Anfal: The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq

Iraq and the Kurds: a bibliographic essay (1)
In October 1988, while the destruction of Kurdistan and the mass killing of the Kurds by the Iraqi regime was a well-known fact, though understandably not documented, at least in the West, Milton Viorst published a peculiar article in the International Hearald Tribune (2) under the title: ‘Iraq and the Kurds: Where Is the Proof of Poison Gas?.’
Viorst felt that it was unjust to punish the Iraqi government ‘for a particular crime that, according to some authorities, may never have taken place.’ To do the Iraqi government some good he then spent a week in Iraq ‘looking into the question.’ Since those who alleged that Iraq had used chemical weapons against the Kurds were not able to proof it, Viorst’s visit to Iraq was presented in the article as a proof of the opposite.
After confirming that Iraq sent its army ‘to crush a rebellion of the Kurds who fought at Iran’s side,’ as Iraq aimed ‘to stamp out the insurgency,’ Viorst tells his readers what he saw from an Iraqi helicopter: ‘the ruins of hundreds of Kurdish mountain villages that the Iraqi army destroyed to deny the rebels sanctuary.’ From what he saw, he could though conclude that ‘if lethal gas was used, it was not used genocidally – that is, for mass killing.’ Since the Kurdish population in Iraq constitute a tightly knit community, ‘If there had been large-scale killing, it is likely they would know and tell the world. But neither I nor any Westerner I encountered heard such allegations.’
During his visit, Viorst could not see that the Kurdish society showed ‘discernible sings of tension.’ In his eyes, everything seemed to take its normal course. ‘The northern cities, where the men wear Kurdish turbans and baggy pants, were as bustling as I had ever seen them.’ To convince his readers about the ‘normality’ of life in the Kurdish areas, he tells us that he talked to armed Kurds, members of Iraqi military units mobilised against the rebels.
Even if Iraq used chemical weapons, Viorst says doubtfully, it ‘probably used gas of some kind in air attacks on rebel positions,’ but not against the civilians, since the symptoms the refugees showed to doctors sent by France, the UN and the Red cross to the Turkish camps, ‘could have been produced by a powerful, but nonlethal, tear gas.’ Stop then annoying Iraq and harm the relationship between Iraq and the United States, was Mr Viorst’s clear message.
Less than two years later we came to realise how prophetically Viorst spoke in October 1988, when he self-confidently reminded the US officials and decision-makers that, ‘Iraq, having put down the Kurdish rebellion, has no wars on its agenda, and it has pledged to abide by the Geneva convention on chemical warfare.’ In August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, an event that led to the Gulf war.
A Second Voice
During the war over Kuwait, the Iraqi regime’s repression of ‘its own’ people, in particular the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, became an important part of the ideological justification in the ‘just war’ to restore Kuwait. The anti-war camp was no doubt irritated and upset by this rather cynical strategy. They pointed out many inconsistencies in the Allies’ policies, being in the Middle East, world-wide, historically or contemporary.
One person who could not leave this major event uncommented was of course Edward Said. Several aspects of the event could encourage him to get involved, such as the question of imperialism, Arab nationalism, and human rights violation, to name but a few. On 7 March 1991, Said wrote:
The claim that Iraq gassed its own citizens has often bee repeated. At best, this is uncertain. There is at least one War College report, done while Iraq was a US ally claims that the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja was done by Iran. Few people mention such reports in the media today (3).
Given his public image of being among the critical intellectuals, Said’s attempt to cast doubt on Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds was not only surprising but shocking, since it came from a ‘secular oppositional intellectual’ who belonged to a ‘class of informed,’ who did not allow himself ‘the luxury of playing the identity game’, who desired to ‘more compassionately press the interests of the unheard, the unrepresented, the unconnected people of our world,’ and who wanted to do that ‘with the accents of personal restraint, historical scepticism and committed intellect.'(4)

Detailed Documents

Although, at that time, no one would have been able to quote an Iraqi document to help Edward Said to overcome his uncertainty, the events after the war had at least one unimaginable dimension: it provided an unprecedented opportunity to give sufficient proofs that the Iraqi regime was using chemical weapons against the Kurds, and to do so by using the regime’s own detailed documents.
