Waiting for justice on Anfal
September 17, 2006
KURDISTAN - In April, ousted dictator Saddam Hussein was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role 1988's Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurdish population. Now, as Iraqis wait for the trial to run its course, three local Kurdish citizens reflect on what they endured before and after the campaign that some say left 100,000 Kurds dead and another 182,000 missing.<br/><br/>"In 1988, Iraqi military operations started Aug. 25, called 'Operation Anfal', translated Anfal means 'Spoil of War'," said Makail Bendi, an interpreter with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion in Dahuk. <br/><br/>Bendi fled Iraq with the start of the Anfal campaign, resettling in the United States.<br/>"What I mean by that," Bendi said, "is Saddam gave his army permission to enter Kurdistan, and giving them full authority do to whatever they wanted - kill people, burn down villages - whatever they felt was necessary to get rid of the Kurds."<br/><br/>To some, Anfal served as a vivid expression of the "special powers" granted to Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam and secretary general of the Northern Bureau of Iraq's Ba'ath Party. From Mar. 29, 1987, until Apr. 23, 1989, al-Majid was granted power in northern Iraq that was equivalent to that of Saddam himself, with authority over all agencies of the state. Al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," was the overlord of the Kurdish genocide.<br/><br/>According to Bendi, 18 years ago he witnessed thousands of Kurdish people trying to escape the Iraqi Army by climbing a mountain and going to the Turkish border. There were no roads and it was extremely tough to get over the mountain.<br/><br/>A Kurdish Iraqi boy eats a popsicle outside in Dohuk. Department of Defense photo by Jim Gordon.<br/>A Kurdish Iraqi boy eats a popsicle outside in Dohuk. Department of Defense photo by Jim Gordon.<br/>The Kurds were fleeing Saddam's military forces. Behind them, innocents were being subjected to bullets and chemical weapons, as bombs fell on their villages.<br/><br/>As he talked from the spot at the base of the mountain where he escaped, Bendi said, "Getting over that mountain was like hell. Being back here at this spot is very painful, but I am thankful that I have my freedom today. I personally saw a baby left on the side of the road, because it was too tough to get over."<br/><br/>Bendi went on to say his mother spent four and a half years in prison under Saddam, and both parents spent four and a half years in Turkey in a refugee camp.<br/><br/>Abdul Hadid Omar Rasman spoke about his story while sitting on rubble from a house that was destroyed during the Anfal campaign.<br/><br/>"After midnight on Aug 25, 1988, Saddam's army surrounded our village," said Rasman. "Some of the villagers could not escape; some hid in the mountains, in caves.<br/><br/>Rasman said the villagers were aware of the army's presence in the area, but were told they troops were just sweeping the area for Peshmerga. Not long after, the same troops destroyed the village and killed everyone in it.<br/><br/>"The army used chemical weapons on the people," said Rasman. "They killed men and woman."<br/><br/>Another third Kurd, Qahr Khalil Mohammad, said he was a witness to the Anfal killings.<br/><br/>"Two years before the campaign started, our village was burned by the Iraqi Army," said Mohammad. "We had no choice, but to run and get out of the village."<br/><br/>According to Mohammad, after the campaign started in 1988, he was living in a cave trying to get to the Turkish border. Unable to attain his destination thanks to Iraqi military roadblocks and aircraft, Mohammad and others sent three elders - one his father - to negotiate with the troops.<br/><br/>"The elders returned and told us that the Ba'ath Party, the Koran and Saddam promise that nothing would happen to us so we surrendered to them," said Mohammad. "They gathered us up, put us all together and told us to line up."<br/><br/>Mohammad said Saddam's forces then sent females and children under the age of 10 back to the village. They lined up the men and boys and walked them to a ravine where they were searched.<br/><br/>"They started shooting at us, but missed me at first," said Mohammad. "It hit the person next to me in the head and blood splattered on my face. At that time I laid on my stomach and the IA came by and kicked me. The Soldier shot me in the back. I was shot a total of three times and I did not die."<br/><br/>For many of Iraq's Kurds, such stories of atrocities under the former regime are commonplace. Now, with Saddam Hussein on trial, they are watching and waiting for the justice they've sought for 18 years.