All of the tendencies that had been implicit in earlier phases of Iraq's war on the Kurds reached their culmination in 1987-1988 with the endgame of the Iran-Iraq War and the campaign known as al-Anfal. In the captured Iraqi documents that are now being studied by Middle East Watch, the term crops up with great frequency: villages are "purified" in the course of "the Heroic Anfal Operation"; the reason for the flight of villagers into neighboring countries is given as "Anfal"; an "Anfal" oilfield is inaugurated and a special "Anfal Section" of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party created in commemoration of the event; one of the government contractors hired to work on the drainage of Iraq's southern marshes is the "Anfal Company."1 It is evident from the documents, and from the supporting testimony of those who survived Anfal, that the resources of the Iraqi state were deployed and coordinated on a massive level to assure the success of the operation.
"Anfal" was the name given to a concerted series of military offensives, eight in all, conducted in six distinct geographical areas between late February and early September, 1988. Overall command of the operation was in the hands of the Northern Bureau of the Ba'ath PartyOrganization, based in the city of Kirkuk and headed, after March 1987, by the "Struggling Comrade" Ali Hassan al-Majid.2 Kurdish villagers who survived the events of 1988 routinely refer to al-Majid as "Ali Anfal" or "Ali Chemical."
Al-Majid's appointment was highly significant for a number of reasons. Until 1987, military policy against the peshmerga had been set by the First and Fifth Corps of the Iraqi Army, based in Kirkuk and Erbil respectively. Now, however, the Ba'ath Party itself assumed direct charge of all aspects of policy toward the Kurds. Al-Majid's command also made the settlement of the Kurdish problem the concern of Iraq's innermost circle of power--the close network of family ties centered on the city of Tikrit and the personal patronage of President Saddam Hussein.
Saddam's father, whom he never knew, was a member of Tikrit's al-Majid family, and Ali Hassan al-Majid was the Iraqi president's cousin.3 Al-Majid, who was born in 1941, had humble origins, and first made his reputation in 1968--as a mere sergeant--as the bodyguard to Hammad Shihab al-Tikriti, commander of the Baghdad army garrison and one of the ringleaders of the Ba'ath coup in July of that year. Al-Majid rose quickly in the Tikrit circle and in 1979 played an important role in the purge of the party leadership. During the 1983-1985 negotiations between the regime and the PUK, Saddam Hussein appointed his cousin to head Amn.
Even by the standards of the Ba'ath security apparatus, al-Majid had a particular reputation for brutality. According to the (admittedly subjective) account of one former mustashar who had frequent dealings with him, "He is more of a risk-taker than Saddam Hussein, and he has no respect for people. It was very difficult to work with him. He was stupid,and only carrying out Saddam Hussein's orders. In the past, he used to be a police sergeant; today he is Minister of Defense. Saddam Hussein, by contrast, is 'a snake with deadly poison.' He pretends to be weak, but at any chance he will use his poison....In tough cases, in which he needs people without a heart, he calls upon Ali Hassan al-Majid."4
The main military thrust of Anfal was carried by regular troops of the the First and Fifth Corps, backed up by units from other corps as they became available from the Iranian front.5 The elite Republican Guards took part in the first phase of Anfal; other units which saw action included the Special Forces (Quwat al-Khaseh), commando forces (Maghawir) and Emergency Forces (Quwat al-Taware')--the Ba'ath Party-controlled urban counterterrorism squads. Finally, a wide range of support activities--entering population centers ahead of regular army units, burning and looting villages, tracking down fleeing villagers and organizing their surrender--were handled by the Kurdish paramilitary jahsh.
But the logic of Ali Hassan al-Majid's campaign against the Kurds went far beyond the six-month long military campaign. From a human-rights perspective, the machinery of genocide was set in motion by al-Majid's appointment in March 1987 and its wheels continued to turn until April 1989. Within weeks of al-Majid's arrival in Kirkuk, it was apparent that the Iraqi government had decided to settle its Kurdish problem onceand for all, and that the resources of the state would be used in a coordinated fashion to achieve this goal. A sustained pattern of decrees, directives and actions by the security forces leaves no doubt that the intent of the Iraqi government was to destroy definitively the armed organizations of the Kurdish resistance and to eradicate all remaining human settlements in areas that were disputed or under peshmerga control--with the exception of those inhabited by the minority of tribes whose loyalty to Baghdad was indisputable. If anything stood in the way of these goals in 1987, it was logistical shortcomings--above all, the fact that a large proportion of the troops and materiel that would be required for Anfal were still tied down on the Iranian war front.
It was Iraq that launched the war in 1980, and Iraq that maintained the initiative for much of the eight years that the conflict lasted.6 Nonetheless, the Iranians did succeed in putting Iraq on the defensive on a number of occasions. In July 1983, Iranian troops had seized the important border garrison town of Haj Omran, east of the town of Rawanduz. But the highpoint of the war from Iran's point of view was its Val Fajr 8 offensive of February 1986; this included a surprise attack that seized the marshy Fao peninsula, thereby blocking Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf.
Fresh from its success in Fao, which inflicted huge losses on the Iraqi Army (and reinforced the U.S. "tilt" toward Baghdad), Iran reopened its second front in the north, in the rugged mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. For more than six years, the Iraqi regime had ceded de facto control overmuch of the rural north to the peshmerga; now foreign troops threatened to occupy more and more border territory, diverting much-needed forces from the southern front around Basra. As the October 1986 raid by Iranian pasdaran suggested to nervous Iraqi officials, the vital Kirkuk oilfields, almost a hundred miles from the border, were no longer immune.
There is debate among scholars as to the precise threat that Iraq faced from Iran at this late stage of the war. Certainly, Iran's huge Karbala 5 offensive against Basra's Fish Lake in January 1987 marked its final use of the "human wave" tactic of hurling tens of thousands of troops--most of them poorly trained basij7--against fixed enemy targets. The resulting casualty levels were simply not sustainable, as Teheran now acknowledged. On February 12, Iranian troops returned to the Haj Omran area with a small offensive codenamed Fatah 4--although some believe that this was less a real attack than a diversionary action for propaganda purposes.8 But three weeks later, on March 4, a new and more alarming Iranian assault, this one codenamed Karbala 7, managed to penetrate eight miles into Iraqi territory east of Rawanduz with a joint military force which this time included peshmerga of the KDP and the PUK. The Iraqi regime was infuriated by these renewed signs of collusion, particularly since they now involved both rival Kurdish parties.9 On March 13, in a rare interview with a foreign reporter, Iraqi cabinet minister Hashim Hassan al-'Aqrawi commented, "The Iranians are trying to use these people to carry out dirty missions, and since they know the geography of the area and its ins and outs, the Iranians use them merely as guides for the Khomeini Guards andthe Iranian forces." The Kurds--or at least Talabani's PUK--even began to talk openly of dismembering the Iraqi state.10
On March 14 or 15, Saddam Hussein presided over a five-hour meeting of the Armed Forces General Command. Ali Hassan al-Majid was also reportedly in attendance. Any outsider's account of what took place in such a secretive meeting must be highly speculative, but according to at least two accounts, the Iraqi president told his senior officers that he feared a "defeat by attrition."11 On March 18, the Revolutionary Command Council and the Ba'ath Party's Regional Command jointly decided to appoint al-Majid, the president's cousin, as Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Ba'ath Party Organization. His predecessors, Sa'adi Mahdi Saleh and Muhammad Hamza al-Zubeidi, had allowed the Kurdish problem to fester for too long; al-Majid would not repeat their mistakes.
In essence, the disagreements among scholars of the Iran-Iraq War are academic--at least as far as the Kurds are concerned. Saddam Hussein may indeed have foreseen a slow defeat as a result of Baghdad's existing policies; alternatively, he may have seen Iran's stalled Fish Lake offensive in January as a turning point in Iraq's favor, and an opportunity to press home his advantage. Either way, it is apparent that he decided that exceptional measures were necessary to settle the Kurdish problem, that troublesome sideshow of the Iran-Iraq conflict, once and for all.
Ali Hassan al-Majid's extraordinary new powers--equivalent in the Autonomous Region to those of the president himself--came into effect with decree no. 160 of the Revolutionary Command Council, dated March 29, 1987. Al-Majid was to "represent the Regional Command of the Party and the Revolutionary Command Council in the execution of their policies for the whole of the Northern Region, including the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, for the purpose of protecting security and order, safeguarding stability, and applying autonomous rule in the region." The decree went on to explain that, "Comrade al-Majid's decisions shall be mandatory for allstate agencies, be they military, civilian and security." His fiat would apply "particularly in relation to matters that are the domain of the National Security Council and the Northern Affairs Committee." A second order by Saddam Hussein, issued on April 20, 1987, gave al-Majid the additional authority to set the budget of the Northern Affairs Committee.
Al-Majid's "decisions and directives" were to be obeyed without question by all intelligence agencies--including military intelligence (Istikhbarat)--and by all domestic security forces; by the Popular Army Command (Qiyadat al-Jaysh al-Sha'abi); and by all military commands in the northern region. Decree 160 and its riders leave no room for doubt: simply put, Ali Hassan al-Majid was to be the supreme commander, the overlord, of all aspects of Anfal.
