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Anfal genocide
Part of the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict and the Iran–Iraq War
File:File:Iraqi mass grave.jpg
Human remains found in at a mass grave site in Iraqi Kurdistan, July 15, 2005
Location Iraq
Date 1986–1989
(In strict sense 23 February 1988 – 6 September 1988)
Target Exterminating Kurdish opposition
Attack type
Forced disappearance, Genocidal massacre
Deaths 50,000–100,000[1]
(Although Kurdish officials have claimed the figure could be as high as 182,000.[2])
Perpetrators Iraq
Motive Eliminate Kurdish resistance.

The Anfal genocide[3] was the Kurdish genocide[4][5][6] that killed between 50,000[1] and 182,000[2] Kurds committed during the Al-Anfal campaign (Harakat al-Anfal/Homleh al-Anfal) (Kurdish language: پڕۆسەی ئەنفال) (Arabic language: حملة الأنفال‎), a campaign against Kurdistan in northern Iraq, led by Ali Hassan al-Majid in the final stages of the Iran–Iraq War. 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 government for a series of systematic attacks against the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, conducted between 1986 and 1989 and culminating in 1988. Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom officially recognize the Anfal campaign as genocide.[7]


Al-Anfal is the eighth sura or chapter of the Qur'an which explains the triumph of 313 followers of the new Muslim faith over almost 900 pagans at the Battle of Badr in 624 AD. Al Anfal literally means the spoils (of war) and was used to describe the military campaign of extermination and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid. His orders informed jash (literally "donkey's foal" in Kurdish) units that taking cattle, sheep, goats, money, weapons and even Kurdish women was legal.[8]


The Anfal campaign began in 1986 and lasted until 1989, and was headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid (a cousin of then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit). The Anfal campaign included the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, firing squads, and chemical warfare, which earned al-Majid the nickname of "Chemical Ali".

Thousands of civilians were killed during the anti-insurgent campaigns stretching from the spring of 1987 through the fall of 1988. The attacks were part of a long-standing campaign that destroyed approximately 4,500 Kurdish and at least 31 Assyrian Christian villages in areas of northern Iraq and displaced at least a million of the country's estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population. Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had "disappeared" during 1988.[9][10] The campaign has been characterized as genocidal in nature. It is also characterized as gendercidal, because "battle-age" men were the primary targets, according to Human Rights Watch/Middle East.[11] According to the Iraqi prosecutors and Kurdish officials, as many as 180,000 people were killed.[12]

Under President Reagan, the United States continued to aid Iraq after receiving reports of the use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians.[13][14][15]

The campaign

Al-Anfal campaign
Part of the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict and the Iran–Iraq War
(In strict sense 23 February 1988 – 6 September 1988)

Insurgency weakened but not quelled

  • Destruction of 4,500 villages.
Ba'athist Iraq
  • KDP
  • PUK
Commanders and leaders
  • Massoud Barzani
  • Jalal Talabani
Units involved
200,000 3,500
Casualties and losses
50,000–182,000 civilians killed[2][17]

In March 1987, Ali Hassan al-Majid was appointed secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party's Northern Region, which included Iraqi Kurdistan. Under al-Majid, control of policies against the Kurdish insurgents passed from the Iraqi Army to the Ba'ath Party itself. It would be known as al-Anfal ("The Spoils"), in a reference to the eighth sura of the Qur'an.

Anfal, officially conducted in 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.

Military operations and chemical attacks

On 16 March 1988, there was a genocidal poison gas attack on the city of Halabja in which 3,200-5,000 Kurdish people were killed, most of them civilians.[18][19]

Concentration camps and extermination

When captured, Kurdish populations were transported to detention centers (notably Topzawa, near the city of Kirkuk), adult and teenage males viewed as possible insurgents were separated from the civilians. 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, the men accused of being insurgents were trucked off to be killed in mass executions.

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 in mass. ... 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 1 September 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.[20]

The 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 (25 August-6 September 1988). This was launched immediately after the signing of a ceasefire with Iran, which allowed the transfer of large numbers of men and amount of 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 Great Zab 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 single exception of Assyrians 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 20 June 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 6 September 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.)


