The al-Anfal Campaign (حملة الأنفال), also known as Operation Anfal, was a genocidal campaign against Kurds led by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid. The campaign takes its name from Surat al-Anfal in the Qur'an, which was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Baathist regime for a series of attacks against the peshmerga rebels and the mostly Kurdish civilian population of rural Northern Iraq, conducted between 1986 and 1989 culminating in 1988.
Thousands of civilians were killed during chemical and conventional bombardments stretching from the spring of 1987 through the fall of 1988. The attacks were part of a long-standing campaign that destroyed almost every Kurdish village in a vast areas of northern Iraq -- along with a centuries-old way of life -- and displaced at least a million of the country's estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population. Independent sources estimate 100,000 to more than 150,000 deaths and as many as 100,000 widows and an even greater number of orphans. Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had "disappeared" during 1988. The campaign has been characterized as genocidal in nature, notably by a court in The Hague. It is also characterized as gendercidal, because "battle-age" men were the primary targets, according to Human Rights Watch/Middle East. According to the Iraqi prosecutors, as many as 180,000 people were killed.
Anfal, officially conducted between February 23 and September 6, 1988, would have eight stages altogether, seven of them targeting areas controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The Kurdish Democratic Party-controlled areas in the northwest of Iraqi Kurdistan, which the regime regarded as a lesser threat, were the target of the Final Anfal operation in late August and early September, 1988. For these assaults, the Iraqis mustered up to 200,000 soldiers with air support -- matched against Kurdish guerrilla forces that numbered no more than a few thousand.
Accordingly, when captured Kurdish populations were transported to detention centers (notably the concentration camp of Topzawa near the city of Kirkuk), they were subjected to the classic process of gendercidal selection: separating adult and teenage males from the remainder of the community. According to Human Rights Watch/Middle East,
With only minor variations ... the standard pattern for sorting new arrivals [at Topzawa was as follows]. Men and women were segregated on the spot as soon as the trucks had rolled to a halt in the base's large central courtyard or parade ground. The process was brutal ... A little later, the men were further divided by age, small children were kept with their mothers, and the elderly and infirm were shunted off to separate quarters. Men and teenage boys considered to be of an age to use a weapon were herded together. Roughly speaking, this meant males of between fifteen and fifty, but there was no rigorous check of identity documents, and strict chronological age seems to have been less of a criterion than size and appearance. A strapping twelve-year-old might fail to make the cut; an undersized sixteen-year-old might be told to remain with his female relatives. ... It was then time to process the younger males. They were split into smaller groups. ... Once duly registered, the prisoners were hustled into large rooms, or halls, each filled with the residents of a single area. ... Although the conditions at Topzawa were appalling for everyone, the most grossly overcrowded quarter seem to have been those where the male detainees were held. ... For the men, beatings were routine. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 143-45. ISBN 0-300-06427-6)
After a few days in these camps, without a single known exception, the men thus "processed" were trucked off to be killed in massacres. According to Human Rights Watch/Middle East, the "standard operating procedures" of the gendercidal killings (extended, in some cases, to other segments of the population -- see below) were "uncannily reminiscent of ... the activities of the Einsatzkommandos, or mobile killing units, in the Nazi-occupied lands of Eastern Europe": It is important to mention here that there are at least 7 individuals who have returned from the edge of the massgraves.All amazingly survived and returned to tell their stories. Among the survivors was a boy 12 years of age.
Some groups of prisoners were lined up, shot from the front, and dragged into predug mass graves; others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses, before being killed; still others were tied together, made to stand on the lip of the pit, and shot in the back so that they would fall forward into it -- a method that was presumably more efficient from the point of view of the killers. Bulldozers then pushed earth or sand loosely over the heaps of corpses. Some of the grave sites contained dozens of separate pits and obviously contained the bodies of millions of victims. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 12.)