Almost a year would pass before that campaign began. But within weeks of al-Majid's appointment, the logic of Anfal was fully apparent. Its legal framework was set in place; new standing orders were issued to the security forces; and a two-month wave of military attacks, village destruction and forced relocations was unleashed--a rough draft, as it were, of the larger campaign ahead. "I gave myself two years to end the activity of the saboteurs," al-Majid later told his aides.12 And with the first warm days of spring and the melting of the snow in the mountains, al-Majid embarked on his brutal three-stage process of "village collectivization"--in other words, the wholesale destruction of hundreds of Kurdish farming villages and the relocation of their residents into mujamma'at.
Even his top military commanders were shocked by the brutality of what he had in mind. He later confided to aides:
When we made the decision to destroy and collectivize the villages and draw a dividing line between us and the saboteurs, the first one to express his doubts to me and before the President was [former Fifth Corps commander] Tali'a al-Durri. The first one who alarmed me was Tali'a al-Durri. To this day the impact of Tali'a is evident. He didn't destroy all the villages that I asked him to at thattime. And this is the longest-standing member of the Ba'ath Party. What about the other people then? How were we to convince them to solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs?13
The timetable for the three phases of al-Majid's campaign is clearly spelled out in a number of official documents, notably including a letter from the General Staff of the jahsh to the command of the Fifth Army Corps, dated April 13, 1987. This appears to be in response to a verbal order from the Fifth Corps commander concerning "final obligations in winding up [illegible] procedures for the termination of sabotage in the Northern Region, [and] the manner and the priorities of implementing the evacuation and demolition of security-prohibited villages." The first phase of the operation would begin on April 21 and end on May 20; the second would start immediately on May 21 and continue until June 20.14 Military and security maps were "redlined," with clear boundaries drawn to denote areas "prohibited for security reasons." Amn set up a special "prohibited villages committee" to oversee the forbidden areas. Within the zones designated for phases one and two, the order was clear and explicit: "All prohibited villages will be destroyed."15
A former military intelligence (Istikhbarat) officer who later crossed over to the PUK told Middle East Watch of a meeting in Kirkuk that spring, attended by the governors of Erbil, Kirkuk, Dohuk and Suleimaniyeh, the commanders of the First and Fifth Army Corps, divisional military commanders and senior Ba'ath Party officials. Ali Hassan al-Majid, speaking in characteristically irascible tones, gave orders that "no house was to be left standing" in the Kurdish villages on the Erbil plain. Only Arab villages would be spared.16 At a later meeting in Erbil,the witness heard al-Majid repeat these orders, and back them up with a personal threat: "I will come and observe," he said, "and if I find any house intact, I will hold the section commander responsible." After receiving these orders, the former Istikhbarat officer said, "I got two IFAs [East German-built military trucks] full of explosives from a warehouse in Erbil. I commandeered 200 bulldozers from civilians of Erbil--by force, with no payment. We started destroying mud villages with bulldozers, and dynamiting the cement structures. We used military engineers for this." The troops went in at dawn; wells were filled in and electricity supplies torn out, leaving only the poles standing. After the engineering work was completed, Istikhbarat would inspect the affected villages by helicopter. If any structure was found to be still standing, the sectional commander would be ordered to return and finish the job, and would risk disciplinary action. It was an extraordinarily thorough enterprise, and the evidence is visible all over Iraqi Kurdistan, with many villages not so much demolished as pulverized.
No farming of any sort was to continue in the destroyed areas. Government aircraft would conduct regular overflights to detect any unauthorized farming, and local security committees would be held responsible for any violations. Stringent restrictions were imposed on all grain sales in the Kurdish areas, as well as on agricultural trade across governorate boundaries.
Al-Majid also reportedly issued specific rules of engagement at the Erbil meeting. The army should only open fire in cases of active resistance, he ordered. But if resistance were encountered, the entire village population was to be killed in reprisal. In the event, there was no resistance, since the villages selected for the 1987 clearances were on or near the main roads and under government control. Only during Phase III of the campaign would the troops venture into peshmerga-held territory.
Even before the first stage of the village clearances got underway, the Iraqi regime had crossed a new barrier in its war against the Kurds. Throughout the early weeks of al-Majid's rule, the peshmerga--and in particular the PUK--kept up a steady rhythm of military actions. In earlyApril the PUK launched its most ambitious drive to date in the Jafati Valley, which runs southeast from Dukan Lake. The valley was home to the PUK's national headquarters, and thousands of peshmerga congregated there for the assault. In a matter of hours they had overrun dozens of small military posts and taken hundreds of prisoners.
The government's response was not long in coming. "Our leadership received information that the Iraqis were going to use chemical weapons," said a PUK peshmerga who fought in this campaign:
They issued instructions on what to do in case of a chemical attack. We were instructed to put wet cloths on our faces, to light fires, or to go to places located above the point of impact. In the beginning, the government used chemical artillery shells. This was in the Jafati and Shahrbazar valleys [on April 15], one or two nights after our victory. We didn't realize they were chemicals. The sound was not as loud as the ordinary shelling, and we smelled rotten apples and garlic.... Uncounted numbers of shells fell on us, but they had little effect.17
This was not the case the following day, however, in the villages of Balisan and Sheikh Wasan. These two settlements lie scarcely a mile and a half apart, in a steep-sided valley south of the town of Rawanduz. The Balisan valley was home to the PUK's third malband, or regional command.18 Yet few peshmerga were present on the afternoon of April 16, since most had been taking part in the military action in the Jafativalley, on the far side of Dukan Lake. Instead, their families would be made to suffer the repercussions.
Balisan itself was a sizeable village, which until April 1987 had some 250 households (about 1,750 people)19 of the Khoshnaw tribe, as well as four mosques, a primary school and an intermediate school. As the crow flies, it lay some twelve miles east of the town of Shaqlawa; Sheikh Wasan, a smaller settlement of about 150 houses, lay nestled in the hills a little way to the northeast. The valley was long-time peshmerga country; the Barzani movement had controlled it from 1961-74, and the PUK, through its third malband, since the outbreak of the war with Iran in 1980. Since about 1983, the Balisan Valley had been a "prohibited area," with government checkpoints attempting with only partial success to prevent the entry of foodstuffs and supplies. Food rations had been suspended, and government teachers withdrawn from the schools. Iraqi aircraft made frequent harassment attacks, to which the villagers responded by hiding away in deep, dark caves in the surrounding mountains. But ground troops had never managed to penetrate the valley.
In the drizzly late afternoon of April 16, the villagers had returned home from the fields and were preparing dinner when they heard the drone of aircraft approaching. Some stayed put in their houses; others made it as far as their air-raid shelters before the planes, a dozen of them, came in sight, wheeling low over the two villages to unload their bombs. There were a number of muffled explosions.
Until this moment no government had ever used chemical weapons against its own civilian population. But the plummeting enlistment rate among Iranian volunteers over the previous year, when poison gas was widely used on the battlefield, was vivid testimony to the Iraqi government of the power of this forbidden weapon to instil terror. More gruesome yet was the decision to record the event on videotape.
The Iraqi regime had long conducted its record-keeping in meticulous fashion. (Those in neighboring countries say, only half-jokingly, that the Iraqis are the "Prussians of the Middle East.")20 From the grandest decree to the most trivial matter, all the business of the security forces was recorded in letters and telegrams, dated, numbered and rubber-stamped on receipt. Even when an original command carried a high security classification, abundant numbers of handwritten or typed copies were later prepared, to be handed down the chain of command and filed, the writers apparently confident that prying eyes would never see these secrets. In the mid-1980s, the Iraqi security services developed a fascination for video technology as a valuable new form of record-keeping. The actions of the security forces were now to be routinely documented on tape: village clearances, executions of captured peshmerga, even chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
The official videotape of the Balisan Valley bombing, reportedly made by a member of the jahsh, shows towering columns and broad, drifting clouds of white, gray and pinkish smoke. A cool evening breeze was blowing off the mountains, and it brought strange smells--pleasant ones at first, suggestive of roses and flowers, or, to others, apples and garlic. Other witnesses still say there was the less attractive odor of insecticide. But then, said one elderly woman from Balisan, "It was all dark, covered with darkness, we could not see anything, and were not able to see each other. It was like fog. And then everyone became blind." Some vomited. Faces turned black; people experienced painful swellings under the arms, and women under their breasts. Later, a yellow watery discharge would ooze from the eyes and nose. Many of those who survived suffered severe vision disturbances, or total blindness, for up to a month. In Sheikh Wasan, survivors watched as a woman staggered around blindly, clutching her dead child, and not realizing it was dead. Some villagers ran into the mountains and died there. Others, who had been closer to the place of impact of the bombs, died where they stood.21 One witness, a peshmerga, told MiddleEast Watch that a second attack followed an hour later, this one conducted by a fleet of helicopters.22
The few fighters who had been at home when the raid occurred were taken by the PUK for treatment in Iran, fearing that they would not survive a visit to an Iraqi hospital. (The presence of peshmerga in the village is, one should add, quite irrelevant from a legal point of view. By their very nature, chemical weapons make no distinction between civilian and military targets, and their use is outlawed under any circumstances.)23
The following morning, ground troops and jahsh entered Balisan, looted the villagers' deserted homes and razed them to the ground. The same day, or perhaps a day later--having presumably left sufficient time for the gas to dissipate--army engineers dynamited and bulldozed Sheikh Wasan. But the surviving inhabitants had already fled during the night of the attack. Some made their way to the city of Suleimaniyeh, and a few to Shaqlawa. But most headed southeast, to the town of Raniya, where there was a hospital. They were helped on their way by people from neighboring villages, some of which--including Barukawa, Beiro, Kaniberd and Tutma--had also suffered from the effects of the windborne gas.
