'Blood on their hands': Seeking justice for the Anfal atrocities

Analysis - Anfal genocide
5 min read
29 April, 2022
In-depth: Thirty-four years after the Anfal campaign, survivors and relatives of the victims say those responsible for the mass killings have yet to face justice.

Kurdish relatives of the victims of the Anfal campaign in Iraq, also known as the Anfal genocide, have called on European countries where alleged perpetrators now live to strip them of their nationality and deport them to face trial.

The demand was made together with civil society activists earlier in April to commemorate the killings in 1988 under the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

More than 180,000 Kurds were killed in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in the late 1980s, which included mass shootings and chemical attacks.

Around 2,000 villages were destroyed, according to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds were displaced, and tens of thousands of non-combatants were forcibly disappeared.

"More than 180,000 Kurds were killed in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in the late 1980s"

Iraqi authorities at the time claimed they were quelling a rebellion by some Kurdish fighters who had sided with Iran during the 1980-1988 war.

In 2007, the Iraqi High Tribunal Court declared the campaign a genocide, issuing a decision for the arrest of 460 suspects during the Anfal trials, including 258 Kurdish mercenaries.

Yet, no one has so far been arrested by the Iraqi or Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities.

Facing trial in Iraq

“We are asking you to deport a number of criminals who were participants in annihilating the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, including the cases of Anfal, the Halabja gas attack, and the genocide of the Barzanis,” a statement by eighty activists, writers, politicians, and local rights NGOs said.

In 1983, up to 8,000 men and boys from the Barzani tribe were abducted and killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Five years later, in 1988, Iraqi planes attacked the town of Halabja in northern Iraq with the deadly nerve agent sarin as well as mustard gas. Around 75% of the 5,000 victims at the time were women and children.

The alleged perpetrators were issued arrest warrants by the Iraqi High Tribunal Court.

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“Out of 432 wanted criminals in the Anfal trials, at least a number of them are living in the UK, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. They have been granted nationality by those countries, contrary to international law, thus it is a legal and a humanitarian obligation to deport them to Iraq,” the statement continued.

Qasm Kadhim, head of the Manawa Organisation for victims of the Anfal campaign, told The New Arab that his organisation will send a copy of the names of all wanted persons to diplomatic missions abroad.

“We have collected accurate information that some of the wanted persons from the Anfal trials are living in the UK and European countries where they have been granted residency under other names,” he said.

“Until now, neither the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) nor the Iraqi federal government have made any requests for those foreign countries to deport wanted persons in cases of the Anfal genocide.”

One of the cemeteries of the city, where the unidentified bodies of the 5,000 victims of the chemical attack of Halabja are buried
One of the cemeteries in Halabja where the unidentified bodies of the 5,000 victims of the chemical attack are buried. [Getty]

Harbouring the accused

Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and he was captured in December of that year.

Hussein and his top aides were tried by the Iraqi High Tribunal Court for their involvement in the Anfal genocide, the Halabja gas attack in 1988, and the massacre of 148 Shia villagers from the town of Dujail, after Hussein had survived an assassination attempt there in 1982.

On 5 November 2006, Saddam and his aides were convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the atrocities of Anfal and the Halabja gas attack. They were sentenced to death by hanging in the Dujail trials. He was executed at dawn on 30 December 2006, although a final verdict in the Anfal trials was never issued.

Adil Muhhah Salih, head of media at the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, told The New Arab that arresting those who are wanted by the Iraqi court is not within their power.

"Up to now all those mercenaries who are wanted by the court and whose hands are red with the blood of our loved ones have not been arrested"

“According to the law, the KRG Ministry of Interior is the side that should arrest those people. Our ministry is offering some public services to the families of the martyrs, victims of the Anfal [campaign] and the Halabja gas attack, and political prisoners,” Salih said.

Four mass graves, including hundreds of bodies believed to be Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein's regime during the Anfal campaign, were found in July 2019 in the Samawa desert of al-Muthanna province of southern Iraq.

Taimour Abdullah is the only survivor from the Samawa mass graves. He was wounded but managed to survive and was then sheltered by an Iraqi Arab family until he returned to the Kurdistan region in 1991, when Kurds rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime and established semi-autonomous rule from Baghdad.

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“Up to now all those mercenaries who are wanted by the court and whose hands are red with the blood of our loved ones have not been arrested because they have been harboured by Kurdish ruling parties. They even have more privileges than us,” Abdullah told The New Arab in a phone interview.

“Since 1991 families and relatives of Anfal victims have been asking the Kurdish authorities [for justice], but unfortunately until now they are still lacking bread, water, and salaries. According to the court’s decision, the Iraqi federal government should compensate the families of Anfal, but it has failed to do that yet.” 

One such name on the list of alleged perpetrators is that of Wafiq al-Samarrai, the former chief of Iraqi general military intelligence who served as the deputy military intelligence director during the Anfal killings.

He escaped from Iraq in 1994, and after 2003 returned to the country. Jalal Talabani, the late Iraqi president, appointed him as his advisor in 2005.  

Dana Taib Menmy is an investigative freelance journalist from the Iraqi Kurdistan region writing on issues of politics, society, human rights, security, and minorities. His work has appeared in Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye, The National, among many other outlets.

Follow him on Twitter: @danataibmenmy