Robert Halfon is the Member of Parliament for Harlow. Follow Rob on Twitter.
“There is another Iraq, buried under Iraq”. So said the head of the Kurdistan Mass Graves Commission as she explained to me her work during my recent visit to Kurdistan with the All-Party Parliamentary Kurdistan Group. Travelling around Iraq, her job is to try and identify the mass graves of the victims of Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds. Sometimes using DNA techniques, sometimes through simple ID (like a chain, a wallet or ID Card), the Kurds painstakingly are going through every mass grave they can find, in order to try and bring respite to grieving families and some kind of closure to what happened under the Baathist regime.
So far around 300 mass graves have been discovered, some with hundreds of bodies, some with fifty to sixty. There are also pits with just bones. We saw this for ourselves when we went to the far north area of Garmian. Row after row of baby sized coffins, filled with bones. Incomplete, unable to be identified, but at least given dignity. Whilst there, we were not only greeted by the Mayor and other dignitaries, but also Shazad Hussein, a grandmother whose family was killed in the genocide and who literally played the grandmother in the award winning Iraqi film, Son of Babylon – a moving and tragic account of Iraq’s missing million people.
It is strange that whilst the world knows much about modern genocide: the Bosnians by the Serbs, the tragedy of Rwanda, little is known about the Kurdish story. In fact, their genocide which is known to most as ‘Anfal’, is not even recognised as an international genocide by the United Nations – something that I, chairing a committee of academics, lawyers, and Parliamentarians, am trying to change. The facts are these: if you define genocide as scientifically planned mass murder with various stages of development – notably, marginalisation, demonisation, and eradication, – then the Kurds suffered genocide.
Saddam and the Baathists were determined to ‘vacuum’ the Kurds from Iraq – partly because of Arabist nationalism, partly a desire to gain full control over Kurdish lands. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed in a campaign that began in 1963, carried through to 1969, 1976 and 1988. In these years, thousands of Kurdish villages were destroyed, prison camps built and torture chambers established. In one, known as the Red House – which I have seen for myself – there was even an Auschwitz style incinerator. Women were raped in what was known as ‘the party room’; their foetuses and babies were burnt in the incinerator.
As with every other genocide the methods of killing get more and more sophisticated (think shooting in the woods by the Nazis, and then the concentration camps).
The culmination of the Kurdish Genocide came in 1988. This was the year when Saddam Hussein decided to drop mustard gas on the Kurds including, most notably, the City of Halabja. First, the planes bombed the houses, so windows and walls could break and leave no respite. Second, the pilots let loose the mustard gas: Five thousand Kurds died, almost instantly. Thousands more were disfigured. Even in 2011, recent diggers of mass graves have died from residual mustard gas.
If it were not for John Major’s safe havens established over Kurdistan in 1991 and Tony Blair’s subsequent determination to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it is likely that Saddam would have succeeded. There would be no Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq. Unlike Nazi Germany, where many of those responsible for the killing were tried at Nuremburg, there has been little justice meted out to those responsible for the Kurdish genocide. It is said that organisers of the Anfal, and some of the pilots remain at large – some even in Europe.
Whilst the Kurds are a people that learns from the past rather than lives in it, they have waited too long for justice. The state of Iraq has now officially recognised the Iraqi genocide: it is the duty of the rest of the world to do the same, to ensure all the perpetrators are brought to the International Court and help with a programme of education and remembrance, so that the true story of Saddam’s butchery can never be forgotten by future generations.
To support the campaign for international recognition of the Genocide – please sign this epetition.
A rally takes place in Committee Room 14 at the Commons at 7.30pm tonight.