August 25, 2006

Kurds Want Genocide to Be Recognised

Mohammed A. Salih
IPS

SULEIMANIYA, - Fanning her grandchild in a cradle, Bahiya, 74, recalls "the most difficult time" of her life.

She had lived for years in Binaka village, southeast of Kirkuk, with her family of 15. Their peaceful life ended in April of 1988 when Iraqi army units moved into nearby areas to fight Kurdish Peshmarga forces.

"It was just a few weeks after the gassing of Halabja," said Bahiya, who now lives in Rizgari district, 175km south of Suleimaniya. "We were afraid that we might be bombed with chemicals as well."

More than 100 families living in Binaka were taken to Nugra Salman prison near Iraq's southern border with Saudi Arabia. Bahiya spent five months there living on a daily diet of a bottle of unclean water and a piece of hard bread.

After release, Bahiya headed home, only to see her village razed to the ground and 12 members of her family missing. "Later I found out they were all killed during Anfal (operations against Kurds)," she said.

But she is pleased now that "the day of accountability for Saddam and his men has come."

According to Kurd figures, about 182,000 people were massacred in eight stages of Anfal, from February 1988 through September. International human rights groups estimate the number is between 50,000 and 100,000.

The Anfal was launched in retaliation for Kurds' cooperation with Iranian troops during the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran.

The killings have brought Saddam Hussein and six others to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Kurds want the genocide to be accepted by court; they want justice, and they want also the political fruits they can pluck from such a decision.

"The regime of Saddam Hussein attempted to take away the right to life from a part of the Kurdish people," said Abdurrahman Haji Zebari, legal consultant for the Arbil-based Organisation of Anfal Victims in Kurdistan.

"Recognition of the Anfal genocide campaign will lead to international sympathy with Kurds," Zebari, who represents the victims in the Anfal trial in Baghdad told IPS. "We have enough evidence to prove that in court."

If the court finds Saddam and his henchmen guilty of Anfal, survivors can claim compensation from the Iraqi government.

Saddam faces trial before presiding judge Abdullah al-Amiri, a Shia Arab. A 32-member team of lawyers is defending the victims.

In the three sessions of the Anfal trial this week, several Kurdish witnesses gave evidence against Saddam and the other defendants. One of the main accused is Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed Chemical Ali for his suspected role in the March 1988 gassing of Halabja.

Halabja is a town 250km northeast of Baghdad. Nearly 5,000 people are believed to have died in the chemical attack.

On the first day of the trial, Kurds observed five minutes silence. Black banners were raised above Kurdistan government buildings. Many Kurds are asking for the trial to be held in Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq.

Apart from the charges against Saddam, Kurdish victims may file cases against other parties they believe were involved in Anfal.

Documents released recently suggest that 18 Kurdish women, aged 14 to 29, arrested during Anfal were sold by government officials to night clubs in Egypt. That revelation has put strong pressure on Kurdish authorities to investigate the fate of those women.

The documents were obtained from Baath party offices following the collapse of the Saddam regime.

"Recognition of Anfal atrocities in the court can lead to filing suits against the countries that were involved one way or another in Anfal," said Nadir Rosti, an official in the newly formed Anfal Ministry in Kurdistan.

In response to witnesses' accounts, Saddam and his defence team have argued that the operations in the north were aimed at Kurdish guerrilla fighters allied with Iran.

Many Anfal survivors are asking for execution of Saddam, but say this will not bring justice to them. "He must be killed," said Nazanin Haidar, 30, from Rizgari. "But his death will not bring back the fingers of any of our children who died on his hand."
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