The debilitating uncertainty remains. For the Iraqi Kurds, their future as an often-threatened minority as well as their lives are at risk. As of this writing, a severe economic squeeze, resulting from a combination of UN sanctions against Iraq and an internal blockade imposed by government forces, threatens to produce mass starvation among the 3.5 million inhabitants of the Kurdish rebel-controlled enclave. Government troops massed along a ceasefire line could easily reconquer the region before the West had a chance to come to the Kurds' aid.
For Middle East Watch, a driving consideration over the past two years has been whether time would permit adequate research to be conducted to obtain reliable information that could both convince international public opinion and, later, satisfy a court of law. Although interim reports have previously been released about the Anfal1, with thepublication of this book, the first objective has been accomplished. Although there is persuasive evidence that virtually all are dead, whether the fate of the many tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians "disappeared" by government forces during 1988 can be definitively settled anytime soon remains to be seen. Much depends on the future course of internal Iraqi politics.
Allegations about enormous abuses against the Kurds by government security forces had been circulating in the West for years before the events of 1991; Kurdish rebels had spoken of 4,000 destroyed villages and an estimated 182,000 disappeared persons during 1988 alone. The phenomenon of the Anfal, the official military codename used by the government in its public pronouncements and internal memoranda, was well known inside Iraq, especially in the Kurdish region. As all the horrific details have emerged, this name has seared itself into popular consciousness -- much as the Nazi German Holocaust did with its survivors. The parallels are apt, and often chillingly close.
Fragmented by their mountainous geography, their own political fractiousness, and the divide-and-rule policies of regional governments, at the time, few Kurds appreciated the highly organized and comprehensive nature of the Anfal. And for obvious reasons, prior to October 1991, when Kurdish rebel leaders unexpectedly found themselves temporary masters of much of their traditional lands, there were few hard facts for external organizations to rely upon.
In its February 1990 report, Human Rights in Iraq, Middle East Watch reconstructed what took place from exile sources, with what in retrospect turned out to be a high degree of accuracy. Even so, some of the larger claims made by the Kurds seemed too fantastic to credit. As it transpires, this has been a humbling, learning process for all those foreigners who followed Kurdish affairs from abroad. Western reporters, relief workers, human rights organizations and other visitors to Iraqi Kurdistan have come to realize that the overall scale of the suffering inflicted on the Kurds by their government was by no means exaggerated.
With this latest report, painstakingly compiled over eighteen months, Middle East Watch believes it can now demonstrate convincingly a deliberate intent on the part of the government of President Saddam Hussein to destroy, through mass murder, part of Iraq's Kurdishminority. The Kurds are indisputably a distinct ethnic group2, separate from the majority Arab population of Iraq, and they were targeted during the Anfal as Kurds. Two government instruments -- the October 1987 national census and the declaration of "prohibited areas", covering more and more of the Kurdish countryside like a crazy-patterned quilt -- were institutional foundations of this policy. These instruments were implemented against the background of nearly two decades of government-directed "Arabization", in which mixed-race districts, or else lands that Baghdad regarded as desirable or strategically important, saw their Kurdish population diluted by Arab migrant farmers provided with ample incentives to relocate, and guarded by government troops.
The Kurds bear arms as a matter of course, and have regularly resorted to them when thwarted in their demands for greater political and cultural autonomy. Indeed, the Anfal cannot be understood without an awareness of the half century of Kurdish armed struggle against the central government of Iraq, through various political regimes. In the early 1970s, the Ba'athists, still uncertain about their hold on power, went much further than their predecessors in recognizing those demands --offering a substantial degree of self-government and recognizing the Kurds' separate identity in a new Provisional Constitution. That constitution is still in force, and Baghdad still maintains the fiction that "its" autonomous region, with its own Kurdish administration, is in force. This puppet administration sits in government-controlled Kirkuk, and regularly denounces the "foreign-backed usurpers" in the Kurdish rebel-run territory.
