"It was like the Day of Judgment;
you stand before God."
-- survivor of the poison gas attack on Halabja, March 16, 1988.
The nerve center of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan lay deep in the mountains of Suleimaniyeh governorate in southeastern Iraqi Kurdistan. The organization's most important facilities were all housed here, in the long, narrow Jafati valley, so called because its inhabitants belonged to the important Jaf tribe. The PUK's top command, its politburo, had its headquarters in the small village of Yakhsamar. Nearby Bergalou ("Lower Valley"), a temporary settlement, was home to the PUK's radio station and its main field hospital. Talabani's deputy commander, Naywshirwan Mustafa Amin, had also taken up residence here, and in Talabani's absence abroad it was he who commanded the PUK during Anfal. Nearby Sergalou ("Upper Valley") was home to the PUK's second malband, or regional command, responsible for peshmerga operations in the governorate of Kirkuk. Other villages such as Maluma and Zewa were important additional links in the chain of command.
Sergalou was a village, almost a small town, of some 500 households (3,500 people), a half-hour by car on an all-weather gravel road from the nearby nahya of Surdash. Although the houses were of mud and stone, they boasted cement floors, and almost every home hadits own water supply from springs. An hour away on foot, the village of Haladin, another sizeable place of some 350 households surrounded by vineyards, housed an additional contingent of PUK fighters. "[The valley] was as important to the peshmerga as Baghdad is to the government," was how one local trader put it.1
Hemmed in by steep mountains, this was a classic guerrilla stronghold protected by difficult terrain. But it had another strategic significance, too, for it lay just a few miles east of the vital Dukan Dam and hydroelectric power station at the head of the lake of the same name--an important source of electricity for the cities of Suleimaniyeh and Kirkuk.2 Seizing the Dukan Dam was a crucial element of the PUK's plan to liberate large expanses of Kurdistan on an accelerated timetable. The goal was to take the cities of Ranya, Koysinjaq and Qala Dizeh (see map on p.92), thus encircling the lake and establishing a new front line along the Haibat Sultan mountain range, between Koysinjaq and the western shore. But that plan, which was ready to be executed in February 1988, was not to be realized.
Since 1985, and the breakdown of negotations between the PUK and the Iraqi government, the entire Jafati valley had been "redlined" as a "prohibited area." Attacks by aircraft and artillery occurred frequently, with shelling on an almost daily basis. But the PUK headquarters was well-defended, and all of the men and even some of the women in Sergalou, Yakhsamar and Haladin were organized into an armed self-defense force. Government checkpoints on the surrounding roads did a largely ineffective job of imposing the economic blockade.
The chemical weapons that had been used to such demoralizing effect against Iranian troops had also been brought into play repeatedly against the PUK redoubt during the previous summer. For an hour on the afternoon of June 8, 1987, chemical shells from a truck-mountedmultiple rocket-launcher, or rajima, rained down on Bergalou, Haladin and the nearby village of Sekaniyan ("Three Springs"). The rajima was a constant presence in the villagers' lives for many months after this, although the casualties appear to have been limited. One farmer told Middle East Watch that this was thanks in part to the high mountains, dense tree cover and natural shelters available, and in part to the notorious inaccuracy of the Iraqi gunners. The worst casualties were in Haladin, where one shell hit a house killing a man named Yasin Abd-al-Rahman and six members of his family. Otherwise, the main effects of the gas shelling were tearing and shortness of breath. Later chemical attacks produced additional symptoms, including blistering and burns. Those who died perished, in fits of shivering, within an hour of exposure to the chemicals; others acted as if deranged, and stumbled around laughing hysterically.3
The Iraqi Air Force also attacked the valley repeatedly. In the past, aerial harassment operations had been restricted to helicopters. But the Iranians had now supplied the PUK with anti-aircraft missiles that kept the Iraqi helicopters at bay, and fixed-wing aircraft were pressed into service. Sometimes the attacks were carried out by small Swiss-manufactured Pilatus planes, more commonly used as trainers or for crop-spraying. At other times, supersonic Soviet-made Sukhoi fighter-bombers took part, with as many as fifteen or twenty aircraft joining in the attacks. At first the raids used only conventional weapons, but on April 15, and again in July, the warplanes also dropped chemical bombs. Dispersed on the breeze, the main effect of the gas was temporary blindness, lasting two weeks or so. But it also killed a number of people, most of them civilians. By the summer of 1987, the peshmerga had supplies of gas masks, donated by the Iranians, and each division, or teep, had its own officer who was expert in defense against chemicals. But ordinary villagers had to defend themselves against the wind-borne gas as best they could, fleeing to higher ground, covering their faces with wet cloths as the Iranian-trained peshmerga doctors had instructed them, orsetting fires in the caves and underground shelters where they sought refuge.4