In her introduction to a documentary book, Saddam speaks on the Gulf Crisis: a collection of documents, (5) an Israeli specialist on modern Iraq, Ofra Bengio, indicated that the invasion of Kuwait could best be understood against the background of Iraq’s internal political development since July 1979, i.e. after Saddam Hussein’s rise to power. By August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s ‘megalomania led him to apply his domestic style of rule to foreign policy.’ But what do we exactly know about the characteristics of this ‘domestic style of rule’? Is it possible to understand and comprehend the scale of violence inflicted upon the Kuwaitis, without having a proper picture of this domestic style of rule applied to foreign policy?
During the unsuccessful Kurdish uprising of March 1991, huge quantities of Iraqi government records were captured by the Kurds in the secret police buildings in the major towns and cities. Although much of the documents was burned or destroyed during the confusing days of the uprising, more than 18 tones of documents, contained in 847 boxes with a total number of pages estimated as over four million, are now in the USA for safe-keeping, under the auspices of the Middle East Watch (MEW). Genocide in Iraq (6) and Bureaucracy of Repression (7) are the latest to be published by Middle East Watch in order to reconstruct, document, and demonstrate the Iraqi regime’s policy against the Kurds, particularly during the years of 1987 through 1989. Their conclusion is that the organisation ‘believes it can demonstrate convincingly a deliberate intent on the part of the government of President Saddam Hussein to destroy, through mass murder, part of Iraq’s Kurdish minority. [the Kurds] were targeted during the Anfal as Kurds. [and that] Saddam Hussein’s regime committed a panoply of war crimes, together with crimes against humanity and genocide.’ This is not a hasty conclusion; but rather one based on a unique combination of three painstaking research projects lasted over eighteen months:
1. oral testimony from over 350 eyewitnesses or survivals;
2. forensic evidence from areas of mass graves; and
3. huge amount of captured Iraqi documents.
Bureaucracy of Repression is published in order to give a general picture about the Iraqi documents currently being analysed by Middle East Watch. It is ‘a Holy Grail for researchers: to have opportunity to speak to survivors of human rights violations, dig up bones of those who did not survive, and then read the official account of what took place – all while the regime that carried out these outrages was still in power – was unique in the annals of human rights research.’ The sample of 38 Arabic documents with English translation that the book contains serves as a very good introduction to that huge amount of documents.
The samples are organised around several important categories, such as Arabization of the Kurdish areas, a policy with many roots in the 1960s; policy towards prohibited areas created prior to the major operations of 1987-1989; destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages and a dozen of towns; chemical attacks against the Kurdish civilians; the administrative framework of the most important campaign called Anfal by the regime itself, from March 1987 to April 1989; the Anfal campaign, lasted officially from 23 February to 6 September, 1988; the war over Kuwait and the subsequent domestic uprisings; and last category as other documents of interests.

Procedural Language

All together, the documents ‘display a remarkable consistency in style. The language is dry and formal, indicating rigid bureaucratic procedures. [They] highlights, as well as show the methodology and routine character of a bureaucracy of repression in action. [they] offer a unique vista on the inner workings of a sophisticated one-party police state. [The completeness and sophistication of the Iraqi archive] emphasize that the documents constitute a credible, authentic expression of the state’s action against the Kurds.’ This report offers a clear introduction to the unique discourse of repression the Ba’thi regime developed in an enclosed, isolated and concealed Iraq from which little was escaping the machinery of state censorship, prior to March 1991.
Scholars writing on authoritarian and totalitarian regimes admit the difficulties of obtaining reliable documentary information on most of the subjects, but more so when it comes to the question of ‘sensitive’ issues such as violation of human rights, ideology-related projects of relocation, displacing part of the country’s inhabitants and re-shaping the social composition of the entire population, often referred to as ‘modernisation’. This is also true in the case of Iraq.

