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Fourth Anfal--The Valley of the Lesser Zab,

May 3-8, 1988

"Some were blind; some could not reach our village. The spirit left them on the way; they were all black."
-- Na'ima Hassan Qader of Galnaghaj, describing the exodus of villagers from the chemical attack on the neighboring village of Goktapa, May 3, 1988.

After the initial blitzkrieg in Germian--there is no other word for what took place there--the remaining peshmerga forces headed north. While the army prepared to confront them there, the intelligence apparatus spared no effort to track down those who had slipped to safety in the towns or mujamma'at. On May 4, the General Security Directorate (Amn) issued orders for anyone who had surrendered in combat areas of the first three Anfal operations to be rounded up and handed over by the army into its custody for case-by-case evaluation.1

In the northern part of Germian, many villagers escaped this dragnet and survived by melting into the anonymous crowds of Kirkuk and the smaller Kurdish towns. But those in the south were less fortunate. Hemmed in on all sides by troops, mountains, well-guarded main roads and an Arabized desert area, they had little chance to elude their captors. Only a few lucky ones made it as far as Tuz Khurmatu or the new complex of Sumoud ("Steadfastness" in Arabic), outside the town of Kalar. Those who were caught accounted for the heaviest single concentration of disappearances during the Anfal campaign. While malesaged from 15-50 routinely vanished en masse from all parts of Germian, only in the south did the disappeared include significant numbers of women and children. Most were from the Daoudi and Jaff-Roghzayi tribes. Yet their tribal affiliation was unlikely to be the cause; there seems no reason why the Iraqi regime should have harbored any special hatred for these two groups. Furthermore, people from other tribes who fled or strayed south of the Awa Spi river were subject to the same treatment. Nor can the explanation lie with brutal or over-zealous local army commanders, since the detainees were transferred within a matter of days--still alive--to centralized processing camps. It was there that the intelligence services singled them out, referring to the highest authorities where necessary for a ruling on what to do in the cases of individual detainees.2

No single theory can adequately explain the mass disappearances of women and children from southern Germian, although they may in part reflect a mentality of reprisals for the stiff resistance that the army faced in such PUK-controlled villages as Tazashar, Omerbel and Sheikh Tawil. It was the inhabitants of these places, and scores of others like them, who suffered so grievously; in some cases, entire village populations appear to have been wiped out, with the exception of some of the elderly. In the absence of a comprehensive statistical survey, it is hazardous to estimate the total numbers who perished during Anfal. But by the most conservative estimate, it is safe to say that at least 10,000 Kurds disappeared from this one small area alone.3 In only one other area was a similar pattern repeated; this was in a cluster of villages along the Lesser Zab river during the Fourth Anfal, in the first week of May 1988.

Beyond the town of Chamchamal, the land falls away sharply. Immediately to the north is the broad valley of the Nahr al-Zab-al-Saghir, the Lesser Zab river, which forms the borderline between the governorates of Erbil and Al-Ta'mim (Kirkuk). (The Kurds call the river Awi Dukan--the Waters of Dukan--because it flows from the dam on the lake of that name.) It was this area which offered temporary sanctuary to PUK forces fleeing from the Third Anfal.

By about April 13, the peshmerga in Germian realized that further resistance was futile. The military leadership met secretly that day in Tilako--two days after the village had been burned by the army--and decided to organize an orderly retreat. They pulled back first to the village of Masoyi Bergach (Sengaw nahya), and then, on April 15, split up into three columns, with each taking responsibility for the safety of large contingents of women and children. Two groups headed for the Redar (Shwan) area, northwest of Chamchamal.4 The other, led by the surviving nucleus of the first malband, made for the town of Askar, a few miles south of the Lesser Zab.5

In 1988, the river valley was studded with little Kurdish towns: nahyas like Aghjalar, Taqtaq and Redar, as well as other population centers of local importance such as Askar and Goktapa. Further north the Koysinjaq plain spread out, with its untapped oil reserves; to the northwest lay the city of Erbil, and the handful of villages on the Erbil plain that had escaped the army's spring 1987 assault. These were now targeted as part of the Fourth Anfal. To the north and east, the operation extended as far as the western shore of Dukan Lake and the last outcroppings of the Qara Dagh mountain chain.

As the Fourth Anfal began, the morale of the Iraqi troops could hardly have been higher. On April 17-18, in a devastating counterattack that cost 10,000 enemy lives, Iraq had retaken the Fao peninsula at thehead of the Persian Gulf, reversing the most humiliating loss of the eight-year war and paving the way for Iran's final defeat.5

* * *

The Chemical Attacks on Goktapa and Askar

Goktapa means "green hill" in Turkish--a language whose influence is often apparent still in this former part of the Ottoman Empire's Mosul vilayet. Although the whole village had originally been built on the slopes of the hill, some families had resettled on the flat farmland on the south bank of the Lesser Zab after Goktapa was burned in 1963, during the first Ba'ath regime, after the first of many fierce battles between government forces and the peshmerga. In truth Goktapa was more a small town than a village, with at least 300--some say as many as 500--households, as well as a school, a clinic and two Sunni mosques. The surrounding fields produced rich harvests of cotton, wheat, tobacco, sunflowers, potatoes, eggplant, sweet pepper, beans, okra, grapes, apricots, figs and watermelon. Goktapa even had electricity, although the women still carried water from the river on donkeys.

