The Anfal campaign was not the first time Koreme was attacked by Iraqi army forces. Koreme was partly or largely destroyed in periodic attacks that occurred during the previous two decades; the otherwise generally prosperous village had to be partly rebuilt at least three times between the early 1960s, when the Kurdish movement under Mostafa Barzani began in Iraqi Kurdistan, and 1988. Ironically, destruction occurred even during the greatest periods of Iraqi government investment in village infrastructure, such as electrification and building the village school. By the time of the Anfal campaign in August 1988, Koreme's inhabitants had largely abandoned the village site in favor of safer zones in ravines several kilometers away, near the hamlet of Hamsawa.
Despite partial destruction and the difficulties of living in hiding from army attacks, Koreme was still intact as a village prior to the Anfal campaign. Its inhabitants continued to work much of the village land. They retained their familial and tribal identities, and they remained Kurdish. The Anfal campaign, however, changed all of that. By killing or disappearing the village's men and teenage boys, forcibly relocating the surviving women, children and elderly to camps in the south, and razing the village to the foundations, the Anfal campaign sought to end Koreme as a physical and cultural entity, and it did so by the expedient of mass murder and disappearance. Anfal gradually has become a verb in the Kurdish language, and Koreme, like so many other Kurdish villages, was "anfalized." Following August 1988, Koreme was gone, and it is doubtful that it could ever have reestablished itself except as an unintended consequence of the 1991 Gulf War. It remains uncertain whether Koreme, missing so many men to perform agricultural work, will survive.
Pre-Anfal attacks on Koreme were repressive, brutal and destructive, but they accepted the premise that the village was there and would remain there.1 The Anfal campaign, by contrast, started from theassumption that Koreme, and its Kurdish population, should not exist. For if Koreme did not exist, there would be no need to repress it.
Koreme is located in a small valley on the frontal range of the Zagros Mountains, about four kilometers north of the town and district capital of Mengish in Dohuk Governorate. Of ancient origin, it has an ethnically homogenous population of Kurdish Muslims. Koreme looks northward toward a mountain range about 50 kilometers away marking the border with Turkey.
Prior to 1988, the village population consisted of about 150 families, divided between the Barwari and Shearali tribes. Today, in 1992, survivors of the 1988 Anfal campaign and the March 1991 Kurdish uprising against the Baghdad government are slowly returning to the original village site, living in tents and lean-to's as they attempt to re-commence agriculture in their fields. Rebuilding is hampered by a scarcity of men and teenage boys who fell victim to the Anfal campaign, a lack of basic resources, and landmines.
Koreme prior to 1988 consisted of two clusters of buildings divided by a small stream running north-south through the center of the village (see Plan of Villages at Koreme). The principal landmark was a small hill some 10 meters high used as the village cemetery. There were originally about 100 to 150 houses in the village, including about 50 to 100 west of the stream belonging mostly to members of the Shearali tribe and about 50 east of the stream belonging mostly to members of the Barwari tribe. For some purposes, Koreme was regarded as two contiguous villages, divided by the stream and by clan affiliation; it appears on some government records of Dohuk Governorate as Upper Koreme and Lower Koreme. The village was governed by a group of village elders.
Houses in the village were not large, averaging approximately 5 x 8 meters, with a few larger structures interspersed throughout. Some houses were constructed of concrete bricks and limestone walls, often about 30 cm thick; most, however, were made of mud brick. There was also a village school and mosque; each building consisted of two rooms measuring approximately 15 x 20 meters, and constructed of limestone and reinforced concrete.
The school was built by the Iraqi government in the early 1980s and offered six years of classes. A teacher assigned by the government lived in the village until the school was partly destroyed by army attack in 1987 and classes were abandoned. Electricity was installed in 1987, shortly before army attacks that partly destroyed the village. Water camefrom local springs, but it was not piped to the houses and had to be carried by hand. Villagers received medical care from a clinic in the district capital of Mengish, about an hour and a half's walk. Motor vehicles could traverse the road, although only with difficulty in bad weather. The road from Mengish terminated at Koreme and there was no regular bus service, so most people traveled by foot or animal.