The people of Beiro sent tractor-drawn carts to Sheikh Wasan, and ten of these vehicles, each carrying fifty or sixty people, left for Raniya. At the complex of Seruchawa, just outside the town, the tractors stopped to bury the bodies of fifty people who were already dead. The refugees who reached Raniya spent one night there. Local doctors washed their wounds and gave them eye-drops, but these did nothing to ease the effects of the gas on their vision. The refugees spent a restless night, and the hospital at Raniya was full of the sound of weeping.
The next morning, agents from Amn --and some witnesses say also from military intelligence (Istikhbarat)-- arrived at the hospital. They ordered everyone out of bed and into a number of waiting Nissan Coasters that were parked outside.24 These would take them to the city of Erbil for medical care, the villagers were told; however, they were warned later that day that they would only be given treatment if they told the doctors that their injuries were the result of an attack by Iranian airplanes.25
At about 9:00 that morning, exhausted and bedraggled people in Kurdish dress began to stream into the emergency room of the Republic Hospital in Erbil. One witness counted four packed coasters, each with twenty-one seats, and seven other vehicles--both cars and pickup trucks. Others placed the number of arrivals at perhaps 200, of all ages, men, women and children. They were all unarmed civilians. Four were dead on arrival. The survivors arriving from Ranya told the doctors that they had been attacked with chemical weapons. Despite their burns, their blindness and other, more superficial injuries, those who had survived the journey from the Balisan Valley were generally still able to walk, although some were unconscious.
Even with the assistance of doctors who rushed across from the nearby Maternity and Pediatric Hospital, the facilities were not sufficient to deal with such a large-scale emergency. There were far from enough beds to deal with so many victims; many of the patients were laid on the floors, and the occupants of three of the four coasters were obliged to wait in the parking lot while the preliminary triage was done and the first treatment carried out. On examination, the doctors found that the victims' eyes were dried out and glued shut. Having some rudimentary notion of how to treat chemical victims, they applied eye drops, washed their burns and administered injections of atropine, a powerful antidote to nerve agents.
The doctors had been at work on their patients for about an hour when the head of the local branch office of Amn arrived, an officer by the name of Hassan Naduri. The staff of the Erbil Republic Hospital, and especially the municipal morgue which was attached to it, had a great deal of prior and subsequent experience of Amn. The city housed not only themunicipal office of the secret police agency, but also Amn's headquarters for the Erbil governorate and its operational command for the entire "autonomous region" of Iraqi Kurdistan. For several years the Republic Hospital morgue had received a steady flow of corpses from both Amn offices. Hospital records examined by Middle East Watch give details of approximately 500 bodies received from Amn between 1968-1987--although there is no reason to suppose that this was more than a very incomplete record.
These deaths were recorded in the form of letters of transmittal from Amn, and the agency's bureaucracy appears to have been scrupulously efficient. Two copies of each letter of transmittal were sent to the morgue; the doctor on duty was required to sign one of these and then return it to Amn. Hospital staff also kept a second, secret ledger of their own, entitled "Record Book of Armed Dead People from Erbil." This covered a three-year period beginning in June 1987; the final entry was dated June 25, 1990. The entries were cross-referenced to the number of the relevant Amn transmittal letter. In interviews with Middle East Watch, hospital staff also estimated that they made out some 300 death certificates, on orders from Amn, for named individuals whose bodies were never made available to them. This practice began in 1987.
There appears to have been no single standard procedure: Corpses arrived at the Erbil morgue in a number of different ways. Sometimes the staff would receive a telephone call from Amn, often in the middle of the night, telling them that they should prepare to receive the body or bodies of "executed saboteurs" and ordering them to issue death certificates. Individual hospital porters were hand-picked for the task of handling the bodies, presumably because they enjoyed the trust of the Amn agents. On some occasions the corpses arrived in pickup trucks or station wagons, covered with blankets. At other times, hospital ambulances would be summoned to collect the bodies from the Amn headquarters in Einkawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, or from a nearby military base. Although some showed signs of having been beaten to death, most appeared to have been executed by firing squads; they had multiple gunshot wounds, sometimes as many as thirty, and had their hands and upper arms bound behind them,as if they had been tied standing to a post.26 The eyes were blindfolded with articles of clothing such as a Kurdish cummerbund or headscarf. The bodies had been stripped of their wristwatches, IDs and other personal possessions.
However the bodies arrived, the entire operation was shrouded in secrecy, and morgue staff were ordered (under threat of death) neither to contact the relatives of the deceased nor to divulge their names to anyone else in the hospital. Doctors on duty in the morgue were not allowed to touch or examine the bodies; their duty was merely to furnish death certificates. If the cadavers arrived during daylight hours, the entire area around the morgue would be cordoned off by Amn guards and other hospital personnel warned away from the area. Amn personnel would even take charge of the morgue's freezer facilities until municipal employees arrived to take the corpses away for secret burial in the paupers' section of the Erbil cemetery. If an especially large number of corpses was involved, a bulldozer would be commandeered from a local private contractor to dig a mass grave. The morgue staff were forbidden to wash the bodies or otherwise prepare them for burial facing Mecca, as Islamic ritual demands. "Dogs have no relation to Islam," an Amn officer told one employee.27
When Hassan Naduri arrived at the Republic Hospital on the morning of April 17, 1987, every doctor in the hospital was busy dealing with the emergency. The officer was accompanied by two other Amn agents; a large number of guards also remained outside in the hospital courtyard. According to some witnesses, Hassan Naduri was accompanied by Ibrahim Zangana, the governor of Erbil, and by a local Ba'ath Partyofficial known only by his first name, Abd-al-Mon'em. The Amn officers questioned the hospital guards, demanding to know where the new patients were from and who the doctors were who were treating them. They then repeated these questions to the medical personnel, and demanded to know what treatment was being given. With these questions answered, Capt. Naduri telephoned Amn headquarters for instructions. After hanging up, he ordered that all treatment cease immediately. He told the doctors to remove the dressings from their patients' wounds. The doctors asked why. The captain responded that he had received orders from his superiors to transfer all the patients to the city's Military Hospital. At first, the hospital staff demurred, but the three Amn agents drew their pistols and ordered them to stop what they were doing at once. Otherwise they would be taken off to Amn headquarters themselves.
After a second phone call, this time ostensibly to the Military Hospital, a number of ambulances or trucks arrived and took the patients away, together with those who had remained, for a full hour now, in the three parked coasters. Later that day, the doctors telephoned the Military Hospital to check on the condition of their patients. But they had never arrived there, and the doctors never saw any of the survivors of the Balisan Valley chemical attack again. They heard later that loaded military ambulances had been seen driving off in the direction of Makhmour, to the southwest of Erbil.
In fact, a handful of survivors told Middle East Watch, the Balisan Valley victims were taken to a former police station that was now an Amn detention center, a stark white cement building in the Arab quarter of the city, near the Baiz casino. There was a chaotic scene on arrival, as Amn agents attempted to sort out the detainees by age and sex, and in the confusion several people managed to escape. At least one woman fled leaving her children behind. Those who remained were thrown into locked cells, guarded by uniformed agents--some dressed all in green and others all in blue. Here they were held for several days with neither food, blankets nor medical attention.
Hamoud Sa'id Ahmad is an employee of the municipal morgue attached to Erbil's Republic Hospital, a dignified middle-aged man who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Over the next few days, he was summoned on a number of occasions to the Amn jail in the city's Teirawa quarter and ordered to pick up bodies and prepare them for burial. Over a three-day period he counted sixty-four bodies. Arriving to collect them, he saw other prisoners wandering around in the prison courtyard building. Some hada clear fluid oozing from their mouths; others had dark, burn-like marks on their bodies, especially on the throat and hands. He saw men, women and children in detention, including several nursing babies in their mothers' arms. The bodies, kept in a separate locked cell, bore similar marks. None showed any signs of gunshot wounds. Most of the dead appeared to be children and elderly people. An Amn official told Ahmad that "they are saboteurs, all saboteurs we attacked with chemical weapons." An ambulance driver told Ahmad that he recognized one of the dead as a Republic Hospital employee from Sheikh Wasan.
Family members waiting outside the jail for news said that the detainees were being held as hostages, to compel their peshmerga relatives to surrender. On the last of his three visits, Ahmad saw two large buses pull up outside the prison, their windows sealed with cloths. Later in the day, a female prisoner managed to whisper to him, "Do you know what the buses were doing here? They took all the men away, to the south, like the Barzanis [in 1983]." The men were never seen alive again.28
After the mass disappearance of the men, the surviving women and children were taken out during the night and driven off in the direction of Khalifan, three hours to the northeast of Erbil. At a place called Alana, they were dumped in an open plain, on the banks of a river, and left to fend for themselves. They were reunited here with the Balisan Valley villagers who had fled to Suleimaniyeh. These people reported that they had been detained there in a converted hospital that was guarded by Amn agents and off limits to civilians. (There is no independent account of what happened to their menfolk, some of whom also disappeared.)
