Human rights in Saddam Hussein's Iraq

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Human rights in Saddam Hussein's Iraq
Baathist executions.png
Hangings in Saddam-era Iraq.
Ba'athist Iraq under Saddam Hussein
(1979 - 2003)
  • 200,000 to 2 million Iraqis were forcibly disappeared or killed[1]
  • 3 to 4 million[2][3] Iraqis were displaced due to political repression
  • 4,000 women were victims of state sanctioned rape[4]

Iraq's era under President Saddam Hussein was notorious for its severe violations of human rights. Secret police, state terrorism, torture, mass murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape, deportations, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, assassinations, chemical warfare, and the destruction of southern Iraq's marshes were some of the methods Saddam and the country's Ba'athist government used to maintain control. The total number of deaths related to torture and murder during this period are unknown but range from the hundreds of thousands[5][1][6] up to one[1] or two[1] million. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued regular reports of widespread imprisonment and torture.

Documented human rights violations 1979–2003[edit]

Human rights organizations have documented government-approved executions, acts of torture and rape for decades since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979 until his fall in 2003.

Mass grave.
  • In 2002, a resolution sponsored by the European Union was adopted by the Commission for Human Rights, which stated that there had been no improvement in the human rights crisis in Iraq. The statement condemned President Saddam Hussein's government for its "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law" and called on Iraq to cease "summary and arbitrary executions ... the use of rape as a political tool and all enforced and involuntary disappearances".[7]
  • Full political participation at the national level was restricted only to members of the Ba'ath Party, which constituted only 8% of the population.
  • Iraqi citizens were not legally allowed to assemble unless it was to express support for the government. The Iraqi government controlled the establishment of political parties, regulated their internal affairs and monitored their activities.
  • Police checkpoints on Iraq's roads and highways prevented ordinary citizens from traveling across country without government permission and expensive exit visas prevented Iraqi citizens from traveling abroad. Before traveling, an Iraqi citizen had to post collateral. Iraqi females could not travel outside of the country without the escort of a male relative.[8]
  • The activities of citizens living inside Iraq who received money from relatives abroad were closely monitored[citation needed].
  • 4,000[4] Iraqis women were victims of state sanctioned rape; Saddam himself personally committed rape[4]
  • During the 1970s Ba'athist Arabization campaigns in North Iraq 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.[9]
  • The Persecution of Feyli Kurds under Saddam Hussein,[10] also known as the Feyli Kurdish genocide, was a systematic persecution of Feylis by Saddam Hussein between 1970 and 2003. The persecution campaigns led to the expulsion, flight and effective exile of the Feyli Kurds from their ancestral lands in Iraq. The persecution began when a large number of Feyli Kurds were exposed to a big campaign by the regime that began by the dissolved RCCR issuance for 666 decision, which deprived Feyli Kurds of Iraqi nationality and considered them as Iranians. The systematic executions started in Baghdad and Khanaqin in 1979 and later spread to other Iraqi and Kurdish areas.[11][12] It is estimated that around 25,000 Feyli Kurds died due to captivity and torture.[13][14][clarification needed]
  • Halabja poison gas attack:The Halabja poison gas attack occurred in the period 15–19 March 1988 during the Iran–Iraq War when chemical weapons were used by the Iraqi government forces and thousands of civilians in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja were killed.[15]
  • Al-Anfal Campaign: In 1988, the Hussein regime began a campaign of extermination against the Kurdish people living in Northern Iraq. This is known as the Anfal campaign. A team of Human Rights Watch investigators determined, after analyzing eighteen tons of captured Iraqi documents, testing soil samples and carrying out interviews with more than 350 witnesses, that the attacks on the Kurdish people were characterized by gross violations of human rights, including mass executions and disappearances of many tens of thousands of noncombatants, widespread use of chemical weapons including Sarin, mustard gas and nerve agents that killed thousands, the arbitrary imprisoning of tens of thousands of women, children, and elderly people for months in conditions of extreme deprivation, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of villagers after the demolition of their homes, and the wholesale destruction of nearly two thousand villages along with their schools, mosques, farms and power stations.[15][16]
  • 50,000 to 70,000 Shi'a were forcibly disappeared in the 1980s never to be seen from again.[5]
  • 50,000 opposition activist, Kurds, communists, disloyal Ba'athists, and other minorities were forcibly disappeared in the 1980s through 1990s.[5]
  • In April 1991, after Saddam lost control of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War, he cracked down ruthlessly against several uprisings in the Kurdish north and the Shia south. His forces committed full-scale massacres and other gross human rights violations against both groups similar to the violations mentioned before.[17]
  • Persecution of Marsh Arabs during the Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes
  • In June 1994, the Hussein regime in Iraq established severe penalties, including amputation, branding and the death penalty for criminal offenses such as theft, corruption, currency speculation and military desertion, some of which are part of Islamic Sharia law, while government members and Saddam's family members were immune from punishments ranging around these crimes.[18]
  • In 2001, the Iraqi government amended the Constitution to make sodomy a capital offense.
  • On March 23, 2003, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraqi television presented and interviewed prisoners of war on TV, violating the Geneva Convention.
  • Also in April 2003, CNN revealed that it had withheld information about Iraq torturing journalists and Iraqi citizens in the 1990s. According to CNN's chief news executive, the channel had been concerned for the safety not only of its own staff, but also of Iraqi sources and informants, who could expect punishment for speaking freely to reporters. Also according to the executive, "other news organizations were in the same bind."[19]
  • After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, several mass graves were found in Iraq containing several thousand bodies total and more are being uncovered to this day.[20] While most of the dead in the graves were believed to have died in the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein, some of them appeared to have died due to executions or died at times other than the 1991 rebellion.
  • Also after the invasion, numerous torture centers were found in security offices and police stations throughout Iraq. The equipment found at these centers typically included hooks for hanging people by the hands for beatings, devices for electric shock and other equipment often found in nations with harsh security services and other authoritarian nations.

