The Anfal Operations in Iraqi Kurdistan
The 1988 Anfal (“Spoils”) operations conducted by the Iraqi regime against part of its Kurdish population are among the best-documented cases of genocide. Ostensibly a counterinsurgency measure against Kurdish rebels, they in fact involved the deliberate killing of large numbers of noncombatants. Captured documents prove the regime’s genocidal intent: They make abundantly clear that the government aimed at killing Kurdish civilians as such. Estimates of the number of civilian casualties vary from 50,000 to almost 200,000; the number of displaced or otherwise affected persons is far greater. Over 1000 Kurdish villages were destroyed in the operations, as were their livestock and orchards. The operations are characterized by an unusual degree of bureaucratic organization, centralized implementation, and secrecy. But because they are documented not only by eyewitness and survivor testimonies, but also by a vast number of captured Iraqi government documents, they provide one of the strongest and most unambiguous legal cases for a genocide tribunal.
Until the 2003 war against Saddam Hussein’s regime, the chances of those responsible being brought to justice were slim. At the time of writing, however, several of the main culprits (most notably, the most responsible official, Hussein’s cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid) have been captured, while the hunt for others is still on. It is not yet clear whether and how they will be tried for their role in the Anfal.
Although there is abundant and publicly accessible documentary evidence on the Anfal, little substantial research has been published since the 1995 publication of the Human Rights Watch report Iraq’s Crime of Genocide. Below, the factual account of the operations themselves is largely based on this indispensable study...