Scholarly Circumspection

Two kinds of scholarly publications on the Ba’thi rule in Iraq is dominant. One of them is at its best exemplified by Frederick Axelgard’s (8) book published in 1988. His main theme is that, during the Iraq-Iran war in Iraq a ‘coherent national identity’ emerged, thanks duly to the leadership of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’th Party. The war and the ‘modernisation’ policies embarked on by the regime of Saddam Hussein, although it appeared to be harsh in outsiders’ eyes, created a ‘new nation’ characterised by loyalty to the Iraqi state and the leadership of Saddam Hussein. The main evidence of this successful enterprise is that the Shi’is in the South, despite all the Iranian attempts, never attempted to rise against the Ba’thi regime. The Kurds were also brought under control, and were in 1988 mainly loyal to the regime.
Characteristic of this kind of literature is the absence of any discussion regarding the conditions of ‘stability’ and ‘cohesion’ they praise the Ba’th regime has brought about in such a highly ‘unstable’, ‘unruly’ and ‘fragmented’ society like that in Iraq. There is no account of the kind and extent of the suffering inflicted on the population by such policies.
The other kind of literature, which is highly critical, is of course best exemplified by Marion Farouk-Sluglett and Peter Sluglett’s publications (9) and by Samir al-Khalil’s book (10). Despite their critical account of the events and their distaste for the Ba’thist methods of conducting politics, their attempts to document the political events were limited by the politics of secrecy and the suppression of information, characteristic of the Ba’th in Iraq since 1968.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the subsequent war and the March 1991 uprisings of the Shi’is in the South and the Kurds in the North radically changed that. The vicious circle of fear and apathy was broken by the new conditions emerged gradually during the Gulf war and the Iraqi army’s final defeat by the Allied forces. The uprisings did not only show how superficial the image of stability and cohesion was; they suddenly made it possible to report on its internal conditions, the methods and the procedures used, and the level of the suffering of the entire population, particularly that of the Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq (11).
In this sense Genocide in Iraq is most well come to fill this gap. It demonstrates with cold precision, though forcefully and above all honestly, how the crime of genocide was committed by the present Ba’thi regime in Iraq against the Kurdish population. It does not give an account of theeven ts from an Iraqi helicopter, nor does it quote a War College source to denounce allegations. Rather, it is based on the experience and testimony of the those who were affected by the horror of chemical weapons, brutal army attacks, terror of security services and collaboration of Kurdish militia men rounding up villagers. To substantiate the testimonies Genocide in Iraq quotes instead Iraqi documents never meant to see daylight, in written forms, on recorded audio tapes and on video tapes, as well as forensic evidence from identified sites of mass graves.
Anfal Operations
Despite all public denial of using chemical weapons against the Kurdish civilians in 1988, the Iraqi regime did not deny a campaign it called Anfal. In a reply to a petition by a former Kurdish POW, Chief of the Bureau of the Presidency informed the man that his ‘wife and children were lost during the Anfal Operations that took place in the Northern Region in 1988.’ Anfal, a name of a sura in the Koran, is thus the official military codename used by the Iraqi government in its public pronouncements and internal memoranda. It was a name given to a concerted series of military offensives, eight in all, conducted in six distinct Kurdish geographic areas between late February and early September 1988.

This fifty-four-year-old woman wears the scars of Halabj a, an Iraqi town that was annihilated by posion gas in 1988. Twenty-five of her relatives died in the attack, and now her daugther attends to wounds that contin ue to burn three years later [Photo: Ed Kashi, “When the Borders Bleed”].

It is important to note that in reality Anfal corresponded to something more than military offensives against the Kurdish villages and Kurdish resistance. Anfal meant co-ordination of many measures starting with destruction of thousands of villages; gathering rural population after multiple chemical attacks; transporting them to the camps; processing the captives through isolating them and determine who should be sent to death; transporting different groups to different destinies – women and children to particular camps, elderly people to southern Iraq and the men aged between 15 and 50 to gravesites- under extreme secrecy; using fire squads to kill large groups of men near pre-dugged mass graves and then covering the mass graves as well as denying to know anything about their fates.
