Al-Anfal campaign

Al-Anfal campaign
Part of the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict and the Iran–Iraq War
(In strict sense February 23, 1988  September 6, 1988)

Insurgency weakened but not quelled

  • Destruction of 4,500 villages and massacre of civilian population
Ba'athist Iraq KDP
Commanders and leaders
Saddam Hussein
Ali Hassan al-Majid
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri
Ahmad al-Tai
Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti
Farhan Jubouri
Saber Abdel Aziz al-Douri
Taher Tawfiq al-Ani
Ayad Abbas Al-Nassri
Wafiq Al-Samarrai
Massoud Barzani
Jalal Talabani
Units involved
1st Corps
5th Corps[1]
National Defense Battalions
200,000 3,500
Casualties and losses
50,000-182,000 civilians killed[2][3]

The Al-Anfal campaign (Harakat al-Anfal/Homleh al-Anfal) (Kurdish: پڕۆسەی ئەنفال) (Arabic: حملة الأنفال), also known as the Kurdish genocide,[4] Operation Anfal, simply Anfal or Genocide in Iraq[5] was a genocidal[6] campaign against the Kurdish people (and other non-Arab populations) in northern Iraq, led by Ali Hassan al-Majid in the final stages of Iran–Iraq War. The campaign takes its name from Surat al-Anfal in the Qur'an, which was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Baathist government for a series of systematic attacks against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq, conducted between 1986 and 1989 and culminating in 1988. The campaign also targeted other minority communities in Iraq including Assyrians, Shabaks, Iraqi Turkmens, Yazidis, Mandeans, and many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also destroyed.[7]

Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom officially recognize the Anfal campaign as genocide.[8] On December 5, 2012, Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, adopted a resolution by the Green party to officially recognize Anfal as genocide. The resolution was passed by all 349 members of parliament.[9] On February 28, 2013, the British House of Commons formally recognized the Anfal as genocide following a campaign led by Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi.[10]


Al-Anfal is the eighth sura or chapter of the Qur'an which explains the triumph of 313 followers of the new Muslim faith over almost 900 pagans at the Battle of Badr in 624 AD. Al Anfal literally means the spoils (of war) and was used to describe the military campaign of extermination and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid. His orders informed jash (literally "donkey's foal" in Kurdish) units that taking cattle, sheep, goats, money, weapons and even Kurdish women was legal.[11]


The Anfal campaign began in 1986 and lasted until 1989, and was headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid (a cousin of then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit). The Anfal campaign included the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, firing squads, and chemical warfare, which earned al-Majid the nickname of "Chemical Ali".

Thousands of civilians were killed during the anti-insurgent campaigns stretching from the spring of 1987 through the fall of 1988. The attacks were part of a long-standing campaign that destroyed approximately 4,500 Kurdish and at least 31 Assyrian villages in areas of northern Iraq and displaced at least a million of the country's estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population. Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had "disappeared" during 1988.[12][13] The campaign has been characterized as genocidal in nature. It is also characterized as gendercidal, because "battle-age" men were the primary targets, according to Human Rights Watch/Middle East.[14] According to the Iraqi prosecutors and Kurdish officials, as many as 180,000 people were killed.[15]

The campaign

In March 1987, Ali Hassan al-Majid was appointed secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party's Northern Region, which included Iraqi Kurdistan. Under al-Majid, control of policies against the Kurdish insurgents passed from the Iraqi Army to the Ba'ath Party itself. It would be known as al-Anfal ("The Spoils"), in a reference to the eighth sura of the Qur'an.

Anfal, officially conducted in 1988, would have eight stages altogether, seven of them targeting areas controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The Kurdish Democratic Party-controlled areas in the northwest of Iraqi Kurdistan, which the regime regarded as a lesser threat, were the target of the Final Anfal operation in late August and early September, 1988. For these assaults, the Iraqis mustered up to 200,000 soldiers with air support—matched against Kurdish guerrilla forces that numbered no more than a few thousand.

