It has been 35 years since the now deceased, and roundly vilified, Saddam Hussein ordered a Jihad against the Kurdish people in what was known as ‘Operation Anfal’, meaning ‘Kill all the men and their belongings are yours’. The worst part of that operation saw thousands of mainly civilians murdered in a chemical attack on Halabja, in what was finally recognised as genocide by the UK Parliament, on the 28th of February 2013.
So the question is, why has it taken this long for it to be recognised as such, and what, if anything, will this do to prevent such atrocities in future?
An ethnic minority with a large enclave in the north of Iraq, Kurds form a regional, border-straddling nation long been marginalised by the respective governments, who do not wish to recognise their existence. It is only by constant struggle that those in Iraq have finally gained some measure of autonomy; but that was dearly bought.
Kurds do not follow a different religion to other regional groups, but were marked by Saddam as ‘Unbelievers’ (‘Kufar’) because they did not obey his orders. Their resistance became unbearable to him and he asked neighbouring countries and the international community to help in getting rid of the Kurdish Nation and cast the Kurdish people as Jungle-dwellers.
Sadly, he received technological support internationally, including from the UK, such as the most advanced air forces and biological weapons. He deployed this weaponry for more than 5 years against Kurdish people with escalating force until the scale of mass murder in the chemical attack on Halabja shook the world, with 5,000 people killed in a matter of one hour, bringing the total victims to around 150,000.
More than material support, some say it was international indifference to the plight of the Kurds that enabled the dictator to get away with such aggression for so long.
If there is any lesson to be learned from Halabja perhaps it is that impunity for war crimes risks more of the same.
Let us hope that the trial and conviction of Frans van Anraatall at the Hague is the first of many. If atrocities are to be prevented in future, a credible threat of legal prosecution should exist. Therefore, with Parliament’s recognition of the genocide it seems reasonable to argue that all who supported Saddam and provided him with chemical weapons should be brought to justice, including politicians, scientists, companies and even governments. Without such action, what message are we sending?
By Karzan Karim, PhD Student at the University of Leicester.