Goktapa had endured the repression familiar to most villages in the prohibited areas. From a checkpoint outside the nahya of Aghjalar, half an hour away by car on a paved road, the army tried with mixed success to impose a blockade on all foodstuffs reaching the villages on the south side of the Lesser Zab. In 1982 or 1983, after a pitched battle between government forces and peshmerga, Goktapa was savagely attacked by helicopters, aircraft, tanks and ground troops. Among those killed was a 45-year old woman named Miriam Hussein, shot from a helicopter. There had been peshmerga in Goktapa since the far-off days of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, and after 1984 the village housed an important PUK command post. As a result it was bombed frequently. "We spent most of our lives in shelters," said one woman. When asked to describe the attitude of the civilian population towards the peshmerga, Fawzia, a woman of sixty, smiled. "The peshmerga were loved by the people," she said. "No one hates his own people." The peshmerga protected them from the armyand jahsh, she added: "Naturally; if there were no peshmerga, they would kill us with knives, cut out our tongues."6

May 3, 1988 was a lovely spring day. The river valley was carpeted in green and dotted with roses and other flowers. Although it was still Ramadan, and the people were fasting, the women of Goktapa were baking bread, and the children were splashing in the Waters of Dukan. Throughout April, Goktapa had seen a lot of peshmerga coming and going, stopping briefly in the village to eat, bringing news of the rout in Germian and Qara Dagh, spending the night and then moving on. But there had been no fighting in Goktapa itself, and ten days had now passed since the last Kurdish fighters had been sighted.

An hour or so before dusk, the late afternoon stillness was broken by the sound of jet engines. Abd-al-Qader Abdullah Askari, a man in his late 60s, was a little distance from his home when he heard the aircraft. Everyone in this part of Iraqi Kurdistan knew of Abd-al-Qader and his famous family. His late father, Abdullah, had been the head of the Qala Saywka tribe, which owned thirty-six villages in the hills around Aghjalar. By the time he died, the old man's property had dwindled to seven villages, which he divided among his sons. Abd-al-Qader was given Goktapa, although "I always worked with my hands; I never liked to exploit anyone."7 His brother Ali received the nearby village of Askar--hence the name "Askari." In time Ali became a senior PUK commander and a close confidant of Jalal Talabani.

Askar, an hour and a half on foot from Goktapa, seems to have been the aircraft's first target on May 3, no doubt because the PUK's first malband, in retreat from Germian, had tried to set up its new base here. A formation of MIGs swooped low over the village, which was now full of peshmerga. There were eight dull explosions, followed by a column of white smoke that smelled pleasantly of mint. Borne on a southeasterly wind, it drifted as far as Haydar Beg, a couple of miles away. When it cleared, nine villagers of Askar lay dead. Members of the PUK rushedaround administering atropine injections to those who had been exposed to the gas.8

Askar was not visible from Goktapa, and Abd-al-Qader was not especially alarmed when he looked up and saw the aircraft approaching. "I did not pay attention because we suffered from many bombardments. I thought it would be the same as in the past. We did not go into the shelters in front of our houses. No one paid any attention to the planes; we were accustomed to them. But when the bombing started, the sound was different from previous times. It was not as loud as in the past. I saw smoke rising, first white, then turning to gray. I ran away." But the wind from the southeast carried the smoke toward him. "I ran 50 meters then fell down. The smoke smelled like a match stick when you burn it. I passed out."

The bombs fell at exactly 5:45 p.m., according to Abd-al-Qader's daughter-in-law Nasrin, the 40-year old wife of his son Latif, a former schoolteacher. Nasrin remembered the time with precision because her family had a rare luxury: a clock mounted on the wall. She recalled counting four aircraft, although some other villagers say there were six--and some added that a second flight of six dropped their bombs later. The smoke, said Nasrin, was red and then turned to blue. It smelled of garlic.

There was general panic and confusion; villagers were screaming, running in all directions and collapsing from the fumes. Nasrin remembered the general advice that the peshmerga had given: in the event of a chemical attack, head for the river and cover your faces with wet cloths. She grabbed a bunch of towels and ran to the riverbank with seven of her eight children. Her eldest daughter, who ran off in another direction, was later arrested and disappeared. The advice about wet towels may well have saved the lives of Nasrin and her family, since the wind blew the gas straight across the Lesser Zab river where she had fled, and one bomb even fell in the water. Dead fish floated to the surface.9

Today, a simple monument on top of the "green hill" memorializes those who died in the chemical attack on Goktapa. Survivors say that they buried as many as 300, although a list compiledlater by the PUK gives the names of 154.10 Some died in the fields as they tended their crops. Other bodies were found in the river. With the help of a borrowed bulldozer, some of the villagers dug a deep trench in front of the mosque that had been destroyed by the army in an earlier raid, and buried many of the bodies that same night. Menawwar Yasin, a woman in her early 60s, helped with the burial. "Some of their faces were black," she said, "covered with smoke. Others were ordinary but stiff. I saw one mother, nursing her infant, stiffened in that position." Other corpses were covered over by the army with a rough layer of dirt when the ground troops destroyed Goktapa several days later. There was no time to do it any other way, an officer explained to a visiting member of the Askari family--it was hot and the bodies were beginning to smell; if they were left uncovered they might cause health problems for his men.11 Whatever the exact number of those who died, it was the heaviest toll from any confirmed chemical attack other than Halabja, six weeks earlier.

