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Saddam verdict: victims celebrate, but many dread backlash, joy and sense of justice tinged with fear

Simon Bristow, The Yorkshire Post, November 6, 2006
THERE was joy from his victims, a sense of justice from relatives of those he killed, and a studied satisfaction from foreign ministers when it was announced Saddam Hussein would hang for committing crimes against humanity.
But there were almost universal fears the ruling by an Iraqi court would plunge the country into further chaos and questions about whether the former dictator could ever have received a fair trial.
British reaction came swiftly, with Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett saying Saddam had been “held to account”. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said the verdict and sentencing were a matter for the Iraqi people, adding “they deserve the support of the international community in ensuring that the decisions reached by the court are respected”.
But former Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane, the Rotherham MP, spoke for many when he welcomed the verdict but balked at the sentence.
“This is a man who is guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity in human history,” he said.
“He’s been tried in a muslim court by Iraqis and the verdict I welcome but, being against capital punishment in principle, I urge the Iraqi Government not to sentence him to death.
“States take too many lives as it is, and I don’t think they need to take any more in cold blood.”
That call was taken up by human rights organisation Amnesty International, which said it “deplored” the sentence after a “flawed and unfair” trial.
Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa programme, said: “This trial should have been a major contribution towards establishing justice and the rule of law in Iraq, and in ensuring truth and accountability for the massive human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s rule, “In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards.”
Many European nations also voiced opposition to the death penalty, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, and a leading Italian opposition figure called on the continent to press for Saddam’s sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.
There were also warnings from the Muslim world that highlighted the tensions facing allied forces in Iraq.
In Pakistan, the opposition religious coalition claimed American forces had caused more deaths in Iraq in the past three-and-a-half years than Saddam did during his 23-year reign, and insisted US president George W Bush should stand trial for war crimes.
“Who will punish the Americans and their lackeys who have killed many more people than Saddam Hussein?” asked Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior lawmaker from the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition, which is critical of Pakistan’s military cooperation with the US.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain,said: “There are concerns about whether Saddam Hussein was ever going to receive a fair trial in Iraq given the sectarian tension that are rife.
“Furthermore, there will be many in the Muslim world who will be asking when those responsible for launching the calamitous war in Iraq, in which tens of thousands on innocent people have died, will also be brought to justice.”
Those who had witnessed and personally suffered the cruelty of Saddam’s regime did not criticise the sentence.
Sarbast Karim was a 12-year-old primary school pupil in Hallabjah in 1988 when Saddam’s forces gassed about 5,000 Kurds, including women and children. Now, 30, he is settling into a new life in Hull.
He said: “I am happy. Generally, I am against the death penalty but Saddam is an exception. He is a wicked man, a murderer and he tried to destroy my people.
“I can still remember hearing the bombs and seeing the bodies. Even now there are babies born with defects and women having miscarriages. Hallabjah has not recovered.”
Hazhar Sultan, an Iraqi Kurd, fled to East Yorkshire seven years ago to escape Saddam’s henchmen.
“I am going to have the biggest party,” he said. “Saddam ruined my life. He killed my relatives and drove me from my homeland and now we have got justice. They should have hanged him when they found him.”
THE ACCUSED AND THE SENTENCES
Saddam Hussein – sentenced to death for crimes against humanity after ordering the killing of 148 Shias in the village of Dujail in 1982.
Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the head of Iraq’s former Revolutionary Court, are also sentenced to death by hanging for their part in the massacre.
Former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan convicted of murder and given a life term.
Fellow Baath Party officials Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid, his son Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid and Ali Dayih Ali sentenced to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder.
Mohammed Azawi Ali, another former party official, acquitted for lack of evidence.
Saddam still faces further trials over other alleged major atrocities.
Twists and bloody turns in trial full of drama
YESTERDAY’S death sentence marks the end in a series of dramatic and bloody twists which have hallmarked the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Although visibly shaken by the sentence, Saddam the showman still managed a dramatic outburst as the eyes of the world looked upon him.
The charges related to the killing of 148 Shiites in the village of Dujail in 1982. Saddam’s trial heard that he ordered the slaughter in revenge for an assassination attempt.
During one of his court appearances, a defiant Saddam said the proceedings were merely “theatre”.
The first criminal case against him was filed in June 2005. The trial got under way that October, with Saddam challenging the court’s legitimacy.
In October 2005, masked gunmen kidnapped defence attorney Saadoun al-Janabi after he left his Baghdad office. His body was found the next day with bullet holes in the head.
The next month, defence lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was killed in a Baghdad ambush and a colleague, Thamir al-Khuzaie, was wounded. Mr Al-Khuzaie fled the country.
In November 2005, the trial reconvened following a five-week recess. Saddam called Americans “occupiers and invaders” and he and two other defendants complained about their treatment.
The following month, one of the five judges stepped down after learning that a Saddam co-defendant may have been involved in his brother’s execution.
The next day, defence lawyers walked out when denied the right to challenge the court’s legitimacy.
