The Bahdinan Anfal Campaign

Anfal cemetery

Translated by Yasin Aziz:

Kamal Umar Raheed, a Kurdish Iraqi soldier from the Battalion Commando 72 infantry, told his story of the Bahdinan Anfal campaign to the Kurdish Magazine ‘Eighty Eight’ in 2006. It is an important record of the atrocities.

When we were in our army barracks in Mosul, we kept hearing in everyday communications with senior commanders the talk about our forces, the ‘Iraqi forces’ in many different parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, and what they called “the terrorists”.

“We are going to destroy them with our special forces, the commandos”, they said.  Our senior officers often told us, in seminars: “You should never hesitate to kill anyone from the terrorists; you have to kill all the women, children, old and young. You should kill whoever speaks the Kurdish language. If you do not kill them, they will kill you. They are the Kurds hired by Iranians, you should never have any sympathy towards them”.

“They are not Muslims. They never practice our religion of Islam. They never abide by our holy text, the Quran. Kurds are outlaws and bandits. Those villages we are going to attack are where the terrorists are sheltered, fed and given assistance.  Those families, children, girls, boys, old and young are all assisting terrorists. You must arrest and kill all of them”.

There were five of us Kurds in the Battalion Infantry 72. We often met at the weekend, or sometimes in two weekly intervals and shared our stories about what been happening.

It was on 6th September 1988, a quiet evening, that our batallion moved towards the Bamarny airport following the orders of Ali Hasan al Majid – ‘chemical Ali’ – to move towards the Bahdinan area.

Kamal Umar Raheed

Kamal Umar Raheed

On that day, most the army personnel were happy, as they knew they were getting so much ‘booty’. They were told to plunder, loot, arrest and kill all the villagers with no exception.

On that day, the commandos occupied the Matin Mountains.  The 5003 army division headed towards Mangesh

As Kamal, the Kurdish soldier was based at the Head-office of the army he knew some of the names of the leaders who led these armies: the Battalion 72 infantry was led by brigadier Muel; Division1 / Fawj 1, was led by the army officer with 3 stars, Amer Muhamed Salih; Division 3 / ’Fawj 3’ was led by  Muqadam Mustafa; Division 4 /Fawj 4, another commandos division was led by army officer Nassif.  Each division was assigned to attack a specific number of villages. 

They had a plan that, if the Division1/Fawj 1 were defeated, the commandos division should go to assist in order to achieve the targeted plan.  Amongst villages attacked were Baza, Hassnpier, Dhie and a few others in the area.

Later in the evening, an army division from the Battalion 72 infantry headed towards a few villages in the area. Amongst them a number of jash / Kurdish mercenaries.  The area was between Hassnpier and Dahie villages.  The soldiers and their officers attacked all the civilian villagers, they were hitting them with gun butts and sticks and kicking them, as they were trying to collect the villagers in one place.

A few soldiers did not like this, as was obvious from their facial expressions, but they were under orders from their senior officers.  Amongst those distressed about the situation were Leith Muradi, from the army security division and Shawqi, another soldier from Faluja, who was crying. Umar was a soldier from Sammarra: he was very distressed and crying like he had a fit.  He could not stop crying and tried to hide behind a tree as if not to let anyone see him.  They were crying for the villagers and their children as the soldiers were shooting all the villagers.

Most of the soldiers and army officers were like savages and had no sympathy, shooting all innocent children, women old and young.  The villagers’ men had their hands tied behind their back.  None of the villagers had any weapons and so there was no way they could resist and defend themselves.

I have seen with my own eyes, all those innocent civilian villagers, old and young, children and women were all being shot dead.  All those defenceless civilians were being shot.  I have seen so many were shot dead, their corpses scattered around. They shot everyone, and even animals – sheep, goats, cows and donkeys.  There was no one or nothing spared, blood streamed everywhere.’

Kamal’s friend, another Kurdish soldier, told his story:

“I was a Kurd myself but I could not say anything. I was very distressed, and could not do anything to help anyone. I could not believe anything like that would ever happen.  Sometimes I was unsure about what I saw seeing: was it a dream or reality?  They attacked all those civilian villagers in the area between Dahouk, Sersang and as far as the Turkish border.  The Iraqi army rounded up all the villagers. I saw that so many villagers’ children, men and women had no way to escape, and they were all shot dead”,

Another of Kamal’s friends said: 

“On 7th September 1988, there were many villagers still alive who were brought to the army barracks. Many were from Dahie village.  They brought many families, the men had their hands tied behind their backs. So many families with children. The scene was so distressful.  I could not understand how those army officers could do that, to shoot so many and bring the rest. All those children and women were crying.  The Iraqi army had no human feeling or sympathy.  They were beating and kicking all those families, children and they killed so many of them.  They were acting like savages”.

