Anfal campaign

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Anfal genocide
Part of the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict and the Iran–Iraq War
Exhumed Shoes of Child Victim of Anfal Genocide - 3rd International Conference on Mass Graves in Iraq - Erbil - Iraq.jpg
Footwear of a child found in an Anfal mass grave
(In strict sense 23 February 1988 – 6 September 1988)
Caused byKurdish insurgency in northern Iraq
Resulted in

The Anfal campaign (Arabic: حملة الأنفال, romanizedHamlat al-Anfal; Kurdish: شاڵاوی ئەنفال), also known as the Anfal genocide or the Kurdish genocide,[2][3][4][5] was a genocidal counterinsurgency operation which was carried out by Ba'athist Iraq and killed between 50,000[6] and 182,000[7] Kurds in the late 1980s. The Iraqi forces were led by Ali Hassan al-Majid, on the orders of President Saddam Hussein, against Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq during the final stages of the Iran–Iraq War. The campaign's purpose was to eliminate Kurdish rebel groups as well as to Arabize strategic parts of the Kirkuk Governorate.[8]

The campaign's name was taken from the title of Qur'anic chapter 8 (al-ʾanfāl), which was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Ba'athist Government for a series of systematic attacks against the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq between 1986 and 1989, with the peak in 1988. Sweden, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom officially recognize the Anfal campaign as a genocide.[9]

Researcher Autumn Cockrell-Abdullah states that the Anfal has become "an important constitutive element of Kurdish national identity".[10]


Al-Anfal is the eighth sura, or chapter, of the Qur'an. It 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 against the Kurds. Jash (Kurdish collaborators with the Baathists) were told that taking cattle, sheep, goats, money, weapons and even women was halal (religiously permitted or legal).[11] Randal (1998, 2019) argued that 'Al Anfal' was 'a curious nod to Islam' by the Ba'athist government, because it had originally been known as a 'militantly secular regime'.[11] Dave Johns (2006) stated: 'Some say the government chose the term for its campaign against the Kurds of northern Iraq because it suggested a religious justification for its actions.'[12]


The Anfal campaign began in 1986, and lasted until 1989, and was headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Iraqi President 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". The Iraqi Army was supported by Kurdish collaborators whom the Iraqi government armed, the so-called Jash forces, who led Iraqi troops to Kurdish villages that often did not figure on maps as well as to their hideouts in the mountains. The Jash forces frequently made false promises of amnesty and safe passage.[13]

Thousands of civilians were killed during the anti-insurgent campaigns, from early 1987 to late 1988. The attacks were part of a long campaign that destroyed approximately 4,500 Kurdish and at least 31 Assyrian Christian villages in northern Iraq and displaced at least a million of the estimated 3.5 million Iraqi Kurds. Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had "disappeared" in 1988.[14][15] The campaign has been characterized as genocidal in nature.[16] It is also characterized as gendercidal, because "battle-age" men were the primary targets, according to Human Rights Watch/Middle East.[17] According to the Iraqi prosecutors and Kurdish officials, as many as 180,000 people were killed.[18]

Under U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the United States continued to give military aid to Saddam Hussein, even after reports of the use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians.[19][20][21]

Campaign [edit]

In March 1987, Ali Hassan al-Majid was appointed secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party's Northern Bureau,[22] which included Iraqi Kurdistan. Under al-Majid, control of policies against the Kurdish insurgents passed from the Iraqi Army to the Ba'ath Party.[citation needed]

Military operations and chemical attacks[edit]

Anfal, officially conducted in 1988, had eight stages (Anfal 1–Anfal 8) altogether, seven of which targeted 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.[citation needed]

Anfal 1[edit]

Monument at the mass grave of victims of the Halabja chemical attack

The first Anfal stage was conducted between 23 February and 18 March 1988. It started with artillery and air strikes in the early hours of 23 February 1988. Then, several hours later, there were attacks at the Jafali Valley headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan near the Iranian border, and the command centers in Sargallu and Bargallu. There was heavy resistance by the Peshmerga. The battles were conducted in a theater around 1,154 square kilometres (445 sq. mi.).[23] The villages of Gwezeela, Chalawi, Haladin and Yakhsamar were attacked with poison gas. During mid March, the PUK, in an alliance with Iranian troops and other Kurdish factions, captured Halabja.[24] This led to the poison gas attack on Halabja on 16 March 1988,[24] during which 3,200–5,000 Kurdish people were killed, most of them civilians.[25][26]

