GENOCIDE IN IRAQ
The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds
A Middle East Watch Report
Human Rights Watch
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`I will confute those vile geographers
That make a triple region of the world,
Excluding regions which I mean to trace,
And with this pen reduce them to a map,
Calling the provinces, cities, and towns
After my name...
-- Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, Part One (IV, iv)
All of the tendencies that had been implicit in earlier phases of Iraq`s war on the Kurds reached their culmination in 1987-1988 with the endgame of the Iran-Iraq War and the campaign known as al-Anfal. In the captured Iraqi documents that are now being studied by Middle East Watch, the term crops up with great frequency: villages are `purified` in the course of `the Heroic Anfal Operation`; the reason for the flight of villagers into neighboring countries is given as `Anfal`; an `Anfal` oilfield is inaugurated and a special `Anfal Section` of the Ba`ath Arab Socialist Party created in commemoration of the event; one of the government contractors hired to work on the drainage of Iraq`s southern marshes is the `Anfal Company.`1 It is evident from the documents, and from the supporting testimony of those who survived Anfal, that the resources of the Iraqi state were deployed and coordinated on a massive level to assure the success of the operation.
`Anfal` was the name given to a concerted series of military offensives, eight in all, conducted in six distinct geographical areas between late February and early September, 1988. Overall command of the operation was in the hands of the Northern Bureau of the Ba`ath PartyOrganization, based in the city of Kirkuk and headed, after March 1987, by the `Struggling Comrade` Ali Hassan al-Majid.2 Kurdish villagers who survived the events of 1988 routinely refer to al-Majid as `Ali Anfal` or `Ali Chemical.`
Al-Majid`s appointment was highly significant for a number of reasons. Until 1987, military policy against the peshmerga had been set by the First and Fifth Corps of the Iraqi Army, based in Kirkuk and Erbil respectively. Now, however, the Ba`ath Party itself assumed direct charge of all aspects of policy toward the Kurds. Al-Majid`s command also made the settlement of the Kurdish problem the concern of Iraq`s innermost circle of power--the close network of family ties centered on the city of Tikrit and the personal patronage of President Saddam Hussein.
Saddam`s father, whom he never knew, was a member of Tikrit`s al-Majid family, and Ali Hassan al-Majid was the Iraqi president`s cousin.3 Al-Majid, who was born in 1941, had humble origins, and first made his reputation in 1968--as a mere sergeant--as the bodyguard to Hammad Shihab al-Tikriti, commander of the Baghdad army garrison and one of the ringleaders of the Ba`ath coup in July of that year. Al-Majid rose quickly in the Tikrit circle and in 1979 played an important role in the purge of the party leadership. During the 1983-1985 negotiations between the regime and the PUK, Saddam Hussein appointed his cousin to head Amn.
Even by the standards of the Ba`ath security apparatus, al-Majid had a particular reputation for brutality. According to the (admittedly subjective) account of one former mustashar who had frequent dealings with him, `He is more of a risk-taker than Saddam Hussein, and he has no respect for people. It was very difficult to work with him. He was stupid,and only carrying out Saddam Hussein`s orders. In the past, he used to be a police sergeant; today he is Minister of Defense. Saddam Hussein, by contrast, is `a snake with deadly poison.` He pretends to be weak, but at any chance he will use his poison....In tough cases, in which he needs people without a heart, he calls upon Ali Hassan al-Majid.`4
The main military thrust of Anfal was carried by regular troops of the the First and Fifth Corps, backed up by units from other corps as they became available from the Iranian front.5 The elite Republican Guards took part in the first phase of Anfal; other units which saw action included the Special Forces (Quwat al-Khaseh), commando forces (Maghawir) and Emergency Forces (Quwat al-Taware`)--the Ba`ath Party-controlled urban counterterrorism squads. Finally, a wide range of support activities--entering population centers ahead of regular army units, burning and looting villages, tracking down fleeing villagers and organizing their surrender--were handled by the Kurdish paramilitary jahsh.