The logic of the Anfal, however, cannot be divorced either from the Iran-Iraq War. After 1986, both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the two major parties, received support from the Iranian government and sometimes took part in joint military raids against Iraqi government positions; the KDP also had a rear base inside Iran. That Baghdad was entitled to engage in counterinsurgency action, to wrest control over Iraq's northeast border region and much of the mountainous interior from rebels, is undisputed. What Middle East Watch contends is that, in doing so, the central government went much further than was required to restore its authoritythrough legitimate military action. In the process, Saddam Hussein's regime committed a panoply of war crimes, together with crimes against humanity and genocide.
While many readers will be familiar with the attack on Halabja, in March 1988, in which up to 5,000 Kurdish civilians died -- the incident caused a brief international furor -- they may be surprised to learn that the first use of poison gas against the Kurds by the central government occurred eleven months earlier. All told, Middle East Watch has recorded forty separate attacks on Kurdish targets, some of them involving multiple sorties over several days, between April 1987 and August 1988. Each of these attacks were war crimes, involving the use of a banned weapon; the fact that noncombatants were often the victims added to the offence.
By our estimate, in Anfal at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 persons, many of them women and children, were killed out of hand between February and September 1988. Their deaths did not come in the heat of battle -- "collateral damage" in the military euphemism. Nor were they acts of aberration by individual commanders whose excesses passed unnoticed, or unpunished, by their superiors. Rather, these Kurds were systematically put to death in large numbers on the orders of the central government in Baghdad -- days, sometimes weeks, after being rounded-up in villages marked for destruction or else while fleeing from army assaults in "prohibited areas".
While a minority had been combatants, or else served as a "backing force" for the rebel parties, the vast majority of the dead were noncombatants whose death resulted from the fact that they inhabited districts declared off-limits by the Iraqi government. Underlining the deliberate, preplanned nature of the Anfal, those responsible for their murder by firing squad were usually members of élite security units unconnected to the forces responsible for the Kurds' capture; in other words, while one hand would sweep, the other would dispose of what the regime considered to be the "garbage".
Two experienced field researchers, Jemera Rone and Joost Hiltermann, assisted for part of the time by a junior researcher, spent six months in northern Iraq between April and September 1992, gathering testimonial information about the Anfal (see separate Note on Methodology). Previously, one 12-year old boy, Taymour Abdullah Ahmad, had been the only known survivor of many accounts that Kurds -- men, women and children -- had been trucked southward to the Arabheartland of Iraq in large numbers, and then disappeared. It was assumed they had all been summarily executed, but there was no proof. During their assignment, the Middle East Watch team found and interviewed another seven survivors of mass executions recalled in convincing detail; five of them had been taken away and shot during the six-month-long military campaign, two shortly afterward.
To reach the point whereby we could safely assert these conclusions, without fear of contradiction, has not been easy. A division of Human Rights Watch, Middle East Watch has already devoted more resources to this ambitious project than any other undertaking in its parent organization's fifteen-year history. For those individuals and foundations that have generously supported work on the Kurds Project, we are deeply grateful. The publication of this book is a landmark. But, the end is not yet in sight. Only when those responsible -- both the government as a whole and the individuals who masterminded and carried out the Anfal -- are brought to justice will the work end.
In the absence of an international criminal court with jurisdiction to try those responsible for the grave crimes enumerated above, three options present themselves. The first is an Iraqi national court. Under present circumstances, with President Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party still in power, it is almost inconceivable that this course will be realized. Second, there is the prospect of an ad hoc international tribunal, charged by the United Nations Security Council with hearing some or all of the above offences, on the basis of evidence to be gathered by a special commission of inquiry. While such a proposal has been tabled at the Security Council by the Clinton Administration, its realization is fraught with uncertainty, subject to the fluctuating politics of the major powers at the United Nations.
Last, there is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, the World Court. Part of the UN system, the ICJ's raison d'être is to resolve disputes between nations over breaches of international agreements and treaties; in the case of the Iraqi Kurds, the relevant treaty is the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which Iraq and a further 107 states are parties. Importantly, Iraq has also accepted the jurisdiction of the ICJ to hear cases of genocide brought against itself by other state parties with similar standing. In Middle East Watch's judgement, this is potentially the most fruitful channel through which to achieve justice for the Anfal.