At Alana, the mother who had escaped from the Amn jail in Erbil was reunited with her children. She recognized families from the villages of Kaniberd and Tutma, as well as from Sheikh Wasan and Balisan, who told her that many children had died in this place of hunger, thirst and exposure. (With the exception of a few villages, the entire Balisan Valley had been evacuated in terror: Ironically, as we shall see, their flight mayhave saved thousands of lives during the following year's Anfal campaign.) Eventually, sympathetic Kurdish residents of the town of Khalifan took some of the survivors into their homes--"in their arms and on their backs"--and cared for them until they regained their health and strength. Other survivors ended up in the squalid government complex of Seruchawa, where so many of their fellow villagers had fled on the night of the chemical attack. When the elderly mullah of Balisan went to Ba'ath Party officials at Seruchawa to plead for an improvement in conditions in the complex, he was told contemptuously, "You're not human beings."29
On the basis of interviews with four survivors, and with a number of medical and morgue personnel in Erbil, it is possible to give a rough estimate of the numbers who died as a result of the chemical bombing of Balisan, Sheikh Wasan and neighboring villages.
· Twenty-four deaths in Balisan, as a direct result of exposure to chemical weapons; these people were buried in a mass grave in the village;
· 103 deaths in Sheikh Wasan, including about fifty buried in a mass grave in the complex of Seruchawa. The dead included thirty-three children aged under four, another twenty-eight aged 5-14, and nine elderly people, aged 60-85;30
· Eight or nine deaths in the hospital at Raniya;
· Four dead on arrival at the Erbil Emergency Hospital;
· Between sixty-four and 142 deaths in the Amn detention center in Erbil, of untreated injuries sustained in the chemical bombing, aggravated by starvation and neglect. These included two elderly womennamed Selma Mustafa Hamid and Adila Shinko, and a nine-year old girl, Howsat Abdullah Khidr;
· Two busloads of adult men and teenage boys, disappeared from the Amn detention center in Erbil and presumed by Middle East Watch to have been executed later. A number of witnesses place the number at between seventy and seventy-six: twenty-two men from Balisan, fifty from Sheikh Wasan and four from other nearby villages. Among these were Muhammad Ibrahim Khidr, aged eighteen, and Mohsen Ibrahim Khidr, aged twelve, the two youngest sons of the mullah of Balisan;
· "Many children" dumped on the barren plain near Khalifan.
Allowing for some overlap, Middle East Watch calculates that at least 225, and perhaps as many as 400, civilians from the Balisan Valley died as a direct or indirect result of the Iraqi air force's chemical attack on their villages on April 16, 1987.
The Sheikh Wasan and Balisan attacks are significant for a number of reasons. First, they are the earliest fully documented account of chemical attacks on civilians by the Iraqi regime. Second, they offer concrete evidence of the security forces' intent, on the orders of higher authority, to disappear and murder large numbers of civilian non-combatants from areas of conflict in Iraqi Kurdistan. In this sense, like the mass abduction of the Barzani men in 1983, the Balisan Valley disappearances directly prefigure Anfal--although with the crucial difference that women and children were directly targeted. Similarly, the treatment of those who survived the actual bombing, in particular their separation by age and sex, their illegal confinement without food or medical care, and the dumping of women and children in barren areas far from their homes, foreshadowed many of the techniques that were employed on a much vaster scale during the 1988 campaign. The Balisan Valley episode also illustrates the central role that would be played in the extermination campaign by the General Security Directorate--Amn. The events at Erbil's Republic Hospital additionally constitute the gravest possible violation of medical neutrality.
The regime was far from finished with these rebellious valleys, however. Amidst the thousands of pages of secret Iraqi intelligence reports on air-raids and village burnings, Middle East Watch researchers discovered one that contained an intriguing detail. It is a brief report from Amn Erbil, dated June 11, 1987, on a recent airstrike on five villages in the Malakan Valley, a few miles to the east of Balisan and Sheikh Wasan. In the course of the attack, it noted, "thirty persons lost their eyesight." Two of the victims were named. Here was an unmistakable fingerprint, for there is only one kind of weapon that characteristically causes blindness, and that is poison gas.31 During a subsequent field-trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, it proved possible to interview one of the blinded survivors--one of many occasions on which a precise match could be made between documentary and testimonial evidence.
The man's name was Kamal, and he was living in Choman, a destroyed town on the road from Rawanduz to Iran.32 An active peshmerga, Kamal had already experienced chemical warfare in the Jafati Valley, and his account of the April 15 attack there is included above at pp.59-61. Hearing the news of the devastating attack on the Balisan Valley the next day, he rushed back to his family in the nearby village of Upper Bileh. He found that they had taken refuge in some caves in the mountains. It was bitterly cold, and Kamal persuaded them to return cautiously to their homes.
At 6:00 a.m on May 27, his wife woke him to warn him that the village was under attack.
"We knew it was chemicals because the sound [of the explosions] was not loud. There were many bombs. I told my family that it wasn't a chemical attack because I didn't want to scare them, but they knew what it was. So we began burning the branches we had stored for animal feed, and they made a very strong fire. We also soakedcloths and headscarves at the spring. My aged father was there. The attack was so intense that we were unable to leave the village; that was why we lit the fires. There was a separate spring for the women, and I told everyone, men and women, to jump into the water. The attack lasted until 10:00 a.m., and I sent my brother to the malband to get medical help. By sunset the situation was getting worse. Several people had gone blind.
After sunset we crossed the stream and moved to a rocky area outside the village. Our situation was very bad. We had all been affected by the chemicals. We had trouble seeing and we were short of breath. We had nosebleeds and fainting spells. We sent someone to the surrounding villages to fetch water, and I offered to pay them whatever they asked for. But the villagers were afraid to come, thinking that the chemicals were contagious. But people from Kandour village, who are very brave people, came to bring us milk.33
In the meantime, my brother and a companion had reached the malband, but on the way back they collapsed because they had lost their sight. People from other villages sent mules to bring them back. They were carrying some medicine and eyedrops provided by the malband. When morning came, no one had died, but things were very bad. The third malband sent us a doctor and money to buy horses that could carry us to Iran. The women with us were in a terrible state, and we had to spoon-feed them. The small children were hardly breathing. We went to Malakan, where it was colder. We thought it would be better because of the fresh air. Then we reached the Sewaka area. There were people there who raised animals and they took pity on us. They wept a lot and gave us food. Next morning we left for Warta. We had to cover our faces because the bright light hurt us like needles stuck into our eyes."34
On the third night, the caravan of survivors reached the lower slopes of Qandil Mountain, a towering peak of almost 12,000 feet on the Iranian border south of Haj Omran. Once they reached Iran, they were given medical care. All of them lived through the ordeal but one--Kamal's eighteen-month old nephew.
Five days after the Balisan Valley chemical attack, the infantry troops and bulldozers went to work on hundreds of villages in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Resool's authoritative survey, the army obliterated at least 703 Kurdish villages from the map during the campaigns of 1987. Of these, 219 were in the Erbil area; 122 in the hilly plain known as Germian, to the southeast of Kirkuk; and 320 in various districts of the governorate of Suleimaniyeh. Badinan, too was hit, although less severely, with the Kurdistan Reconstruction and Development Society (KURDS), a local relief agency, listing fifty villages that were destroyed in Dohuk governorate. Most of the villages destroyed during Ali Hassan al-Majid's "first and second phases" lay along the main roads and were under government control. Their removal had the effect of physically severing the peshmerga-controlled rural areas from the rest of the country.
For destruction on this scale, the Iraqi state had to deploy vast resources. Yet there were important differences between the village clearances of spring 1987 and the Anfal campaign of the following year. The most important concerned the treatment of residents of the villages destroyed by the army. The 1987 campaign offered them clear, if unpalatable alternatives; Anfal did not.
The inhabitants of Narin, for example, a village in the nahya of Qara Tapa in the southern part of Germian, were relocated in 1987 to theRamadi area, in central Iraq.32 The villagers of nearby Zerdow were warned that their turn was next. They left their homes and moved in with relatives in nearby towns or villages. Some were resettled in the newly opened complex of Benaslawa, six miles from Erbil on the site of an old Kurdish village. They were not punished otherwise, although Zerdow itself was razed to the ground with bulldozers a few days later. One family interviewed by Middle East Watch lost its livestock, furniture and food stores in the destruction of Zerdow, but was paid compensation of 1,000 dinars ($3,000 at the then-official exchange rate). Later, the family was able to build a house in Benaslawa with a 4,500 dinar loan from the state Real Estate Bank.
This was a typical pattern. The villagers were not physically harmed; some token compensation was paid, although it might be withheld if a family refused to accept relocation in the towns or complexes; there was some advance notice of the regime's intent to destroy the village (even if this was not always respected in practice). The villagers of Qishlagh Kon, for example, in the Germian nahya of Qader Karam, were told by soldiers that they had fifteen days to evacuate; in fact, the army moved in and razed their homes well before the expiry of this deadline. According to one man from this village, army troops swept through the area populated by the Kurdish Zangana tribe in April 1987, bulldozing and dynamiting between seventy and one hundred villages along the main road, spread out over three adjacent nahyas--Qader Karam, Qara Hassan and Qara Hanjir.33
Many of the villagers were offered an explicit choice by the soldiers or jahsh. "Go to the saboteurs or join the government," was the message delivered to one Qader Karam village of the Jabari tribe. No neutrality was to be allowed, and a person's physical location would henceforth be taken as proof of their political affiliation. Coming over to the government's side was spoken of as "returning to the national ranks," a phrase that appears in official documents with increasing frequency from early 1987 onward. Previous political loyalties were irrelevant to this new drawing of battle lines, and so was the size of the settlement. Several nahyaswere cleared of their population and/or destroyed during the spring 1987 campaign, including Naujul, Qaradagh, Qara Hanjir, Koks and Sengaw. Shwan followed in September. In the northernmost governorate of Dohuk, the nahya of Kani Masi was evacuated and destroyed, apparently in retaliation for a six-day takeover by KDP forces. Some of these nahyas were towns of several thousand people.