The ruling was then reversed and the former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a member of Saddam’s defence team, was permitted to speak.
In the same month Saddam refused to attend court. The previous day he had yelled: “I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!”
He also claimed Americans had beaten and tortured him and other defendants.
At the beginning of this year, chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, resigned after complaints by Shiite politicians that he had failed to keep control of proceedings.
He was replaced by Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman – but Saddam’s lawyers accused him of bias and threatened to boycott the trial unless he also stepped down.
The judge’s home town of Halabja was subjected to a 1988 poison gas attack allegedly ordered by the former president.
In June this year defence lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi was abducted and killed and Saddam and three others refused food in protest at a lack of security for lawyers.
On the 17th day of his hunger strike, Saddam was taken to hospital and fed through a tube.
Ex-dictator would prefer firing squad to gallows
Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death by hanging in an Iraqi court after being found guilty of crimes against humanity – but that is not the way the former dictator wants to die.
The Arab country’s law declares that death should be by hanging.
The fiery former leader has already said that he would rather be shot by a firing squad than face the gallows “as a common criminal”. Saddam told judge Rauf Abdel Rahman: “I ask you being an Iraqi person that if you reach a verdict of death, execution, remember that I am a military man and should be killed by firing squad.”
A request for the death penalty first came from chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi.
Now that that sentence has been served on Saddam – who has been on trial since October 19 2005 – his case will automatically go to appeal. It will be heard before a chamber of nine judges who have to convene within 10 days but could take several months to reach a conclusion. During the appeal process, the judges can call any person who gave evidence at the original trial but cannot call new witnesses.
If the judges agree that Saddam should be sentenced to death, the former leader will have to be executed within 30 days of that decision.
According to the New York Times, Saddam told his lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi last week that he expected the death sentence and was not afraid to die.
But questions have been raised about the validity of the trial with accusations that the largely Shiite government was desperate to secure a conviction.
Yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said he hoped the former leader would be given “what he deserves” and last month he said he hoped Saddam would be hanged.
To complicate things further, Saddam is currently being prosecuted in a second trial, which began in August.
The trial alleges acts of genocide involving the killing of more than 50,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1987-88.
It is not known what impact the death sentence will have on that trial, which is not expected to finish before next summer. But Shiite officials are said to want his execution to take place as early as the spring without waiting for the outcome of the second set of proceedings.
If the execution does go ahead, Saddam’s lawyer has predicted that “the doors of hell will open in Iraq” with severe repercussions on coalition forces, particularly the US. Mr al-Dulaimi said: “The sectarian divide in the country will deepen, and many more coffins will be sent back to America. “And the disaster will not be limited to Iraq. Hatreds will be sown between Americans and Arabs that will last for years.”
Brutality began in days… and lasted for decades
Days after he had grabbed power Saddam Hussein summoned 400 officials to announce he had uncovered a plot. The conspirators, he said, were in that very room.
As the 42-year-old puffed on a cigar, the plotters’ names were read out. As each was called, secret police led them away, executing 22. To make sure his countrymen got the message, Saddam videotaped the whole thing and sent copies around the country.
The plot was a lie, but in a few terrifying minutes on July 22, 1979, Saddam had eliminated any rivals – consolidating the power he wielded for almost three decades.
The brutality helped him survive war with Iran, defeat in Kuwait, rebellions, international sanctions, plots and conspiracies. In the end, however, it was his undoing. Saddam surrounded himself with sycophants, selected for loyalty rather than ability. When he was forced out, he left a country impoverished and beset by ethnic and sectarian tensions.
His conviction for crimes against humanity – and his sentencing to death by hanging – were just the latest, and perhaps one of the last, scenes in a long and bloody drama.
He ended up being dragged from a hole by American soldiers in December 2003, bearded, dishevelled and with his arms in the air.
Image and illusion were his important tools. He sought to build an image as an all-wise, all-powerful champion of the Arab nation. Yet his style was closer to a backwoods clan chief – giving favours in return for absolute loyalty while dealing harshly with detractors.
He promoted the illusion of a powerful Iraq – with the world’s fourth largest army and weapons of terrible destruction. Yet his army crumbled in weeks when confronted by the Americans and their allies in Kuwait in 1991. And in 2003, his capital of Baghdad fell to a single American task force.
Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction also proved a bluff. His scientists didn’t have the nerve to tell him that his dreams were beyond the country’s industrial capability. Instead, he squandered the money on vast palaces. It was a universe away from the harsh poverty he was born into, on April 28, 1937, in the village of Ouja near Tikrit. His father, a landless shepherd, died or disappeared before he was born. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly.
The young Saddam ran away and lived with an uncle, a staunchly anti-British, anti-Semitic figure whose daughter would become Saddam’s wife.
Aged 20, Saddam joined the Baath Party, a radical, secular Arab nationalist group. A year later, he fled to Cairo after taking part in an attempt to assassinate the country’s ruler and was sentenced to death in absentia.