But the logic of Ali Hassan al-Majid`s campaign against the Kurds went far beyond the six-month long military campaign. From a human-rights perspective, the machinery of genocide was set in motion by al-Majid`s appointment in March 1987 and its wheels continued to turn until April 1989. Within weeks of al-Majid`s arrival in Kirkuk, it was apparent that the Iraqi government had decided to settle its Kurdish problem onceand for all, and that the resources of the state would be used in a coordinated fashion to achieve this goal. A sustained pattern of decrees, directives and actions by the security forces leaves no doubt that the intent of the Iraqi government was to destroy definitively the armed organizations of the Kurdish resistance and to eradicate all remaining human settlements in areas that were disputed or under peshmerga control--with the exception of those inhabited by the minority of tribes whose loyalty to Baghdad was indisputable. If anything stood in the way of these goals in 1987, it was logistical shortcomings--above all, the fact that a large proportion of the troops and materiel that would be required for Anfal were still tied down on the Iranian war front.
* * *
It was Iraq that launched the war in 1980, and Iraq that maintained the initiative for much of the eight years that the conflict lasted.6 Nonetheless, the Iranians did succeed in putting Iraq on the defensive on a number of occasions. In July 1983, Iranian troops had seized the important border garrison town of Haj Omran, east of the town of Rawanduz. But the highpoint of the war from Iran`s point of view was its Val Fajr 8 offensive of February 1986; this included a surprise attack that seized the marshy Fao peninsula, thereby blocking Iraq`s access to the Persian Gulf.
Fresh from its success in Fao, which inflicted huge losses on the Iraqi Army (and reinforced the U.S. `tilt` toward Baghdad), Iran reopened its second front in the north, in the rugged mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. For more than six years, the Iraqi regime had ceded de facto control overmuch of the rural north to the peshmerga; now foreign troops threatened to occupy more and more border territory, diverting much-needed forces from the southern front around Basra. As the October 1986 raid by Iranian pasdaran suggested to nervous Iraqi officials, the vital Kirkuk oilfields, almost a hundred miles from the border, were no longer immune.
There is debate among scholars as to the precise threat that Iraq faced from Iran at this late stage of the war. Certainly, Iran`s huge Karbala 5 offensive against Basra`s Fish Lake in January 1987 marked its final use of the `human wave` tactic of hurling tens of thousands of troops--most of them poorly trained basij7--against fixed enemy targets. The resulting casualty levels were simply not sustainable, as Teheran now acknowledged. On February 12, Iranian troops returned to the Haj Omran area with a small offensive codenamed Fatah 4--although some believe that this was less a real attack than a diversionary action for propaganda purposes.8 But three weeks later, on March 4, a new and more alarming Iranian assault, this one codenamed Karbala 7, managed to penetrate eight miles into Iraqi territory east of Rawanduz with a joint military force which this time included peshmerga of the KDP and the PUK. The Iraqi regime was infuriated by these renewed signs of collusion, particularly since they now involved both rival Kurdish parties.9 On March 13, in a rare interview with a foreign reporter, Iraqi cabinet minister Hashim Hassan al-`Aqrawi commented, `The Iranians are trying to use these people to carry out dirty missions, and since they know the geography of the area and its ins and outs, the Iranians use them merely as guides for the Khomeini Guards andthe Iranian forces.` The Kurds--or at least Talabani`s PUK--even began to talk openly of dismembering the Iraqi state.10
On March 14 or 15, Saddam Hussein presided over a five-hour meeting of the Armed Forces General Command. Ali Hassan al-Majid was also reportedly in attendance. Any outsider`s account of what took place in such a secretive meeting must be highly speculative, but according to at least two accounts, the Iraqi president told his senior officers that he feared a `defeat by attrition.`11 On March 18, the Revolutionary Command Council and the Ba`ath Party`s Regional Command jointly decided to appoint al-Majid, the president`s cousin, as Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Ba`ath Party Organization. His predecessors, Sa`adi Mahdi Saleh and Muhammad Hamza al-Zubeidi, had allowed the Kurdish problem to fester for too long; al-Majid would not repeat their mistakes.
In essence, the disagreements among scholars of the Iran-Iraq War are academic--at least as far as the Kurds are concerned. Saddam Hussein may indeed have foreseen a slow defeat as a result of Baghdad`s existing policies; alternatively, he may have seen Iran`s stalled Fish Lake offensive in January as a turning point in Iraq`s favor, and an opportunity to press home his advantage. Either way, it is apparent that he decided that exceptional measures were necessary to settle the Kurdish problem, that troublesome sideshow of the Iran-Iraq conflict, once and for all.
