The Plight of Iraqi Kurds

by Navya Mohindra

Who was Saddam Hussein?

Born on 28 April 1937, Saddam was the fifth President of Iraq from 1979 until 2003.

He was a leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and, later, the Baghdad-based Ba’ath Party.

Cancer took away both his father and brother before his birth. His depressed mother even attempted to abort the pregnancy and commit suicide.

After his birth, his mother wanted no connection with him, so he was taken in by his uncle.

When he returned, his mother had already remarried, Ibrahim al-Hassan, who illtreated Saddam causing him to run and return to live with his uncle, yet again.

Who are Kurds?

Kurds or Kurdish people are an ethnic group native to a mountain range in eastern Asia called Kurdistan.

The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Iraq, comprising 15% to 20% of the country’s population.

Anfal Genocide: The Holocaust of the Kurds

The Anfal genocide, a systematic attempt to exterminate the Kurdish population in Iraq, was ordered by Saddam Hussein.

Anfal literally translates to “The Spoils”. The operation was commanded by President Saddam Hussein’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid.

The military operations and chemical attacks were officially conducted in 1988 and had eight stages (Anfal1- Anfal 8).

Anfal 1

The first stage was conducted between 23 February and 18 March 1988, targeting the Jafali valley, where the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was situated.

The villages Sargullu, Bargullu, Gwezeela, Chalawi, Haladin and Yakhsamar were attacked with poison gas.

Anfal 2

The second stage was conducted from 22 March and 2 April 1988, targeting the Qara Dagh region. Meyoo, Serko, Belekjar, Sewsenan and Safaran were the villages that were attacked this time.

Anfal 3

In the next Anfal campaign from 7 April to 20 April,1988, the Garmian region was targeted. This time the only village attacked with chemical weapons was Tazashar. The Iraqi forces lured the people by announcing an amnesty through a loudspeaker of a mosque in Qader Karam.

Anfal 4

Anfal 4 took place from 3rd to 8th May,1988, in the valley of Little Zab. There were major poisonous gas attacks in Askar and Goktapa. Again, an amnesty was announced which turned out to be a trap.

Anfal 5, 6, and 7

Valleys of Rawanduz and Shaqlawa were targeted in these three consecutive attacks between 15 May and 16 August 1988.

The Anfal 5 failed completely but after the other two attacks the valleys were completely under Iraq’s control.

Anfal 8

The last Anfal was aimed at the region controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) called Badinan and took place from 25 August to 6 September 1988.

Saddam committed one of the worst atrocities in the modern era: Murder (by poisonous gas) of thousands of Kurdish citizens.

Halabja Chemical Attack

On 16 March,1988, took place the horrendous Halabja Chemical Attack, also known as the Halabja Massacre or Bloody Friday and was part of the Al-Anfal campaign in Kurdistan.

It was a normal spring day when the bombing began. Terror-stricken people ran to any place they could find and hid.

Screams of “gas” and “chemical” filled the streets, causing panic and dread.

Memories of the gruesome event still make the survivor’s blood run cold. As survivors recall, the gas smelled of sweet apples and led people to die in numerous awful ways.

Some just dropped dead while others ‘died of laughing’. Burning and Blistering or coughing up green vomit was also common amongst the victims.

Ali Hassan al-Majid was given the notorious name of ‘Chemical Ali’ for his role in the unfortunate event.

A monument in Halabja remembers those killed in the attack on 16 March 1988.

Effects of the Chemicals

A lethal cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX was used.

1) Sarin

Sarin, developed in 1983 in Germany as a pesticide, is a human-made chemical warfare agent, which blocks the nerve signals that send the “switch off” commands to the muscles and glands. It also paralyzes the muscles around the lungs.

2) Tabun

Tabun is also a man-made chemical warfare agent, developed in Germany in 1936 as a pesticide.

3) VX

VX is a human-made chemical warfare agent developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s.

All three deadly gasses prompt similar symptoms.

Some exposure might lead to:

  • Blurred vision

  • Chest tightness

  • Rapid Breathing

  • Abdominal pain

  • Drowsiness and weakness, etc.

Exposure in large doses may result in:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Convulsions (seizures)

  • Paralysis

  • Respiratory failure possibly leading to death

A Survivor’s Escapade

"I saw my mum getting killed in front of my eyes. I couldn't protect her. After that, I saw two of my sisters getting killed. I get recurring flashbacks. I think about it when I go to sleep."

Taimour Abdulla Ahmed, the sole survivor of the incident tells BBC, the graphic details haunt him even decades after.

Dozens of such children and women were forced into a truck and driven away, where Iraqi officers opened fire slaughtering them.

Newborn babies were snatched away from their mother’s arms. Ahmed was shot in the legs, arms, and back, he played dead to fool the soldiers.

After the soldiers departed, he ran wherever his feet could take him, ending up reaching the tent of the Bedouin Family, who took care of him. In 1996 he found asylum in the US, where he presently resides.

Not everyone escaped the massacre alive. But the worst ones were who had to see their husbands, wives, children, their loved ones being murdered right in front of them and not being able to do anything.

It traumatized and scarred them for the rest of their lives. Saddam Hussein and his plans brought bloodbath and hatred in his country, in the hearts of his people.

Saddam Hussein’s trial

On 13 December 2003, Saddam was captured by the United States and held captive by US armed forces in Baghdad along with eleven Ba’athist officials.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging on 5 November 2006. However, even before his death, he justified his actions.

"My message to the Iraqi people is that they should not suffer from the guilt that they killed Kurds,"

He claimed that he treated Iraqi Kurds fairly, he felt no guilt or remorse whatsoever. But history will remember him and his atrocious actions against thousands of innocents.

These inhumane practices were carried out in the name of ‘ethnic cleansing’. The brave survivors and the world have led on with their lives, but this does not mean that we have forgotten what happened.

We commemorate the survivors and victims of this disastrous event and hope to never see such a day again.


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