* * *

In the wake of the Goktapa attack, villagers remembered, the waters of the Lesser Zab rose quickly. It was a trick they had seen the regime use in earlier campaigns, opening the sluices at the Dukan Dam to block any attempt at flight across the river. The survivors from Goktapa, Askar and Haydar Beg scattered in all directions. Some fled south in the direction of Chamchamal, hoping to find sanctuary in the complexes of Takiyeh and Bayinjan, on the main road to Suleimaniyeh. Others headed west by back ways and goat tracks, travelling parallel to the river into the area inhabited by the Sheikh Bzeini tribe. More than fifty families from Askar were arrested on the morning of May 4 bytroops approaching along the main highway and were taken east in trucks to the complex of Suseh.

After passing out from the effects of the chemicals, Abd-al-Qader knew nothing more until he awoke the next morning in a strange room. A voice told him that he had reached the village of Mamlesi, some five miles west of Goktapa. He had been brought here unconscious by his son, the former teacher Latif. There was a smell of burning, and looking out they saw that most of the houses in Mamlesi were on fire. Abd-al-Qader and Latif crept into an air-raid shelter and waited there for three days and two nights until they were forced out by a sudden burst of gunfire at the entrance. Outside were four armored personal carriers, a contingent of troops under the command of an army major, and an IFA truck; the old man and his son surrendered and were driven away.

Meanwhile, Abd-al-Qader's daughter-in-law Nasrin and her seven crying children had found refuge in a cave. With her were thirty refugees from Goktapa, and another twenty from Mamlesi. At first light on May 4, 5:00 a.m., they went outside and saw helicopters hovering over the valley below. Some of the men had fieldglasses, and they watched in silence as the troops entered Goktapa later that morning. This account is borne out by army documents from the Fourth Anfal campaign, which note that troops had reached Askar at 5:30 a.m. on May 4 and were advancing north toward Goktapa.12 Seeing the troops approach, Nasrin and her children fled into the hills, where they survived for ten days by extraordinary good fortune before finally reaching safety in the complex of Takiyeh. Another daughter-in-law, Fahima, was less lucky; she was captured by troops in the village of Jelamort and disappeared. (Yet another member of this ravaged family, a three-month old child named Avan, was involved in an incident that is reminiscent of the baby-snatching practiced by the Argentine military during the "dirty war" of the 1970s. Avan survived the chemical attack, although her mother, brothers and sisters all died. But a member of the jahsh abducted the infant from her crib and took her to his childless wife in Koysinjaq. The child was eventually retrieved by an uncle.)

* * *

The Anfal Dragnet: East of Taqtaq

As in Germian, it appears that the army pursued a strategy of envelopment, attacking the Fourth Anfal area with at least a dozen separate task forces from several directions at once. Fragmentary handwritten field reports of the Fourth Anfal from the commander of the First Army Corps, Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashem, show that troop columns hit the Lesser Zab valley at first light on May 4, twelve hours after the chemical bombing of Askar and Goktapa. Some, operating out of Koysinjaq, attacked the villages along the north bank of the river; others converged on the south bank from Suseh and Chamchamal; two convoys moved out of Taqtaq, one headed north toward Koysinjaq, and the other crossing the river and cutting through the area inhabited by the Sheikh Bzeini tribe.

Most of the task forces reported only token resistance, but in a couple of places the peshmerga fought back hard, and even pinned the troops down under sustained artillery and rocket fire. On the morning of May 4, Lt. Gen. Hashem reported "fierce opposition" on Takaltu Mountain, a few miles to the northeast of Taqtaq. But by the end of the day, the mountain had been "cleansed after killing nine of them, whose bodies were left on the site." In the rugged Chemi Rezan valley, to the east of Goktapa, the task force operating out of Suseh ran into difficulties in one village after another: "0740 task force reached Surqawshan village, confronted saboteurs numbering 20-25....0900 task force was able to burn Awdalan and Kalabash after removing resistance....0945 Talan village burned after destroying resistance consisting of four groups of ten saboteurs." Lt. Gen. Hashem even found it necessary to call in reinforcements, more than 700 helicopter-borne Amn troops from Suleimaniyeh.13

By the late afternoon of May 4, however, the Chemi Rezan valley was quiet.14 The next day was punctuated only by brief firefights in Goktapa and across the river in Gomashin. By May 6, the entire area was under army control. Over the next two days, military units movednorth along the shore of Dukan Lake, burning everything in their path. By May 8, the Fourth Anfal was over.

Along both sides of the Lesser Zab river, the consequences for the civilian population were devastating. Those to the north, with few escape routes, were the worst hit, and some 1,680 people are listed as having disappeared from the six large villages of Kleisa, Bogird, Kanibi, Qizlou, Kani Hanjir and Gomashin. Many people from the south bank villages, such as Nasrin and her children, reached the safety of complexes; even so, the losses were catastrophic. As many as 500 are estimated to have disappeared from Goktapa alone, and hundreds more from villages such as Galnaghaj, Gird Khaber, Jelamort, Qasrok and Qamisha.15 One daily field report from the Army's First Corps for May 6 gives some notion of how many of these people were women and children. In addition to thirty-seven saboteurs, this notes the surrender close to Taqtaq that day of sixty men, 129 women and 396 children.16