Iraqi authorities did nothing to hide the Anfal campaign from public view. ‘On the contrary, as each phase of the operation triumphed, its successes were trumpeted with the same propaganda fanfare that attended the victorious battles in the Iran-Iraq War.’
As such, Anfal was a logical extension of nearly two decades of government Arabization of the Kurdish areas. For all its horror, Anfal was not entirely unprecedented, because terrible atrocities had been visited on the Kurds by the Ba’th Party on many occasions particuraly since 1968. In the wake of an official autonomy granted to the Kurds in the firs half of the 70’s, the Ba’th Party embarked on the Arabization of the oil-producing areas in Kurdistan, evicting Kurdish farmers and replacing them with poor Arab tribesmen from the south, guarded by government troops. After the the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) fled into Iran after the collapse of the Kurdish revolt in March 1975, tens of thousands of villagers from the Barzani tribes forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to barren sites in the desert south of Iraq, where they had to rebuild their lives by themselves, without any form of assistance.
Evacuation, Punishment, and Waste
In the mid- and late 1970s, the regime again moved against the Kurds, forcibly evacuating at least a quarter of a million people from Iraq’s borders with Iraq and Turkey, destroying their villages to create a cordon sanitaire along these sensitive frontiers. Most of the displaced Kurds were relocated into mujamma’at, crude new settlements located on the main highways in army-controlled areas of Iraqi Kurdistan.
KDP revived its alliance with Tehran after the Iranian revolution of 1978; in 1983 they had a joint action to capture a border town, an event that led immediately to retribution by the regime in Baghdad: in an operation against the complexes where the Barzanis Kurds were relocated, Iraqi troops abducted five to eight thousand males aged twelve or over. None of them have ever been seen again. In September 1983, Saddam Hussein gave the clearest indication regarding the fate of the Barzanis: ‘They betrayed the country and they betrayed the convenant,’ he said, ‘and we meted out a stern punishment to them and they went to hell.’ In many respects, the 1983 Barzani operation anticipated the techniques that would be used on a much larger scale during the Anfal campaign. No doubt, the absence of any international outcry encouraged Baghdad to believe that it could get away with an even larger operation without any hostile reaction. In this respect the Ba’th Party seems to have been correct in its calculations and judgement of the international inaction.
Since 1975, over 4,000 Kurdish villages had been destroyed; by a conservative estimate more than 100,000 rural Kurds had died in Anfal alone; half of Iraq’s productive farmland is believed to have been laid waste.
The destruction campaigns of April 1987 – April 1989, which MEW rightly calls the Kurdish genocide, had the Anfal campaign as its centrepiece. The Anfal campaign should by no means be regarded as a function or by-product of the Iraq-Iran war, since it was a rational, pre-planned enterprise in which modern techniques of management and expertise were effectively co-ordinated. The Iran-Iraq war provided the crucial element with which Baghdad could cover-up its opportunity to bring to a climax its long-standing efforts to bring the Kurds to heel. The Iraqi regime’s anti-Kurdish drive dates back to more than fifteen years, well before the outbreak of that war.
Another Holocaust
Theoretically, Genocide in Iraq attempts to locate the Kurdish genocide of 1987-1989 within a paradigm presented by Raul Hilberg in his book on the history of Holocaust (12). The reasoning presented in Genocide in Iraq is both complex and subtle, a fact that does not allow for a short synopsis to do the book and the victims of Anfal justice. Despite that, the basic argument can be summarised fairly briefly. The Kurdish genocide ‘fits Hilberg’s paradigm to perfection,’ which is summarised in the following key concepts: “definition – concentration (or seizure) – annihilation.”