In its book Iraq's Crime of Genocide, Human Rights Watch/Middle East writes: "Throughout Iraqi Kurdistan, although women and children vanished in certain clearly defined areas, adult males who were captured disappeared en masse ... It is apparent that a principal purpose of Anfal was to exterminate all adult males of military service age captured in rural Iraqi Kurdistan." (pp. 96, 170). Only a handful survived the execution squads. Even amidst this most systematic slaughter of adult men and boys, however, "hundreds of women and young children perished, too," though "the causes of their deaths were different -- gassing, starvation, exposure, and willful neglect -- rather than bullets fired from a Kalashnikov." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 191.) Nevertheless, on September 1, 2004, U.S. forces in Iraq discovered hundreds of bodies of Kurdish women and children at the site near al-Hatra, believed to be executed in early 1988 or late 1987..
The genocidal and gendercidal focus of the Iraqi killing campaign varied from one stage of Anfal to another. The most exclusive targeting of the male population occurred during the final Anfal (August 25-September 6, 1988). This was launched immediately after the signing of a ceasefire with Iran, which allowed the transfer of large amounts of men and matériel from the southern battlefronts. The final Anfal focused on "the steep, narrow valleys of Badinan, a four-thousand-square mile chunk of the Zagros Mountains bounded on the east by the Greater Zab River and on the north by Turkey." Here, uniquely in the Anfal campaigns, lists of the "disappeared" provided to Human Rights Watch/Middle East by survivors "invariably included only adult and teenage males, with the signal exception of Assyrian and Caldean Christians and Yezidi Kurds," who were subsidiary targets of the slaughter. Many of the men of Badinan did not even make it as far as "processing" stations, being simply "lined up and murdered at their point of capture, summarily executed by firing squads on the authority of a local military officer." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 178, 190, 192; on the fate of the Christians and Yezidi Kurds, see pp. 209-13.)
On June 20, 1987, directive SF/4008 was issued under al-Majid's signature. Of greatest significance is clause 5. Referring to those areas designated "prohibited zones," al-Majid ordered that "all persons captured in those villages shall be detained and interrogated by the security services and those between the ages of 15 and 70 shall be executed after any useful information has been obtained from them, of which we should be duly notified." However, it seems clear from the application of this policy that this referred only to males "between the ages of 15 and 70." Human Rights Watch/Middle East takes this as given, writing that clause 5's "order [was] to kill all adult males," and later: "Under the terms of al-Majid's June 1987 directives, death was the automatic penalty for any male of an age to bear arms who was found in an Anfal area." (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, pp. 11, 14.) A subsequent directive on September 6, 1987, supports this conclusion: it calls for "the deportation of ... families to the areas where there saboteur relatives are ..., except for the male [members], between the ages of 12 inclusive and 50 inclusive, who must be detained." (Cited in Iraq's Crime of Genocide, p. 298.)
Iraq's Kurds now strongly resent Arabs still residing in Ba'ath-era Kirkuk housing, and view them as a barrier to Kirkuk's recognition as a Kurdish city (and regional seat) in an increasingly sovereign Kurdish Autonomous Region. Many Kurds believe that since Hussein's "Arabization" was a form of ethnic cleansing, they should be allowed to "undo" its campaign in post-Saddam Iraq, such as, expelling those Arabs who came north as a result of Hussein's programs.
According to the HRW during the Anfal campaign, the Iraqi government:
In an interview broadcast on Iraqi television on September 6, 2005, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani said that judges had directly extracted confessions from Saddam Hussein that he had ordered mass killings and other "crimes" during his regime and that he deserves to die. Two days later Saddam's lawyer denied that he had confessed.
The Anfal trial recessed on December 21 2006, and when it resumed on January 8 2007, the remaining charges against Saddam Hussein were dropped. Six co-defendants continued to stand trial for their roles in the Anfal campaign. On 23 June 2007 Ali Hassan al-Majid, and two co-defendants Sultan Hashem Ahmed and Hussein Rashid Mohammed were convicted of genocide and related charges and sentenced to death by hanging. Another two co-defendants (Farhan Jubouri and Saber Abdel Aziz al-Douri) were sentenced to life imprisonment, and one (Taher Tawfiq al-Ani) was acquitted on prosecution's demand.