Saddam returned four years later after the ruler was overthrown by his party. But the Baath leadership was itself ousted eight months later and Saddam was imprisoned. He escaped in 1967.
In July 1968 the Baath party came back to power under the leadership of Saddam’s cousin, Gen. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. Saddam – his deputy – systematically purged key party figures, deported thousands of Shiites and supervised the takeover of Iraq’s oil industry.
But when Al-Bakr decided in 1979 to seek unity with neighbouring Syria, Saddam forced his cousin out – and then purged his rivals. Hundreds more were killed in the following months.
Saddam went on to launch a war against Iran that would last for eight years, cost hundreds of thousands of lives and devastate Iraq’s economy. Saddam turned to the US, France and Britain for weapons, and they turned a blind eye when Saddam ruthlessly struck against Iraqi Kurds. An estimated 5,000 died in a chemical weapons attack on Halabja in March 1988.
Only two years after making peace with Iran, Saddam invaded Kuwait. The United Nations imposed sanctions, and in early 1991, a US-led coalition attacked in what Saddam famously called “the mother of all battles”.
The Iraqis were quickly driven out of Kuwait, but Saddam boasted that his political survival was proof that Iraq had won its war against America.
The war triggered uprisings among Iraq’s Shiites, but they were brutally crushed by Saddam. The Kurds, more lucky, carved out a self-ruled area in the north under US and British air cover.
The sanctions were not lifted because the US accused Saddam of retaining weapons of mass destruction and his refusal to meet UN demands for disclosure of his illegal weapons program provided the US-led coalition with a justification for war.
The American-led force struck on March 20, 2003. Within three weeks, Iraq’s army had collapsed, Baghdad had fallen and Saddam fled into hiding. In October 2005 he went on trial before an Iraqi judge.

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Rumsfeld and Saddam: partners in guilt

David Swanson, OpEd News, October 24, 2006
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Rumsfeld and his ally Saddam
The White House has arranged to announce two days before the November 7, 2006, elections a guilty verdict for Saddam Hussein and, no doubt, plans to finally murder him. Meanwhile an appeals process is delaying until at least five days after the elections release of photos of members of the U.S. military and its contractors raping and murdering children and adults at Abu Ghraib.
While use of the death penalty is one of many American practices that much of the world views as barbaric, there can be little doubt that Saddam Hussein is guilty of major crimes stretching far beyond those he’s been tried for, and including many in which the United States has been complicit.
A famous image shows Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein. There’s nothing wrong with shaking hands with a dictator. It’s potentially far more productive than slaughtering 650,000 of his nation’s people. Bush should be shaking hands and talking with the leaders of Iran and North Korea rather than threatening to destroy their countries. The trouble is that Rumsfeld wasn’t meeting with Hussein in order to promote democracy. Rumsfeld was there on December 20, 1983, as a special envoy for President Ronald Reagan to assist in Iraq’s efforts to kill Iranians, including through the use of chemical weapons – an illegal practice that Rumsfeld has more recently used himself against civilians in Iraq, most notably in Fallujah.
The Reagan administration knew that Iraq was using chemical weapons. Nonetheless, following Rummy’s visits in December of 1983 and March of 1984, the United States established full diplomatic ties with Iraq on November 26, 1984. Reagan and Rummy and the rest of the truly Neo cons also supplied Iraq with helicopters and other “dual use” equipment and materials (including anthrax), provided intelligence and satellite data to assist Iraq’s bombing raids on Iran, prevented passage of strong Senate legislation cutting off assistance to Iraq, and prevented any UN Security Council resolution that would have directly condemned Iraq by insisting that Iran was also using chemical weapons. When Iraq used chemical weapons to slaughter Kurds in Halabja in March of 1988, the Reagan administration falsely blamed Iran. The George Bush Sr. administration continued to supply Iraq with weapons, despite Iraq’s then real chemical and biological weapons programs, until the day before Iraq invaded Kuwait, August 2, 1990.
For all the crimes that Saddam Hussein committed, with and without U.S. assistance or approval, it is noteworthy that there was no terrorism in the nation he controlled, not until we spent over $400 billion of our U.S. tax dollars to transform Iraq into the “central front in the War on Terror” and a training ground for a generation of terrorists.
In the course of making the world less safe for democracy, Donald Rumsfeld has overseen the slaughter of 650,000 Iraqis and 3,000 Americans. He has targeted civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances. He has used white phosphorous as a weapon on civilian families. He has used depleted uranium and a new form of napalm. (When did melting the skin off children become a family value?) He has approved the hiding of prisoners from the Red Cross, the detention of Americans and non-Americans without charge or counsel, and the use of torture. Acceptable torture techniques at Abu Ghraib were posted on the wall in a memo from Rumsfeld.
So, by all means, let’s talk about Saddam Hussein’s guilt and how much fun it will be to kill him. But let’s remember who supported him for decades. And let’s ask ourselves what the 650,000 Iraqis we’ve killed already were guilty of. Wasn’t the plan to liberate them, not murder them? Here is guilt aplenty for Rumsfeld, Bush, and Cheney, and the corporate interests they serve.

