War on Terror: Target Iraq | Ethnic Cleansing and the Kurds
Ethnic Cleansing and the Kurds
The threat from Saddam Hussein's biological weapons is real. He
has actually used them, both against the Kurds and the Iranians.
With the creation of the Iraqi State, the Kurds of the former Ottoman
Vilayet of Mosul had rejected incorporation, fearing that an Arab
majority would dominate them and crush national aspiration. In
1919, a year before the mandatory state of Iraq was created, a
prominent Kurdish leader, Mahmoud Barzanji, proclaimed himself
King of an independent Kurdish state and took over the city and
area of Suleimanieh. This experiment soon collapsed and the British
quickly removed him. A second attempt by Mahmoud, in 1922, also
failed. When a referendum was held in 1921 to approve the appointment
of Faisal as King of Iraq, in Kirkuk the Kurdish majority there
voted against him, whilein the Kurdish heartland city of Suleimanieh,
the referendum was totally boycotted.
Hopes of an independent Kurdish State were vainly raised during
the Versailles Peace Conference, but their demands were poorly
represented. Yet the fate of Kurdish areas was not finally determined
until December 1925, when the League of Nations decided to attach
the former Ottoman Vilayet of Mosul to the State of Iraq. The
League set two conditions for its decision. One was that the British
Mandate should last another 25 years; the other was that
"the desire of the Kurds that the administrators,
magistrates and teachers in their country be drawn from
their own ranks and adopt Kurdish as the official language
in all their activities will be taken into account."
Britain was to be responsible for the fulfillment of the proposal.
In 1926, a local languages law was passed. The British Mandate
lasted, not 25 years, but less than five. After the Anglo-Iraq
Treaty of 1930, granting Iraqi independence, the Kurds rebelled,
in protest at the failure of both the British and the Iraqis to
fulfill the League's recommendations of 1925.
Kurdish revolt became a continual and ongoing problem. Between
1961 and 1970, there was a continuous state of armed rebellion,
which provided a major source of instability in the country.
Iraq's 1974 "Law for Autonomy in the Area of Kurdistan"
promulgated on March 11, 1974 stipulates that:
"The Kurdish language shall be the official language
of education for Kurds ... Kurdish shall be the official
language of education for the Kurds." 
The 1974 law provided for the autonomous area to have an elected
legislative council and control over its own budget, but was not
put into effect. Furthermore, although the law stipulated that
the Kurdish legislative council was to be elected, 72 of the 80
members convened by for the first session in October 1974 were
appointed by Baghdad; in October 1977, the entire membership was
The Ba'ath regime adopted and initiated a policy of Arabization
of Kurdish areas, in an attempt to diminish the size of the area
to be allocated to the Autonomous Region. For the Ba'ath, the
Kurds were and continue to be an anathema to Pan-Arabism: they
represent the existence of a non-Arab nation in the heart of the
United Arab World that is virulently nationalist.
Political Terror Against the Kurds
Terror is the tool used by the Ba'ath to suppress any Kurdish political
- In September 1971, tens of thousands of Faily Kurds were
deported to Iran. In early 1973, the Iraqi army began expelling
Kurds from villages in the Kirkuk area and from certain sectors
of Iraq's borders with Turkey and Iran. In 1971 and 1972,
Iraqi security sources attempted to assassinate Mullah Mustapha
- Kurdish sources claim that up to 60,000 men were arrested
following the agreement with Saddam Hussein in 1975, on suspicion
of being members of the Kurdish Democratic Party and were
sent to detention camps in Southern Iraq.
- In 1976, 7,200 Kurds were arrested on suspicion of opposition
activities and over 786 Kurds were reported arrested in 1978.
- In 1983, when Iraq was suffering major setbacks in the war
against Iran, the regime began to back-peddle on its harsh
policy towards the Kurds, yet this respite was only temporary.
As the war with Iran came to a close, the government felt
it no longer needed to adopt a conciliatory posture towards
the Kurds and began systematically razing Kurdish towns and
villages, and expelling their inhabitants. In April 1987,
the entire population of Sheik Wasan was killed or injured
by poison gas. In June 1987, the marshlands of southern Iraq,
where thousands had taken refuge, were bombarded by Iraqi
jets dropping gas bombs. On March 16,1988, the Kurdish town
of Halabja was gas bombed: leaving 5,000 dead and 10,000 wounded.
