Kurds Still Seeking Lost Women

Iraqi authorities show little enthusiasm for Kurds’ quest to find women believed to have been given away as trophies by the Baath regime.

Kurds Still Seeking Lost Women

Iraqi authorities show little enthusiasm for Kurds’ quest to find women believed to have been given away as trophies by the Baath regime.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

The one-page document marked "Secret and Urgent" looks like thousands of others confiscated from Baath Party offices after the war, and reads in the same sterile bureaucratic language – belying its sensational content.

Document Number 1601, dated December 10, 1989, was written right in the middle of the Anfal campaign of murder against the Kurds of northern Iraq.

"In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate," it begins. It ends with a list of 18 women – the youngest 14, the oldest 29.

"According to your orders," the memo reads, "we have sent a number of these women to night-clubs in the Egyptian Arab Republic."

Addressed by the intelligence directorate in Tamin (Kirkuk) to the general directorate for intelligence in Baghdad, the document has not been verified as authentic, but there is little reason to doubt that it is.

The women on the list, all thought to be Kurds, are still missing 15 years later, according to their families. Local publication of the document last year sparked a movement in northern Iraq and around the world to discover their fate.

A year on, family members to whom IWPR has spoken have voiced their unhappiness about the lack of response.

Complaints have been filed in local courts and letters written to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his wife Suzanne, as well as to the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer. There has been no reaction.

A committee consisting of women’s organisations, lawyers, and civic groups was set up last July to pursue action on the newly-found document. At the end of May 2004, with little tangible progress made, the committee formally wrote to the Kurdish parliament asking for action.

While no one can verify that the women on the list were actually taken to Egypt, there is evidence that Kurdish women were given as "gifts" to men within Iraq. Many eyewitnesses in the Anfal prisons also assert that young women were separated from other prisoners, and that Egyptian men were present.

A source close to the Kurdish leadership told IWPR that some Arab tribal leaders contacted them in Baghdad after the fall of the regime and said they had received Kurdish women as "gifts" from Saddam Hussein.

The tribal leaders said they had legal marriage contracts, and asked for reconciliation with the relatives.

Kurds who survived the genocide campaign say it was typical during the Anfal for Iraqi troops to separate men, women and children. There were "sorting centres" where villagers were taken before being moved to collective towns, desert prison camps, or to face execution and subsequent burial in mass graves.

"The army would set out for Kurdistan villages in the morning," said a former gardener who worked at the Popular Army Command in Kirkuk beginning in 1987. "They burned the villages, captured the villagers, and then distributed women, men, young people and children to separate places."

The gardener did not want to be named because other eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the former regime have been killed after speaking to journalists.

Aside from the 100,000 people, most of them civilians, killed outright in the Anfal campaign, and about another 100,000 men disappeared. Thousands of men, women and children ended up in prison camps, and hundreds of thousands were sent to live in collective towns near Iraqi military bases.

About 4,000 villages were destroyed in the scorched earth campaign.

The gardener reported that occasionally Arab men either from the nearby town of Hawija or from southern Iraq would come to the command post and take women away "in twos and threes, and never brought them back".

He also reported seeing Egyptian nationals at the army post.

"One day, three Egyptian men came to the office with official Baath party letters," said the now 75-year-old man. "A driver took them to Topzawa prison camp. They brought back three girls in Kurdish dress, aged about 17 or 18. They took them with them."

Layla Muhammed shared a large prison cell with some of the women named in the document. "They separated them from us and took them away," she said. "I thought they were released. But it turned out they weren’t."

Yousif Younis, 40, who works for an association for the victims of Anfal, says, "I am sure the Baath regime did this. All the girls are from the ‘beautiful families’. It seems they were chosen."

The 18 women on the list were all from an area around Duz, south of Kirkuk, that is famed for its beautiful women.

Younis was a peshmerga or Kurdish guerrilla fighter against the regime in Garmian, near Duz. He lost all of his family in the Anfal campaign, and his remaining cousin, Layla Abbas, is listed in the document.

Younis and other relatives of the disappeared women say that until the war last April, they were hopeful that they might reappear some day.

But they have since lost hope, as none of the women has come forward in the past year, and officials show little interest in the case.

Together with relatives of the victims, the committee established to follow up on the Baath document filed a lawsuit in Kirkuk last summer but the court declined to hear the case.

The Saddam-era laws that are still in force do not provide the courts with an adequate legal framework for addressing crimes committed under the old regime.

The committee also asked chief administrator Bremer to investigate the alleged abductions, by getting the Coalition to question former Baathists now in its custody and suspected of involvement in the case. It has yet to hear back.

Despite other efforts being made to pressure Egypt and international bodies to investigate, there has been little response.

"Try your best to verify the document and reassure the relatives very quickly," said an official letter addressed to the Egyptian government from the Kurdistan regional government’s ministry for human rights, internally displaced persons and Anfal victims, dated last July.

The Egyptian government has yet to reply.

"Investigate the fate of those women and put on trial those who were involved," wrote Francoise Brie, director of the International Alliance for Justice, in an August 1 letter to Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak, who heads the national women’s council in that country. Brie’s letter has not had a reply.

The non-government Anfal Centre has tried without success to attract the attention of United Nations’ human rights arm in Iraq. And the Committee of the Sold Sisters in London has not received a response to a letter it sent to the Arab League.

Hidayat Ibrahim, 86, whose daughter Hasiba is one of the 18 women listed, doesn't care how it happens. He just wants to know where she is.

"We should put pressure on Egypt," he said. "We want our children back."

Talar Nadir is an editor for Rewan, a bi-weekly women's newspaper.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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