Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Anfal Victims See Bleak Future

Relatives of those who perished in Iraqi army massacres feel new political era unlikely to deliver justice.
By Frman Abdul-Rahman

Noori Muhammed, 71, sits sadly in the sun, the deep lines on his face revealing the tragedies of his life.

Muhammed is the only survivor of his nine-member family. His five sons, two daughters and wife were killed when Saddam Hussein's forces carried out the infamous Anfal campaign throughout Iraqi Kurdistan in 1988.

Muhammed cast his ballot last month in favour of Iraq's constitution, which some believe will mark a new beginning for the battered country. Like many Anfal victims, however, Muhammed holds little hope that a constitution or Iraq's new political system will change his life.

"I said yes to the constitution because the Kurdish leadership asked us to," he said. "By taking part in the referendum I take revenge on the Baathist Arabs who killed my relatives and family members. They still don't want a free stable Iraq to be established."

During the Anfal campaigns, the Iraqi military carried out mass executions and used chemical weapons against residents of Kurdish towns and villages. As many as 100,000 people were killed, or went missing and are presumed dead.

Approximately 182,000 Kurdish non-combatant civilians disappeared from their villages and were sent to the Nugra Salman deserts in southern Iraq. Human Rights Watch described the campaigns as "gross violations of human rights" and reported that approximately 2,000 villages were destroyed.

The former regime forcibly accommodated the Kurdish survivors in a specially-built town in Sulaimaniyah province, called Smoud - which means steadfastness. Following the March 1991 uprising and Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, the Kurds changed its name to Rizgary, meaning redemption.

Today, Rizgary is a poor town with houses built of mud, wood and stone. Most residents cannot return to their villages, which were burned or are now heavily mined.

The Anfal campaign mainly targeted men, with the result that women were left to look after households. Since the local economy was poor, labouring work in on neighbouring farms provided the majority of employment.

The local authorities have offered some assistance - the Sulaimaniyah government ministry dealing with Anfal victims provides about 150,000 Iraqi dinars, or slightly more than 100 US dollars per month, to 8,500 affected families.

Representatives of the latter now want both financial compensation from the Iraqi government and official recognition of the Anfal campaigns as a humanitarian tragedy. Few believe their demands will be heard.

"We know that our relatives are dead," said Ahmed Speeseri, 26. "But we want the new Iraqi government to pay us damages."

Most of the town's residents backed the constitution, which 99 per cent of voters in the province approved, according to the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq. But, in Rizgary, residents remain sceptical that Iraq's new legal framework or attempts at democracy will bring them justice.

The constitution does not mention compensating or providing support for Anfal victims, and parliament has not addressed the issue. Victims do not believe that politicians, particularly Sunni Arabs who once controlled Iraq, have any sympathy for their situation or even recognise their tragedy.

The missing from Anfal are lumped into a file at the ministry of human rights in Baghdad with those who disappeared during the Iran-Iraq and 1991 Gulf war, said Mansoor Hama-Karim, director for Anfal victims' issues at the ministry for human rights in Sulaimaniyah.

"I pin little hope on the constitution," said Rewaz Sabeer, a 32-year-old housewife. "What guarantees do we have that the next Iraqi government won't [massacre] us again?"

“The mentality of Saddam’s era continues to prevail among many Sunni Arabs," said Hama-Karim. "As a result, we doubt that the Iraqi government will provide a better life for the relatives of Anfal victims in the future.”

Khuncha Kakabra, a 53-year-old housewife, lost her son in the Anfal tragedy. Even with Saddam's trial, which Kakabra prayed for, she is not hopeful that Anfal victims and their families will receive justice or compensation.

"I have no hope in Iraq," she said. "Saddam has been toppled, but we are still living in these compulsory camps where the Ba'athist regime forcefully settled us."

Still, some have glimmers of hope.

"Everything ended with the fall of Saddam, and a new era started when a Kurd became president," said Speeseri. "That reassured us that the Kurds won't be humiliated again."

Frman Abdul-Rahman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.