Ali Hassan al-Majid`s extraordinary new powers--equivalent in the Autonomous Region to those of the president himself--came into effect with decree no. 160 of the Revolutionary Command Council, dated March 29, 1987. Al-Majid was to `represent the Regional Command of the Party and the Revolutionary Command Council in the execution of their policies for the whole of the Northern Region, including the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, for the purpose of protecting security and order, safeguarding stability, and applying autonomous rule in the region.` The decree went on to explain that, `Comrade al-Majid`s decisions shall be mandatory for allstate agencies, be they military, civilian and security.` His fiat would apply `particularly in relation to matters that are the domain of the National Security Council and the Northern Affairs Committee.` A second order by Saddam Hussein, issued on April 20, 1987, gave al-Majid the additional authority to set the budget of the Northern Affairs Committee.
Al-Majid`s `decisions and directives` were to be obeyed without question by all intelligence agencies--including military intelligence (Istikhbarat)--and by all domestic security forces; by the Popular Army Command (Qiyadat al-Jaysh al-Sha`abi); and by all military commands in the northern region. Decree 160 and its riders leave no room for doubt: simply put, Ali Hassan al-Majid was to be the supreme commander, the overlord, of all aspects of Anfal.
* * *
Almost a year would pass before that campaign began. But within weeks of al-Majid`s appointment, the logic of Anfal was fully apparent. Its legal framework was set in place; new standing orders were issued to the security forces; and a two-month wave of military attacks, village destruction and forced relocations was unleashed--a rough draft, as it were, of the larger campaign ahead. `I gave myself two years to end the activity of the saboteurs,` al-Majid later told his aides.12 And with the first warm days of spring and the melting of the snow in the mountains, al-Majid embarked on his brutal three-stage process of `village collectivization`--in other words, the wholesale destruction of hundreds of Kurdish farming villages and the relocation of their residents into mujamma`at.
Even his top military commanders were shocked by the brutality of what he had in mind. He later confided to aides:
Tali`a al-Durri. The first one who alarmed me was Tali`a al-Durri. To this day the impact of Tali`a is evident. He didn`t destroy all the villages that I asked him to at thattime. And this is the longest-standing member of the Ba`ath Party. What about the other people then? How were we to convince them to solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs?13
the manner and the priorities of implementing the evacuation and demolition of security-prohibited villages.` The first phase of the operation would begin on April 21 and end on May 20; the second would start immediately on May 21 and continue until June 20.14 Military and security maps were `redlined,` with clear boundaries drawn to denote areas `prohibited for security reasons.` Amn set up a special `prohibited villages committee` to oversee the forbidden areas. Within the zones designated for phases one and two, the order was clear and explicit: `All prohibited villages will be destroyed.`15
full of explosives from a warehouse in Erbil. I commandeered 200 bulldozers from civilians of Erbil--by force, with no payment. We started destroying mud villages with bulldozers, and dynamiting the cement structures. We used military engineers for this.` The troops went in at dawn; wells were filled in and electricity supplies torn out, leaving only the poles standing. After the engineering work was completed, Istikhbarat would inspect the affected villages by helicopter. If any structure was found to be still standing, the sectional commander would be ordered to return and finish the job, and would risk disciplinary action. It was an extraordinarily thorough enterprise, and the evidence is visible all over Iraqi Kurdistan, with many villages not so much demolished as pulverized.
No farming of any sort was to continue in the destroyed areas. Government aircraft would conduct regular overflights to detect any unauthorized farming, and local security committees would be held responsible for any violations. Stringent restrictions were imposed on all grain sales in the Kurdish areas, as well as on agricultural trade across governorate boundaries.
Al-Majid also reportedly issued specific rules of engagement at the Erbil meeting. The army should only open fire in cases of active resistance, he ordered. But if resistance were encountered, the entire village population was to be killed in reprisal. In the event, there was no resistance, since the villages selected for the 1987 clearances were on or near the main roads and under government control. Only during Phase III of the campaign would the troops venture into peshmerga-held territory.
* * *
The Chemical Threshold
Even before the first stage of the village clearances got underway, the Iraqi regime had crossed a new barrier in its war against the Kurds. Throughout the early weeks of al-Majid`s rule, the peshmerga--and in particular the PUK--kept up a steady rhythm of military actions. In earlyApril the PUK launched its most ambitious drive to date in the Jafati Valley, which runs southeast from Dukan Lake. The valley was home to the PUK`s national headquarters, and thousands of peshmerga congregated there for the assault. In a matter of hours they had overrun dozens of small military posts and taken hundreds of prisoners.