The process of defining those who would be targeted by Anfal began shortly after Ali Hassan al-Majid, one of Saddam Hussein’s cousin, was granted ‘special powers’ as the secretary general of the Northern Bureau of Iraq’s ruling Ba’th Arab Socialist Party, in March 1987. At the first stage, al-Majid decreed that ‘saboteurs’ would lose their property rights, suspended the legal rights of all the residents of prohibited villages, to be followed by the execution of first-degree relatives of ‘saboteurs’ and of wounded civilians whose hostility to the regime had been determined by the intelligence services.
In June 1987, the process of drawing irreversible boundaries – the red line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – was legalised by issuing two sets of standing orders, which were based on a simple axiom with a result few, if any, of the Kurds could comprehend: in the ‘prohibited’ rural areas, all Kurdish residents were coterminous with the peshmerga insurgents (Kurdish guerrilla), and they would be dealt with accordingly.
Through a policy of shoot-to-kill, the first of al-Majid’s directives was to ban all human existence in the ‘prohibited areas.’ The second constitutes an unmistakable inducement to mass murder, spelled out in the a chilling clear language. In clause 4, army commander are ordered “to carry out random bombardments, using artillery, helicopters and aircraft, at all times of the day or night, in order to kill the largest number of persons present in these prohibited zones. (13)”
In clause 5, al-Majid ordered that, “All persons captured in those villages shall be detained and interrogatedby the security services and those between the ages of 15 to 70 shall be executed after any useful information has been obtained from them, of which we should be duly notified.” (14)
While still engaged in this phase of definition, the Iraqi authorities did not hesitate to test their chemical capacity. Within the range of at least forty documented chemical attacks on Kurdish targets over a period of eighteen months, Iraqi aircraft dropped its first poison gas on the undefended civilian villagers in mid-April1987, killing more than a hundred people, most of them women and children. These attacks were the first signs of the degree to which the regime was prepared in killing large numbers of Kurdish civilians without discrimination.
In order to create a buffer zone between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between the government and the peshmerge-controlled areas, a three-stage programme of village clearances or ‘collectivisation’ was embarked on in mid-April 1987. During this programme’s firs two phases, between 21 April-20 May and 21 May-20 June, more than 700 villages were burned and bulldozed, most of them along the mains highways in government-controlled areas. Due to the war efforts on the Iranian frontiers, the third phase was to be postponed, but accomplished by Anfal.
In terms of defining the target group for annihilation, the national census of 17 October 1987, was the most important single administrative step of the Iraqi regime in the desired direction. Having created a virtual buffer strip between the government and the peshmerge-controlled zones by the village clearances, the Ba’th Party offered the inhabitants of the prohibited areas an ultimatum: either you ‘return to the national ranks’ – that is, abandon your home and livelihood and accept compulsory relocation in a sordid camp under the eye of the security forces; or you lose your Iraqi citizenship and be regarded as military deserter. This second option was subject to an August 1987 decree of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, imposing the death penalty on deserters. Not choosing the ‘national ranks’ was, in effect, tantamount to a death sentence, to be carried out by Party organisations. Prior to the census date, proper measures were taken by security and intelligence agencies to prevent any contact or movement between the two sides, other than on the regime’s terms.
In the period leading up to the census, al-Majid encircled the target group further. He ordered intelligence officials to prepare detailed case-by-case dossiers of ‘saboteurs’ families who were still living in the government-controlled areas, on which countless women, children and elderly people were forcibly transferred to the rural areas to share the fate of their peshmerge relatives. This technique of sieving of the population was also crucial to the decisions made during the Anfal on the question of who should live and who should die.
Concomitant with this phase of definition was also the military operations to destroy the habitat of the rural population that roughly followed the same pattern. These operations started characteristically with chemical attacks from the air on both civilian and peshmerge targets, accompanied by a military blitz against the Kurdish military bases. After this initial assault, ground troops and jash (pro-government Kurdish militias) enveloped the target areas from all sides, destroying all human habitation in their path, looting household possessions and farm animals and setting fire to homes, before calling in demolition crews.