Throughout late January and February 1988, a flurry of intelligence reports from Amn Suleimaniyeh and the Iraqi Army's First Corps warned that new joint actions were being planned by the "agents of Iran" (Umala Iran) and the Teheran regime. According to Amn, "mercenaries" from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, operating out of PUK base camps, were "carrying out surveillance missions in the direction of al-Ta'mim governorate"--in other words, westward, toward the Kirkuk oilfields. The PUK's first malband, based in Qara Dagh, was "facilitating the entry of Khomeini's guards from the Darbandikhan sector." On February 1, the Ba'ath Party branch in Qara Dagh informed Amn that "the Iranian enemy plans to help the saboteurs" in attacking a number of targets--including the sizeable Kurdish town of Halabja. On February 8, a report from a secret informant briefed Amn on the enemy's state of preparedness. It noted that Jalal Talabani himself was out of the country. "The number of saboteurs in Sergalou/Bergalou," it continued, "is between 600-800."5
Despite its long history of living under attack, the PUK seems to have been unprepared for the ferocity of the attack that broke on it later that month. Perhaps the peshmerga had overestimated the degree to which the Iraqi regime was now psychologically tied down by the war against Iran. But they quickly understood its thinking in laying siege to the Jafati valley. Success there would not only decapitate the PUK; it would also prove, to devastating psychological effect, that the regime could prevail over the peshmerga wherever it chose, in any terrain.
At about 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. on February 23, the people of Yakhsamar, Sergalou and Bergalou awoke in the dark and rain to the thunderous sound of shelling from rajima. Although there is no definitive evidence that the Iraqi army was yet using the word "Anfal" to describe its operations, these artillery shells may be considered to all intents and purposes the first shots fired in the Anfal campaign.6
It is evident that the regime attached a special significance to the new campaign right from the beginning. An Iraqi Defense Ministry order, for example, signed on February 23, passes on a Revolutionary Command Council decree that those who fall in the coming fight against the "saboteurs" and the attendant campaign of village "purification" are to be venerated as "Martyrs of the Glorious Battle of Saddam's Qadissiyah"--that is to say, the war against Iran.7
At daybreak on February 23, government ground forces attacked from all directions. "The army that laid siege to the headquarters was so big that it looked like a fence that was separating the area from the rest of Kurdistan," recalled one peshmerga who was in Sergalou that day.8 The front line stretched for a full forty miles, from Bingird on the eastern side of the lake to Dukan, and thence to Suleimaniyeh and the towns of Mawat and Chwarta. The PUK held out for more than threeweeks, even though the assault involved army, air force and the elite Republican Guards, who were apparently employed only during the initial stages of Anfal.9 The armed forces' target was not just the PUK headquarters but all the villages in the valley, some 25-30 in all.10 According to other PUK sources, between 200 and 250 people were killed in the course of the siege, most of them active peshmerga. As long as the peshmerga resisted, most of the villagers hid out in nearby caves. But in the early days of March, the villages began to fall one by one as tanks and armored vehicles smashed through the PUK's defensive lines. The inhabitants fled, most in the direction of Iran. After they had departed, crews of army engineers moved in with bulldozers and razed their villages to the ground.
Enveloping the Jafati valley on three sides, the army did leave one escape route open--to the east and the Iranian frontier, twelve miles or so as the crow flies from Sergalou across the mountains. According to official intelligence reports, by February 25 the PUK had opened at least two rough roads to the border with Iranian assistance.11 At this stage, it appears that the government forces made no attempt to detain those who fled over the snow-covered mountains toward Iran. Mass disappearances had not yet become a matter of official policy.
Some survivors were offered an explicit choice by the army, backed up with a powerful warning: "You are free to remain or leave," one woman from Maluma village was told, "but we will not be responsible if you choose to stay. You may be killed or become the victim ofchemicals."12 This was no idle threat, for chemical weapons were used repeatedly during the First Anfal.