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American verdict in Baghdad: what Saddam Hussein’s trial isn’t exposing

Santa Barbara Independent, September 28, 2006

By Kevin McKiernan, maker of the documentary
Good Kurds, Bad Kurds and author of the new book The Kurds: A People in Search of Their Homeland. He has covered the war in Iraq in both Kurdish and Arab areas for ABC News.
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“Saddam Hussein deserves the ultimate punishment.”
Is there something to learn from Saddam Hussein’s atrocities — such as the thousands of Kurds, including children, who were asphyxiated by poison gas — or should we simply erase a monstrous thug and move on? That’s the $64 question as Hussein’s soap opera case lumbers along in an Iraqi courtroom amid concern about the appointment of tribunal judges by U.S. occupation forces, the disregard for the rule of law alleged by Human Rights Watch, and the nearly $128 million American taxpayers have spent so far to secure a conviction. Instead, Saddam’s threats to boycott the trial and other theatrical outbursts have competed for headlines with public pronouncements of guilt by Iraq’s current president Jalal Talabani (“Saddam deserves a death sentence 20 times a day”), obscuring a record of wider responsibility for the “Kurdish Holocaust.”
It seems axiomatic that a trial for war crimes should be a tool of investigation, not just a vehicle for vengeance or a means to justify an invasion. After all, the triumph of the Nuremberg trials was not the execution of Nazi war criminals, but rather the exposure of the Third Reich and its accomplices — so that the world might listen when Jews and other victims solemnly vowed, “Never again.” Today, the Nuremberg legacy endures in children who visit the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles or are taught in school about the horrors of the gas chambers. Unfortunately, the issue of international support for the Nazis in World War II, some of it from American companies like Standard Oil, General Motors, and Chase Bank — all sanctioned by the U.S. government after the attack on Pearl Harbor — is seldom part of the lesson.
Beyond criticisms about the independence of the judiciary is the question of trying Saddam and his henchmen in an environment where more than 3,000 civilians were killed just last month, including another member of Hussein’s defense team — the fifth such assassination since the proceedings began. An overriding issue, however, is whether the trial will expose key American and European officials who played a role in arming the Iraqi regime with industrial insecticides and a variety of other deadly components that the West knew were being used against the Kurds.
Imagine looking down on thousands of little creatures — and then spraying them with a giant can of Raid. That is essentially what Saddam Hussein’s air force did in 1988 when pilots gassed the Kurdish town of Halabja with a cloud of deadly toxins, including large quantities of the nerve gas found in household insecticides. The Halabja massacre is now Exhibit A for the prosecution, and the Kurds who survived Hussein’s reign of terror have front row seats in the Baghdad courtroom. Human rights monitors estimate that more than 100,000 Kurds were killed or “disappeared” in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1980s, the period when Hussein’s regime received billions of dollars in aid from the West. Halabja is the best known of more than 200 sites in northern Iraq where chemicals were sprayed.
Over the years, Halabja survivors have shared with me the grisly last moments of their friends and relatives. In the initial moments of exposure, I am told, some victims spurted blood from their ears. Some vomited, and others fell down laughing and writhing as they choked to death. The environment suffered as well. A Kurdish doctor I know estimates that 40 percent of Kurdish lands were contaminated. He and others fear that the “cocktails” of mustard, VX, and sarin gas may have caused long-term damage to the soil and water table.
During my frequent trips to the area since 1991, residents have repeatedly asked me why family members still suffer from cancers, cleft palates, stillbirths, miscarriages, and birth defects. On one Halabja visit, my translator told me that his uncle died in 1996 after being bitten by a “poison snake” which had feasted on uncollected corpses lying on the streets following the 1988 attack. Such stories make up the grotesque folklore of Halabja and other contaminated areas of Kurdistan. No one knows the truth — because no Western government or health agency has wanted to spend the money to conduct comprehensive soil and water tests. Just as there has been no deep investigation of Hussein’s international helpers, little is known about long-term health hazards to Kurds who still live in these areas. In both cases, the lack of information increases the risk that similar catastrophes may be repeated.
The broad outlines of Hussein’s U.S. support that are known include:
• the courting of the Iraqi regime by the Reagan-Bush administration in the early 1980s as a foil against the Islamic Republic of Iran;
• President Reagan’s handwritten letter to Saddam Hussein soliciting better relations;
• multiple visits by the then special White House envoy Donald Rumsfeld, who also represented efforts by the Bechtel Corporation to build a lucrative oil pipeline across Iraq;
• the administration’s decision to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein — who was known in those days as the Butcher of Baghdad — from the list of international sponsors of terror, to make it eligible to receive U.S. technology;
• the sworn affidavit of Howard Teicher, who worked at Reagan’s National Security Council, that the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort against Iran by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits to purchase weapons;
• the transfer to Baghdad of anthrax, botulinum, and other substances from U.S. government labs in Maryland;
• and the fact that Hussein’s technicians fitted some U.S.-made helicopters with nozzles and used them to spray gas on Kurdish villages.