In areas of greater peshmerga resistance brutal government harassment in all the forms familiar in the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan was followed – punitive jash incursions, burning and looting, shelling from artillery, rocketing and occasional bombing from the air.
As the definition processes proceeded, so did the phase of the concentration or seizure of the target group. By now, convoys of army trucks stood by to transport the villagers to holding centres and transit camps. To prevent anyone from escaping, the jash had to comb the hillsides at the first stage, while the secret police had to search the towns, cities and complexes to hunt fugitives at a later stage. In several cases those who still managed to hide had to be lured out with false offers of amnesty and ‘return to the national ranks’.
The processing of the detainees took place in a network of camps and prisons that followed a standard pattern. Men and women were segregated on the spot. The process was brutal and did not spare the elderly. A little later, the men were further divided by age – small children kept with their mothers, the elderly and weak sidelined to separate quarters, and men and teenage boys considered to be able to carry a weapon herded together, without rigorous check of identity documents.
The women and children were also suffering grievously in their own ways. After a short time the guards dragged the older women away violently from their daughters and grandchildren and bundled them away to yet another unknown destination. In at least two cases, soldiers and guards burst into the women’s quarters during their first night at a camp and removed their small children, even infants at the breast. All night long the women could hear the cries and screams of their children in another room. But above all the women and children in one camp endured the torment of seeing their husbands, brothers and fathers suffer, beaten routinely in front of their female relatives, and, in the end, disappear.
The first temporary holding centres were in operation, under the control of military intelligence as early as mid-March 1988; peaking in mid-April and early May, the mass disappearances had begun in earnest shortly thereafter. At this stage most of the detainees were transferred to a place called Topzawa, a Popular Army camp on the outskirts of Kirkuk; others were trucked to another Popular Army barracks in Tikrit. Women and children were trucked on from Topzawa to a separate camp in the town of Dibs; between 6,000 and 8,000 elderly detainees were taken to an abandoned prison called Nugra Salman in the southern desert, where hundreds of them died as a result of neglect, starvation and disease.
During the last stage of Anfal villagers from Badinan were detained in a huge army fort at Dohuk. The women and children were transferred later from Dohuk to a prison camp in Salamiyeh close to Mosul. Although the majority of the women, children and elderly released after an official amnesty to mark the end of Anfal on 6 September 1988, none of the Anfal men were ever released. Only six people, all from the Third and the bloodiest Anfal – aged between 12 and 38, have managed to escape in order to tell the true story of what happened to tens of thousands of Kurds who were driven away in convoys of sealed vehicles from the camps to southern Iraq.
The process of defining those who were actually to be killed, if they managed to survive indiscriminate chemical attacks, harsh conditions of the transit camps and occasionally torture, was under way long before the actual killing by the firing squads. Two days before the national census, that is to say 15 October 1987, army and intelligence agencies were ordered to compile lists of the Kurds from the ‘prohibited areas’ and the case-by-case of ‘saboteurs’ families. During Anfal, the captives were registered by name, sex, age, place of birth and place of residence. Accoringly, men between ages 15 and 50 years old from the ‘prohibited areas’ and families of ‘saboteurs,’ were sent to death in the south.
The method of executing the Kurdish men by firing squads is, according to the MEW, ‘uncannily reminiscent of another’, that of the Einsatzkommandos, or mobile killing units, in Eastern Europe occupied by the Nazis.
“Some groups of prisoners were lined up, shot from the front and dragged into pre-dug mass graves; others were shoved roughly into trenches and machine gunned where they stood; others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mouths of fresh corpses, before being killed; others were tied together, made to stand on the lip of the pit, and shot in the back so that they would fall forward into it – a method that was presumably more efficient from the point of view of the killers. Bulldozers then pushed earth or sand loosely over the heaps of corpses. Some of the gravesites contained dozens of separate pits, and obviously contained the bodies of thousands of victims. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the executioners were uniformed members of the Ba’th Party, or perhaps of Iraq’s General Security Directorate (Amn).”