"Arabization," another major element of al-Anfal, was a tactic used by Saddam Hussein's regime to drive pro-insurgent populations out of their homes in villages and cities like Kirkuk, which are in the valuable oil field areas, and relocate them in the southern parts of Iraq.[21] The campaign used heavy population redistribution, most notably in Kirkuk, the results of which now plague negotiations between Iraq's Shi'a United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Kurdistani Alliance. Saddam's Ba'athist regime built several public housing facilities in Kirkuk as part of his "Arabization," shifting poor Arabs from Iraq's southern regions to Kirkuk with the lure of inexpensive housing.

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.


Documenting the Kurdish Genocide

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In August 2013, after many years of relationship building, Imani Lee Language Services entered into a multi-year and multi-phased agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), an autonomous state within the borders of Iraq, regarding an important project of historical significance.

The first phase of the project concerned the translation of historical documents related to the events that happened in Halabja, Iraq within Kurdistan on 16 March 1988, when Saddam Hussein’s regime bombed the entire district with chemical weapons in the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 5,000 Kurds. The attack on Halabja has been well-documented as being the single most brutal attack of Saddam Hussein’s reign, as well as the deadliest chemical weapons attack against a civilian population in the history of the world. Today, many of the living Kurdish civilians affected by the chemical attack still suffer from various illnesses both psychological and physical, in addition to the birth defects of their progeny.

For years, the victims of the attack and the KRG have tried to tell their story to the rest of the world, an effort which has included petitioning international countries to recognize the attack as an official act of genocide.

The Kurdish Genocide has been published in Halabja: Facing the Poisons of Death, A Legal Reading of the Event and the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Court Documents, authored by Bakr Hamah Seddik Arif, a lawyer and member of the Iraqi Parliament.


According to the HRW during the Anfal campaign, the Iraqi government:

  • Massacred 50,000 to 100,000 non-combatant civilians including women and children according to Human Rights Watch.[1] Although Kurdish officials have claimed the figure could be as high as 182,000.[2]
  • Destroyed about 4,000 villages (out of 4,655) in Iraqi Kurdistan. Between April 1987 and August 1988, 250 towns and villages were exposed to chemical weapons;[22]
  • Destroyed 1,754 schools, 270 hospitals, 2,450 mosques, 27 churches;[23]
  • Wiped out around 90% of Kurdish villages in targeted areas.[2]
  • Made 2,000 Assyrian Christians, along with Kurds and others, victims of gas campaigns [24]

Violation of human rights

The campaigns of 1987–89 were characterized by the following human rights violations: Template:Ordered list


Frans van Anraat

In December 2005 a court in The Hague convicted Frans van Anraat of complicity in war crimes for his role in selling chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's government and given a 15-year sentence.[25] The court also ruled that the killing of thousands of Kurds in Iraq in the 1980s was indeed an act of genocide.[25] In the 1948 Genocide Convention, the definition of genocide is "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". The Dutch court said that it was considered "legally and convincingly proven that the Kurdish population meets the requirement under the Genocide Conventions as an ethnic group. The court has no other conclusion than that these attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq."

Trial of Saddam Hussein

In an interview broadcast on Iraqi television on 6 September 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.[26]

Anfal trial

In June 2006, the Iraqi Special Tribunal announced that Saddam Hussein and six co-defendants would face trial on 21 August 2006, in relation to the Anfal campaign.[27] In December 2006 Saddam was put on trial for the genocide during Operation Anfal. The trial for the Anfal campaign was still underway on 30 December 2006, when Saddam Hussein was executed for his role in the unrelated Dujail Massacre.[28]

The Anfal trial recessed on 21 December 2006, and when it resumed on 8 January 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.[12] 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.[29]

Al-Majid was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was convicted in June 2007 and was sentenced to death. His appeal of the death sentence was rejected on 4 September 2007, he was sentenced to death for the fourth time on 17 January 2010, and was hanged eight days later, on 25 January 2010.[30]