It is clear that Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was known at the highest levels in Washington. A State Department official has stated that he informed former Secretary of State George Shultz that Iraq was making “almost daily use” of chemical weapons against Iranian troops, and evidence exists that the CIA provided satellite photos to Iraqi generals, enabling them to pinpoint the positions of Iranians for chemical attacks. In other words, Saddam was using WMDs with U.S. oversight.
The Kurds were fighting for their rights in Iraq, but in Saddam’s war with Iran, the Kurds found themselves on Tehran’s side. For the United States, defeating Iran trumped nearly every other concern. Even after chemical weapons were used on the Kurds in 1988, the Reagan-Bush administration actively blocked trade sanctions against Iraq, and the Commerce Department continued to approve military exports to the brutal regime. The message to Saddam Hussein couldn’t have been clearer: You can gas the Kurds and get away with it.
The war crimes trials in Baghdad still offer Saddam’s victims — and American taxpayers — the opportunity to expose political wrongdoing and to prevent more Halabjas. There seems little doubt that the ex-dictator and his associates will one day face a hangman or firing squad — assuming they live long enough. But if U.S. influence allows prosecutors to sidestep the vital issue of the “aiders and abettors,” the 5,000 Kurds sprayed to death in Halabja and the tens of thousands of other victims — many of them still struggling with blindness, cancers, and birth defects — will be cheated of their right to know the real story of this and other Iraqi war crimes. Without that wider inquiry, the trials may well be seen as a form of victor’s justice.

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Why I had to flee my country

Steven Russell, Suffolk & Essex Online, September 26, 2006
CHOMAN Hardi is no stranger to hardship. She was born in Iraqi-controlled Kurdistan in 1974 – the year negotiations broke down with the Baath government. The Kurds had long been fighting for autonomy, but when the revolution was crushed many people fled to neighbouring Iran.
Among them was Choman’s family, their baby just over one month old. They ended up in Kerej, a small town outside Tehran.
“I grew up in a refugee Kurdish neighbourhood filled with stories about homeland and the hopes of return,” she recalls. “This is where I spent my first five years.”
In 1979 the Iraqi government issued an amnesty and after much hesitation her father decided to return. Choman remembers crossing back to her homeland; the journey captured in her poem At the Border.
“I was five years old and expected the other place behind the border to be much more beautiful. This is what my family had assured me. I realised I had been deceived. That day I probably learnt the first important lesson in my life: that the stories immigrants tell about their homelands are myths and beautiful lies. Suleimanya was not better than Kerej and the landscape was not that different.”
A year later, war broke out between Iraq and Iran.
“My childhood, like many of my generation, is full of the sound of sirens and planes and guns. Our days were dominated by the Iraq-Iran war and our nights by Iraq’s war against the Kurdish peshmarga (fighters for independence).
“In those years all of our textbooks started with glorious pictures of Saddam Hussein, grinning at us. A large portrait was also hung above our blackboard. Some days, after heavy breakouts of shooting the night before, we would go to school and there would be more triumphant posters of Saddam on the walls. My father told me that they were hiding the bullet holes.”
Nevertheless, Choman was a cheerful girl, if shy. She was furious when her parents outlawed music lessons, or any involvement in sports or art exhibitions. Years later she realised they’d had good reason.
“Any student who stood out in these fields was gradually sucked into the (Baath) party. I was once chosen as the model student and my father made me turn this prestigious position down. As a child I was angry with my father, refusing to believe that things were as bad as he made out. But soon life itself proved him right.
“When I was nine years old my brother took part in the students’ demonstrations and was arrested and tortured in 1983. He was only 17. In 1984 my other brother was arrested during a curfew because there was ‘an anti-government slogan’ on our wall. He was a university student at the time and had come home for the weekend. In 1986 both my brothers joined the Kurdish revolution despite my mother’s cries and begging. In this way the same circle started again.”
Action against the Kurds intensified throughout the 1980s. Then in February, 1988, during the last months of the Iraq-Iran war, the government started its ultimate destruction of the villages, known as the Anfal campaign.
“The Anfal offensive took place in eight stages, destroying over 2,000 villages and mass-graving about 100,000 civilians. The inhabitants were repeatedly bombarded by chemical weapons over seven months.”
Once again the Kurdish revolution was crushed. Choman’s brothers fled to Iran.
“This campaign targeted the villages but in March, 1988, Halabja, which was a town, was also chemically bombarded. The bombardment terrified all Kurds. The government was seen to be capable of wiping out all of Kurdistan in the absence of outside intervention.”
Saddam Hussein and six other defendants are currently being tried for these 1988 offensives.
“We lived in the city and were never targeted in this way. But the Anfal campaign, Halabja, and the peace treaty between Iraq and Iran convinced my father to leave. We joined my brothers in Iran, crossing through dozens of destroyed villages, guided by smugglers.”