The government`s response was not long in coming. `Our leadership received information that the Iraqis were going to use chemical weapons,` said a PUK peshmerga who fought in this campaign:
, one or two nights after our victory. We didn`t realize they were chemicals. The sound was not as loud as the ordinary shelling, and we smelled rotten apples and garlic.... Uncounted numbers of shells fell on us, but they had little effect.17
This was not the case the following day, however, in the villages of Balisan and Sheikh Wasan. These two settlements lie scarcely a mile and a half apart, in a steep-sided valley south of the town of Rawanduz. The Balisan valley was home to the PUK`s third malband, or regional command.18 Yet few peshmerga were present on the afternoon of April 16, since most had been taking part in the military action in the Jafativalley, on the far side of Dukan Lake. Instead, their families would be made to suffer the repercussions.
Balisan itself was a sizeable village, which until April 1987 had some 250 households (about 1,750 people)19 of the Khoshnaw tribe, as well as four mosques, a primary school and an intermediate school. As the crow flies, it lay some twelve miles east of the town of Shaqlawa; Sheikh Wasan, a smaller settlement of about 150 houses, lay nestled in the hills a little way to the northeast. The valley was long-time peshmerga country; the Barzani movement had controlled it from 1961-74, and the PUK, through its third malband, since the outbreak of the war with Iran in 1980. Since about 1983, the Balisan Valley had been a `prohibited area,` with government checkpoints attempting with only partial success to prevent the entry of foodstuffs and supplies. Food rations had been suspended, and government teachers withdrawn from the schools. Iraqi aircraft made frequent harassment attacks, to which the villagers responded by hiding away in deep, dark caves in the surrounding mountains. But ground troops had never managed to penetrate the valley.
In the drizzly late afternoon of April 16, the villagers had returned home from the fields and were preparing dinner when they heard the drone of aircraft approaching. Some stayed put in their houses; others made it as far as their air-raid shelters before the planes, a dozen of them, came in sight, wheeling low over the two villages to unload their bombs. There were a number of muffled explosions.
Until this moment no government had ever used chemical weapons against its own civilian population. But the plummeting enlistment rate among Iranian volunteers over the previous year, when poison gas was widely used on the battlefield, was vivid testimony to the Iraqi government of the power of this forbidden weapon to instil terror. More gruesome yet was the decision to record the event on videotape.
The Iraqi regime had long conducted its record-keeping in meticulous fashion. (Those in neighboring countries say, only half-jokingly, that the Iraqis are the `Prussians of the Middle East.`)20 From the grandest decree to the most trivial matter, all the business of the security forces was recorded in letters and telegrams, dated, numbered and rubber-stamped on receipt. Even when an original command carried a high security classification, abundant numbers of handwritten or typed copies were later prepared, to be handed down the chain of command and filed, the writers apparently confident that prying eyes would never see these secrets. In the mid-1980s, the Iraqi security services developed a fascination for video technology as a valuable new form of record-keeping. The actions of the security forces were now to be routinely documented on tape: village clearances, executions of captured peshmerga, even chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
The official videotape of the Balisan Valley bombing, reportedly made by a member of the jahsh, shows towering columns and broad, drifting clouds of white, gray and pinkish smoke. A cool evening breeze was blowing off the mountains, and it brought strange smells--pleasant ones at first, suggestive of roses and flowers, or, to others, apples and garlic. Other witnesses still say there was the less attractive odor of insecticide. But then, said one elderly woman from Balisan, `It was all dark, covered with darkness, we could not see anything, and were not able to see each other. It was like fog. And then everyone became blind.` Some vomited. Faces turned black; people experienced painful swellings under the arms, and women under their breasts. Later, a yellow watery discharge would ooze from the eyes and nose. Many of those who survived suffered severe vision disturbances, or total blindness, for up to a month. In Sheikh Wasan, survivors watched as a woman staggered around blindly, clutching her dead child, and not realizing it was dead. Some villagers ran into the mountains and died there. Others, who had been closer to the place of impact of the bombs, died where they stood.21 One witness, a peshmerga, told MiddleEast Watch that a second attack followed an hour later, this one conducted by a fleet of helicopters.22
The few fighters who had been at home when the raid occurred were taken by the PUK for treatment in Iran, fearing that they would not survive a visit to an Iraqi hospital. (The presence of peshmerga in the village is, one should add, quite irrelevant from a legal point of view. By their very nature, chemical weapons make no distinction between civilian and military targets, and their use is outlawed under any circumstances.)23
The following morning, ground troops and jahsh entered Balisan, looted the villagers` deserted homes and razed them to the ground. The same day, or perhaps a day later--having presumably left sufficient time for the gas to dissipate--army engineers dynamited and bulldozed Sheikh Wasan. But the surviving inhabitants had already fled during the night of the attack. Some made their way to the city of Suleimaniyeh, and a few to Shaqlawa. But most headed southeast, to the town of Raniya, where there was a hospital. They were helped on their way by people from neighboring villages, some of which--including Barukawa, Beiro, Kaniberd and Tutma--had also suffered from the effects of the windborne gas.