Agricultural lands border Koreme on the north, east, and west. The villagers raised a wide variety of cereals, grains and vegetables, including wheat and barley, peas, chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions. Orchards bore apples, pomegranates, and plums. There were also extensive vineyards. Villagers kept livestock, especially sheep, goats, cows, and chickens. Some of the fields were irrigated, while others relied on rainfall. The soil was good, and Koreme before the Anfal campaign was a prosperous village.
Periodic attacks on Koreme over the years were motivated in part, according to local Kurdish guerrilla leaders today exercising political control in Kurdistan, by the Iraqi government's presumption that, taken as a whole, residents of traditional Iraqi Kurdish villages sympathized with Kurdish guerrilla organizations seeking autonomy from Baghdad. Koreme was one of many villages that suffered as a result of this presumption and does not appear to have been singled out for attack.
The Iraqi government's assessment of political attitudes among Koreme's villagers, according to surviving villagers, was broadly correct. According to survivors, Koreme villagers generally supported the guerrilla organizations that had ties to their particular tribe, which in the case of Koreme were guerrillas aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Over the years villagers had provided food, resources, and manpower to the KDP guerrillas who predominated in the region.
The Kurds call their guerrilla fighters "peshmerga," meaning literally "those who face death," and numerous Koreme men served or had served with the peshmerga, sometimes several generations of men in a single family. Typically, active peshmerga in this region at the time of the Anfal campaign served fifteen days on-duty with their unit, and fifteen days at home tending to fields.
It was not possible to establish from interviews how many of the Koreme men were active peshmerga at the time of the Anfal campaign; some were active fighters and others simply provided food or otherassistance or were merely sympathetic. In 1992, with guerrilla organizations currently in control of parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, people generally prefer to identify themselves as peshmerga. Nonetheless, interviews established that some, perhaps many, Koreme men had served or were serving with the peshmerga either at the time of the Anfal campaign or during the immediately preceding years. For many, it was simply a way of life.
Peshmerga units passed through Koreme with some regularity, according to villagers, and at times provided rudimentary social services. For example, in 1987 villagers reported being afraid to seek medical services at the clinic in Mengish because the army had set up roadblocks on the road to Mengish and were arresting people, particularly men and boys. Indeed, several villagers reported that the government prohibited them from using the Mengish clinic, apparently because the village was considered disloyal, and that at least one man died from lack of medical care. A peshmerga doctor circulated among the villages during that period, carrying medicines on his back.
Battles between peshmerga and government forces were rare in the area immediately around Koreme, villagers said, and tended to take place in strategically more significant locations. However, for control purposes in the early 1980s, the government established a small military outpost on a hill between Mengish and Koreme. It overlooked the village and served as an artillery emplacement during various punitive bursts of shelling.
Although Koreme villagers provided material support to the peshmerga, they said that the peshmerga never had an established military base in the village or other facility that would qualify as a legitimate target in war. The nearest of the (frequently shifting) peshmerga military posts, at the time of the Anfal campaign, was reportedly half a day's walk or more away.
Koreme, unlike some other villages in the region, did not have a unit of the "Home Reserve Guard" or "National Defense Battalions." Known colloquially as the "Jash," the National Defense Battalions was a reserve unit of the army which utilized local Kurdish men, based in a local town or village, and used as a backup force in counterinsurgency operations against the peshmerga. Some recruits were persuaded to join by money payments and others were forcibly drafted. Still others joined on the basis of tribal and clan affiliations, either individually or together with the other men of their village or town. A village without theNational Defense Battalions was reportedly often regarded as suspect by the government.2
Villagers generally identified three major occasions prior to the Anfal campaign, among numerous army attacks over the years, when Koreme was largely destroyed. The first, in 1963, followed an uprising against the government by Kurdish villagers; Koreme, older villagers reported, was virtually burned to the ground.3 Its inhabitants fled into the mountains, and returned only several months later following the announcement of a government amnesty.