'Saddam's Dirty Dozen'[edit]

There is a feeling that at least three million Iraqis are watching the eleven million others.

— "A European diplomat," quoted in The New York Times, April 3, 1984.[21]

According to officials of the United States State Department, many human rights abuses in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were largely carried out in person or by the orders of Saddam Hussein and eleven other people. The term "Saddam's Dirty Dozen" was coined in October 2002[22] (from a novel by E.M. Nathanson, later adapted as a film directed by Robert Aldrich) and used by US officials to describe this group.[23] Most members of the group held high positions in the Iraqi government and membership went all the way from Saddam's personal guard to Saddam's sons. The list was used by the Bush Administration to help argue that the 2003 Iraq war was against Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party leadership, rather than against the Iraqi people. The members are:[22]

  • Saddam Hussein (1937–2006), Iraqi President, responsible for many torturings, killings and of ordering the 1988 cleansing of Kurds in Northern Iraq.
  • Qusay Hussein (1966–2003), son of the president, head of the elite Republican Guard, believed to have been chosen by Saddam as his successor.
  • Uday Hussein (1964–2003), son of the president, had a private torture chamber, and was responsible for the rapes and killings of many women. He was partially paralyzed after a 1996 attempt on his life, and was leader of the paramilitary group Fedayeen Saddam and of the Iraqi media.
  • Taha Yassin Ramadan (1938-2007), Vice-President, born in Iraqi Kurdistan. He oversaw the mass killings of a Shi'a revolt in 1991.
  • Tariq Aziz (1936–2015), Foreign Minister of Iraq, backed up the executions by hanging of political opponents after the revolution of 1968.
  • Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti (1951-2007), Hussein's brother, leader of the Iraqi secret service, Mukhabarat. He was Iraq's representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
  • Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti (1947-2013), Hussein's half brother, he was the leader of the Mukhabarat during the 1991 Gulf War. Director of Iraq's general security from 1991 to 1996. He was involved in the 1991 suppression of Kurds.
  • Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti (1952–2015), Hussein's half brother, former senior Interior Minister who was also Saddam's presidential adviser. Shot in the leg by Uday Hussein in 1995. He has ordered tortures, rapes, murders and deportations.
  • Ali Hassan al-Majid (1941-2010), Chemical Ali, mastermind behind Saddam's lethal gassing of rebel Kurds in 1988; a first cousin of Saddam Hussein.
  • Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri (b. 1942), military commander, vice-president of the Revolutionary Command Council and deputy commander in chief of the armed forces during various military campaigns.
  • Aziz Saleh Nuhmah (b. ?), appointed governor of Kuwait from November 1990 to February 1991, ordered looting of stores and rapes of Kuwaiti women during his tenure. Also ordered the destruction of Shi'a holy sites during the 1970s and 1980s as governor of two Iraqi provinces.
  • Mohammed Hamza Zubeidi (1938-2005), alias Saddam's thug, Prime Minister of Iraq from 1991 to 1993 – to have ordered many executions.[22]

Other atrocities[edit]