Those who lived north of the river had no way of learning about the chemical attack on Goktapa, since the army had disabled the cable ferry that the villagers used to pull their rafts across the river. But the panicked flight of the survivors, many of them blind or dying, alerted people in the villages on the south bank to the fact that Anfal had now reached them. Some fled as soon as they heard the news from Goktapa; others stayed where they were. At midnight on the day of the gas attack, survivors arrived, "smelling of apples," at the village of Darbarou, an hour and a half to the west on foot. Despite this, the people of Darbarou did not seem to feel that they were at immediate risk, and stayed in their own beds that night. But at 10:00 the next morning, they found themselves surrounded by jahsh and regular army troops arriving fromTaqtaq. Aircraft flew overhead, bombing, and helicopters hovered over the village, with their loudspeakers announcing "Come out; there is a pardon for you." The villagers were rounded up and trucked away in IFAs as their homes went up in flames.17

Goktapa survivors also turned up toward midnight at Gird Khaber, a village of the Sheikh Bzeini tribe. People here had already sensed that trouble was brewing, and some of the men had taken the precaution of sending their wives and children away to the safety of the towns, taking refuge themselves in caves in the surrounding hills. As in Germian, there were false promises of an amnesty for those who surrendered, issued in this case by Qasem Agha, a one-eyed mustashar from Koysinjaq, whom people called "Qasma Kour" (Qasem the Blind). With the aid of this trick, Qasem Agha's forces captured 200 men fleeing from the Gird Khaber area.

But others in Gird Khaber were still at home when the Goktapa survivors arrived. They met early the next morning, in the pre-dawn darkness, to decide what to do. Some of the young men decided to take their chances in the mountains with the peshmerga, and it seems that some survived in this way. But most felt there was no alternative but to surrender. Accordingly, they made their way that morning to the village of Qamisha, where they knew the army was located, fearing that otherwise they too would be attacked with chemicals. It took them two hours to reach Qamisha, travelling packed into nine tractor-drawn trailers.

Army tacticians appear to have assigned Qamisha a role similar to that of Germian villages like Melistura and Aliawa--an initial assembly point toward which fleeing villagers could be funneled. The refugees from Gird Khaber found Qamisha occupied by a jahsh unit commanded by a mustashar named Borhan Shwani. Regular army troops were also in attendance, as well as a camouflage-clad contingent of commandos (Maghawir). "The army was firing into the air over people's heads, scaring them," one elderly resident of Gird Khaber said. "They were merciless with the old people."18 A man from Gird Khaber recognizedfaces from a half-dozen villages. An army officer with the two stars of a first lieutenant was carrying out body searches and confiscating "money, gold earrings, everything." Identity documents were taken away and never returned.

A somewhat different procedure appears to have been followed during the army attack on Jelamort, another Sheikh Bzeini tribal village a few miles to the south of Gird Khaber. The troops did not reach Jelamort until May 6, but the inhabitants had already heard of the Goktapa bombing from fleeing peshmerga. They took to the mountains, where they joined hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other refugees, hiding in caves or under trees. But they were quickly surrounded by the army. The troops opened fire, killing two men, and everyone else came out quickly with their hands held high. Men and women were separated on the spot and those from Jelamort were marched back to their village. Again, as in Qamisha, the troops stripped everyone of their money, valuables and documents, while other soldiers and jahsh completed the business of looting their homes. Some of the houses were already burning, and the bulldozers were at work on the cement structures. Three empty army trucks waited nearby. The sight of the looting was apparently too much for one member of the jahsh, who protested loudly. But he was confronted by an angry military officer, who told him, "These people are heading toward death, they cannot take money or gold with them. The law of the state says they are going to die." The commander of the jahsh unit came over at this point and disarmed his rebellious underling, telling him, "It is the law of our state; you cannot do anything."19

In Jelamort, then, the sexes were separated at the point of capture rather than later at one of the regime's processing centers. This was also the procedure in Galnaghaj (although married women from this village were eventually trucked away with their husbands), and in Qaranaw, just outside the town of Taqtaq, where all the women were spared for reasons that remain obscure. "The army officers took all the men," an elderly woman from Qaranaw told Middle East Watch. "Then they held us in the village for two days. We could not eat or do anything. We just sat in one big line. When we were waiting in the village, thejahsh and the soldiers burned all the houses."20 After two days, the women of Qaranaw were driven to Chamchamal in army buses and dumped in the street. "I asked one of the soldiers why they were leaving us like this in the city where we didn't know anybody. They replied, 'You are lucky that you have ended up here; your men have gone to hell.'"

To the north of the Lesser Zab, it was much the same story, as one village after another was captured and demolished by the task forces operating out of Koysinjaq. The villages of Gomashin and Kleisa, for example, lay on the north bank of the river, almost directly across from Goktapa. Anfal reached Kleisa on May 4, the day after the chemical attack. Like Gomashin, it housed a PUK headquarters and the village had a large peshmerga presence. ("Our souls were on their heads," was how one woman put it.) Most of the villagers had moved out of Kleisa two years before Anfal, to build new homes along the Lesser Zab, which narrows to a gorge at this point. They called the place Qolti Karez, "the pit of the underground stream." It was here that Anfal surprised them, and after a brief attempt to hide out in caves in the mountains, they were arrested en masse and disappeared.