The majority of the armed peshmerga managed to withdraw in relatively good order, with ideas of redeploying their forces further to the south, in the broad hilly plain known as Germian. But they found their way blocked by government troops and were forced instead to circle northward to the fastness of Qandil mountain, on the Iran-Iraq border near Haj Omran. Others fled to the grasslands on the shores of Lake Dukan, where they defended themselves until they ran out of ammunition. The bedraggled survivors eventually ended up in Iran. Others still set up a new, temporary base camp in the village of Shanakhseh, until that too was hit with chemical weapons on about March 22.
That morning, Iraqi warplanes flew over and dropped balloons. Six aircraft returned at about 2:00 p.m. and dropped the bombs. "The area was full of peshmerga and fleeing families," said a PUK fighter who was there. "There were thousands of people, many living in tents. I myself was injured, my face became black and my skin was painful. I had trouble breathing. But these were mild symptoms; others who were closer to the point of impact had severe blisters. Some men suffered from swollen testicles." A PUK local commander believed that as many as twenty-eight people were killed and some 300 injured, mostly peshmerga families. (Other sources believe the figure may be somewhat lower.) Some of the dead were civilians, who were already exhausted from their attempt to cross the mountains into Iran.13
Given the intensity of this new campaign, which they would soon come to know by the name of Anfal, the peshmerga had realized that there was little they could do to protect the civilians, and they told them as much, advising the villagers that they would have to take their chances alone. At this point, with the PUK leadership still relatively intact and with frequent warnings being broadcast over the clandestine peshmergaradio station, civilians seem to have been given fair notice of the dangers they faced. This, together with the army's decision to leave an escape route, no doubt led to countless lives being saved. But by the time Anfal spread to other areas, it was much harder to give civilians any warning. After the siege of the PUK headquarters, the peshmerga began to grasp the direction that the campaign would take. But there was little or nothing they could do about it.
Most of the villagers from the Jafati valley survived. While some fled to the city of Suleimaniyeh, the majority headed for Iran, through the heavily mined no-man's-land along the border, in the first large-scale refugee exodus since the crushing of the Barzani-led revolt thirteen years earlier. But it was March, and the harsh Kurdish winter was not over.
"We left behind all the properties accumulated over fifty years," added a middle-aged villager from Sergalou. "The people moved like a panicked herd of cattle through the mountains in the direction of Iran. It was raining. There were warplanes overhead....Six people from Sergalou froze to death along the way, and another thirty from other villages in the same valley."14
"The people were running, and lost their shoes," said a 57-year old woman from the village of Qara Chatan. "There was much snow. We were shivering from the cold."15 People with children suffered especially in this way, since they could not move so quickly. The single most tragic incident involved a group of people who made it as far as Kanitou, a ruined village north of Sergalou that had been evacuated during the 1978 border clearances. Peshmerga from several parties were present in Kanitou, but they fell to bickering among themselves. In the chaos, a large band of fleeing villagers tried to cross the high snowpeaks into Iran. But they left too late in the day, and darkness overtook them when they were still several hours from safety. At least eighty died of cold and exposure; by one estimate, the number may have been as high as 160.16
Although the siege of the Jafati Valley was not accompanied by mass disappearances, some villagers from the First Anfal theater did vanish during late April, several weeks after Sergalou and Bergalou had fallen. One farmer from Haladin told Middle East Watch that after three days on the run, his family found refuge on the border, in tents supplied by sympathetic Iranian Kurds. "They stayed there for one month," he remembered. "Then the army came to the border and arrested all these people, including my entire family. This was on April 20. The army dropped troops from helicopters. There was a bad snow, and people were exhausted." The young man lost nine of his relatives that day. They included his mother, three sisters--two of them pregnant--and three nieces under the age of six. The witness escaped to Iran; only his father, a man in his late 50s, was ever seen alive again.17
Others who fled the siege of the PUK headquarters disappeared in a different manner. Three brothers from Sergalou recrossed the border into Iraq after two weeks in Iran, having heard false rumors of an amnesty for those who turned themselves in.18 They surrendered to the mustashar at a complex called Sengasar, outside the town of Qala Dizeh. But the man turned them over to the government, and they were never seen again. Similarly, a group of fifteen army deserters who had been hiding in the mountains for several weeks gave themselves up to the mustashar in the village of Chermaga. The mustashar had given the family of one his word of honor that no one would be harmed. But these young men, too, disappeared into the custody of Amn in Suleimaniyeh. These trick amnesties and broken promises would be repeated over and over again in the subsequent stages of the Anfal campaign.