Even a strong jahsh presence offered no protection, if the town lay within a designated area of army operations. As Ali Hassan al-Majid later told a meeting of senior Ba'ath Party officials, "I told the mustashars that the jahsh might say that they liked their villages and would not leave. I said I cannot let your villages stay because I will attack them with chemical weapons. And then you and your family will die."34
For all the scale of the destruction, it is apparent from one batch of official Iraqi files, found in the Amn offices in Erbil and Shaqlawa, that the regime was far from satisfied with the "first stage" of its village clearance program. A watchful, almost apprehensive tone creeps into many government documents from this period. Among the questions put to people surrendering to the authorities from peshmerga-controlled areas was one that asked, "How are the people affected economically and psychologically by the elimination of the villages and other policies?"35
On April 20, Amn Erbil warns its branches that the new campaign of village destruction may provoke demonstrations to mark the 14th anniversary of the bombing of Qala Dizeh on the 24th. On the same day the Erbil Security Committee, presided over by Governor Ibrahim Zangana, warns that "saboteurs" may attack government installations as a reprisal against the deportation of villagers from the "prohibited areas" (manateq al-mahdoureh). On April 22, Governor Zangana predicts that the PUK may even try to bring in the International Committee of the Red Cross to observe the clearances. Three days later, on April 25, Amn Erbil issues an alert warning of peshmerga reprisal raids on Arab villages; it also complains that government forces destroying the village of Freez have come under attack from "saboteurs" and that air-cover has failed to materialize as requested. By May 20, the director of Amn Shaqlawa iscomplaining to Erbil that the "saboteurs" have been able to exploit the unpopularity of the campaign; in particular he expresses irritation that no complexes have been made ready for the villagers who are to be relocated, and that many of them have been obliged to remain in the open air, exposed to the elements.36
In these early months of Ali Hassan al-Majid's rule, the Ba'ath Party tightened the noose around the population of rural Kurdistan through a series of sweeping decrees and administrative orders.37
· On April 6, all "saboteurs" lost their property rights. "By the authority vested in us by the Revolutionary Command Council's decree number 160 of March 29, 1987," writes al-Majid himself, "we have decided to authorize the chairmen of the security committees [Ru'asa' al-Lijan al-Amniyeh] in the northern governorates to confiscate the real and personal property of the saboteurs, provided that their properties are liquidated within one month of the date of issuance of the confiscation decree."38
· On April 10, al-Majid suspended the legal rights of the residents of villages prohibited for security reasons. "His Excellency has given instructions not to hear cases brought by the population of security-prohibited villages," writes deputy secretary Radhi Hassan Salman of the Northern Bureau Command, "and likewise those brought by the saboteurs, no matter what their character, as well as to freeze all claims submitted previously."39
· On May 1, al-Majid began to order the execution of first-degree relatives of "saboteurs." It had long been the policy of the regime to detain and punish the families of active Kurdish peshmerga, often by destroying their homes. But al-Majid now ordered their physical elimination, at least on an occasional exemplary basis. These orders evidently remained in force throughout the Anfal campaign and for some time afterwards. For example, a handwritten note dated November 20, 1989, signed "Security Chief, Interrogating Officer," and originating in Amn headquarters in the city of Suleimaniyeh, gives details of a case in which an Iraqi citizen has petitioned the authorities for news about his disappeared parents and brother.
The security chief's letter informs the unnamed recipient (who is addressed only as "Your Excellency,") that the missing parents, Qoron Ahmad and his wife Na'ima Abd-al-Rahman, were "liquidated" in Baghdad on May 19, 1987. Their son, Hushyar Ahmad, "a member of the group of Iranian saboteurs," was executed by hanging on July 12, 1987 by order of the Revolutionary Court (mahkamat al-thawrah). What is significant here is the reason for the killing of the man's parents. It was ordered, the document explains, "in compliance with the order from the StrugglingComrade Ali Hassan al-Majid, member of the Regional Command [of the Ba'ath Party] that was relayed to us by letter no. 106309 of the Security Directorate of the Autonomous Region, marked 'Secret and to be Opened Personally,' and dated May 1, 1987, regarding the liquidation of first-degree relatives of criminals."
Another letter on Amn Suleimaniyeh letterhead, numbered S-T: 21308, dated September 16, 1989 and classified "Top Secret," describes the public execution by firing squad of five "criminals" with a "connection to the internal organizations of the agents of Iran." The execution had been carried out on October 24, 1987 in the presence of intelligence and Ba'ath Party officials.40 Some time afterwards, "it was decided that three families of the criminals...should be executed in a discreet manner." The authority for their execution was given by letter number 6806, dated December 12, 1987, from the Northern Bureau Command.
· Wounded civilians could now also be executed, according to a hand-written communication (no. 3324) of May 14 from the Security Director of the city of Halabja, in southeastern Iraqi Kurdistan, to Amn Suleimaniyeh. This note gives details of an operation against the city's Kani Ashqan neighborhood, and makes reference to a cable (no. 945), dated the previous day, from the Command of the Fifth Army Corps. "It was by order of the Commander of the First Army Corps, on the recommendation of Comrade Ali Hassan al-Majid, to execute the wounded civilians after confirming their hostility to the authorities with the Party Organization, the Security andPolice Departments and the Intelligence Center, and to utilize backhoes and bulldozers to raze the neighborhood of Kani Ashqan."41
The full extent of the Iraqi regime's intentions, however, are spelled out with brutal clarity in two directives issued by al-Majid's office in June 1987. Both documents lay out, in the most explicit detail, a prohibition on all human life in designated areas of the Kurdish countryside, covering more than 1,000 villages, to be applied through a shoot-to-kill order for which no subsequent higher authorization is required.
The first is a personal directive, numbered 28/3650, signed by Ali Hassan al-Majid himself and dated June 3, 1987. Addressed to a number of civilian and military agencies, including the Commanders of the First, Second and Fifth Army Corps, the Security Directorate (Amn) of the Autonomous Region, the Istikhbarat and Mukhabarat, it states the following:
1. It is totally prohibited for any foodstuffs or persons or machinery to reach the villages that have been prohibited for security reasons that are included in the second stage of collecting the villages. Anyone who so desires is permitted to return to the national ranks. It is not allowed for relatives to contact them except with the knowledge of the security agencies.
2. The presence of the people from relocated areas who are from villages prohibited for security reasons includedin the first stage until June 21, 1987, is prohibited for the areas included in the second stage.42
3. Concerning the harvest: after the conclusion of winter, which must end before July 15, farming will not be authorized in [the area] during the coming winter and summer seasons, starting this year.
4. It is prohibited to take cattle to pasture within these areas.
5. Within their jurisdiction, the armed forces must kill any human being or animal present within these areas. They are totally prohibited. (emphasis added)
6. The persons who are to be included in the relocation to the complexes will be notified of this decision, and they will bear full responsibility if they violate it.
These orders were evidently relayed later to the lower echelons in the chain of command. They are repeated word for word, for example, in a letter (no. 4754), dated June 8, 1987, from Amn Erbil to all its departments and local offices.
Three days after al-Majid's directive, on June 6, Radhi Hassan Salman, deputy secretary of the Northern Bureau Command, issued a series of general instructions to all army corps commanders, "aimed at ending the long line of traitors from the Barzani and Talabani clans and the Communist Party, who have joined ranks with the Iranian invader enemy with a view to enabling it to acquire territory belonging to the cherished homeland." Salman ordered increased combat readiness, improved intelligence and a heightened state of alert among all units, whileat the same time betraying a certain anxiety about renewed peshmerga attacks designed "to cut the chain of command."43
The most important document of all, however, was issued on June 20, 1987. Issued by the Northern Bureau Command over Ali Hassan al-Majid's signature, and additionally stamped with the seal of the RCC's Northern Affairs Committee, this directive, coded SF/4008, amended and expanded the June 3 instructions in a number of very important ways--including a direct incitement to pillage, in clear violation of the rules of war, and the baldest possible statement of a policy of mass murder, ordered by the highest levels of the Iraqi regime. From the repeated references to it in official documents throughout 1988, it is apparent that directive 4008 remained in force as the standing orders for the Iraqi armed forces and security services during the Anfal campaign and beyond. For example, a letter from Amn Suleimaniyeh, dated October 29, 1988, makes reference to the directive as the basis for "the execution of 19 accused, executed by this directorate because of their presence in the security-prohibited villages."