Rigid bureaucratic norms were governing this annihilation process. Those who were executed were not murdered because they were condemned for committing a specific crime; rather their only crime was to be born in a place declared by a central government as ‘prohibited,’ that is to say, Kurds in areas outside government control.
The locations of at least three mass gravesites have been pinpointed through the testimony of survivors. Ramadi, al-Hadar and Samawah.
Genocide in Iraq quotes Raul Hilberg saying, ‘There are not so many ways in which a modern society can, in short order, kill a large number of people living in its midst. This is an efficiency problem of the greatest dimensions…’ The captured Iraqi documents demonstrate ‘in astonishing breadth and detail how the Iraqi state bureaucracy organised the Kurdish genocide.’
Modern Genocide
The book demonstrates convincingly that the Kurdish genocide of 1987 -1989 had a distinct modern flavour, to paraphrase Zygmunt Bauman (15). Although mass murder is not a modern invention, contemporary mass murder within the perimeters of the modern territorial state is. It is ‘distinguished by a virtual absence of all spontaneity on the one hand, and the prominence of rational, carefully calculated design on the other. It is marked by an almost complete elimination of contingency and chance, and independence from group emotions and personal motives.’ (16) Modern genocide is thus a genocide with a purpose. It has initiators and the managers with a particular view of the society.
The purpose of the modern genocide is ‘a grand vision of a better, and radically different, society.’ Here a ‘gardener’s vision’, projected upon a society is involved. As in the case of the gardeners, the designers of the perfect society hate the weeds that spoil their design. The weeds surrounding the desired society must be exterminated, it is a problem that have to be solved; the ‘weeds must die not so much because of what they are, as because of what the beautiful, orderly garden ought to be.’ (17)
The Ba’thist rulers in Iraq have always desired to create a harmonious, conflict-free society, orderly, controlled and docile in their hands. The Kurds have constituted the main challenge to this vision based on the rhetoric of pan-Arabism. The Kurds have been viewed as the weeds disturbing the Ba’thist vision of the Arab Iraq. But the Ba’thists have been patient in materialising their vision. They have advanced their position by consolidating their power step by step, under more than twenty years. They have never given up their dream. ‘When the modernist dream is embraced by an absolute power able to monopolise modern vehicle of rational action, and when that power attains freedom from effective social control, genocide follows.’ (18)
That is exactly what happened in the case of Iraq under the Ba’th Party. Five factor identified by Sarah Gordon are important in producing a modern genocide, which is also true in the case of Kurdish genocide of 1987-1989.
1. There was a radical anti-Kurdish drive.
2. The drive was transformed into the policy of a powerful, centralised state.
3. The state was in command of a huge, efficient bureaucratic apparatus.
4. A ‘state of emergency’ was called – an extraordinary, wartime condition, which allowed government and bureaucracy it controlled to get away with things which could, possibly, face more serious obstacles in time of peace. (19)
5. The population and the international community (20) at large, (21) reacted with non-interference and passive acceptance of those things.
Given the circumstances, the mass killing of the Kurds was presented as a bureaucratic task to be implemented by different state organisations. The violence was turned into a technique of solving this bureaucratic mission. The bureaucrats within the Party, the army, numerous intelligence agencies, and civilian administration were presented with meticulous functional division of labour without any moral responsibility. Having presented with a definition of the task, the bureaucracy in Iraq carried out the task to its end with a remarkable degree of rationality and efficiency. At the end of its task, only the bureaucracy’s ability to refine its methods and efficiency could sufficiently explain why not even a single soul managed to escape from the Final Anfal’s firing squads.
Once set in motion, refined and honoured and glorified, the machinery of murder developed its own impetus: after accomplishing its task faithfully in Kurdistan, it sought new territories where it could exercise its newly acquired skills. (22) Is it not possible to view the invasion of Kuwait, and the killing of the civilians there as the externalisation of the Iraqi bureaucracy’s ‘domestic style of rule to foreign policy’, a modern skill, efficiency and capacity seeking by now territories outside Iraq? A close examination of the language, symbols and circumlocations used in Iraq’s propaganda war to justify the occupation of Kuwait might reveal that the Kuwaits were presented as yet another kind of weed to be removed from the Ba’thist vision of a united Arab world under that particular leadership.