Anfal 2[edit]

During the second Anfal from 22 March and 2 April 1988, the Qara Dagh region, including Bazian and Darbandikhan, was targeted in the Suleimanya governorate. Again several villages were attacked with poison gas. Villages attacked with poisonous gas were Safaran, Sewsenan, Belekjar, Serko and Meyoo.[citation needed] The attacks began on 22 March after Nowruz, surprising the Peshmerga. Although of shorter duration, Peshmerga suffered more severe casualties in this attack than the first Anfal.[23] As a result of the attack, the majority of the population in the Qara Dagh region fled in direction Suleimanya. Many fugitives were detained by the Iraqi forces, and the men were separated from the women. The men were not seen again. The women were transported to camps. The population that managed to flee, fled to the Garmia region.[27]

Anfal 3[edit]

In the next Anfal campaign from 7 to 20 April 1988, the Garmian region east of Suleimanya was targeted. In this campaign, many women and children disappeared. The only village attacked with chemical weapons was Tazashar. Many were lured to come towards the Iraqi forces due to an amnesty announced through a loudspeaker of a mosque in Qader Karam from 10 to 12 April. The announced amnesty was a trap, and many who surrendered were detained. Some civilians were able to bribe Kurdish collaborators of the Iraqi Army and fled to Laylan or Shorsh.[28]

Anfal 4[edit]

Anfal 4 took place between 3–8 May 1988 in the valley of the Little Zab, which forms the border of the provinces of Erbil and Kirkuk. The morale of the Iraqi army was on the rise due to the capture of the Faw Peninsula on the 17–18 April 1988 from Iran in the Iran–Iraq War.[29] Major poisonous gas attacks were perpetrated in Askar and Goptapa.[30] Again it was announced an amnesty was issued, which turned out to be false. Many of the ones who surrendered were arrested. Men were separated from the women.[31]

Anfal 5, 6 and 7[edit]

In these three consecutive attacks between 15 May and 16 August 1988, the valleys of Rawandiz and Shaqlawa were targeted, and the attacks had different successes. The Anfal 5 failed completely; therefore, two more attacks were necessary to gain Iraqi government control over the valleys. The Peshmerga commander of the region, Kosrat Abdullah, was well prepared for a long siege with stores of ammunition and food. He also reached an agreement with the Kurdish collaborators of the Iraqi Army so that the civilians could flee. Hiran, Balisan, Smaquli, Malakan, Shek Wasan, Ware, Seran and Kaniba were attacked with poisonous gas. After the Anfal 7 attack, the valleys were under the control of the Iraqi government.[31]

Anfal 8[edit]

The last Anfal was aimed at the region controlled by the KDP named Badinan and took place from 25 August to 6 September 1988. In this campaign, the villages of Wirmeli, Barkavreh, Bilejane, Glenaska, Zewa Shkan, Tuka and Ikmala were targeted with chemical attacks. After tens of thousands of Kurds fled to Turkey, the Iraqi Army blocked the route to Turkey on 26 August 1988. The population who did not manage to flee was arrested, and the men were separated from the women and children. The men were executed, and the women and children were brought to camps.[32]

Concentration camps and extermination[edit]

When captured, Kurdish populations were transported to detention centres (notably Topzawa, near the city of Kirkuk), and adult and teenage males, who were 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.[33]: 143–45 

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."[33]: 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," but "the causes of their deaths were different—gassing, starvation, exposure, and willful neglect—rather than bullets fired from a Kalashnikov."[33]: 191  Nevertheless, on 1 September 2004, U.S. forces in Iraq discovered hundreds of bodies of Kurdish women and children at the site near Hatra, who are believed to have been executed in early 1988, or late 1987.[34]