One of the Arab army sergeants turned to Kamal and said: “Today, everything is in our hands. Green and dry is burning together, nothing will be spared”.

The following was a day of looting and plunder for everyone; it was like a feast for all the senior officers, and the lower ranks down to the ordinary soldiers. They were so happy to collect all the ‘booty’. They would take anything, even from the corpses which they checked for valuables such as watches, rings and anything of value.  The Baathist party called it Anfal,’ the war of booty’.  What war? These were defenceless civilians, who had no guns or weapon to fight back.

The soldiers were searching men, women and children, asking them, ‘do you have any money? Give us what you have.’  The whole army were busy, loading the booty into cars; they took the villagers’ cars, tractors, and collected herds and loaded them into lorries.

I was on leave, going home from the area towards Mosul. On the way, there so many lorries of booty, sheep herds and cattle. They sold them cheap to the Arabs. Many Arabs came from Baghdad and South of Iraq to buy the cheap booty.

One of those days, one of my colleagues from the town of Beiji, who was a mullah, a religious man. turned to me and asked: “”My friend you are a Kurd, I would like to ask you a question. I took a sheep from the village. I want to take it to my family and children: is that Halal or Haram?”  He meant, was it legitimate by religious teaching or not? In my reply I said, “You are a religious man yourself, you know better than me that is booty from other’s property, so how can it be halal?”

It was obvious that booty of the Anfal campaign reached all parts of South Iraq: Basra, Kut, Diwanyia, Nasriyia, Amara, Rumadi and every corner of the South.

On another occasion, I saw a few soldiers who had a family album of one of the plundered villages, they were looking through it, mocking the family pictures, joking about it and laughing.

Another time, before the army pounded a village with heavy weapons they launched an intense bombing raid for about half an hour.  When they were certain that there was no danger, the soldiers were sent closer to the village, and suddenly a calor gas cannister exploded with a big bang.   They all ran to shelter and laid low. They thought it was a bomb or a rocket propelled grenade, but it was calor gas that exploded in the heat of the fire. Seeing everywhere torched, it was like the whole world was on fire, all the smoke and flames of the fires burning all the villages and whatever was left in them.

At the Dahie village, when all the village men had their hands tied behind their backs.   A woman came forward, and asked for the army leader. They found Kamal; he was the only one who could understand the woman.  She told Kamal to ask the army leader, “Why you have come to kill us and destroy our peace and our village?  You are not brave, you tied our men’s hands, they are only peasants, farmers and shepherds. If you are brave, untie their hands, give then those weapons: men should face men in the battlefield. If you are brave, untie their hands and fight them.  That is not fair, why you are doing this to us?” Kamal interpreted what the woman said. The army leader had no reply. 

All the army personnel had their share of the villagers’ booty, when the soldiers were on leave.  They happily took their share of the booty home.

It was so sad. The assault was not only on humans, but also on all the animals, trees and orchards. Many of the soldiers were using sharp knives to slice off walnut tree barks. They took the tree barks as souvenirs to Baghdad and South of Iraq. The tree barks were so beautiful, to use at home for a decor. It was a pity because, when the tree barks peeled off, the tree would eventually die. They had no mercy for anything.

Even domestic animals were not spared. Many of them ran away and sheltered in the mountains, as the area was under army’s observation. Whenever they spotted any movement in the mountains, they sent their army helicopters and shelled the area with artillery bombs.

Several times, they found horses, goats, donkeys and cows hiding in the caves.  As soon as they saw anything, and suspected a movement in the mountains, they bombed the area. The army did not leave anything alone until they had killed everything.  A few villagers who escaped, came back and surrendered, Kamal asked a man:

“Why did you come back?”

“We could not go anywhere and couldn’t go across the border to Turkey”.

They surrendered to the army, and like the rest of the villagers they were murdered. 

I wonder if one day, we will have a truthful democracy and civil law, to bring those criminals to face justice, many of whom who are still at large. For those who are in charge of the Federal Republic of Iraq:  If they are true representatives of the Iraqi people, find those who took part, and carried out the 8 Anfal campaigns between February and September 1988 and make them face a court of International Law.

We will never have a true federal republic until those who committed the crime of genocide / race killing face justice, to reinforce the true meaning of Mesopotamian civilisation and to give the people a restored faith in their federal republic.

Source: ‘Hashtaw Hasht’, Number 5 & 6, 2nd year, 2006, pages 324, 328

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