In October 1986, Gomashin and neighboring Qizlou had provoked the wrath of the regime when a group of Iranian pasdaran passed through the two villages, making an unusual sortie so far from the border. Aircraft had rocketed Gomashin a short time afterwards, and villagers assumed that the raid was in reprisal. One projectile hit a woman named Aisha as she carried water from the spring, killing her instantly. Another pierced the wall of a house, wounding a woman named Hajer and her 18-month old child. Since there were no cars to take them to a hospital to have their wounds treated, both died within hours.

Peshmerga fleeing the rout in the south had converged upon Gomashin in the days before the Fourth Anfal. One teenager from Gomashin, a boy of thirteen at the time, estimated that 200-300 peshmerga were in the vicinity at the beginning of May. The day after the chemical attack on Goktapa, they decided to try to make their way to Iran, appropriating the village's tractors for transport. The people of Gomashin pleaded with them not to deprive the villagers of their only means of escape, but the peshmerga brushed aside their objections. At dawn, however, the empty tractors came back with their drivers, and thevillagers now used the vehicles to flee in the direction of Koysinjaq.21 The following day Iraqi aircraft and groundforces attacked Gomashin. Many of the villagers were captured in flight and disappeared. One witness said that 115 people from Gomashin were "Anfalized"; another put the number at 130.22 On May 6, the First Corps reported that Gomashin had been razed to the ground, together with Gird Khaber and a string of other villages.23

The Shwan Area

While the region east of Taqtaq was being devastated in this way, other army units turned their attention to the nahya of Shwan (Redar), a short way to the west. Once again they were assisted by jahsh contingents under the command of the short, stoutly built mustashar Qasem Agha of Koysinjaq. The small town of Shwan itself had been destroyed in September 1987; several of the seventy villages in its jurisdiction had already been razed during the clearances that spring, their inhabitants being relocated to the newly built complexes of Daratou and Benaslawa on the southern outskirts of the city of Erbil.

As one moves west, the landscape becomes flatter and less dramatic. Here, the Lesser Zab valley begins to broaden out into the plain between Erbil and Kirkuk, although it is still broken up by craggy hills and horizontal rock outcroppings. On the face of it, the terrain here was far from ideal for guerrilla warfare. Yet from the evidence of a dozen interviews that Middle East Watch conducted with Shwan villagers, it is apparent that small peshmerga units (both PUK and a few KDP) hung on here for several weeks, fighting occasional skirmishes before retreating. A considerable number of civilians also managed to escape to safety through the army lines.

Many of the Shwan villages, being in relatively low-lying land closer to the highway and the cities, had never been "liberated territory" in the same sense as the more mountainous interior. More than one survivor spoke of government forces and peshmerga "taking turns" at controlling these villages. During periods of greater peshmerga influence, there was brutal, if intermittent, government harassment in all the forms familiar in the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan--punitive jahsh incursions, burning and looting, shelling from artillery, rocketing and occasional bombing from the air. After the spring 1987 campaign of village destruction, many army deserters had rebuilt crude homes in sheltered areas, and most of the remaining villages harbored large numbers of draft dodgers. In the Shwan village of Dellu, for example, a village of eighty mud and stone houses, fully half the men considered themselves active peshmerga,and the population was swelled by some fifty or sixty fugitives from military service.

Dellu had been destroyed and rebuilt twice before--once in 1963 and then again in 1976. The Fourth Anfal reached the village on the morning of May 5, with rocket attacks from helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft softening up the area for advancing ground troops from the 77th Special Forces. Some died in their homes. According to one witness, three or four elderly women and four or five children died in the initial attack, either burned to death or killed by artillery fire.24 Twenty-eight villagers were arrested in the army roundup and disappeared; they included three women and one small child. The remainder fled to the hills, and many managed to hide out, eluding Amn's house-to-house searches, in Kirkuk, Chamchamal or in the Benaslawa complex, which had been built to house people from this area a year earlier, some six miles outside Erbil.

Many people were also lucky enough to escape from Khala Kutia, a 15-minute walk from Dellu, and from Zigila, where remarkably the army managed to capture only six elderly people, including the mullah, from a village of thirty households. All the rest had been forewarned and fled. From a hideout on a nearby mountain side fifty villagers from Darmanaw, in the Sheikh Bzeini area, watched as the army and jahsh looted and burned their village; they survived for twelve days in caves, eating nothing but wild grasses. Hunger eventually drove them down to the town of Taqtaq, where "we threw ourselves on the mercy of the people, kissing their hands." With the help of the townspeople and a local mustashar, hundreds of fugitive villagers from the Sheikh Bzeini area hid out for several days in a poultry farm, huddled together in the chicken sheds. Remarkably, the army never found them.25

Even some draft-age males escaped the Anfal sweep in the Shwan area. This happened, for example, in the village of Palkana, after it was attacked by regular troops and commando units, backed up with artillery fire, aerial bombardment and tear gas. The villagers took flight on the morning that Anfal reached them, crossing the Lesser Zab river on wooden rafts to outrun the approaching troops. Even without food supplies, this group managed to remain in the mountains for two months,after which a number of young draft dodgers and army deserters slipped into the Benaslawa complex, which appears to have been sloppily monitored by the security forces.