For years, the hostility between Iran and Iraq had appeared to the Kurdish parties as a geopolitical loophole that they could exploit to their advantage. After withstanding the siege of Sergalou-Bergalou for two weeks, the PUK took the desperate decision to open a second front with Iranian military support. As their target the peshmerga chose Halabja, a town on the plain just a few miles from the border, in a feint that was designed to draw some of the Iraqi troops away from the siege of Sergalou and Bergalou. But the plan turned out to be a tragic miscalculation, as the once beneficial alliance with Iran turned into a crippling liability. For the Halabja diversion only cemented the view of the Iraqi regime that the war against Iran and the war against the Kurds was one and the same thing.
At the end of February, Iraq had stepped up its missile attacks on Teheran as part of the "War of the Cities";19 the escalation was designed to push the weakened Iranians to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Baghdad. A confident senior official even admitted to Patrick Tyler of the Washington Post that Iraq was trying to lure its adversary into a trap by overextending its forces. "For the first time in our history, we want the Iranians to attack," the official said.20 At Halabja, the Iranians obliged.
Halabja was a bustling Kurdish town with a busy commercial section and a number of government offices. Villagers displaced from their homes by the war had swollen its population of 40,000 to 60,000 or more. The peshmerga had been strong here for almost thirty years, with several clandestine parties active--Socialists, Communists and others--inaddition to Jalal Talabani's PUK. One group with particular local strength was the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement Party (Bizutnaway Islami Eraqi). As a reprisal against local support for the peshmerga, Iraqi troops had already bulldozed two entire quarters of the town, Kani Ashqan and Mordana, in May 1987.21 Since about 1983, Iranian troops had been making secret reconnaissance visits to Halabja under cover of darkness. The town lay on the very edge of the war-zone, and dozens of small villages between Halabja and the Iranian border had been razed in the late 1970s, their inhabitants resettled in complexes on the edge of the city. But the greater strategic importance of Halabja was its location just seven miles east of Darbandikhan Lake, whose dam controls a significant part of the water supply to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
During the first two weeks of March, a stream of Iraqi intelligence reports noted the buildup of Revolutionary Guards and peshmerga to the west of Halabja and the shelling of the nearby town of Sayed Sadeq by Iranian forces.22 On March 13, the Iranians officially announced that they had launched a new offensive named Zafar 7 in the Halabja area. According to Teheran radio, the offensive--conducted by a joint force of PUK peshmerga and pasdaran--was in retaliation for the Iraqi regime's recent chemical attacks on the Kurds.23 A second attack, apparently coordinated, followed the next day. This one was called Bait al-Maqdis 4, and the Iranians claimed that it had taken their forces within twelve miles of Suleimaniyeh. On March 16, Teheran announced yetanother offensive, codenamed Val-Fajr 10.24 Iran boasted that its forces had now advanced to the eastern shore of Darbandikhan Lake, controlling 800 square kilometers of Iraqi territory and 102 (presumably destroyed) villages. But the main thrust of Val-Fajr 10, Teheran declared, was the "liberation" of the town of Halabja.
Halabja had been subjected to three days of heavy Iranian shelling from the surrounding hills, beginning on March 13. One by one, the small Iraqi military posts between Halabja and the border were routed, and their occupants pulled back to the safety of the town. Some stripped off their uniforms and took refuge in the mosques, while some took up temporary defensive positions in local army bases. Others fled altogether. Yet the Baghdad regime resisted the temptation to reinforce Halabja with large numbers of ground troops, for it had an entirely different strategy in mind.