Military operations and chemical attacks

On March 16, 1988, there was a genocidal poison gas attack on the city of Halabja in which 3,200-5,000 Kurdish people were killed, most of them civilians.[16][17]

Concentration camps and extermination

When captured Kurdish populations were transported to detention centers (notably Topzawa, near the city of Kirkuk), adult and teenage males viewed as possible insurgents were separated from the civilians. According to Human Rights Watch/Middle East,

With only minor variations ... the standard pattern for sorting new arrivals [at Topzawa was as follows]. Men and women were segregated on the spot as soon as the trucks had rolled to a halt in the base's large central courtyard or parade ground. The process was brutal ... A little later, the men were further divided by age, small children were kept with their mothers, and the elderly and infirm were shunted off to separate quarters. Men and teenage boys considered to be of an age to use a weapon were herded together. Roughly speaking, this meant males of between fifteen and fifty, but there was no rigorous check of identity documents, and strict chronological age seems to have been less of a criterion than size and appearance. A strapping twelve-year-old might fail to make the cut; an undersized sixteen-year-old might be told to remain with his female relatives. ... It was then time to process the younger males. They were split into smaller groups. ... Once duly registered, the prisoners were hustled into large rooms, or halls, each filled with the residents of a single area. ... Although the conditions at Topzawa were appalling for everyone, the most grossly overcrowded quarter seem to have been those where the male detainees were held. ... For the men, beatings were routine. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 143–45. ISBN 0-300-06427-6)

After a few days in these camps, the men accused of being insurgents were trucked off to be killed in mass executions.

In its book Iraq's Crime of Genocide, Human Rights Watch/Middle East writes: "Throughout Iraqi Kurdistan, although women and children vanished in certain clearly defined areas, adult males who were captured disappeared in mass. ... It is apparent that a principal purpose of Anfal was to exterminate all adult males of military service age captured in rural Iraqi Kurdistan." (pp. 96, 170). Only a handful survived the execution squads. Even amidst this most systematic slaughter of adult men and boys, however, "hundreds of women and young children perished, too," though "the causes of their deaths were different—gassing, starvation, exposure, and willful neglect—rather than bullets fired from a Kalashnikov." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 191.) Nevertheless, on September 1, 2004, U.S. forces in Iraq discovered hundreds of bodies of Kurdish women and children at the site near al-Hatra, believed to be executed in early 1988 or late 1987.[18]

The focus of the Iraqi killing campaign varied from one stage of Anfal to another. The most exclusive targeting of the male population occurred during the final Anfal (August 25-September 6, 1988). This was launched immediately after the signing of a ceasefire with Iran, which allowed the transfer of large amounts of men and matériel from the southern battlefronts. The final Anfal focused on "the steep, narrow valleys of Badinan, a four-thousand-square mile chunk of the Zagros Mountains bounded on the east by the Great Zab and on the north by Turkey." Here, uniquely in the Anfal campaigns, lists of the "disappeared" provided to Human Rights Watch/Middle East by survivors "invariably included only adult and teenage males, with the single exception of Assyrians and Yezidi Kurds," who were subsidiary targets of the slaughter. Many of the men of Badinan did not even make it as far as "processing" stations, being simply "lined up and murdered at their point of capture, summarily executed by firing squads on the authority of a local military officer." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 178, 190, 192; on the fate of the Christians and Yezidi Kurds, see pp. 209–13.)

On June 20, 1987, directive SF/4008 was issued under al-Majid's signature. Of greatest significance is clause 5. Referring to those areas designated "prohibited zones," al-Majid ordered that "all persons captured in those villages shall be detained and interrogated by the security services and those between the ages of 15 and 70 shall be executed after any useful information has been obtained from them, of which we should be duly notified." However, it seems clear from the application of this policy that this referred only to males "between the ages of 15 and 70." Human Rights Watch/Middle East takes this as given, writing that clause 5's "order [was] to kill all adult males," and later: "Under the terms of al-Majid's June 1987 directives, death was the automatic penalty for any male of an age to bear arms who was found in an Anfal area." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 11, 14.) A subsequent directive on September 6, 1987, supports this conclusion: it calls for "the deportation of ... families to the areas where there saboteur relatives are ..., except for the male [members], between the ages of 12 inclusive and 50 inclusive, who must be detained." (Cited in Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 298.)


"Arabization," another major element of al-Anfal, was a tactic used by Saddam Hussein's regime to drive pro-insurgent populations out of their homes in villages and cities like Kirkuk, which are in the valuable oil field areas, and relocate them in the southern parts of Iraq.[19] The campaign used heavy population redistribution, most notably in Kirkuk, the results of which now plague negotiations between Iraq's Shi'a United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Kurdistani Alliance. Saddam's Ba'athist regime built several public housing facilities in Kirkuk as part of his "Arabization," shifting poor Arabs from Iraq's southern regions to Kirkuk with the lure of inexpensive housing.