Choman was 14 when the family ended up in Seqiz, a small Kurdish town known for its harsh winters.
“Under the Islamic republic we had to cover up and wear the hijab, and I had to re-learn Persian to continue my schooling. I had two classmates who were in the same position as me. In school, the girls were fascinated by us and wanted to find out what we were like. Some were curious to know what it felt like to have bare arms and legs on the street. The more religious ones even thought we were lucky that we had been saved from our previous sinful lives.
“Most of our teachers were very supportive but the history teacher refused to speak in Kurdish in the class, which meant that for a few months we were depressed throughout her lessons. I hated my life for about a year but then I discovered literature in Persian and everything started to look up again.
“Most of all I missed the relatively freer environment we enjoyed as girls. I had always looked forward to growing up and being a woman, wearing colourful dresses, make-up and bare-toe shoes. Living in Iran deprived me of all these things. I was turned into a black crow on the streets.”
Iraq invaded Kuwait and was suddenly re-defined by the West as “dangerous”. The first gulf war followed.
“The short-lived Shi’ite and Kurdish uprisings of 1991 brought hope to many families like us, who were eagerly waiting to return. But Iraq was left with enough army and the use of helicopters to crush both sides. More than 100,000 Shi’ites were massacred in the south and about two million Kurds fled to Iran and Turkey.
“Our house in Seqiz soon resembled a refugee camp when dozens of relatives and friends came to stay in our two-bedroom flat. This is when my father, encouraged by my sister in London and my brother in America, decided to leave the region altogether. We went to Turkey in 1991 and I eventually made it to the UK in 1993.”
Most of her family later went back to Iraqi Kurdistan.
“My two brothers returned there in 1991, after the creation of the safe haven for the Kurds, and my parents, who lived in London for 11 years, returned after the war in 2003.
“My older sister, who lived in London for 23 years, returned to Kurdistan in 1999. She has established a woman’s organisation and feels content for being part of the rebuilding process.
“I have been back and forth a number of times in the last three years. I spent much of last year visiting the remote villages and interviewing the women survivors of Anfal for my research.” After studying at Oxford and University College, London, Choman’s PhD thesis with the University of Kent focused on the effects of displacement on Kurdish women in the UK.
Choman is now based at the University of Uppsala, in Sweden, where she’s analysing her findings.
“Some of the women survived the detention camps where their brothers, husbands and fathers were taken away to their death. Lack of sanitation, hunger and the spread of epidemics led to the death of many people in the camps, especially the children.
“For most of the Anfal women, grief has never ended. A woman whose child asked for cucumber till he starved to death told me that every time she smells cucumber in the spring she gets a headache. A man told me that the cleaner in his workplace, who is an Anfal survivor, burst into tears when he offered her a hot loaf of bread one morning. Her child had begged for bread till he died; she could not eat a warm piece of bread without remembering him.”
The plight of her homeland and its people drives her poetry – highly effective in the way beauty and horror often sit at each other’s shoulders. The harsh years endured by her own family could not kill its creative spirit; poetry was always part of the household.
“My father had a brilliant memory and knew many poems by heart. My brothers and sisters in turn wrote in some form or another. I was in primary school when I wrote my first story after being challenged by my brothers, who said I could not. My heart raced as I wrote and I realised that I enjoyed inventing characters who could experience all the things I wanted to experience.”
Her father, Ahmad, was a well known and much loved poet in his 20s. “But as time went on, as he lived through turmoil, he became acutely aware that he needed to do something. He says that during the hardships he felt that more serious measures were required; that poetry seemed passive.”
He became more involved in politics, establishing a secret political party in the 1950s known as Kajik.
In the 1980s Choman’s father completed some of the poems he had written in the ’40s and ’50s, and published them in the second edition of his poetry book. Many became classic songs and one of his political poems became a national hymn.
Choman was 20 when she started following in his footsteps. “I had loved poetry but believed I could not write it. It was love that made me into a poet. I was also particularly influenced by Persian poets of the 1960s.”
She hopes her writings “capture a time and a place which may otherwise remain in the dark; that they provide insight into another perspective – another realm of experience that may seem too distant and strange”.
Meanwhile, Choman feels it’s naïve to believe the work of Saddam Hussein can be easily undone.
“He spent 30 years strengthening factionalism by using Arabs against Kurds, Sunnis against Shi’ites and vice verse. The situation is also exploited by Islamic fundamentalists from within and without the country.
“I don’t expect the situation to get better soon but I do hope that one day people will be exhausted and they will realise that they cannot wipe each other out. Democracy is not something we are born with; it is something we have to learn.”
Despite everything she’s lived through, and experienced second-hand, Choman’s an optimist.
“I have to be if I am going to do anything about the injustices in the world around me. I have to believe that what I do matters: that it is important to carry on even though many times, especially during the Anfal interviews, I felt totally hopeless while faced with so much grief and so many shattered lives.