Some Iranian pasdaran had reportedly begun to slip into town as early as March 13. By the night of March 15 they were openly parading through the streets, accompanied by Iraqi Kurds, greeting the townspeople and chanting "God is Great! Khomeini is our leader!" They billeted themselves on local Kurdish families and ordered them to prepare dinner. Some rode around Halabja on motorcycles; others were very young, barely teenagers, and carried only sticks and knives. Many also carried gas masks. They asked bewildered people in the streets how far it was to the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.25 Militants of the Iraqi Islamic Movement did a victory dance outside the headquarters of Amn and the Istikhbarat building, which they took over for themselves. But among the townspeople as a whole there was grave apprehension, especially when public employees were ordered on March 15 to evacuatetheir posts.26 Swift Iraqi reprisals were widely expected; one Amn cable the next day spoke, with notable understatement, of the need for "a firm escalation of military might and cruelty."27
The Iraqi counterattack began in the mid-morning of March 16, with conventional airstrikes and artillery shelling from the town of Sayed Sadeq to the north. Most families in Halabja had built primitive air-raid shelters near their homes. Some crowded into these, others into the government shelters, following the standard air-raid drills they had been taught since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. The first wave of air strikes appears to have included the use of napalm or phosphorus. "It was different from the other bombs," according to one witness. "There was a huge sound, a huge flame and it had very destructive ability. If you touched one part of your body that had been burned, your hand burned also. It caused things to catch fire." The raids continued unabated for several hours. "It was not just one raid, so you could stop and breathe before another raid started. It was just continuous planes, coming and coming. Six planes would finish and another six would come."28
Those outside in the streets could see clearly that these were Iraqi, not Iranian aircraft, since they flew low enough for their markings to be legible. In the afternoon, at about 3:00, those who remained in the shelters became aware of an unusual smell. Like the villagers in the Balisan Valley the previous spring, they compared it most often to sweet apples, or to perfume, or cucumbers, although one man says that it smelled "very bad, like snake poison." No one needed to be told what the smell was.
The attack appeared to be concentrated in the northern sector of the city, well away from its military bases--although these, by now, had been abandoned. In the shelters, there was immediate panic and claustrophobia. Some tried to plug the cracks around the entrance with damp towels, or pressed wet cloths to their faces, or set fires. But in the end they had no alternative but to emerge into the streets. It wasgrowing dark and there were no streetlights; the power had been knocked out the day before by artillery fire. In the dim light, the people of Halabja could see nightmarish scenes. Dead bodies--human and animal--littered the streets, huddled in doorways, slumped over the steering wheels of their cars. Survivors stumbled around, laughing hysterically, before collapsing. Iranian soldiers flitted through the darkened streets, dressed in protective clothing, their faces concealed by gas masks. Those who fled could barely see, and felt a sensation "like needles in the eyes." Their urine was streaked with blood.29
Those who had the strength fled toward the Iranian border. A freezing rain had turned the ground to mud, and many of the refugees went barefoot. Those who had been directly exposed to the gas found that their symptoms worsened as the night wore on. Many children died along the way and were abandoned where they fell. At first light the next morning Iraqi warplanes appeared in the sky, apparently monitoring the flight of the survivors. Many kept away from the main roads and scattered into the mountains, despite the ever-present menace of landmines. According to one account, some six thousand people from Halabja congregated at the ruined villages of Lima and Pega. Another thousand or so gathered among the rubble of Daratfeh, the last village on the Iraqi side of the border.30
The Iranians were ready for the influx of refugees. Iranian helicopters arrived at Lima and Pega in the late afternoon and military doctors administered atropine injections to the survivors before they were ferried across the border. In Iran, all agree that they were well-cared for, although some had injuries that were untreatable, and they died on Iranian soil. The sickest were transferred to hospitals in the Iranian cities of Teheran and Kermanshah, and the smaller town of Paveh. The remainder spent two weeks in a converted schoolhouse in the town of Hersin, where they received medical attention. From there, they were taken to two refugee camps--one at Sanghour, on the Persian Gulf nearBandar Abbas, the other at Kamiaran in Kermanshah province, close to the Iraqi border. There they waited until Anfal was over, and they believed that it was safe to return home.
There would, however, be no homes to return to, for virtually every structure in Halabja was leveled with dynamite and bulldozers after Iraqi forces finally retook the city. So, too, were Zamaqi and Anab, two complexes that had been built on the outskirts of Halabja in the late 1970s to rehouse villagers from the destroyed border areas. So, too, was nearby Sayed Sadeq, a town of some 20,000. In both Halabja and Sayed Sadeq, the electrical substations were also dynamited.31 Even after the razing of Halabja, many bodies remained in the streets to rot where they had fallen four months earlier.32
"The loss of Halabja is a regrettable thing," remarked Foreign Minister and Revolutionary Command Council member Tariq Aziz, adding, "Members of Jalal al-Talabani's group are in the area and these traitors collaborate with the Iranian enemy."33 As the news of Halabja spread throughout Iraq, those who asked were told by Ba'athist officials that Iran had been responsible. A Kurdish student of English at Mosul University recalled his shock and disbelief at the news; he and his fellow Kurds were convinced that Iraqi government forces had carried out the attack, but dared not protest for fear of arrest.34
Not until July did the Iraqi regime move to recover Halabja, which was left under de facto Iranian control. In the days following the mass gassing, the Iranian government, well aware of the implications, ferried in journalists from Teheran, including a number of foreigners. Their photographs, mainly of women, children and elderly people huddled inertly in the streets, or lying on their backs with mouths agape, circulated widely, demonstrating eloquently that the great mass of the dead had been Kurdish civilian non-combatants. Yet the numbers have remained elusive, with most reports continuing to cite Kurdish or Iranian estimates of at least 4,000 and as many as 7,000.35 The true figure was certainly in excess of 3,200, which was the total number of individual names collected in the course of systematic interviews with survivors.36
Halabja was a symbolic show of Iraqi force in a war that Iran could never win. But the mass gassing had also served a more important purpose by delivering a crushing psychological blow to the Kurdish peshmerga and their civilian sympathizers. Halabja was exemplary collective punishment of the most brutal kind, carried out in bald defiance of all international prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons. The PUK fighters had been exposed to poison gas several times during the preceding weeks; now the will of the civilian population was to be broken.