Fifty-seven boxes were recently returned to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya in Zeit trucks—large Russian military vehicles—by the Iraqi government authorities. Each box contained a dead child, eyes gouged out and ashen white, apparently drained of blood. The families were not given their children, were forced to accept a communal grave, and then had to pay 150 dinars for the burial.[24]

The destruction of Shi'ite religious shrines by the former government has been compared "to the leveling of cities in the Second World War, and the damage to the shrines [of Hussein and Abbas] was more serious than that which had been done to many European cathedrals."[25] After the 1983-88 genocide, some 1 million Kurds were allowed to resettle in "model villages". According to a U.S. Senate staff report, these villages "were poorly constructed, had minimal sanitation and water, and provided few employment opportunities for the residents. Some, if not most, were surrounded by barbed wire, and Kurds could enter or leave only with difficulty."[26]

After the establishment of republican rule in Iraq, enormous numbers of Iraqis fled the country to escape political repression by Abd al-Karim Qasim and his successors, including Saddam Hussein; by 2001, it was estimated that "Iraqi emigrants number more than 3 million (leaving a population of 23 million inside the country)."[27] Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times commented: "Police in other countries use torture, after all, but there are credible reports that Saddam's police cut out tongues and use electric drills. Other countries gouge out the eyes of dissidents; Saddam's interrogators gouged out the eyes of hundreds of children to get their parents to talk."[28]

Number of victims[edit]

The US government estimated 300,000 Iraqis were killed by Saddam including 180,000 in the Anfal genocide, 60,000 Shias in the 1991 uprisings in Iraq and 50,000 "other disappearances."[6] In January 2004, Human Rights Watch stated: "Having devoted extensive time and effort to documenting [Saddam's] atrocities, we estimate that in the last twenty-five years of Ba'th Party rule the Iraqi government murdered or 'disappeared' some quarter of a million Iraqis, if not more."[29] More specifically human rights watch estimated Saddam Hussein was responsible for 290,000 deaths including:[5]

  • 100,000 Anfal genocide[5]
  • 50,000 to 70,000 Shias abducted in 1980s never to be seen again[5]
  • 8,000 disappeared Barzani Kurds[5]
  • 10,000 or more Feyli Kurds[5]
  • 50,000 opposition activist, Kurds, communists, disloyal Ba'athists, and other minorities (1980s-90s)[5]
  • 30,000 Shi'a disappeared in the 1991 Iraqi uprising[5]
  • several (3,000 or more) Marsh Arabs
  • several (3,000 or more) in "prison cleansings"[5]

Other estimates range from 200,000[1] to 2,000,000.[1] 87,500 to 388,100 Kurds were killed in the destruction of Kurdish villages during the Iraqi Arabization campaign including: 2,500[3] to 12,500[3] in the Ba'athist Arabization campaigns in North Iraq, 10,000[5] to 25,000[30][31][clarification needed] were killed during the Feyli Kurds operation, 5,000[32] to 8,000[33] Kurds were disapeared in the 1983 Barzani killings, 50,000[34] to 100,000[34] (although Kurdish sources have cited a higher figure of 182,000[35]) more Kurds were massacred in the Anfal genocide, and at least 20,000[36] were killed during the 1991 Iraqi uprising notwithstanding an additional 48,400[37] to 140,600[37] Kurdish refugees that starved to death along the Iranian and Turkish borders. 30,000[36] to 60,000[36] Shias in the south were also killed during the 1991 uprisings in Iraq In addition, 4,000 prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison were reportedly executed in a particularly large 1984 purge.[38] Far fewer Iraqis are known to have been executed during other years of Saddam's rule. For example, "Amnesty International reported that in 1981 over 350 peosodjvosple were officially executed in Iraq ... the Committee Against Repression in Iraq gives biographic particulars on 798 executions (along with 264 killings of unknown persons, and 428 biographies of unsentenced detainees and disappeared persons)."