Pursuing this option does not involve abandoning the other courses of action; indeed, they could complement each other well, as the ICJ is empowered to adjudicate only state, not individual, responsibility. But, contrary to popular misconceptions, the ICJ can be of practical benefit to the Iraqi Kurds -- by, for instance, ordering provisional measures of protection (a state party or parties to the Genocide Convention would be acting in effect on behalf of the Kurds), or by demanding that the government pay damages, or reparations, to the victims.
To date, only Bosnia and Herzegovina has ever brought a case against another state under the Genocide Convention. The ICJ swiftly granted provisional protective measures, in March 1993, but has yet to rule on the substance of the complaint. Bringing a full-fledged case against Iraq, on behalf of the Kurds, will thus be a momentous event in international human rights law; one that it will be imperative to win, and to win on strong legal and factual grounds. The judgement will breathe life into the moribund Genocide Convention, strengthen respect for international law, and give pause to tyrannical regimes around the world tempted to undertake similar actions against a minority people.
How, then, has the evidence been gathered, and why is Middle East Watch confident that a successful action can be brought against the Iraqi government?
It was in late 1991 -- a month after the Iraqi Kurdistan Front, a coalition of seven parties, had established its authority in the rebel enclave -- that we decided to send our second mission to the region (an earlier mission had produced an authoritative survey of the endemic problem of landmines, a serious hindrance to the resettlement of refugees). This mission -- a joint venture with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), who had already carried out groundbreaking work on Iraq's use of chemical gas in 1988 during the Final Anfal -- would enter Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey. Its purpose was to examine the scale of the phenomenon of mass graves then being discovered by the Kurds in various locations. The ten-day mission exhumed several mass graves in and around the major Kurdish cities of Erbil and Suleimaniyeh, containing victims of the Amn, the main internal security force. The team left just as a deadline for the renewal of Operation Provide Comfort --the Turkey-based allied protection operation -- expired (Ankara renewed permission at the eleventh hour).
During the unsuccessful March 1991 uprising, huge quantities of Iraqi government records were captured, when local Kurds stormed the secret police buildings that dominated every town and city. Much was burned or destroyed in the haste, confusion and panic that marked those days. The Kurds were mostly seeking references to themselves, to discover how much they had been infiltrated; few were thinking about the Anfal -- despite the fact that it had ended barely eighteen months earlier. Obtaining access to these official records became a Holy Grail for researchers: to have the opportunity to speak to survivors of human rights violations, dig up the bones of those who did not survive, and then read the official account of what took place -- all while the regime that carried out these outrages was still in power -- was unique in the annals of human rights research.
Together with the Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya3 and Peter Galbraith of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Middle East Watch discussed with the Kurdish parties holding these documents their transfer to the United States, for safekeeping and analysis. Uncertainty surrounded the subject: Exactly how much had the Kurds seized; how useful would the documents turn out to be; where were the caches; and how could the logistical and diplomatic hurdles to getting them out of the country be overcome? Several visits to the region were required before all the arrangements could be made. In May 1992, some fourteen tons of documents were finally transferred to the U.S., at the initiative of Middle East Watch; at all times, the material remained under our control. On arrival, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took charge of the documents, entrusting them to a safe location where they have been examined by a team led by Middle East Watch (see Methodology section for a description of how the work has been conducted.)
Primarily records of the Mudiriyat al-Amn al-Ameh (General Security Directorate), the Mudiriyat al-Istikhbarat al-Askariyeh al-Ameh (General Military Intelligence Directorate), and, to a lesser extent, the Ba'ath Party these documents represent a key ingredient in the understanding of the logic, and realization, of the Anfal. Spanning the years from the early 1960s to 1991, they will be crucial in the building ofa legal case against the Iraqi government. Between April 1992 and April 1993, Middle East Watch took oral testimony from over 350 eyewitnesses or survivors of Anfal-related actions by the authorities; this information forms the heart of our understanding of the government's behavior. Even on the basis of a partial examination, the documents have filled in many gaps, corroborating testimonial accounts and proving the witnesses' general reliability.