“There are, of course, hours and sometimes days when I feel that I am fooling myself; that nothing will get better however much we, as individuals, try. But most of the time I try to work hard reading and writing, to lend my voice to those who don’t have a voice.
“I think the process of growing up involves becoming aware of our similarities and vulnerabilities. All the awful things we hear about and see could happen to any of us. This is why it is important to keep talking to each other, to keep working, and to build an understanding.
“I hope that my poetry is also in this spirit, opening the door to another world shaped by war and violence.”
Choman Hardi’s 2004 poetry collection Life for Us is published by Bloodaxe Books at £7.95. ISBN 1 85224 644 8. www.bloodaxebooks.com
CHOMAN Hardi appears at the 18th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, which runs from November 3-5.
More of Choman’s views and reflections:
What’s her view of Iran and Iraq?
“Iraq and Iran are essentially very different countries. Iraq only came into existence when the Ottoman Empire was chopped up in the 1920s, whereas Iran has existed in the form of the Persian Empire for many centuries. This may be reflected in the psychology of the ruling class in both countries.
“The ruling Arabs of Iraq have always been aware of the fragility of the so-called ‘Iraqi nation’. They have been conscious that historically the three sections in Iraq have never gelled well together. Therefore the ruling elite were always nervous, insecure that the country may fall apart and that they may lose their power.
“We know that dominant groups are always worried about losing their position. They thus try to suppress the other groups and weaken them to remain in power. The ruling elite in Iraq tried to control the country and maintain its unity by utter violence and totalitarianism. This violence is very much based in fear and insecurity. It is the act of a desperate group which keeps things together by force. The moment the pressure is lifted everything falls apart.
“I believe both the Anfal genocide of 1988 and the current violence in Iraq are partly determined by the history of the country’s establishment. Another factor that plays a part in the current turmoil is the coming to power of the sunni-Arab-nationalist Baath Party which exploited the ethnic and religious rivalries and used them as an excuse to justify the use of violence to stay in power. The creation of a one-million-strong army, the construction of enemies within (Kurds and Shi’ite) and without (Iran, Kuwait, USA) also played an important role.”
What’s her view of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the way the US and UK, principally, have treated Iraq since then?
“Most of my life has coincided with Saddam Hussein’s rule and has been shaped by his policies. For someone with my history and experiences, the overthrow of Saddam is very much welcome. In fact, I believe, anyone who cares about their fellow humans should be happy about the overthrow of dictators in the world.
“Saddam Hussein should have been indicted for genocide in 1988. In fact, despite repeated cries from the international press and Human Rights organisations about the extensive use of chemical weapons and devastation of the countryside and its inhabitants, the international community failed to act.
“Both the UK and the US had evidence of what Iraq was doing at the time (read Physicians for Human Rights, 1989; Human Rights Watch, 1993; McDowall, 2005) but they did not want to lead such investigations or share the evidence they had. Instead they asked the UN to investigate ‘the allegations’, but Iraq refused to co-operate, stating it was ‘an internal matter’ and at the end the matter was dropped.
“The failure of the UN to implement the Genocide Convention has repeatedly caused disasters in the world and we are currently watching it happen again in Darfur. Respecting the integrity of states also rules out interfering when a state is destroying its own civilians for whatever reason.
“These are some of the factors that have crippled the UN and render it useless much of the time. The UK and US are guilty of silence, of not doing anything to stop Saddam Hussein. In fact, I believe, the Kuwait invasion only happened because Saddam thought he can get away with murder, as he had done till then. Failing to prosecute states that commit genocide only encourages them to carry on and encourages other rogue states to do the same.
“In 1939 Hitler is known to have said ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ The failure to sanction the Armenian genocide only encouraged Hitler to plan his own genocide of the Jews.
“The international community must learn that such silences and non-action have important consequences on the ground.
“Another terrible consequence is the failure to make amendments for the victims. The chemical attack survivors are dying slowly from cancer and deformities but, since Anfal and Halabja were never recognised as genocide or at least crimes against humanity, no help is available to this ill and fading community.
“Other consequences of non-action may be the build-up of resentment and anger towards the West and the rise in the number of refugees that these same governments complain about. But Britain has failed the Kurds from the beginning.
“In the early twenties, when the promise of nationhood was watered down to civil and cultural rights within Iraq, Britain was to ensure the implementation of these rights before Iraq was accepted as a new state in the League of Nations. Britain’s eagerness to get the Iraqi state established meant that they closed their eyes to the failure of the Iraqi government to meet these requirements.
“The US has also failed the Kurds repeatedly. Kissinger’s role in crushing the Kurdish revolution in 1974 was probably the first large-scale betrayal. It was followed by closing their eyes to genocide and mass murder. Later, it amounted to encouraging people to rise against Iraq in 1991 and then abandoning them when Iraq brutally suppressed the Shi’ites and the Kurds. The UK and US have failed the Iraqi people in general.
