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

Anfal Widows Get Little Relief

Women widowed by Saddam’s ruthless Anfal campaign continue to struggle 20 years on.
Sabri Fatah has struggled to keep her head above water since 1988, when her husband disappeared after being arrested by Iraqi troops during Saddam’s Anfal campaign.

Fatah, 40, lives with her two daughters in Shorsh camp, which lies 80 kilometres west of Sulaimaniyah, in a small two-room house given to her by relatives.

“We can’t afford to rent a house,” said 40-year-old Fatah, adding that their main source of income is a monthly pension from the Kurdish Regional Government, KRG, of 120 US dollars, which barely covers their basic needs.

During the summer, the widow and her two daughters aged 22 and 23, work in the fields, picking tomatoes and harvesting chickpeas to make some extra money. In winter, there is no work to be found in the town and they have no way of supplementing their government pension.

Fatah’s husband is thought to have been among an estimated 182,000 Kurds killed during the notorious Anfal operation of the late Eighties. Today, the survivors find it hard to makes ends meet.

Shorsh was built by Saddam's regime as an internment camp for Kurds whose homes were razed during the military onslaught. At least 2,000 villages were destroyed and tens of thousands were forcibly displaced during the campaign, according to Human Rights Watch.

Today, 1,700 Anfal widows live in the camp, according to the Kurdistan Women’s Union.

An official survey conducted last year found that Anfal widows make up about 15 per cent of the Iraqi Kurdistan population - an exact figure was not provided. It also established that more than 40 per cent of them have no jobs and are totally dependent on their government pension.

The Kurdish government has given each of the Shorsh widows a patch of land to build their own home, but they have no money to do so.

Rahma Hussein, 38, lives with her father in a single-room house in Shorsh. She was married for just five months when her husband was seized by Iraqi troops from their home in Karezay Dalo, a village in Kirkuk province. He was never seen again.

That year, she spent months in detention camps in Iraq’s western deserts. When she was freed, she returned home to find that her house had been razed along with the rest of her village.

A few months ago, she took a job as a janitor in one of the schools in the camp to supplement her pension. But social custom precludes women of her age from working, so she quit.

“People were looking down at me,” she said. “[Now] I don’t know what to do. I borrow money to survive and then pay this back when I receive my pension.”

Gulala Aziz, who represents Anfal victims in the Kurdistan parliament, said that the government is to blame for the lack of services and care available for the widows.

“The problems of the Anfal people will never be over,” she said.

“The government has [done] very little for [them]. For example, when they distributed those patches of land, the officials told them that the government would only be able to build 200 houses.”

Aziz said the government wanted to build homes in Shorsh, but camp representatives turned down the offer because they were concerned that some widows would miss out.

Aziz has long campaigned for the rights of widows, in 1999 helping to push through legislation that ensured that the government would not be able to cut their pensions if they were to remarry.

Chnar Sa’d, the minister for Martyrs and Victims of Anfal, said her ministry has put in a request for funds to regenerate parts of the region that were badly hit by the Anfal campaign. “We have submitted a project to the council of ministers to provide us with a special budget,” she said.

Sa’d declined to say how much money has been requested nor how it will be spent.

Aziz criticised the government for its failure to produce a strategic plan to help regions affected by the military campaign. “If the government continues to work [at this rate], it will not be able to provide a decent service for these areas, even in the next 15 years.”

Barham Omar is an IWPR contributor in Sulaimaniyah

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