It is quite apparent that al-Majid's demand for the summary killing of people arrested in the prohibited areas caused some consternation among those who were charged with carrying out his orders. Throughout 1987 and 1988, high-level Iraqi officials issued a steady stream of ill-tempered clarifications of clause 5 of directive SF/4008--the paragraph that concerns executions. "The security agencies should not trouble us with queries about clause 5," complains a Northern Bureau letter of December 1987; "the wording is self-explanatory and requires no higher authority."44 Instructions from Amn Erbil, dated November 22, 1988, insist that clause 5 must be "implemented without exception."
The full text of directive SF/4008 reads:
June 20, 1987
From: Northern Bureau Command
To: First Corps Command, Second Corps Command, Fifth Corps Command45
Subject: Procedure to deal with the villages that are prohibited
for security reasons
In view of the fact that the officially announced deadline for the amalgamation of these villages expires on June 21, 1987, we have decided that the following action should be taken with effect from June 22, 1987:
1. All the villages in which subversives, agents of Iran and similar traitors to Iraq are still to be found shall be regarded as out of bounds for security reasons;
2. They shall be regarded as operational zones that are strictly out of bounds to all persons and animals and in which the troops can open fire at will, without any restrictions, unless otherwise instructed by our Bureau;
3. Travel to and from these zones, as well as all agricultural, animal husbandry and industrial activities shall be prohibited and carefully monitored by all the competent agencies within their respective fields of jurisdiction;
4. The corps commanders shall carry out random bombardments using artillery, helicopters and aircraft, at all times of the day or night in order to kill the largest number of persons present in those prohibited zones, keeping us informed of the results; [emphasis added]
5. 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; [emphasis added]
6. Those who surrender to the governmental or Party authorities shall be interrogated by the competent agencies for a maximum period of three days, which may be extended to ten days if necessary, provided that we are notified of such cases. If the interrogation requires a longer period of time, approval must be obtained from us by telephone or telegraph or through comrade Taher [Tawfiq] al-Ani;
7. Everything seized by the advisers [mustashars] and troops of the National Defense Battalions shall be retained by them, with the exception of heavy, mounted and medium weapons.46 They can keep the light weapons, notifying us only of the number of these weapons. The Corps commanders shall promptly bring this to the attention of all the advisers, company commanders and platoon leaders and shall provide us with detailed information concerning their activities in the National Defense Battalions. [emphasis added]
For information and action within your respective fields of jurisdiction. Keep us informed.
Ali Hassan al-Majid
Member of the Regional Command
Secretary General of the Northern Bureau
cc: Chairman of the Legislative Council;
Chairman of the Executive Council;
Chief of the Army General Staff;
Governors (Chairmen of the Security Committees) of Nineveh,
al-Ta'mim, Diyala, Salah al-Din, Suleimaniyeh, Erbil and Dohuk;
Branch Secretaries of the above-mentioned governorates;
General Directorate of Military Intelligence (Istikhbarat);
General Directorate of Security (Amn);
Director of Security of the Autonomous Region;
Security Services of the Northern Region;
Security Services of the Eastern Region;
Security Directors of the governorates of Nineveh, al-Ta'mim,
Diyala, Salah al-Din, Suleimaniyeh, Erbil and Dohuk.
Ali Hassan al-Majid evidently insisted on a high degree of personal control of even the smallest details of the campaign. For example, one order issued in the middle of the Anfal operation indicates that no town or village may be searched without his express personal approval.47 Nonetheless, the list of institutions to whom his June 20 directive was copied gives some hint of the bureaucratic scope of the effort and the large number of civilian, party, military and security agencies involved in its execution.
After June 20, the village destruction campaign temporarily abated. Although it had also targeted areas near the smaller roads that criss-cross Iraqi Kurdistan, its most striking effect was to remove a broad swathe of formerly government-controlled villages close to the highway that runs from Mosul to Erbil, Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu, before turning east through Kifri, Kalar, Peibaz and Darbandikhan. For the time being, the Iran-Iraq War deprived the regime of the military muscle that would have been required to press the campaign any further. But the political and bureaucratic logic of the spring 1987 clearances--as well as the incipient logic of Anfal--became apparent during the second half of the year. This was to effect a sharp division between the "national ranks" and thegenerally more mountainous peshmerga-controlled regions to the east and north. These were the "prohibited areas" (manateq al-mahdoureh) and their inhabitants, regardless of age or sex, would be regarded without exception as "saboteurs."
They would, however, be given one last chance to change sides. As al-Majid's June 3 directive stated, it was still possible for Kurds to "return to the national ranks" --in other words to move to the cities, towns or mujamma'at and align themselves with the regime. To keep a close track, family by family, of how the two sides lined up, the Iraqi regime had an ideal instrument to hand, in the form of a national census. Iraq had carried out five censuses in the half-century since its independence. The results of the most recent, conducted in 1977, were classified as "secret." Designed to be held every decade, another was due in 1987. It was scheduled for October 17.
As the census date drew near, the authorities repeatedly insisted on improving security and intelligence measures to inhibit any contact or movement between the two sides, other than on the regime's terms. Amn Erbil ordered renewed vigilance on the complexes of Benaslawa, Daratou and Kawar Gosek, which all housed villagers relocated during the spring 1987 campaign.48 Orders were issued to seize and destroy tractors, since these might help the "saboteurs" skirt the economic blockade of the prohibited areas. The tractor owners in question were to receive "the maximum exemplary punishment."49
On September 6, Ali Hassan al-Majid chaired a meeting of senior Ba'ath Party officials to discuss preparations for the census. Case by case, individual by individual, the make-up of the two sides was to be refined in the most legalistic fashion. "Subversives who repent" were to be allowed to return to the fold right up to the day of the census. No such returnees would be accepted after October 17, however, "even if they surrender their weapons." At the same time, al-Majid regarded it as unacceptable for thefamilies of unrepentant saboteurs to remain in government-controlled areas. These people were to be physically removed and forced to join their saboteur kin in the prohibited areas.
This general policy had been in effect for at least two years.50 But al-Majid now demanded a full inventory of all such cases from the security committees of each of the northern governorates. This list was to reach his desk not later than September 15. As soon as it was complete, "the families in question should be expelled to the regions where their subversive relatives are, with the sole exception of males aged between 12 and 50 inclusive, who should be detained."51
The local security agencies appear to have cooperated with alacrity. Middle East Watch has examined dozens of individual expulsion orders by Amn Erbil, for example, during this pre-census period. One typical case in mid-September 1987 gives the full names, addresses, dates of birth and residence permit numbers of eighty women, children and old men aged from 51-89, taken from their homes and summarily expelled "to thoseregions where the saboteurs are present."52 A single male relative born in 1949 is mentioned as having been detained "to receive the proper sentence."
Most strikingly of all, the Northern Bureau Command ordered that:
Mass seminars and administrative meetings shall be organized to discuss the importance of the general census, scheduled to take place on October 17, 1987. It shall be clearly emphasized that any persons who fail to participate in the census without a valid excuse shall lose their Iraqi citizenship. They shall also be regarded as army deserters and as such shall be subject to the terms of Revolutionary Command Council decree no. 677 of August 26, 1987.
The importance of this provision can scarcely be overstated, for RCC decree 677 stipulated that, "The death sentence shall be carried out by Party organizations, after due verification, on any deserters who are arrested, should the period of their flight or delinquency exceed one year or should they have perpetrated the crime of desertion more than once." [emphasis in original]53 Failure to register under the census, in other words, could in itself be tantamount to the death penalty.
The results of the 1987 census were never publicly divulged. Employees of the government census office in Suleimaniyeh told Middle East Watch that they estimated it to have been only 70% accurate--no doubtbecause large expanses of Iraqi Kurdistan, as well of the rebellious southern marshes, could not be included. Most residents of the "prohibited areas" opted to stay where they were; some, especially in the more remote parts of the Badinan region, said they never even learned that the census was taking place, despite a vigorous campaign conducted over government radio and television.
The instructions were quite different from those of the five previous censuses. Those who were not included in the census would no longer be considered Iraqi nationals, the official broadcasts announced; they would cease to be eligible for government services and food rations. Only two options were offered by the census: one could either be an Arab or a Kurd--nothing else. These ethnic lines were drawn with great rigidity. A number of official documents from 1988 and 1989 transmit orders from Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid to the effect that any citizen may become an Arab by simple written application. By contrast, anyone wishing to be considered a Kurd will be subject to the destruction of their homes and deportation to the Autonomous Region.
People could be counted only if they made themselves accessible to the census-takers. For anyone living in a prohibited area, this meant abandoning one's home. Inclusion in the census involved registering oneself as the resident of a government-controlled town or mujamma'a. (The only hope of evading this regulation was to bribe an official--a time-honored means of survival in Iraq, which continued to apply even during Anfal.) Villages that had been destroyed in earlier army operations--the Arabization drive of 1975, the border clearances of the late 1970s, or the spring 1987 campaign--no longer existed as far as the government in Baghdad was concerned. Some inhabitants of the border zone had returned illegally to their homes to rebuild, but the census would not count them. The remainder were now in complexes.
As a partial indication of the scale of this exclusion, government statisticians provided Middle East Watch with figures for Suleimaniyeh, one of the four governorates in the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The 1977 census had counted 1,877 villages in Suleimaniyeh; by the time of the 1987 census, this number was down to just 186. Almost 1,700 villages had thus disappeared from the official map. Of these, several hundred had been destroyed during the border clearances of the 1970s and at various stages of the war against Iran. Most of their inhabitants had been resettled in the nine complexes that were also listed in the 1987census. The remaining villages were simply not counted, because they now lay in "prohibited areas" of peshmerga influence.