“I am saying all of this to make my position clear. I know very well that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with helping the Iraqi people. But I am also painfully aware that the tyrant could not have been toppled from within. Three decades of brutal rule meant the destruction of any viable opposition within the country and the displacement and impoverishment of the rest. There was no ground for change from within.
“I believe that Saddam Hussein could only have been removed by outside intervention, though I was hoping this would be an organised and well-planned operation which would take account of all the things that could go wrong. This was a big failure on behalf of the US and the UK.
“It seems to me that much harm could have been avoided if the security of the country was taken seriously from the first day. Dismantling the army and police forces, in conjunction with there not being enough coalition troops, created a gap which was exploited by Saddam’s men and Islamic fundamentalists. The way the Nazis were defeated was by complete destruction, which is not an option in modern warfare. This meant the lurking around of a large group of Saddam loyalists.
“It also seems that after decades of engagement or non-engagement with Iraq there was little understanding of the diversity of the people and their needs. I was angry with the Hollywood style of politicians’ and the planners’ discourse of the war. But I was also angry with the anti-war protesters who suddenly seemed to care about Iraqi people. Iraqi people had been suffering for years. Genocide, mass murder, sanctions and daily terror had crippled ordinary life.
“We knew the war was going to happen whether we liked it or not. I would have liked to have seen some people campaigning to pressurise the US and UK to get it right and be prepared for what may come. I also find it ironic that no-one seems to be protesting and organizing to pressurise the international community into helping people in Darfur.
“It seems to me that as long the West keeps its hands clean and doesn’t get involved, people don’t feel strongly enough about helping others who are suffering in their own distant countries. What the media chooses to highlight, what activists decide to campaign for and what people are being mobilized to do is very telling. There are many blind spots of truth and justice which I believe are partly determined by the media. Who will be given a voice and who will suffer in silence is decided by them.
“Repeatedly, I read articles by journalists who have not got the facts right because they don’t have time to research their topics properly. Very few people take the time to actually understand the complications and delicacy of certain situations. Naturally we want things to be simple, black or white, true or false, good or bad. But in real life things are much more complicated. Nations have histories which puts their current situation into context, ignoring that means not knowing the whole truth.
“To answer your question I want to say that the US and the UK have made many mistakes in Iraq but that is not the only reason for the current chaos. I want to draw you back to what I said earlier; what Saddam Hussein did in Iraq and the history of this nation has much to do with what is going on now. I get angry when people call the insurgents ‘resistance’. If they were only targeting the US soldiers, one could say that they want them out. But when they are killing Iraqi civilians on a daily basis I don’t want to call them anything but murderers.”

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U.S. chapter often overlooked in the history of Anfal

ERIC BLACK, STAR TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006
As his trial resumes today, Saddam Hussein stands charged with massacring tens of thousands or more Kurds, including thousands who were killed by chemical weapons dropped from aircraft.
President Bush has often cited this atrocity as part of the justification for removing from power “a man who is willing to gas his own people.”
But coverage of the trial and stories about Saddam seldom emphasize an awkward historical fact: Saddam was an ally of the United States before, during and after the 1986-89 campaign of slaughter known in Arabic as al-Anfal.
Saddam started a war with Iran in 1980. Because of U.S. enmity with Iran, the Reagan administration “tilted” toward Iraq in 1981. In 1982, the State Department removed Iraq from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In December 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, then Reagan’s special envoy to Baghdad, told Saddam that the United States wanted to resume full diplomatic relations. Saddam agreed.
During the Iran-Iraq war, the United States provided Saddam with military, economic and diplomatic aid. The U.S.-Iraq alliance was in place when Saddam began slaughtering Iraqi Kurds to punish them for rebellion.
The most famous attack was the gassing of Halabja, a mostly Kurdish city near the Iranian border, on March 16, 1988. Rebel Kurds, working with Iranian troops, had taken the town a few days earlier. The gassing, which killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds, was part of the Iraqi counterattack.
The killing continued after the war with Iran ended. The United States publicly condemned Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, but never suspended its aid programs to Saddam.
Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., horrified at the attacks on the Kurds, persuaded the Senate to unanimously adopt the so-called Prevention of Genocide Act, which would have ended U.S. subsidies and purchases of Iraqi oil and banned the export to Iraq of technology that would help advance its weapons programs.
Still seeking to maintain its relationship with Iraq and mindful that U.S. farmers and U.S. corporations were making a lot of money selling goods to Iraq, the Reagan White House opposed the sanctions.
One internal State Department memo put the tradeoff among ethical, political and economic considerations this way: “Human rights and chemical weapons use aside, in many respects our political and economic interests run parallel with those of Iraq.”
The Prevention of Genocide Act died in the House.
In 1989, the first President George Bush opposed a second stripped-down Iraq sanctions bill, up to the day that Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Within hours of the invasion, the bill passed 416-0 and Bush, by executive order, imposed an embargo on Iraq and a freeze on Iraqi assets in the United States.
Eric Black • eblack@startribune.com

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