The Halabja chemical attack was a harbinger of later Anfal policies. During each of the eight phases of the military campaign, these forbidden weapons would be used against Kurdish villages, dozens of them in all--enough to terrify their residents with a reminder of what had befallen Halabja. Yet Halabja, while remaining the single greatest atrocity of the war against the Kurds, was not part of Anfal. In that sense, it was the clearest possible illustration of the bureaucratic logic of the Anfal campaign. On March 15, the very eve of the Halabja attack, the Northern Bureau Command ordered that "the families of subversives who take refuge with our units should be detained in special guarded camps set up for that purpose under the supervision of intelligence officers from the First and Fifth Army Corps."37 These camps were the first step in establishing the web-like bureaucracy of mass killing that operated during Anfal. But the fleeing survivors of Halabja were not detained and taken to the camps, because the Iraqi regime did not consider Halabja to be a part of Anfal. The reason was quite simple: Halabja was a city, and Anfal was intended to deal with the rural Kurdish population.38
After Halabja, the PUK headquarters did not resist for long. At 10:10 on the night of March 18, army units stormed into Sergalou causing heavy losses among its final defenders. Bergalou fell the following afternoon. Saddam Hussein had fulfilled his promise to cut off "the head of the snake." By the end of the day, the General Command of the Iraqi Armed Forces had prepared its official victory declaration,and a jubilant announcer on Iraqi radio informed his listeners that "thousands of the sons of our Kurdish people took to the streets of Erbil, expressing their joy and chanting in support of President Saddam Hussein."39 The army communique contains the first official reference that Middle East Watch has been able to find to the operation known as Anfal. The successful conclusion of each subsequent phase of the campaign would be announced in the Iraqi press with similar fanfare.
The March 19 communique reads:
In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate.
Like all covetous invaders, the Zionist Khomeinyite forces relied on some of those who betrayed the homeland and people in the northern area of Iraq--those who our good Kurdish people expelled from their ranks. Those elements performed shameful services for foreigners. Among their shameful acts was facilitating the missions of the invading forces in entering in the Halabja border villages in the Suleimaniyeh Governorate.
As an expression of the will of the great Iraqi people, the brave Armed Forces, and the good honorable nationalists from our Kurdish people; and in response to the treason of this stray clique; the brave Badr forces, the brave Al-Qa'qa forces, the brave Al-Mu'tasim forces, and the forces affiliated with them from our Armed Forces and the National Defense Battalions [jahsh], carried out the Anfal operation under the supervision of Staff Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashem, who is temporarily assigned to this mission in addition to his regular duties.40 Our forces attackedthe headquarters of the rebellion led by traitor Jalal Talabani, the agent to the Iranian regime, the enemy of the Arabs and Kurds, in the Sergalou, Bergalou and Zewa areas and in the rough mountainous areas in Suleimaniyeh. At 1300 today, after a brave and avenging battle with the traitors, the headquarters of the rebellion was occupied. The commander of the force guarding the rebellion headquarters, and a number of traitors and misguided elements, were captured with God's help and with the determination of the zealous men of Iraq--Arabs and Kurds. Many were killed and others escaped in shame.
This is unique bravery and faithfulness. This is a struggle admired by the entire world, the struggle of leader Saddam Hussein's people, Arabs and Kurds, who placed themselves in the service of the homeland and gave their love and faithfulness to their great leader, the symbol of their victory and title of their prosperity. Our people have rejected from their ranks all traitors who sold themselves cheaply to the covetous foreign enemy.