Khaled Salih
1 This article was published in Digest of Middle East Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, Spring 1995, pp. 24-39.
2 International Herald Tribune, 7.10.1988, p. 6; emphasis added.
3 London Review of Books, 7 March 1991, p.7.
4 In 1988, Edward Said wrote the following lines: ‘In education, politics, history and culture there is at the present time a role to be played by secular oppositional intellectuals, call them a class of informed and effective wet blankets, who do not allow themselves the luxury of playing the identity game… but who more compassionately press the interests of the unheard, the unrepresented, the unconnected people of our world, and who do so not in the ‘jargon of the authenticity’ but with the accents of personal restraint, historical scepticism and committed intellect.’ See Edward W. Said, ‘Identity, negation and violence’, in New Left Review , 1988 no. 171, p.60.
5 Ofra Bengio, Saddam speaks on the Gulf crisis: a collection of documents. Tel-Aviv: The Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies. The Shiloah Institute, Tel-Aviv University, 1992, p.34.
6 Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds. New York: Human Rights Watch, July 1993.
7 Middle East Watch, Bureaucracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its Own Words. New York: Human Rights Watch, February 1994.
8 Frederick Axelgard, New Iraq? The Gulf War and implication of U. S. policy. New York: Praeger with CSIS, 1988
9 For example, Marion Farouk-Sluglett and Peter Sluglett, Iraq since 1958. London: Kegan Paul International, 1987
10For example, Samir al-Khalil (pseudonym for Kanan Makiya), Republic of Fear. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989
11 For the first attempt see particularly part one in Kanan Makiya, Cruetly and silence: war, tyranny, uprising, and the Arab world. London: Cape, 1993
12 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985 student edition, p.267.
13 Emphasis added.
14 Emphasis added.
15 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989, p. 88.
16 Bauman, 1989, p. 90
17 Bauman, 1989, p. 91-92.
18 Bauman, 1989, p. 93-94.
19 Recall Edward Said’s attempt to create uncertainty about the events and Viorst’s justification of repression by describing the Kurds as those ‘who fought at Iran’s side.’
20 How much Washington may have known about the Kurdish genocide as it was happening? Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by MEW and the National Security Archive throw scanty light on this contentious issue. One Defence Department cable, dated April 19, 1988, notes that ‘an estimated 1.5 million Kurdish nationals have been resettled in camps’; that ‘approximately 700-1000 villages and small residential areas were targeted for resettlement;’ that ‘an unknown but reportedly large number of Kurds have been placed in “cowncentration”(sic) camps located near the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian borders’; and that ‘movement by the local population throughout the north has been severely restricted. The long section that follows is heavily deleted. [Genocide in Iraq, p. 204, note 19] How much did the Saudi, the Kuwaiti and the Jordanian authorities know about the mass graves near their borders? In a document titled ‘Guidelines for U. S.-Iraq Policy,’ prepared by the Bush transition team in January 1989, the new administration outlined its intention to develop relations with Saddam’s Iraq. ‘It is up to the new Administration to decide whether to treat Iraq as distasteful dictatorship to be shunned where possible, or to recognize Iraq’s present and potential power in the region and accord it relatively high priority. We strongly urge the later view.’ Even though they described Iraq’s human rights records as ‘abysmal’, Bush’s foreign analysts concluded that ‘in no way should we associate ourselves with the 60 year Kurdish rebellion in Iraq or oppose Iraq’s legitimate attempts to suppress it.’ As quoted in James A Bill and Robert Sprinborg, Politics in the Middle East. New York: Harper Colllins College Publishers, 4th Edition, p. 387-388.
21 Bauman, 1989, p. 94 and Sarah Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the ‘Jewish Question.’ Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984, p.48-49.
22 These lines of argument are drawn on Bauman.

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