Iraq's Kurds now strongly resent Arabs still residing in Ba'ath-era Kirkuk housing, and view them as a barrier to Kirkuk's recognition as a Kurdish city (and regional seat) in an increasingly sovereign Kurdish Autonomous Region.


Documenting the Kurdish Genocide

In August 2013, after many years of relationship building, Imani Lee Language Services entered into a multi-year and multi-phased agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), an autonomous state within the borders of Iraq, regarding an important project of historical significance.

The first phase of the project concerned the translation of historical documents related to the events that happened in Halabja, Iraq within Kurdistan on March 16, 1988, when Saddam Hussein’s regime bombed the entire district with chemical weapons in the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 5,000 Kurds. The attack on Halabja has been well-documented as being the single most brutal attack of Saddam Hussein’s reign, as well as the deadliest chemical weapons attack against a civilian population in the history of the world. Today, many of the living Kurdish civilians affected by the chemical attack still suffer from various illnesses both psychological and physical, in addition to the birth defects of their progeny.

For years, the victims of the attack and the KRG have tried to tell their story to the rest of the world, an effort which has included petitioning international countries to recognize the attack as an official act of genocide. Some of the countries that have done so include Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands; however, the United States is noticeably missing from that list.

The United States has officially recognized other historical international atrocities as genocide, such as the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which according to the official summary of the congressional bill, “…calls upon the President to ensure that U.S. foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the U.S. record…and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution…” Not only is the recognition of genocide a step forward in the process of healing for the victims of the atrocity, but a call to real action against ignoring or failing to intercede in similar crimes against humanity in the future.

The primary impediment to recognition from the United States (and by extension its Western allies) was tangible and concrete evidence that could be read and understood by the very people that had the power to make that decision, the United States Congress. Thus, the KRG sought out Imani Lee to translate, edit, harmonize, certify, and notarize 108 documents, previously classified as secret and top secret by the Iraqi government, that could be presented to the US Congress for an official vote to declare the attack on Halabja a genocide.

The Kurdish Genocide has been published in a new book, Halabja: Facing the Poisons of Death, A Legal Reading of the Event and the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Court Documents, authored by Bakr Hamah Seddik Arif, a lawyer and member of the Iraqi Parliament.


According to the HRW during the Anfal campaign, the Iraqi government:

Violation of human rights

The campaigns of 1987–89 were characterized by the following human rights violations:

a) mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages; 17,000 persons are known to have disappeared in 1988 alone. Template:Ibid. 11
b) the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or sarin, against the town of Halabja as well as dozens of Kurdish villages, killing many thousands of people, mainly women and children;
c) the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, which are described in government documents as having been "burned", "destroyed", "demolished" and "purified", as well as at least a dozen larger towns and administrative centers (nahyas and qadhas); Since 1975, some 4,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed by the former Iraqi regime.
d) Human Rights Watch/Middle East estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed.[2] Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating 182,000 Kurds were killed.[24]
e) Army engineers destroyed the large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) and declared its environs a "prohibited area," removing the last significant population center close to the Iranian border.


Frans van Anraat

In December 2005 a court in The Hague convicted Frans van Anraat of complicity in war crimes for his role in selling chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's government and given a 15-year sentence.[25] The court also ruled that the killing of thousands of Kurds in Iraq in the 1980s was indeed an act of genocide.[25] In the 1948 Genocide Convention, the definition of genocide is "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". The Dutch court said that it was considered "legally and convincingly proven that the Kurdish population meets the requirement under the Genocide Conventions as an ethnic group. The court has no other conclusion than that these attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq."

Trial of Saddam Hussein

In an interview broadcast on Iraqi television on September 6, 2005, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani said that judges had directly extracted confessions from Saddam Hussein that he had ordered mass killings and other crimes during his regime and that he deserves to die. Two days later Saddam's lawyer denied that he had confessed.[26]

Anfal trial

In June 2006, the Iraqi Special Tribunal announced that Saddam Hussein and six co-defendants would face trial on August 21, 2006, in relation to the Anfal campaign.[27] In December 2006 Saddam was put on trial for the genocide during Operation Anfal. The trial for the Anfal campaign was still underway on December 30, 2006, when Saddam Hussein was executed for his role in the unrelated Dujail Massacre.[28]

The Anfal trial recessed on December 21, 2006, and when it resumed on January 8, 2007, the remaining charges against Saddam Hussein were dropped. Six co-defendants continued to stand trial for their roles in the Anfal campaign. On 23 June 2007 Ali Hassan al-Majid, and two co-defendants Sultan Hashem Ahmed and Hussein Rashid Mohammed were convicted of genocide and related charges and sentenced to death by hanging.[15] Another two co-defendants (Farhan Jubouri and Saber Abdel Aziz al-Douri) were sentenced to life imprisonment, and one (Taher Tawfiq al-Ani) was acquitted on prosecution's demand.[29]