Remembrance day

The Kurdistan Regional Government has set aside 14 April as a day of remembrance for the Al-Anfal campaign.[31]

International recognition

# Name Date of recognition Source
1  Norway November 21, 2012 [32]
2  Sweden December 5, 2012 [33][34]
3  United Kingdom March 1, 2013 [35]
4  South Korea June 13, 2013 [36]

On 5 December 2012, Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, adopted a resolution by the Green party to officially recognize Anfal as genocide. The resolution was passed by all 349 members of parliament.[37] On 28 February 2013, the British House of Commons formally recognized the Anfal as genocide following a campaign led by Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi.[38]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 GENOCIDE IN IRAQ Human Rights Watch, 1993
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 The Crimes of Saddam Hussein – 1988 The Anfal Campaign PBS Frontline
  3. "Anfal Genocide: activists say Kurdish perpetrators remain at large". 2017-04-14. 
  4. "The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq (Al-Anfal Campaign)". 
  5. "Kurdish Genocide". 
  7. "British Parliament officially recognizes 'Kurdish Genocide'". Hurriyet Daily News. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  8. Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?: My Encounters with Kurdistan, 356 pp., Westview Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8133-3580-9, p.231
  9. Iraq: 'Disappearances' – the agony continues Archived 27 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Amnesty International
  10. Certrez, Donabed, and Makko (2012). The Assyrian Heritage: Threads of Continuity and Influence. Uppsala University. p. 288. ISBN 978-91-554-8303-6. 
  11. Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds? Human Rights Watch Report, 1991
  12. 12.0 12.1 Omar Sinan (25 June 2007). "Iraq to hang 'Chemical Ali'". Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  13. Pear, Robert. "U.S. Says It Monitored Iraqi Messages on Gas". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 18 September 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  14. "Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?". Human Rights Watch. 10 March 1991. Archived from the original on 12 April 2017. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  15. Harris, Shane. "Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  16. "TRIAL : Profiles". Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  17. "Iraqi Anfal". Human Rights Watch. 1993. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  18. "BBC ON THIS DAY | 16 | 1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack". BBC News. Retrieved 28 August 2013. 
  19. "Halabja, the massacre the West tried to ignore". Retrieved 28 August 2013. 
  20. Mass grave unearthed in Iraq CNN, 13 October 2004
  21. Middle East Watch. Genocide in Iraq, the Anfal Campgain Against the Kurds, Human Rights Watch, 1993, p. 36
  22. Michael Rubin, Are Kurds a pariah minority? Archived 13 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Social Research, Spring, 2003.
  23. "List of the churches been demolished by Saddam Hussein's regime". Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  24. Certrez, Donabed, and Makko (2012). The Assyrian Heritage: Threads of Continuity and Influence. Uppsala University. p. 289. ISBN 978-91-554-8303-6. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Killing of Iraq Kurds 'genocide' BBC News, 23 December 2005
  26. Lawyer denies Saddam confession BBC News, 8 September 2005
  27. Iraqi High Tribunal announces second Saddam trial to open Associated Press, 27 June 2006
  28. Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence Is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity The New York Times, 30 December 2006
  29. 'Chemical Ali' sentenced to hang CNN, 24 June 2007
  30. "Saddam Hussein's henchman 'Chemical Ali' executed". 25 January 2010. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  31. "Anfal campaign receives national day of remembrance". 
  32. "Norwegian Government recognises Saddam Hussein's genocide – Justice4Genocide calls on the British Government to do the same". 21 November 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  33. "Is Swedish neutrality over?". 11 December 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  34. "Swedish Parliament recognises Saddam Hussein's genocide – Justice4Genocide calls on Britain to do the same". 14 December 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  35. "British parliament unanimously recognises Kurdish genocide". 1 March 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  36. "South Korea recognizes Kurdish genocide". 13 June 2013. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  37. "Is Swedish neutrality over?". Pravda. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  38. "Historic Debate Secures Parliamentary Recognition of the Kurdish Genocide". Retrieved 31 August 2013. 

36. ^Documenting the Kurdish Genocide – 31 January 2014

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