The people of Beiro sent tractor-drawn carts to Sheikh Wasan, and ten of these vehicles, each carrying fifty or sixty people, left for Raniya. At the complex of Seruchawa, just outside the town, the tractors stopped to bury the bodies of fifty people who were already dead. The refugees who reached Raniya spent one night there. Local doctors washed their wounds and gave them eye-drops, but these did nothing to ease the effects of the gas on their vision. The refugees spent a restless night, and the hospital at Raniya was full of the sound of weeping.
The next morning, agents from Amn --and some witnesses say also from military intelligence (Istikhbarat)-- arrived at the hospital. They ordered everyone out of bed and into a number of waiting Nissan Coasters that were parked outside.24 These would take them to the city of Erbil for medical care, the villagers were told; however, they were warned later that day that they would only be given treatment if they told the doctors that their injuries were the result of an attack by Iranian airplanes.25
At about 9:00 that morning, exhausted and bedraggled people in Kurdish dress began to stream into the emergency room of the Republic Hospital in Erbil. One witness counted four packed coasters, each with twenty-one seats, and seven other vehicles--both cars and pickup trucks. Others placed the number of arrivals at perhaps 200, of all ages, men, women and children. They were all unarmed civilians. Four were dead on arrival. The survivors arriving from Ranya told the doctors that they had been attacked with chemical weapons. Despite their burns, their blindness and other, more superficial injuries, those who had survived the journey from the Balisan Valley were generally still able to walk, although some were unconscious.
Even with the assistance of doctors who rushed across from the nearby Maternity and Pediatric Hospital, the facilities were not sufficient to deal with such a large-scale emergency. There were far from enough beds to deal with so many victims; many of the patients were laid on the floors, and the occupants of three of the four coasters were obliged to wait in the parking lot while the preliminary triage was done and the first treatment carried out. On examination, the doctors found that the victims` eyes were dried out and glued shut. Having some rudimentary notion of how to treat chemical victims, they applied eye drops, washed their burns and administered injections of atropine, a powerful antidote to nerve agents.
The doctors had been at work on their patients for about an hour when the head of the local branch office of Amn arrived, an officer by the name of Hassan Naduri. The staff of the Erbil Republic Hospital, and especially the municipal morgue which was attached to it, had a great deal of prior and subsequent experience of Amn. The city housed not only themunicipal office of the secret police agency, but also Amn`s headquarters for the Erbil governorate and its operational command for the entire `autonomous region` of Iraqi Kurdistan. For several years the Republic Hospital morgue had received a steady flow of corpses from both Amn offices. Hospital records examined by Middle East Watch give details of approximately 500 bodies received from Amn between 1968-1987--although there is no reason to suppose that this was more than a very incomplete record.
These deaths were recorded in the form of letters of transmittal from Amn, and the agency`s bureaucracy appears to have been scrupulously efficient. Two copies of each letter of transmittal were sent to the morgue; the doctor on duty was required to sign one of these and then return it to Amn. Hospital staff also kept a second, secret ledger of their own, entitled `Record Book of Armed Dead People from Erbil.` This covered a three-year period beginning in June 1987; the final entry was dated June 25, 1990. The entries were cross-referenced to the number of the relevant Amn transmittal letter. In interviews with Middle East Watch, hospital staff also estimated that they made out some 300 death certificates, on orders from Amn, for named individuals whose bodies were never made available to them. This practice began in 1987.