More remarkable still in some ways was the escape of a group of sixty young draft dodgers from the village of Ilenjagh, a little to the east of Palkana and a few miles to the south of Taqtaq. Although Ilenjagh lay in the Shiwasur valley, a peshmerga stronghold, the village was vulnerable, since it was situated close to an army base and the paved road. In 1987 it was destroyed after a fierce battle, but the villagers defiantly returned to rebuild their homes in a secluded location a little further away from the army base. Almost the entire population survived Anfal. First, the women and children were sneaked into hiding in Taqtaq. Then the sixty young men fled with their weapons and dug into hiding places in the hills. Only two were captured. Moving from one place to another, the rest held out until the public amnesty of September 6, 1988, which marked the official end of the Anfal campaign.26

* * *

Zbeida's Story

The drama of the Shwan villagers' flight from Anfal with the help of the peshmerga is well captured in the testimony of Zbeida, a young woman who was nineteen at the time. Zbeida was a native of Serbir village, a sizeable place on the plain, toward the main Erbil-Kirkuk highway. Although Serbir was not a peshmerga village, it had been destroyed in the spring 1987 campaign that leveled scores of government-controlled villages on the Erbil plain. At first the villagers had been given two months to evacuate; officially, they were told that their homes were being razed to "protect them from harassment" by the peshmerga. A week later, their period of notice was shortened to just twenty-four hours, and they were ordered to move into the Benaslawa and Daratoucomplexes, which at this time were merely open fields with neither shelter nor infrastructure.

Zbeida and her parents moved into the city of Erbil--not into one of the complexes as the soldiers had ordered. Her two brothers, however, who were both active peshmerga, made for the PUK stronghold in the Sheikh Bzeini area. After being harassed by Amn in Erbil for three months on account of their sons' affiliation, the parents and Zbeida eventually moved to the "prohibited area" as well, in September 1987. Their new village was under constant government attack, and during one air-raid in February 1988, the family smelled a powerful aroma of apples from their shelter. When they emerged two hours later, they found that a number of peshmerga had suffered chemical burns although none had died.27

Anfal reached them on the morning of May 4, a year to the day after the destruction of Serbir. A helicopter had been seen circling overhead the previous day, so the attack was not entirely unexpected. At 4:00 a.m., the shelling began and the villagers immediately sought refuge in caves in the mountains. From this vantage point they could see the army entering a number of villages along the north bank of the Lesser Zab, rounding up the population and burning their houses. They witnessed the destruction of the villages of Qashqa and Khurkhur on the far shore. What they did not realize was that the soldiers were not only in the valley below but also in the mountains above their hideout.

Zbeida's family decided to flee in the opposite direction, to the east. They were fortunate, for the army soon descended on the caves and captured and disappeared their occupants. Zbeida's family, which was now accompanied by Rahman, one of the two peshmerga brothers, returned to their homes and paused there for a few minutes. But they could see the army approaching with tanks and armored personnel carriers, and they ran again. Looking back, they could see the soldiers tossing barrels of kerosene over their houses and setting them aflame. They ran on, with the troops in hot pursuit. Shells fell around them, but after crossing a series of small streams, they seemed to have thrown offtheir pursuers, and they stopped to rest in the village of Turki, another peshmerga stronghold.

Turki itself soon came under shellfire, and the refugees ran toward the Lesser Zab, hoping to cross to the other side. They tried to wade, but gave up when the water reached their necks. Behind them, the peshmerga were putting up a determined defense with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Eventually, Zbeida's brother Rahman managed to fashion three crude rafts from planks and inner tubes, and Zbeida, her parents and sister managed to get across. Rahman, who remained on the bank, yelled at them to make for the safety of the peshmerga-controlled Qala Saywka area.28

On the north bank of the river, they found themselves in another abandoned village; this was Shaytan. In one of the empty houses, they found bread and dry clothes. Behind them, they could still hear Rahman shouting, "Go! Go! Run to Qala Saywka and follow the peshmerga!" They walked all that night of May 4-5 along a narrow path, resting for a few hours at dawn, until they reached the mountains, and a safe-looking cave. Setting out from their shelter in mid-morning, they could see the army continuing to burn villages in the flood plain below. In the late afternoon, by an extraordinary coincidence, they chanced upon Omer, the second peshmerga brother. He wept to hear that Rahman had been left behind and insisted on going back to join him, to try and help civilians cross the river and get away from the advancing army. But first he led his parents and sisters north, away from the river, to another village, Nerajin, where they managed to pay for places in a grossly overcrowded tractor-drawn cart. Finally, at about 4:00 a.m. on May 6, the exhausted family reached the relative safety of the Benaslawa complex.

Omer came to Benaslawa just once, in the middle of May. He stayed for two weeks, then left again in search of his brother. In August, the family received news that the two brothers had found each other and fought together in a battle with the army near Turki village in June. In this part of Iraqi Kurdistan, in other words, some peshmerga units held out for at least a month after the initial assault of the Fourth Anfal. But the peshmerga who brought news of the reunion of Omer and Rahman also brought news of their capture. Through binoculars, their comrades hadseen them being arrested by the jahsh and driven away in army IFAs. Their parents, and their sister, never saw the two again.