- On the August 28, 1988, Iraq's government forces reportedly
entered several villages near the town of Duhok and arrested
1,000 people, some of whom were suffering from wounds sustained
in chemical weapon attacks. Those detained were summarily
executed and then buried in mass graves nearby.
Between August and September 1988, 55,000 Iraqi Kurds fled
to Turkey from Northern Iraq to escape military attacks by
Iraqi government forces.
The gas attacks against the Kurds were not the first case
of Iraq's use of chemical weapons. In 1983, Iraq was condemned
for using chemical warfare against Iran. On April 15 and 16,
1987, the Iraqi government launched poisonous gas attacks
on villages in Suleimanieh and Arbil Provinces in zones controlled
by Kurdish rebels, leaving 300 dead and wounded. Gas attacks
continued in the May, June and September of the same year.
- In November 1987, the Kurds were poisoned with thallium,
a heavy metal used in rat poison.
In June 1989, 2,000 Kurds were poisoned in Mardin. In January
1990, 400 Kurdish refugees were poisoned in Diyarbakir.
Forced Depopulation of the Kurds
The Iraqi government launched a further program of deportation
in 1985, which assumed substantial dimensions, beginning in 1987.
The U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights in Iraq for 1988
stated that half a million Kurdish and Assyrian villagers had
Through terror, the Ba'athist regime seeks to strengthen its demographic
superiority over, and control of ethnic minorities. Depopulation
and deportation have a long history in Ba'ath policy towards the
- In 1963, the first Ba'ath regime offered incentives to Iraqi
Arabs to settle in Kurdish areas. This was to develop into
a fuller policy of "Arabization" of certain areas
inhabited mainly or wholly by Kurds.
- After the Kurdish uprising of May 1974, the second Ba'ath
government expelled large numbers of Kurdish guerrilla fighters,
along with their families, to the desert and to southern Iraq.
From June 1978 through April 1979, the Iraqi government forcibly
resettled some 250,000 Kurds from villages along the Turkish
and Iranian border to new towns.
- In September 1987, innumerable Kurdish villages were systematically
leveled: A U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee staff member
recalled scenes reminiscent of Syrian President Hafez Assad's
killing of civilians in Hamma.
"The Iraqi army have over the past months been dynamiting
the evacuated Kurdish villages ... with hundreds of villages
leveled the Kurdish countryside has an eery deserted quality
to it". 
- In January 1987, 29 children and youths from the province
Sulaimaniya, aged between 17 and 23 were executed without
- On March 29, 1989, the inhabitants of Qualat Diza and a number
of neighboring towns were instructed to depart. They were
allowed to take only their personal belongings that they could
carry with them. The townspeople, who initially refused to
leave, were expelled by the Iraqi army in late May 1989. The
following month, the city was razed. Kurdish opposition groups
claim that 5,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed since
the Ba'ath regime first instituted its program of forced relocation
in the mid-1970s.
- In November 1989, 353 Kurds, among them 52 minors between
the ages of 11 and 17, were arrested by Iraqi forces in Amadiyya
in northern Iraq. The families were taken initially to Sersenk
military barracks, where men were separated from women and
young children. The men were then transferred to Quala Castle
in Duhok and "disappeared" one month later despite
the general amnesty for Kurds.
- New documents, discovered after the popular uprising of March
1991, provide indisputable evidence of Saddam Hussein's policy
of genocide towards the Kurds in northern Iraq.
Kanan Makiya, reporting from northern Iraq for the BBC 'Everyman'
series found evidence of "extermination in a systematic,
bureaucratic way." He relates:
"I went from one village after another, looking
at this erasure (of Kurdish villages) ... something like
4000 villages have gone ...
The amount of labour that went into destroying them
was phenomenal ... the wells were concreted over. The
graveyards were leveled. It took incredible human effort
to demolish on this kind of scale ... an apex of cruelty
was reached in 1988." 
In that year, between100,000-300,000 Kurds were killed. Makiya
met survivors of the extermination of his village Kolatcho in
August 1988. While the villagers were being taken away in trucks,
the village was totally razed. On the border of Iraq and Saudi
Arabia, 125 miles from Baghdad, Makiya discovered 85 abandoned
trucks and "the paraphernalia of hundreds of thousands of
people" - tons of clothes, shoes,
books and notebooks.
The experience of the Kurds illustrates the extent to which the
Ba'ath will use terror as a political weapon in order to suppress
opposition and retain control in the country. While the party
has developed institutions for implementing a rule of terror over
society, major operations are provided by the Army.