Praise be to God for His victory. Shame to the ignominious.
[signed] The Armed Forces General Command, 19 March 1988"41
1 Middle East Watch interview with former Haladin resident Hakim Mahmoud Ahmad, Piramagroun complex, July 27, 1992.
2 The PUK, together with the Iraqi Communist Party, the Socialist Party of Kurdistan and a number of Iranian parties, had formerly been based in Nawzeng, the "Valley of the Parties," some distance to the north. See Van Bruinessen, Agha, Shaikh and State, p.39. But they were driven out in 1983, when the Iranian army attacked and the Iraqis moved in to retake the area. The Jafati valley housed contingents of the Iranian KDP and Komala parties, in addition to the PUK.
3 Again, these symptoms suggest that a nerve agent such as Sarin was used here.
4 Confirmation of the Iraqi regime's intent to use chemical weapons, and of the fact that the peshmerga had obtained gas masks, is contained in a document in the captured Iraqi archives. Classified "urgent and secret," it is a telegram from Major Sa'di Mahmoud Hussein, Commander of Zakho District, dated 22/6 (year omitted, but from the context almost certainly 1987), reference no. AS/3/4181 and addressed to "Commander (A)". It reads:
6 Middle East Watch was given various dates for the opening of the Sergalou campaign, ranging from February 22 to 26, 1988; from the Defense Ministry order cited here, it seems apparent that the correct date is February 23. In field interviews, both peshmerga combatants and ordinary villagers could differ wildly in their recollection of dates, even for crucially important events.
7 Defense Ministry Legal Department circular to Interior Ministry,
no. Q2/236/6300, dated February 23, 1988.
8 Middle East Watch interview, Goktapa, June 2, 1992.
9 The Republican Guard began life as a politically reliable paramilitary force, made up of three brigades from President Saddam Hussein's Tikrit district. Over time it expanded into a heavily mechanized élite corps, twenty-five divisions strong. It is easy to recognize Republican Guard troops in the field because of their camouflage uniforms and their distinctive red triangular shoulder-patches.
10 This figure was given to us by Aras Talabani, a senior PUK official and nephew of party leader Jalal Talabani. Middle East Watch interview, Zakho, April 12, 1992.
11 Secret cable, signed by "security colonel," Amn Suleimaniyeh to Amn Autonomous Region, no. 4610, February 25, 1988.
12 Middle East Watch interview with former resident of Maluma (nahya Mawat), Bayinjan complex, Suleimaniyeh, May 18, 1992.
13 Middle East Watch interviews, Zakho, March 14 and April 6, 1993.
14 Middle East Watch interview, Piramagroun complex, July 30, 1992.
15 Middle East Watch interview, Piramagroun complex, July 27, 1992.
16 The lower figure was cited by former PUK officials; higher estimates were given by villagers interviewed by Middle East Watch.
17 Middle East Watch interview, Piramagroun complex, July 27, 1992.
18 Amnesty decrees had long been a favored tactic of the Ba'ath regime. However, it was vital for citizens to know whether they were dealing with a genuine amnesty announced through official channels. The rumor of an amnesty could have devastating effects; fleeing civilians and peshmerga were often lured into government traps during the Anfal campaign by spurious offers of amnesty, local as well as general. Not until September 6, and the completion of the military campaign, was a genuine amnesty offered. See below, chapter 11.
19 Jupa and Dingeman (op. cit., pp. 5-6) believe that Iraq fired as many as 182 enhanced-range SCUD-B missiles in a 52-day assault, starting February 29, 1988. Developed with the help of East German and Brazilian engineers, these "souped-up" Scuds were capable of reaching the Iranian capital, 340 miles from the Iraqi border.
20 According to this report, "The official explained that Iraq's confidence that it could repel a major offensive would demonstrate to Iraq's allies that Iran had no hope of breaching the country's defenses. Moreover, the world would be reminded, he said, that the war is a volatile flashpoint requiring a major diplomatic effort to bring it to an end." Washington Post, March 2, 1988.
21 On the razing of the Kani Ashqan neighborhood, see the document cited at pp.78-79 above.
22 Secret cable traffic from Amn Suleimaniyeh to Autonomous Region Amn headquarters, March 6-16, 1988.
23 The two parties to the Halabja feint give differing accounts of the relative strength of the forces involved. While Iran played up its own participation, PUK sources interviewed by Middle East Watch claimed that the seizure of Halabja was a joint peshmerga operation, which the Iranians only joined in large numbers after the March 16 chemical attack. Neither version can be regarded as wholly reliable.