* * *

The Fourth Anfal Collection Points

The villagers who were driven from their homes by the Fourth Anfal were subsequently taken to at least three temporary holding centers in the Lesser Zab valley. Harmota, an army camp outside the town of Koysinjaq, held a number of detainees from Gomashin and other villages for three days after their capture. Takiyeh, a complex that had been built in 1987 on the main road leading east from Chamchamal, was the initial destination for the trucks that carried away the survivors from the chemical attack on Goktapa and its environs. One Goktapa woman learned that her daughter, son-in-law and five children had been seen in an army truck at Takiyeh; another held her brother-in-law and his family of twelve. "The elder girl was seen crying to people to save them. She caught sight of a relative and yelled at him to try to save them, but he could do nothing."29 Many refugees also made their way to Takiyeh in the wake of the Fourth Anfal, hoping to find refuge there, even though the residents of the mujamma'at had been warned that anyone offering shelter to an Anfal escapee would have their home demolished.30

But it was the town of Taqtaq itself, an important regional center of some ten thousand people on the north side of the Lesser Zab, which acted as the principal collection point for villagers rounded up during the Fourth Anfal. As in Qader Karam to the south, the numbers of detainees were such that more than a single holding center was pressed into service. Some prisoners described being taken to the ameriya--the town's military garrison, housed in one of the innumerable forts that dotted Iraqi Kurdistan, built to a standard design during the 1970s. An elderly man from the village of Darbarou told of being brought here in a convoy of IFAs, some carrying his fellow-villagers and the remainder loadeddown with their chickens, sheep, goats and cows.31 Along the way a pregnant woman in his truck gave birth. At the garrison he recognized people from more than a dozen villages in the valley, from both sides of the river, packed into a number of inner rooms, with men and women held separately. The villagers spent a single night there before being trucked off to a new, unknown destination.

The second location was variously referred to by survivors as "a corral"; "a fenced-in area used for animals"; "a livestock pen near the bridge"; and "some sheds used for cows and horses." Once again, there were hundreds of people here from a number of villages along the Lesser Zab Valley. Some witnesses said that families remained together here; others disagreed, saying that young and old were segregated. Guards stood watch, but at this point there was no interrogation. These were extremely primitive facilities, and they were used only for a few hours. The soldiers also had less than total control of the crowds, and, as in Germian, members of the jahsh aided in a number of escapes. As one convoy of trucks pulled into the detention area, a young woman jumped off, clutching her baby, and managed to run away even though the military guards opened up on her fleeing form with machineguns. In the confusion of arrival, two siblings from the village of Qasrok--an 11-year old boy named Osman and his elder sister--were approached by a jahsh guard, a stranger, who whispered to them, "Take a chance, there are no soldiers here, run away. If anyone asks you where you are from, tell them Taqtaq." Being a resident of a town or a complex would of course offer immunity, given Anfal's rigid bureaucratic logic. The pair ducked into a jahsh car that was bringing food to the corral and managed to slip out through the army lines. It was the last time that Osman saw his parents, two brothers and remaining three sisters--the youngest of them just three years old.

After their brief sojourn in the cattle-pen, the family was hustled once more into the waiting trucks, which lumbered across the bridge over the Lesser Zab and headed south, like so many of their predecessors, in the direction of the oil city of Kirkuk, home of the Ba'ath Party's Northern Organization Bureau. Army documents from the Fourth Anfal provide revealing evidence, from the government side, of what happened to the detainees. Buried in the scrawl of his handwritten field reports, Lt. Gen. Hashem notes briefly that two groups of captured civilians from theShwan area--fourteen men, twelve women and twenty children in all--have been "sent on to the Amn administration of al-Ta'mim [Kirkuk] governorate"--the clearest possible proof of the destination of those heavily laden convoys of IFA trucks.32


1 "The following has been deemed appropriate," reads a communique from Amn Suleimaniyeh to the agency's local office in Chamchamal: "All persons who surrender in the theater where fighting took place during the First, Second and Third Anfal Operations, shall be sent to the Security Directorates with an explanation regarding the political stance of each one of them, in order to take the necessary measures [word illegible]." Communique no. 2827, May 4, 1988.

2 This, in addition to the emphasis on the place of capture, is the particular significance of the Amn correspondence cited above at p.121. The governorate office of Amn in Erbil has evidently found it necessary to appeal to the agency's headquarters for a ruling on what to do with particular individuals in its custody.

3 Resool, op. cit., calculates that some 200 villages were destroyed in this sector during Anfal, with a total population in excess of 35,000. On the basis of numerous Middle East Watch interviews with survivors, a disappearance rate of 30 percent seems conservative. Middle East Watch hopes to prepare a comprehensive statistical survey that will allow for a more precise estimate of the numbers who died or disappeared as a result of Anfal.

4 Redar is the town in the center of the nahya and tribal area of Shwan, and the two names are often used interchangeably.

5 This account of the PUK withdrawal is based on Middle East Watch interviews with two former peshmerga commanders in Suleimaniyeh and Kalar, March 28 and 30, 1993.

5 See Jupa and Dingeman, op. cit., pp.6-7.

6 Middle East Watch interview, Bayinjan complex, May 18, 1992.

7 The 1958 land reform did away with these old patterns of ownership. Abd-al-Qader Abdullah Askari continued to be acknowledged, however, as the effective leader of the village of Goktapa.

8 Middle East Watch interviews with former residents of Askar and Haydar Beg, Askar village, August 2, 1992.

9 Middle East Watch interview, Suleimaniyeh, August 1, 1992.

10 Middle East Watch was given the names of thirty-eight people in two families who died in the attack. More than half of these were children. Interviews with Abd-al-Qader Abdullah Askari and other former residents, Daratou complex and Goktapa village, April 20 and May 24, 1992.