From the material examined to date, it is evident that detailed records had been kept of all Kurds rounded-up, then sorted out and dispatched, either to their deaths or to prison or resettlement camps. When the overlord of Anfal, Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was subsequently promoted to Defense Minister, met with Kurdish leaders in May 1991 for abortive peace negotiations, he knew what he was talking about. Faced with the Kurds' demands for an explanation as to what had happened to the disappeared -- a number they put at 182,000 -- he exploded that the total number (killed in the Anfal) "could not have been more than 100,000." It was a telling order of magnitude, not to mention an admission of guilt.
Somewhere in a Baghdad archive there exists, almost certainly, a complete dossier of the missing Kurds: some may still be alive, five years after their capture. But, in our view, the vast majority probably ended up in remote mass graves such as those described in this report. Middle East Watch calls on the Iraqi authorities to provide a full accounting of those they abducted so that relatives can mourn their dead and resume their lives.
Gradually it became clear from our field research that although the Anfal -- when most disappearances took place -- had lasted only six months, the main campaign of village destruction and forcible relocation of hundreds of thousands of persons inhabiting the "prohibited areas" had covered a two-year span, from March 1987 to April 1989. This coincided with the period during which al-Majid held extraordinary powers of life-and-death, as secretary of the Ba'ath Party's Northern Bureau. The campaign was the culmination of twenty-five years of Arabization, mass deportations and the destruction of villages.
We also learned about variations in government actions during different phases of the campaign. In the Final Anfal during late August 1988, after the ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War, we encountered one of the few known cases in which government troops massacred male villagers on the spot. (Elsewhere male villagers disappeared en masse and arepresumed to have been executed in clandestine locations.) The remote former village of Koreme, in Dohuk governorate, had been identified in February 1992 as containing a mass grave. A second forensic anthropological team, again in conjunction with PHR, drawing on the expertise of Latin American researchers, was sent to the region in May 1992. After a month's fieldwork at Koreme and other sites, their findings -- a detailed case study of the fate of Anfal victims from one region --were published in January 1993.
After a break during the winter of 1992/1993, field research for this report resumed in March 1993, enabling gaps in our knowledge to be filled in. However, much remains to be done before all the answers are given to the tragedy that befell the Kurds. In the absence of disclosures from Baghdad, there is a need, for instance, to come up with a more precise estimate of the number of disappeared. Some, but by no means all, of the killing sites are known; extensive research work needs to be conducted in areas of Iraq that remain under government control. But time does not stand still, and the Ba'athist regime's threat to the Kurdish enclave remains as potent as ever. Behind a military cordon running diagonally across northern Iraq -- a cordon that has sealed off supplies of food, fuel, medicine and other essentials to the Kurds for the past two years -- the government has massed its troops. All that apparently holds them back is the threat of retaliation from the American, British and French aircraft that daily patrol the region of Iraq north of the 36th parallel. Every six months the ritual of seeking Ankara's permission for the continuation of Operation Provide Comfort is reenacted. Until now it has always been granted; but, given Turkish negative sentiment toward the Kurds, whether in Turkey itself or across the Iraqi border, it is unlikely that Turkey will allow the Western allies to maintain their protective shield over the budding proto-state indefinitely.
Based on the evidence contained in this report, Middle East Watch urges the international community to recognize that genocide occurred in the mountainous region of northern Iraq during 1988. The legal obligations to act on the basis of this information, to punish its perpetrators and prevent its recurrence, are undeniable. These could be pursued either through the International Court of Justice or through the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council is required under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocidal action; moreover, in July 1993, the Council had before it a draft U.S. proposal to establish acommission of enquiry into Iraqi war crimes and genocide. For this purpose, the U.S. government, and other states with relevant information, should disclose what knowledge they have about the Anfal. Continued protection for the Kurds is essential, if the strong threat of reprisals from the Baghdad authorities is not to be realized. But in the process of safeguarding the status quo one should not lose sight of the imperative that the Iraqi government provide a full, public accounting of all those taken into the hands of its forces before, during and after the Anfal. While it would be unrealistic to expect President Saddam Hussein to put himself and his closest aides and relatives on trial, a successor government in Baghdad should not shirk from its responsibility to carry out a thoroughgoing investigation of these enormous crimes, and prosecute all those involved -- to the full extent of the law.