24 Among the many Iranian offensives of the war, the designation of Val-Fajr carried special weight. Val-Fajr I, in February 1983, was Iran's first land assault on Iraqi territory; Val-Fajr 8 and 9, in February 1986, resulted in the seizure of the Fao Peninsula and the simultaneous occupation of mountain areas near Suleimaniyeh, bringing Iranian forces close enough to shell that city. See Cordesman and Wagner, op. cit., pp.159, 219-224.
25 Both cities contain important Shi'a shrines: Najaf is the burial place of the Imam Ali, and Karbala of the Imam al-Husayn. The question asked by the pasdaran says something about their naivete. Both cities are situated well to the south of Baghdad--several hundred miles, that is to say, from Halabja.
26 Middle East Watch interview with former municipal employee, Halabja, May 8, 1992.
27 Secret Amn cable, unnumbered, to Autonomous Region Amn headquarters, March 16, 1988.
28 Middle East Watch interview, Halabja, May 17, 1992.
29 The symptoms described by survivors are consistent with exposure to both mustard gas and a nerve agent such as Sarin.
30 Resool lists these villages among those destroyed in the border clearances of 1978. Daratfeh appears as a village of thirty households in the nahya of Biyara; Lima and Pega, hamlets of eight and twelve houses respectively, are in the nahya of Sirwan.
31 This reportedly occurred in every one of the nahyas and qadhas that were demolished during the campaigns of 1987-1989. By way of comparison, see Middle East Watch's analysis of the targeting of Iraq's electrical system during the 1991 Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), in Needless Deaths in the Gulf War: Civilian Casualties during the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War, pp.171-193. In Halabja and Sayed Sadeq, of course, the evident intent was to make the towns uninhabitable. Both were subsequently declared part of a "prohibited area."
32 The Iranian forces in Halabja had managed to bury an estimated 3,000 victims of the March 16 chemical attack in mass graves under a thin layer of dirt in the complex of Anab. Four years later, the corpses were still there, and they were beginning to pollute the local groundwater.
33 Amman Sawt al-Sha'b in Arabic, March 25, 1988, in FBIS, March 25, 1988.
34 Middle East Watch interview, Suleimaniyeh, May 20, 1992.
35 See for example Time, "The Cries of the Kurds," September 19, 1988 and The Washington Post, "Rebel Kurds Say They Are Ready to Strike at Iraq," January 24, 1991, both of which cite the figure of 4,000; Kendal Nezan, "Saddam's Other Victims--the Kurds," The Washington Post, January 20, 1991 (5,000); Isabel O'Keeffe, "Flanders Fields Revisited," New Statesman and Society, March 1989 (5,500); "Massacre by Gas," in The Kurds: A Minority Rights Group Profile, 1990 (6,000); and The Observer, "Hitler-Style Genocide Threatens the Kurds," May 7, 1989 (7,000).
36 This figure was collected by the Kurdish researcher Shorsh Resool.
37 Letter no. 297 of the Northern Bureau Command, dated March 15, 1988. These instructions were conveyed to Suleimaniyeh Amn (Chamchamal, Sayed Sadeq and Darbandikhan) in an unnumbered letter from Eastern Region Military Intelligence (Istikhbarat), dated March 18 and classified "confidential and personal."
38 By the same logic of Anfal--perverse yet utterly consistent--villagers from the Halabja region who returned to their homes in the "prohibited areas" after the chemical attack were later "Anfalized." Thus, twenty families who were found by Iraqi troops in the village of Tawella (nahya of Biyara) when the army retook this area in July 1988 were all reportedly arrested and disappeared. Middle East Watch interview with a former resident of Tawella, Suleimaniyeh, March 27, 1993.
39 Baghdad Voice of the Masses in Arabic, March 19, 1988, in FBIS, March 21, 1988, p.23.
40 The various forces named correspond to divisions of the Iraqi Army. The first of them is of course named for the Battle of Badr in A.D. 624, which is the subject of the Koranic sura of al-Anfal. Lt. Gen. Hashem was later in command of Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm, and negotiated the terms of theIraqi surrender on March 3, 1991, with allied commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
41 Baghdad Voice of the Masses in Arabic, March 19, 1988, in FBIS, March 21, 1988, pp.22-23.