11 Middle East Watch interview, Suleimaniyeh, July 4, 1992. As a result of his official contacts, this relative--who, as a city resident, was unaffected by Anfal--was granted permission to return to Goktapa after the attack to search for members of his family.

12 Handwritten daily report no. 8184 of May 4, 1988 from (signature illegible), Commander of First Army Corps, to Army Operations Headquarters.

13 Handwritten daily field report from First Corps Commander to Army Operations Headquarters, no.19/8179, 0500 hours, May 5, 1988.

14 Handwritten daily report no. 8276 from First Corps Commander to Army Operations Headquarters, May 6, 1988.

15 These are merely the villagers from which Middle East Watch was able to interview survivors. According to Resool, op. cit., some seventy-five villages in the nahya of Aghjalar were destroyed during the Fourth Anfal, along with twenty-four in the nahya of Koysinjaq center, fifty-two in the nahya of Taqtaq, and sixty-one in the nahya of Redar. Army documents speak of 138 villages "burned, destroyed or purified" during the Fourth Anfal. As in the case of the Third Anfal, these lists include most of the villages whose survivors reported mass civilian disappearances to Middle East Watch.

16 Handwritten daily report no.8280 of May 6, 1988 from First Corps commander to Army Operations.

17 Middle East Watch interview, Koysinjaq, April 22, 1992. This witness supplied the names of eleven disappeared men from the village of Darbarou.

18 Middle East Watch interview, Taqtaq, April 24, 1992.

19 Middle East Watch interview, Erbil, April 23, 1992.

20 Middle East Watch interview, Bayinjan complex, May 18, 1992.

21 Like Chamchamal in the Third Anfal, Koysinjaq was the target of massive house-to-house searches to locate survivors of the Fourth Anfal. Many people disappeared as a result of these Amn sweeps.

22 Middle East Watch interviews, Erbil, July 7 and 8, 1992.

23 Handwritten daily report no. 8276 from First Corps Commander to Army Operations Headquarters, May 6, 1988. This phase of Anfal also seems to have sucked in some people who were not its direct targets. One curious case concerns a driver and two porters--one of them a 25-year veteran of the Iraqi police named Khasraw Khidr Sa'id--in the town of Koysinjaq. Sometime in early May, the three men were approached in the bazaar by an Amn agent and three members of the jahsh of Qasem Agha. They ordered the men to accompany them, saying only that they had some belongings that needed to be moved. Khasraw Khidr Sa'id's family later heard that the three men had been taken to the village of Kanibi, just across the river from Goktapa.

Three days later the former policeman's family received a message via a guard at the Topzawa camp, to say that the man had been arrested. (Topzawa's crucial role in Anfal is described in detail below, at pp.209-217.) Beyond this, the family dared not approach the authorities, for fear that they too might be disappeared. This was the last word they received from any of the three men, who then vanished into thin air.

Then, in January 1992, they learned that Khasraw Khidr Sa'id's name had appeared on a document pasted to the wall of a local mosque. The paper turned out to be a transmittal order from the Erbil office of Amn to the morgue at the city's Republic Hospital. The letter was numbered 10160, classified "confidential" and dated June 29,1988--six weeks after the porter's disappearance, in other words. It ordered the hospital to bury and provide death certificates for four "saboteurs," including Khasraw Khidr Sa'id; the list also included the name of Hassan Muhammad Hassan Mawloud, the Koysinjaq driver abducted with him. The name of the second captured porter appeared on a similar document posted on another part of the mosque wall. Four days later, the family of Khasraw Khidr Sa'id obtained his death certificate from the Erbil Hospital. It listed thecause of death as execution. This case strongly suggests that Amn may have forced civilian bystanders to play an auxiliary role in the removal of the property and effects of villagers during the Fourth Anfal, and then killed them to preserve the secrecy of the operation.

24 Middle East Watch interview, Benaslawa complex, July 7, 1992.

25 Middle East Watch interview, Daratou complex, April 20, 1992.

26 It should be noted, however, that the amnesty did not put an end to their troubles. The sixty deserters were sent back to their army units, where at least some were beaten and mistreated before finally being released. Middle East Watch interview with Ilenjagh villager, Taqtaq, April 24, 1992.

27 A chemical weapons attack on this area was not mentioned by any other sources, and is not included in any of the PUK and KDP listings of such attacks. Nevertheless, the details of this account are persuasive, and the witness was extremely credible in all other respects. Middle East Watch interview, Daratou complex, July 15, 1992.

28 In the nahya of Aghjalar. Rahman was evidently unaware that other army units were simultaneously laying waste to this area in the wake of the chemical attack on Goktapa.

29 Middle East Watch interview with former resident of Goktapa, Bayinjan complex, May 18, 1992.

30 Middle East Watch interview, Suleimaniyeh, August 1, 1992.

31 Middle East Watch interview, Koysinjaq, April 26, 1992.

32 Lt. Gen. Hashem notes that on May 5 "forty-one persons... from various villages came to our mobile base at Shwan"; on May 6, four men and one woman "were detained in the prohibited village of Turki." Both groups were "sent on to the Amn administration of Ta'mim governorate." Handwritten reports (numbers illegible) from First Corps Commander to Army Operations Headquarters,

0600 hours May 6 and 0700 hours May 8, 1988.

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