
28 Middle East Watch interview, Dohuk, June 2, 1992.
29 This at least was the view expressed to Middle East Watch by a number of Kurdish doctors in Erbil who had entered Baharka and Jezhnikan clandestinely at the end of 1988, by which time epidemics were a serious threat.
30 A Middle East Watch-Physicians for Human Rights forensic team investigated the Baharka-Jezhnikan cemetery in June, 1992, and took measurements of eighty-five graves of camp inmates. Of these, seventy-one were judged to be of sub-adult age. For a full discussion of the team's methodology, see The Destruction of Koreme, pp.65-70, 92-95.
31 Several survivors said that twenty children from Tilakru died in the camps, as well as thirty from Warmilleh and between thirty-three and forty from Warakhal. In the first two cases, the effects of exposure to chemical weapons may well have been a contributing factor. The MEW-PHR forensic team exhumed the remains of three infant girls in the Baharka-Jezhnikan cemetery; each showed signs of severe malnutrition and/or disease stress. See The Destruction of Koreme, p.68.
32 Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, July 7, 1992.
33 The Iraqi Christians had their own peshmerga organization, the Assyrian Democratic Movement--a full member of the Kurdistan Front. According to one PUK commander interviewed by Middle East Watch, the ADM had some 100-150 men under arms. Christians also had five seats reserved for them in the 105-seat Kurdish parliament elected in 1992.
34 The Peacock Angel is a divinity who may be associated with the Christian Satan, although he shares none of Satan's evil attributes. See Martin van Bruinessen, "Kurdish Society, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Refugee Problems," in Kreyenbroek and Sperl, op. cit., p.37, citing T. Menzel, "Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Jeziden," in H. Grothe, ed., Meine Vorderasienexpedition, 1906, 1907, Volume 1 (Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1911). See also the chapter on religion in Izady's The Kurds, pp.131-166.
35 According to a list prepared by Shorsh Resool and published as an appendix to his 1990 report, Destruction of a Nation.
36 Ali Hassan al-Majid, taperecorded conversation with unnamed Ba'ath officials, Kirkuk, August 1, 1988.
37 Middle East Watch interview, Dohuk, June 19, 1992.
38 This separation procedure at the Ibrahim Khalil bridge was described by a number of witnesses. Middle East Watch interviews, Dohuk, September 3 and 5, 1992.
39 The lie was a judicious one, for the separation of the Yezidis suggests that the regime's intent was to disappear only those who had been captured within the theater of operations covered by Anfal, which ended at the edge of Nineveh governorate. This same logic--which reflects bureaucratic rigidity rather than clemency--is evident in Iraqi government documents dealing with the treatment of captured civilians. For example, a secret letter from Amn headquarters in the governorate of Erbil, no. Sh 2/12809, dated August 26, 1988, says that two named individuals detained in the Anfal theater have been "returned by the Northern Bureau Command, due to the fact that they are not residents of areas that were included in the Anfal operations." (emphasis added)
40 Middle East Watch interview, Dohuk, June 10, 1992. In the course of a dozen interviews with Christians, Yezidis and other survivors of Baharka-Jezhnikan, Middle East Watch assembled a total of ninety-eight names of people who had disappeared. This list consisted of sixty-four Christians (twenty-five men, eighteen women, twelve children under the age of sixteen, and nine of unknown age and sex), and thirty-four Yezidis (four men, nine women and twenty-one children). Several of those who disappeared were infants of less than one year; the oldest was a woman of eighty-five.