The second occurred in the late 1960s (with some disagreement among the villagers as to the exact year); on this occasion the village was extensively shelled and, after the population fled into the mountains, the army entered the village and destroyed more houses. It took the villagers about three years to rebuild following this attack. Many other villages in the area were also largely destroyed at this time, and for several months the people lived away from the village, hiding in caves found in ravines that crisscross the region.
The third occasion was in 1987. Fighting intensified between the government and the peshmerga in the course of the Iran-Iraq war, as some guerrilla groups materially supported the Iranians against Baghdad. Koreme suffered increasing numbers of artillery attacks and air bombardments during 1986 and 1987, over a year earlier than the notorious chemical gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988 by the Iraqi army and air force, in which thousands of civilians died. Many village buildings were partially or wholly damaged, including the village school, which had been built by the government on a few years earlier. Classes ceased, and the government-assigned teacher returnedto live in the city of Dohuk. During 1987, the villagers gradually moved out of Koreme and into the ravines a kilometer or two down-valley. In the banks of the ravines were caves -- ledges, in fact -- cut by water drainage. The overhanging ledges were walled up in front to provide shelter. These caves had been used for generations to hide from hostile government forces. They were wet, cramped and dangerous. Formed of sand and earth, with large embedded stones, the roof of a ledge would occasionally collapse, sometimes crushing anyone beneath. Created by water seepage, the caves were damp and muddy, particularly in winter when several feet of snow fell. They did, however, provide shelter from shelling, bombardment, and capture by Iraqi army patrols.
The villagers went out by night to farm the fields nearest the ravines and furthest away from the army outpost overlooking the village. Sometimes they were shot at and pursued by soldiers, and sometimes their plantings were destroyed. It was never clear to them why army pressure was relaxed during some months, allowing them to farm relatively freely, while at other times it was implacable, with infantry sweeps and bombardments making it impossible to leave the caves for days at a time.
The Koreme villagers were joined in the caves by former residents of Chalkey, a village several hours away by foot. Chalkey had been destroyed by the army years before, and the residents had been prohibited from returning to rebuild it. Since the villagers of Koreme were closely related to those of Chalkey, they joined them in the ravines.4
The villagers continued to live in the caves during the early months of 1988, unsure when they might return home. On August 8, 1988, meanwhile, Iran and Iraq agreed to a ceasefire, freeing Iraqi armyunits for operations elsewhere. High on the list of those operations --something long in the planning, to judge by Iraqi army documents later captured by Kurdish forces -- was a campaign to settle the Baghdad regime's Kurdish problem, the campaign called "the plunder of the infidel," or, the Anfal campaign.
1 This was true of Koreme, but it was not true of many other villages. Numerous villages were destroyed and their inhabitants forcibly relocated in campaigns prior to Anfal; Anfal had precedents which it then carried to new, and qualitatively different, extremes. In the earlier campaigns, villagers were generally relocated to mujam'mat, or "collectives" -- large settlements near mainroads and military bases where the population could be easily monitored. See MEW, Human Rights in Iraq, Yale U.P., 1990.
2 During the Anfal campaign, however, even having a National Defense Battalions contingent was no guarantee of immunity from attack; various villages with Popular Militia were destroyed in the same manner as other Kurdish villages.
3 For a general account of the beginnings of armed conflict between Kurdish guerrillas and the Baghdad government in the early 1960s, see Schmidt, Journey Among Brave Men, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1964.
4 Chalkey has a long and sad history of its own. According to surviving villagers, it was largely destroyed in army attacks in 1976-77, and its inhabitants were forcibly relocated to the "collective camp" of Hisawa, near the city of Zakho. They remained there, under close government control, for about five years and were forbidden to return to their own village. When the Iran-Iraq war began, many of their sons, some of them peshmerga sympathizers, evaded the draft. In 1982-83 the families fled Hisawa in 1982-83 with their sons, to the village of Hamsawa, very near the ravines of Koreme. They remained in Hamsawa until shortly before Anfal when, because of increasing attacks, they joined the Koreme villagers in their caves. Thereafter the two groups traveled together, in an attempt to reach Turkey in August 1988, described in the next chapter.