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). It was launched immediately after the signing of a ceasefire with Iran, which allowed the transfer of large numbers of men and military supplies from the southern battlefronts. The final Anfal focused on "the steep, narrow valleys of Badinan, a four-thousand-square mile (10,360 km²) chunk of the Zagros Mountains bounded on the east by the Great Zab and on the north by Turkey." There, 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 make it to the "processing" stations but were 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.[33])

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 the policy that it referred only to males "between the ages of 15 and 70." Human Rights Watch/Middle East takes that as given and writes that clause 5's "order [was] to kill all adult males" and later writes: "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."[33]: 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[33]: 298 )


"Arabisation," 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.[35] 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 "Arabisation," shifting poor Arabs from Iraq's southern regions to Kirkuk with the lure of inexpensive housing. Another part of the Arabisation campaign was the census of October 1987. Citizens who failed to turn up for the October 1987 census were no longer recognized as Iraqi citizens. Most of the Kurdish population who learned that a census was taking place did not take part in the census.[22]

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 the Kurdistan Region. Major General Wafiq al Samarrai is quoted to have said: "You can kill half a million Kurds in Erbil, but it won't change anything; it will still be Kurdish, but killing 50,000 Kurds in Kirkuk will finish the Kurdish cause forever."[28]


Rizgary, former Sumud relocation camp for Anfal survivors (photographed 2011)

In September 1988, the Iraqi government was satisfied with its achievements. The male population between 15 and 50 had either been killed or fled. The Kurdish resistance fled to Iran and was no longer a threat to Iraq. An amnesty was issued, and the detained women, children and elderly were released.[36]

Documenting events[edit]

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.[citation needed]


According to Human Rights Watch, during the Anfal campaign, the Iraqi government did the following:

  • Killed 50,000 to 100,000 non-combatant civilians, including women and children.[6] However, Kurdish officials have claimed the figure could be as high as 182,000.[7]
  • 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;[37]
  • Destroyed 1,754 schools, 270 hospitals, 2,450 mosques, and 27 churches;[38]
  • Wiped out around 90% of Kurdish villages in the targeted areas.[7]
  • Made 2,000 Assyrian Christians, along with Kurds and others, victims of gas campaigns.[39]

Violations of human rights[edit]

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

  1. mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages; 17,000 persons are known to have disappeared in 1988 alone. [Ibid. 11]
  2. Since 1975, a total of 3,839 Kurdish villages have been destroyed by the former Iraqi regime.[40]
  3. Human Rights Watch/Middle East estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed.[41] Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating 182,000 Kurds were killed.[42]
  4. In 1989, army engineers destroyed the last major Kurdish town near the Iranian border. Qala Dizeh had a population of 70,000 before it was razed. Afterwards, the surrounding area was considered a "prohibited area".[43]


Frans van Anraat[edit]

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 the Iraqi government. He was given a 15-year sentence.[16] The court also ruled that the killing of thousands of Kurds in Iraq in the 1980s was indeed an act of genocide.[16] In the 1948 Genocide Convention, the definition of genocide as "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".[16]

Saddam Hussein[edit]

In an interview broadcast on Iraqi television on 6 September 2005, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a respected Kurdish politician, 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.[44]

Anfal trial[edit]

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.[45] 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.[46]

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.[18] 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 the prosecution's demand.[47]

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 for 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.[48] Sultan Hashem Ahmed was not hanged due to opposition of the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who opposed the death penalty.[49]

Remembrance day[edit]

Memorial to Anfal victims at the Amna Suraka museum in Sulaimaniyya

The Kurdistan Regional Government has set aside 14 April as a day of remembrance for the Al-Anfal campaign.[50]

International recognition[edit]

# Name Date of recognition Source
1 Norway 21 November 2012 [51]
2 United Kingdom 1 March 2013 [52]
3 South Korea 13 June 2013 [53]
4 Sweden 5 December 2012 [54]

On 28 February 2013, the British House of Commons formally recognized the Anfal as genocide following a campaign led by Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who is of Kurdish descent.[55]


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36. ^Documenting the Kurdish Genocide – 31 January 2014

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]