Concurrently to the sanctions against Iraq Saddam Hussein cut public health funding by 90 percent, contributing to a substantial deterioration in health care.[39] During that period, maternal mortality increased nearly threefold, and the salaries of medical personnel decreased drastically.[39] Medical facilities, which in 1980 were among the best in the Middle East, deteriorated.[39] Conditions were especially serious in the south, where malnutrition and water-borne diseases became common in the 1990s.[39] Health indicators deteriorated during the 1990s. In the late 1990s, Iraq's infant mortality rates more than doubled.[39] Because treatment and diagnosis of cancer and diabetes decreased in the 1990s, complications and deaths resulting from those diseases increased drastically in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[39] Kanan Makiya cautions that a focus on the death toll obscures the full extent of "the terror inside Iraq," which was largely the product of the pervasive secret police and systematic use of torture.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f A January 26, 2003 The New York Times article by John F. Burns similarly states "the number of those 'disappeared' into the hands of the secret police, never to be heard from again, could be 200,000." Noting that the Iran–Iraq War cost approximately 800,000 lives on both sides and that—while "surely a gross exaggeration"—Iraq estimated there were 100,000 deaths resulting from U.S. bombing in the Gulf War, Burns concludes: "A million dead Iraqis, in war and through terror, may not be far from the mark." See Burns, John F. (2003-01-26). "How Many People Has Hussein Killed?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-12-04. Also writing in The New York Times, Dexter Filkins appeared to echo but misrepresent Burns's remark on October 7, 2007: "[Saddam] murdered as many as a million of his people, many with poison gas. ... His unprovoked invasion of Iran is estimated to have left another million people dead." See Filkins, Dexter (2007-10-07). "Regrets Only?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-12-04. In turn, Arthur L. Herman accused Saddam of "kill[ing] as many as two million of his own people" in Commentary on July 1, 2008. See Herman, Arthur L. (2008-07-01). "Why Iraq Was Inevitable". Commentary. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  2. ^ Kurds say Iraq's attacks serve as a warning, Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 2002
  3. ^ a b c Routine calculations do not count as original research, provided there is consensus among editors that the result of the calculation is obvious, correct, and a meaningful reflection of the sources. Basic arithmetic, such as adding numbers, converting units, or calculating a person's age are some examples of routine calculations. See also Category:Conversion templates. row 1313 and 1314
    1,000,000 and 10,000 to 2,000,000 and 100,000 Kurds were displaced and killed respectively between 1963 and 1987; 250,000 of them in 1977 and 1978. If deaths are proportional to the displacement then 2,500 to 12,500 Kurds would of died during this period depending on the scale of overall displacement and deaths used.
  4. ^ a b c "INVISIBLE AND SILENCED WOMEN The Stories of Women Tortured During Saddam Hussein's Regime" (PDF). Global Justice Center.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Chestnut Greitens, Sheena. Dictators and their Secret Police: Coercive Institutions and State Violence. p. 289.
  6. ^ a b White, Matthew. "Secondary Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century
    20th Century death tolls larger than 300,000 but fewer than 1 million people.
    Iraq, Saddam Hussein (1979-2003): 300,000"
    . Necrometrics. Roth, “War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention,” Human Rights Watch, January 2004: "twenty-five years of Ba`th Party rule ... murdered or 'disappeared' some quarter of a million Iraqis" [1] Price, "Survey: Saddam Killed 61,000 in Baghdad", 8/9 Dec. 2003 AP: Total murders New survey estimates 61,000 residents of Baghdad executed by Saddam. US Government estimates a total of 300,000 killed by Saddam across Iraq 180,000 Kurds k. in Anfal 60,000 Shiites in 1991 50,000 misc. others executed "Human rights officials" est.: 500,000 Iraqi politicians: over a million [These don't include the half million or so dead in the Iran-Iraq War.]
    External link in |publisher= (help)
  7. ^ "UN condemns Iraq on human rights". BBC News. 2002-04-19. Retrieved 2016-12-11.
  8. ^ "JURIST - Dateline". Archived from the original on 25 June 2010. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  9. ^ Farouk-Sluglett, M.; Sluglett, P.; Stork, J. (July–September 1984). "Not Quite Armageddon: Impact of the War on Iraq". MERIP Reports: 24.
  10. ^ "From Crisis to Catastrophe: the situation of minorities in Iraq" (PDF): 5. Retrieved 23 May 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ "Iraqi Kurds Seek Recognition of Genocide by Saddam". Al-Monitor (in Hebrew). 8 March 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  12. ^ "جريمة إبادة الكرد الفيليين … والصمت الحكومي والتجاهل الرسمي عن إستذكار هذه الفاجعة الآليمة ! !". Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  13. ^ Jaffar Al-Faylee, Zaki (2010). Tareekh Al-Kurd Al-Faylyoon. Beirut. pp. 485, 499–501.