Once the population count was complete, the consequences of not registering soon became apparent. Shelling and aerial bombing intensified. When families went to the nearest town to seek their food rations, said one man from a village near Qara Dagh, they were told that they could now forget about them. "You are Iranians," officials said, "Go to the Iranians for your food rations!"54 The same was true of villagers seeking marriage licenses or government permits for other civil transactions.
On October 18, the day after the census, Taher Tawfiq, secretary of the RCC's Northern Affairs Committee, issued a stern memorandum to all security committees in Kurdistan, reminding them that aerial inspection would ensure that Directive no.4008 of June 20 was being carried out "to the letter." Any committee that failed to comply would "bear full responsibility before the Comrade Bureau Chief"--that is to say, Ali Hassan al-Majid.55 Several other documents from late 1987 insist, in a tone of distinct irritation, that paragraph 5 (mandating summary execution after interrogation) does not require the authorization of higher authority on a case-by-case basis. The Northern Bureau should no longer be troubled by these requests, since the standing orders are quite explicit.
The blockade of the north was now to be made even more systematic. On September 29, al-Majid agreed to a set of harsh new proposals from an ad-hoc committee chaired by Taher Tawfiq and including Khaled Muhammad Abbas, head of Eastern Sector Istikhbarat, Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, head of Northern Sector Istikhbarat, and Abd-al-Rahman Aziz Hussein, director of Amn for the Autonomous Region. The group complained that food, medicines, fuel and other supplies were still getting through to the "saboteurs." Accordingly, security would be steppedup at checkpoints; many grocery stores in the towns would be closed down; the secret police would monitor the stocks in all restaurants, bakeries and cafes; and a strict ban would be enforced on the sale of all agricultural produce from prohibited areas. Food rations would be cut back to the minimum necessary for human survival. The loyalty of all workers in the food distribution sector would be evaluated.56
Under this bitter regime, the inhabitants of the prohibited areas struggled to survive. During Ali Hassan al-Majid's first eight months in office, the groundwork for a "final solution" of Iraq's Kurdish problem had been laid. Its logic was apparent; its chain of command was set in place. But the events of 1987 were "just a preliminary step," a former Istikhbarat officer explained, "because the war was still going on. The Iraqi government was not so strong and many troops were tied up on the front. They postponed the anger and hate in their hearts"--but only until the beginning of 1988, when the major winter offensive that Baghdad had feared failed to materialize, and Iran's fortunes on the battlefield began rapidly to decline.
1 The marshes have been the object of a vast engineering scheme designed to bring the rebellious south under the control of the central government in Baghdad. The regime's treatment of the Shi'a inhabitants of the south, including the Ma'dan, or Marsh Arabs, is detailed in the Middle East Watch report, "Current Human Rights Conditions among the Iraqi Shi'a," March 1993.
2 The Northern Bureau is one of four regional bureaus of the Ba'ath, and is quite separate from the Northern Affairs Committee of the Revolutionary Command Council. Other party bureaus have responsibility for the South, the Center, and the capital city of Baghdad. This division of Iraq into security zones is mirrored by the four-bureau organization of Amn and military intelligence (Istikhbarat).
3 The family tree is shown in Simon Henderson, Instant Empire: Saddam Hussein's Ambition for Iraq (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1991), p.87. Other notable cousins of Saddam's include the former Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah, who died in a helicopter crash in 1989, and Hussein Kamel Majid, Minister of Industry and Military Industry.
4 Middle East Watch interview with former mustashar, Zakho, September 1, 1992. In 1989 al-Majid was appointed as Minister of the Interior, and then, after the August 1990 invasion, as governor of Kuwait. He is now Iraq's Defense Minister, and continues to be implicated in actions of the grossest brutality. According to an eyewitness, Majid personally shot to death some 25-30 detainees in Basra Prison on April 3 or 4, 1991. The dead included six children. See Middle East Watch, "Current Human Rights Conditions Among the Iraqi Shi'a," March 5, 1993.
5 The Iraqi Army has seven regular corps in all. The term "special forces" requires some explanation. In the U.S. armed forces and others built on the U.S. model, these are light infantry forces designed to conduct irregular missions such as guerrilla warfare and covert operations. Iraq's special forces, by contrast, are mobile elite infantry units, armed with the best available weapons and often supported by tank battalions. Growing out of the Iran-Iraq War, they have been compared to the German Stosstruppen of World War One. See "Iraqi Order of Battle: Ground Troops," in Desert Shield Factbook (Bloomington, IN: GDW, 1991), pp.50-59.
6 The basic texts on the war include Edgar O'Ballance, The Gulf War (London: Brassey's, 1988); Dilip Hiro, The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (New York: Routledge, 1991); Shahram Chubin and Charles Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War (Boulder: Westview Press, second revised edn., 1991); and Cordesman and Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War, Volume II. Most of these books share the defect of neglecting the temporary revival of Iran's fortunes in the final year and a half of the war--without which it is difficult to understand the relationship between the first Gulf War and the Anfal campaign. A useful corrective is Richard Jupa and James Dingeman, Gulf Wars: How Iraq Won the First and Lost the Second. Will There Be a Third? (Cambria, CA: 3W Publications, c.1991), pp.1-9.
7 The basij, or Mobilization Unit, were virtually untrained volunteers under pasdaran supervision. They were integral to Iran's conception of an "Islamic warfare" that depended more on faith than on technology and conventional military skills. See Chubin and Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War, pp.42-49.
8 See, for example, Cordesman and Wagner, op cit, p.257.
9 The KDP and PUK eventually reached formal military and political agreements to collaborate in November 1987, and in 1988 formed the Iraqi Kurdistan Front. Five smaller parties later joined the Front.
10 According to comments by Naywshirwan Mustafa Amin in an April 1987 interview with Le Monde, one option under consideration by the PUK was "the severance of Iraq into a number of small states: Shi'a, Kurdish and Sunni." Cited in Baram, op. cit., p.127.
11 Cordesman and Wagner, op. cit., pp.259-260. O'Ballance also echoes this view, but provides less detail.
12 Audiotape of a conversation between Ali Hassan al-Majid and unnamed Ba'ath Party aides, January 22, 1989.
13 Ibid. For the full text, see appendix A, pp.351-352.
14 Special National Defense Forces General Staff (Operations) to Fifth Corps Command, Erbil: letter no. 28/573, dated April 13, 1987 and classified "Top Secret and Confidential." The town of Makhmour lies some thirty-five miles southwest of Erbil.
15 Minutes of Shaqlawa Security Committee meeting, April 4, 1987.
16 Middle East Watch interview, Zakho, June 24, 1992.
17 Middle East Watch interview, Choman, March 23, 1993. There was also reportedly a chemical attack on April 15, 1987 on the KDP headquarters in Zewa, a largely depopulated area close to the Turkish border.
18 The PUK had four malbands altogether. The first, based in the Qara Dagh mountains, was responsible for political and military affairs in the governorate of Suleimaniyeh. The second, in the Jafati Valley, was in charge of operations in Kirkuk (al-Ta'mim). The third and fourth, based in the Balisan Valley and the adjoining Smaquli Valley, shared responsibility for the PUK's work in Erbil. Later, the third and fourth malbands were merged; under the PUK-KDP unity agreements, a new fourth malband was opened in Zewa, the KDP headquarters on the Turkish border, to handle operations in the governorate of Dohuk.
19 Population figures for Balisan and Sheikh Wasan are derived from Resool's dossier of destroyed villages, although villagers interviewed by Middle East Watch suggested that Balisan may have been even larger, with perhaps as many as 525 households. Officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assume an average household size of seven persons in Kurdish villages.
20 Not coincidentally, the Iraqi intelligence agencies were mainly equipped and trained by their East German equivalents. It may well be that the files of the former Staatssicherheitsdienst (Stasi) will shed further light on this relationship.
21 The symptoms described by villagers are generally consistent with the effects of mustard gas--although reports that some victims died immediately suggest that nerve agents may also have been used, since mustard gas, even in high concentrations, is not usually lethal for at least half an hour. See Physicians for Human Rights, loc. cit..
22 Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, March 16, 1993.
23 In an interesting, if indirect confirmation of the May 16 attack, an undated handwritten note from Amn Shaqlawa also mentions that sixteen Iranian Revolutionary Guards (pasdaran) were present during a bombing raid on the villages of Balisan, Sheikh Wasan and Tutma. The pasdaran are reported to have "made fires which saved their lives"--a reference which cannot conceivably apply to anything but an attempted defense against poison gas. A separate Amn Shaqlawa document in the same file, dated May 20, 1987, notes that three members of the PUK Politburo are reported to have been injured by gas during "the latest military attacks in Kurdistan."
24 These workhorse vehicles are ubiquitous in Iraq. They are commonly known simply as "coasters," and are referred to by that name throughout this text.