Al-Majid was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was convicted in June 2007 and was sentenced to death. His appeal of the death sentence was rejected on 4 September 2007, he was sentenced to death for the fourth time on 17 January 2010, and was hanged eight days later, on 25 January 2010.[30]

Remembrance day

The Kurdistan Regional Government has set aside April 14 as a day of remembrance for the Al-Anfal campaign.[31]

International recognition

# Name Date of recognition Source
1  Norway 21 November 2012 [32]
2  Sweden 5 December 2012 [33][34]
3  United Kingdom 1 March 2013 [35]
4  South Korea 13 June 2013 [36]

See also


  1. "TRIAL : Profiles". Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  2. 1 2 "Iraqi Anfal". Human Rights Watch. 1993. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  3. 1 2 3 The Crimes of Saddam Hussein – 1988 The Anfal Campaign PBS Frontline
  4. Totten, Samuel. Dictionary of Genocide: A-L. ABC-CLIO, 2008 "Kurdish Genocide in Northern Iraq, (U.S. Response to). Well aware of the genocidal Al-Anfal campaign waged against the Kurds in northern Iraq by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein." p 252
  6. "The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds. A Middle East Watch Report: Human Rights Watch 1993". 2006-08-14. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  7. G. Black; Human Rights Watch; Middle East Watch (1993). Genocide in Iraq: the Anfal campaign against the Kurds. Human Rights Watch. pp. 312–313. ISBN 978-1-56432-108-4.
  8. "British Parliament officially recognizes 'Kurdish Genocide'". Hurriyet Daily News. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  9. "Is Swedish neutrality over?". Pravda. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  10. "Historic Debate Secures Parliamentary Recognition of the Kurdish Genocide". Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  11. Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?: My Encounters with Kurdistan, 356 pp., Westview Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8133-3580-9, p.231
  12. Iraq: 'Disappearances' – the agony continues Archived October 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Amnesty International
  13. Certrez, Donabed, and Makko (2012). The Assyrian Heritage: Threads of Continuity and Influence. Uppsala University. p. 288. ISBN 978-91-554-8303-6.
  14. Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds? Human Rights Watch Report, 1991
  15. 1 2 Omar Sinan (June 25, 2007). "Iraq to hang 'Chemical Ali'". Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  16. "BBC ON THIS DAY | 16 | 1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-08-28.
  17. "Halabja, the massacre the West tried to ignore". Retrieved 2013-08-28.
  18. Mass grave unearthed in Iraq CNN, October 13, 2004
  19. Middle East Watch. Genocide in Iraq, the Anfal Campgain Against the Kurds, Human Rights Watch, 1993, p. 36
  20. GENOCIDE IN IRAQ Human Rights Watch, 1993
  21. Michael Rubin, Are Kurds a pariah minority? Social Research, Spring, 2003.
  22. "List of the churches been demolished by Saddam Hussein's regime" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  23. Certrez, Donabed, and Makko (2012). The Assyrian Heritage: Threads of Continuity and Influence. Uppsala University. p. 289. ISBN 978-91-554-8303-6.
  24. "Ethnic Cleansing and the Kurds". 2005-05-15. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  25. 1 2 Killing of Iraq Kurds 'genocide' BBC News, 23 December 2005
  26. Lawyer denies Saddam confession BBC News, 8 September 2005
  27. Iraqi High Tribunal announces second Saddam trial to open Associated Press, June 27, 2006
  28. Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence Is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity The New York Times, December 30, 2006
  29. 'Chemical Ali' sentenced to hang CNN, June 24, 2007
  30. "Saddam Hussein's henchman 'Chemical Ali' executed". 2010-01-25. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  32. "Norwegian Government recognises Saddam Hussein's genocide - Justice4Genocide calls on the British Government to do the same". 21 November 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  33. "Is Swedish neutrality over?". 11 December 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  34. "Swedish Parliament recognises Saddam Hussein's genocide - Justice4Genocide calls on Britain to do the same". 14 December 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  35. "British parliament unanimously recognises Kurdish genocide". 1 March 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  36. "South Korea recognizes Kurdish genocide". 13 June 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2015.

36. ^Documenting the Kurdish Genocide - January 31, 2014

External links

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