The Iraqi Kurds must be permitted to live in peace and security, free to speak their language, practice their customs and associate as Kurds. The killings, deportations, and widespread village clearances detailed in the following pages must not be allowed to happen again.
* * *
This report was written by George Black, a writer on human rights and other international issues.4 However, bringing it to fruition was a collaborative effort involving Mr. Black, Joost Hiltermann, the Kurds' Project director at Middle East Watch, and Jemera Rone, counsel at Human Rights Watch, the parent organization.
Overall editorial responsibility for the report lies with Andrew Whitley, executive director of Middle East Watch. Shorsh Resool, a researcher with Middle East Watch, contributed to the editing process and made important suggestions and corrections. Suzanne Howard was responsible for preparing the manuscript for publication. Document translation was handled by a number of persons.
Field researchers were Dr. Hiltermann and Ms. Rone, assisted by Mostafa Khezri, a consultant to Middle East Watch. Their field work in 1992 and 1993 represents the heart of the information presented in thefollowing pages. The tireless work of our Kurdish interpreters in helping obtain this information is appreciated. Middle East Watch also extends its thanks to the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization in Iraqi Kurdistan, including its branches in Erbil, Suleimaniyeh and Dohuk; the Committee to Defend Anfal Victims' Rights in Suleimaniyeh; and a number of doctors, lawyers and other professionals in Iraqi Kurdistan, who must remain anonymous for their own safety. Special recognition is due to Mr. Resool, for his pioneering work, under arduous conditions, on the Anfal campaign in 1988-89, prior to joining the staff of Middle East Watch.
Forensic research referred to in this report was conducted by joint Middle East Watch/Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) teams led, in December 1991, by Eric Stover, and, in May-June 1992, by Ken Anderson. Mr. Stover is executive director of PHR; Mr. Anderson is director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Project. Dr. Clyde Snow, a distinguished forensic anthropologist, headed the scientific teams in both of these missions and participated in another visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, in February 1992.
Legal research on the standards by which the Ba'ath regime should be judged on its actions in Iraqi Kurdistan, from 1987-89, was undertaken by Professor Lori Damrosch of Columbia University's Law School. Keith Highet of Curtis, Mallet et al provided expert advice, as did Kenneth Roth, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Peter Galbraith, then senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Ambassador Charles Dunbar, formerly of the U.S. Department of State, also deserve Middle East Watch's warm thanks for the unstinting assistance they provided to this large undertaking.
Finally, Middle East Watch wishes to thank Susan Meiselas for her enthusiasm, and commitment, to a subject and people she has come to know well. Her photographs and video recordings have been of great benefit.
Middle East Watch
1 Hidden Death: Land Mines and Civilian Casualties in Iraqi Kurdistan (October 1992; pp 67); Unquiet Graves: The Search for the Disappeared in Iraqi Kurdistan (February 1992; pp 41); and The Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan: The Destruction of Koreme (January 1993; pp 116). The two latter reports were published jointly with Physicians for Human Rights. Human Rights in Iraq, a Middle East Watch report published in February 1990, contained a long chapter on the government's repression of the Kurds; it is available from Yale University Press (New Haven, 1990).
2 Anthropologically, they are an Indo-European people, speaking a language that is related to Persian, albeit with a large admixture of Arabic and Turkish, varying according to the countries they inhabit.
3 Makiya is the author, under his pseudonym, Samir al-Khalil, of Republic of Fear: The Inside Story of Saddam Hussein's Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990), and Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993).
4 Mr. Black's most recent book, Black Hands of Beijing, (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1993) is a history of the Chinese democracy movement since 1976, co-authored with Robin Munro of Asia Watch.