25 Middle East Watch interview, Balisan, April 30, 1992.
26 This is consistent with the procedures of an Iraqi firing squad, as recorded on a videotape that has been viewed by Middle East Watch. Five prisoners in Kurdish clothes are blindfolded, tied to posts and machinegunned with almost luxurious excess by a line of troops with AK-47s. The firing continues long after it is obvious that the prisoners are dead. Even then, a uniformed officer delivers the coup de grace to each man with a pistol. There is a pause. Finally, another officer moves down the line, discharging his pistol into the fallen bodies. This particular execution was carried out in a public square in front of a large crowd, and was greeted with applause from party and security dignitaries in the front row.
27 This account is based on Middle East Watch interviews in Erbil, April 23-25, 1992.
28 The bodies of those who died in custody were exhumed from the Erbil cemetery in September 1991, and reburied in a ceremony that was recorded on videotape. In the course of later exhumations Hamoud Sa'id Ahmad discovered the body of his own brother, who was killed by Amn in a separate incident in April 1988. Ahmad was interviewed by Middle East Watch in Erbil, April 25, 1992. For additional detail, see Middle East Watch/Physicians for Human Rights, Unquiet Graves: The Search for the Disappeared in Iraqi Kurdistan, February 1992.
29 Middle East Watch interview with Sheikh Qader Sa'id Ibrahim Balisani, Balisan, April 30, 1992.
30 A handwritten list of 103 dead and forty-eight injured villagers was given to Middle East Watch in 1992 by the Inspection Committee of Oppressed Kurds, a human rights group in Erbil.
31 Amn Erbil governorate to Amn Shaqlawa, letter no. Sh Sh/4947, dated June 11, 1987, and classified secret. Exposure to mustard gas causes prolonged temporary blindness or vision impairment, and dozens of survivors interviewed by Middle East Watch described being blind for at least a month after a chemical attack.
32 Middle East Watch interview, Choman, March 23, 1993.
33 Kandour is one of the five villages named in the Amn report on the May 27 attack. The others are Malakan, Talinan and Upper and Lower Bileh.
34 The symptoms described by Kamal are entirely consistent with exposure to mustard gas.
32 There are two basic administrative divisions within each Iraqi governorate: the qadha and the smaller nahya. The nahya of Qara Tapa belongs to the qadha of Kifri. The examples of Narin and Zerdow are drawn from a Middle East Watch interview, Benaslawa complex, July 7, 1992.
33 Middle East Watch interview, Suleimaniyeh, July 23, 1992.
34 Audiotape of a meeting between Ali Hassan al-Majid and senior Ba'ath Party officials, Kirkuk, May 26, 1988.
35 June 1987 statement by a "returnee to the national ranks," found in Amn files.
36 Since few villages were destroyed in the Shaqlawa area at this time, other than those in the Balisan Valley, it is possible that this may refer to the dumping of the survivors of the chemical attack, at Alana. See above p.68-69.
37 The power structure of the Ba'ath Party is complex, and a full grasp of the chain of command in the anti-Kurdish campaigns depends on understanding the nuances that distinguish several overlapping bodies. As one national branch of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party, the Iraqi Ba'ath has a Regional Command--of which Ali Hassan al-Majid had been a member since 1986. Within Iraq, the highest executive body is formally the Revolutionary Command Council, which did not include al-Majid--although in practice ultimate power is wielded by Saddam Hussein himself and a largely Tikrit-based group of loyalists from the military and security sectors, many of them related to the president. Al-Majid is a key member of this fraternity.
The RCC in turn has a number of regionally based committees, including its Northern Affairs Committee. Saddam Hussein was secretary of this committee at the time of the 1970 autonomy manifesto. In 1987-1988, the post was held by Taher Tawfiq, who, as an RCC member, was thus technically al-Majid's superior--although the temporary special powers granted to al-Majid under decree 160 superseded this. Al-Majid himself was Secretary General of the Ba'ath Party Northern Bureau; to complicate matters further, the Northern Bureau Command was a parallel but separate entity, under Taher Tawfiq. The Northern Bureau and Northern Bureau Command are clearly distinguished where necessary in the text.
38 Northern Bureau letter S Sh/18/2396, April 6, 1987.
39 Northern Bureau Command letter no. 1/2713, April 10, 1987.
40 The principle of collective implication in executions, including an insistence that party members form part of the firing squads, is a well-established element of Ba'ath Party rule. The most notorious example of this was the televised purge of two dozen senior Ba'ath officials and military officers, including several members of the Revolutionary Command Council, in July 1979--a month after Saddam Hussein had assumed the presidency. In front of a roomful of their peers, the condemned men make ritual confessions on charges of treason in front of a roomful of their peers and are then whisked away to be killed. A tearful Saddam implores--and thus effectively orders--other senior Ba'athis to take part in the execution squad. See al-Khalil, Republic of Fear, pp.70-72. Also Chibli Malat, "Obstacles to Democratization in Iraq: A Reading of Post-Revolutionary Iraqi History through the Gulf War," unpublished paper, 1992--which differs from al-Khalil in other important respects about the nature of the Ba'ath's exercise of power.
41 This exemplary collective punishment, according to a former resident interviewed by Middle East Watch in Halabja on June 11, 1992, was meted out in retaliation for an anti-government demonstration. Some 1,500 homes were reportedly destroyed.
42 By now it appears that the two phases originally envisioned (April 21-May 20 and May 21-June 20) have been collapsed into one single operation. In this order, the "second stage" is clearly intended to begin on June 21.
43 Northern Bureau Command letter reference no. 28/3726, dated June 6, 1987 and classified "highly confidential and personal." This document is reproduced in the "Report on the situation of human rights in Iraq, prepared by Mr. Max Van der Stoel, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, in accordance with Commission resolution 1992/71," February 19, 1993, p.77.
44 Northern Bureau Command directive no. 855, classified "confidential and personal for addressee only," December 29, 1987.
45 This is only one of numerous copies of directive SF/4008 which Middle East Watch has found in Iraqi government files, addressed to different agencies.
46 In other words, the Kurdish paramilitary jahsh, whose ranks had been greatly expanded in the period immediately following Ali Hassan al-Majid's appointment, according to a Middle East Watch interview with a former mustashar, Zakho, August 30, 1992. This clause of decree SF/4008, with its reference to booty, may offer some hint of the connection between the coming campaign and the concept of Anfal in the Koranic sense (see above, pp.31-32). Army documents reviewing the Anfal campaign make further reference to the approved role of the jahsh in seizing booty. See p. 289.
47 Northern Bureau Command letter no. 3321, July 6, 1988, cited in Amn Suleimaniyeh circular to all security directorates (number illegible), July 16, 1988.
48 This letter also urged that "saboteurs should be dealt with strongly, like the Iranian enemy." Amn Erbil governorate to all branches, letter no. Sh.S1/13295 of October 15, 1987, classified "secret and personal to be opened by addressee only."
49 Letter no. 542, classified "secret and confidential" and dated (month illegible) 30, 1988, from Suleimaniyeh governorate Committee to Fight Hostile Activity to all local Committees to Fight Hostile Activity.
50 It is mentioned, for example, in a letter from the Special Office of the Army Chief of Staff to Second Corps Command, no. RAJ/1/13/1/5033 of June 14, 1985; order no. 4087 of December 22, 1986 from the Security Committee of Erbil governorate; and communique no. 4151 of the RCC Northern Affairs Committee, dated June 15, 1987.
51 The only exception was for "families which comprise martyrs [i.e. those killed in battle], missing persons, captives, soldiers or fighters in the National Defense Battalions [jahsh]. In those instances, only the mother is to be expelled, together with any subversive sons." The summary conclusions of the September 6 meeting are included in a cable, reference 4350, dated September 7, 1987, from the Northern Bureau to all regional security committees. These instructions evidently received very wide distribution. Middle East Watch has also found a second version of this document, in the form of a letter, number 2/237, classified "secret, urgent and immediate" and dated September 19, 1987, from the Shaqlawa district security committee to a number of local party and police agencies. Although in other respects identical, it gives the ages of those to be detained as "17 to 50." Whatever the final regulation on minimum age may have been--12, 15 or 17--it is apparent from survivor testimonies that the separation of those to be killed during Anfal depended less on birth certificates than on a quick visual inspection of the prisoners. See below p.212.
52 Amn Erbil to Erbil Police Directorate, letters nos. 9475 and 9478, September 16 and 17, 1987, classified "secret." The 44 families are broken down as follows: Agents of Iran (PUK)--22; Offspring of Treason (KDP)--7; Treacherous Communist Party--8; Socialist Party--3; unknown affiliation--4.
53 RCC decree no.10 of January 3, 1988 modified some aspects of decree 677, but maintained this clause intact. Both were signed by Saddam Hussein as Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. Two additional comments are pertinent here. First, the census gave the regime a means of detecting deserters, a perennial problem for the Iraqi military. Second, and more important, it specified that executions of deserters would be carried out by agents of the Ba'ath Party itself--a hint, perhaps, of the identity of the executioners during the Anfal campaign.
54 Middle East Watch interview, Naser complex, July 28, 1992. The existence of a subsidized food system was a key element of the national economy during the Iran-Iraq War and a significant source of political control for the regime.
55 Northern Bureau Command, letter no.1216, dated October 18, 1987, classified "secret and confidential," to all Security Committees and Security Directorates in the Governorates of the Autonomous Zone and the Governorates of Diyala and Salah al-Din.
56 A copy of the findings of Tawfiq's committee on the blockade was found attached to a letter from the head of the economic section of the Interior Ministry, Erbil, reference no.248, dated November 14, 1987.