  14. ^ Al-Hakeem, Dr. Sahib (2003). Untold stories of more than 4000 women raped killed and tortured in Iraq, the country of mass graves. pp. 489–492.
  15. ^ a b "Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?". Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  16. ^ "Iraq: 'Disappearances' – the agony continues". 2005-07-30. Archived from the original on 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  17. ^ "ENDLESS TORMENT, The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath". Retrieved 2016-08-21. An independent French organization called The Truth About the Gulf War reported in June 1991 after a trip to Iraq that authorities were vague about the toll of the uprising, but 'the figures given for those killed, most of them in southern Iraq and the overwhelming majority of them civilians, ranged from 25,000 to 100,000 dead.' ... The environmental organization Greenpeace estimates that 30,000 Iraqi civilians, including rebels, and 5,000 Iraqi soldiers died during the uprisings as a result of the clashes and killings, while acknowledging that 'little authoritative information is available.' ... A demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, Beth Osborne Daponte, also arrived at the figure of 30,000 civilian deaths during the uprising.
  18. ^ "Human Rights Watch, Iraq archive". Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  19. ^ Jordan, Eason (April 11, 2003). "The News We (CNN) Kept To Ourselves". The New York Times. (requires login)
  20. ^ "Mass Grave Discovery In Iraq Could Fuel Divisions". Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  21. ^ a b Makiya, Kanan (1998). Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Updated Edition. University of California Press. pp. 62–65. ISBN 9780520921245.
  22. ^ a b c Harris, Paul; Heslop, Katy (16 March 2003). "Iraq's dirty dozen". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  23. ^ Weber, Bruce (7 April 2016). "E.M. Nathanson, Author of 'The Dirty Dozen,' Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  24. ^ Pryce-Jones, David (1989-01-01). "Self-Determination, Arab-Style". Commentary. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
  25. ^ Milton Viorst, "Report from Baghdad," The New Yorker, June 24, 1991, p. 72.
  26. ^ "Kurdistan in the Time of Saddam Hussein," p. 15. See also "Civil War in Iraq," Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate, May 1991, pp. 8-9.
  27. ^ Ghabra, Shafeeq N. (Summer 2001). "Iraq's Culture of Violence". Middle East Quarterly. 8 (3): 39–49.
  28. ^ Kristof, Nicholas (2002-03-26). "Try Suing Saddam". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  29. ^ "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention". Human Rights Watch. 2004-01-25. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  30. ^ Jaffar Al-Faylee, Zaki (2010). Tareekh Al-Kurd Al-Faylyoon. Beirut. pp. 485, 499–501.
  31. ^ Al-Hakeem, Dr. Sahib (2003). Untold stories of more than 4000 women raped killed and tortured in Iraq, the country of mass graves. pp. 489–492.
  32. ^ "The Tragedy of the Missing Barzanis". Kurdistan Memory Programme.
  33. ^ Jones, Dave. "The Crimes of Saddam Hussein
    1983 The Missing Barzanis"
    . Frontline World. PBS.
  34. ^ a b GENOCIDE IN IRAQ Human Rights Watch, 1993
  35. ^ "The Crimes of Saddam Hussein – 1988 The Anfal Campaign". PBS Frontline. January 24, 2006. Archived from the original on February 6, 2006. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  36. ^ a b c Zenko, Micah. "Remembering the Iraqi Uprising Twenty-Five Years Ago". Council on Foreign Relations.
  37. ^ a b 1,000 deaths per day in April, May and June along Turkish border a - "Iraqi Deaths from the Gulf War as of April 1992," Greenpeace, Washington, D.C. See also "Aftermath of War: The Persian Gulf War Refugee Crisis," Staff Report to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Affairs, May 20, 1991. The figure of nearly 1,000 deaths per day is also given in "Kurdistan in the Time of Saddam Hussein," Staff Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, November 1991, p.14. "hundreds" (100 to 900?) died per day along Iranian border b - Kurdish Refugees Straggle Into Iran, Followed By Tragedy, Associated Press, Apr 13, 1991 1,100 to 1,900 (a + b) deaths per day from at least April 13th (b) up to between May 1st and May 31st (a ); which suggests 44 to 74 days: 1,100(44)= 48,400 1,900(74)= 140,600 Routine calculations Routine calculations do not count as original research, provided there is consensus among editors that the result of the calculation is obvious, correct, and a meaningful reflection of the sources. Basic arithmetic, such as adding numbers, converting units, or calculating a person's age are some examples of routine calculations. See also Category:Conversion templates.
  38. ^ Chauhan, Sharad S. (2003). War on Iraq. APH Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 9788176484787.
  39. ^ a b c d e f Iraq country profile Archived 2010-12-04 at the Wayback Machine. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (August 2006). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]