There appears to have been no single standard procedure: Corpses arrived at the Erbil morgue in a number of different ways. Sometimes the staff would receive a telephone call from Amn, often in the middle of the night, telling them that they should prepare to receive the body or bodies of `executed saboteurs` and ordering them to issue death certificates. Individual hospital porters were hand-picked for the task of handling the bodies, presumably because they enjoyed the trust of the Amn agents. On some occasions the corpses arrived in pickup trucks or station wagons, covered with blankets. At other times, hospital ambulances would be summoned to collect the bodies from the Amn headquarters in Einkawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, or from a nearby military base. Although some showed signs of having been beaten to death, most appeared to have been executed by firing squads; they had multiple gunshot wounds, sometimes as many as thirty, and had their hands and upper arms bound behind them,as if they had been tied standing to a post.26 The eyes were blindfolded with articles of clothing such as a Kurdish cummerbund or headscarf. The bodies had been stripped of their wristwatches, IDs and other personal possessions.
However the bodies arrived, the entire operation was shrouded in secrecy, and morgue staff were ordered (under threat of death) neither to contact the relatives of the deceased nor to divulge their names to anyone else in the hospital. Doctors on duty in the morgue were not allowed to touch or examine the bodies; their duty was merely to furnish death certificates. If the cadavers arrived during daylight hours, the entire area around the morgue would be cordoned off by Amn guards and other hospital personnel warned away from the area. Amn personnel would even take charge of the morgue`s freezer facilities until municipal employees arrived to take the corpses away for secret burial in the paupers` section of the Erbil cemetery. If an especially large number of corpses was involved, a bulldozer would be commandeered from a local private contractor to dig a mass grave. The morgue staff were forbidden to wash the bodies or otherwise prepare them for burial facing Mecca, as Islamic ritual demands. `Dogs have no relation to Islam,` an Amn officer told one employee.27
When Hassan Naduri arrived at the Republic Hospital on the morning of April 17, 1987, every doctor in the hospital was busy dealing with the emergency. The officer was accompanied by two other Amn agents; a large number of guards also remained outside in the hospital courtyard. According to some witnesses, Hassan Naduri was accompanied by Ibrahim Zangana, the governor of Erbil, and by a local Ba`ath Partyofficial known only by his first name, Abd-al-Mon`em. The Amn officers questioned the hospital guards, demanding to know where the new patients were from and who the doctors were who were treating them. They then repeated these questions to the medical personnel, and demanded to know what treatment was being given. With these questions answered, Capt. Naduri telephoned Amn headquarters for instructions. After hanging up, he ordered that all treatment cease immediately. He told the doctors to remove the dressings from their patients` wounds. The doctors asked why. The captain responded that he had received orders from his superiors to transfer all the patients to the city`s Military Hospital. At first, the hospital staff demurred, but the three Amn agents drew their pistols and ordered them to stop what they were doing at once. Otherwise they would be taken off to Amn headquarters themselves.
After a second phone call, this time ostensibly to the Military Hospital, a number of ambulances or trucks arrived and took the patients away, together with those who had remained, for a full hour now, in the three parked coasters. Later that day, the doctors telephoned the Military Hospital to check on the condition of their patients. But they had never arrived there, and the doctors never saw any of the survivors of the Balisan Valley chemical attack again. They heard later that loaded military ambulances had been seen driving off in the direction of Makhmour, to the southwest of Erbil.
In fact, a handful of survivors told Middle East Watch, the Balisan Valley victims were taken to a former police station that was now an Amn detention center, a stark white cement building in the Arab quarter of the city, near the Baiz casino. There was a chaotic scene on arrival, as Amn agents attempted to sort out the detainees by age and sex, and in the confusion several people managed to escape. At least one woman fled leaving her children behind. Those who remained were thrown into locked cells, guarded by uniformed agents--some dressed all in green and others all in blue. Here they were held for several days with neither food, blankets nor medical attention.
Hamoud Sa`id Ahmad is an employee of the municipal morgue attached to Erbil`s Republic Hospital, a dignified middle-aged man who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Over the next few days, he was summoned on a number of occasions to the Amn jail in the city`s Teirawa quarter and ordered to pick up bodies and prepare them for burial. Over a three-day period he counted sixty-four bodies. Arriving to collect them, he saw other prisoners wandering around in the prison courtyard building. Some hada clear fluid oozing from their mouths; others had dark, burn-like marks on their bodies, especially on the throat and hands. He saw men, women and children in detention, including several nursing babies in their mothers` arms. The bodies, kept in a separate locked cell, bore similar marks. None showed any signs of gunshot wounds. Most of the dead appeared to be children and elderly people. An Amn official told Ahmad that `they are saboteurs, all saboteurs we attacked with chemical weapons.` An ambulance driver told Ahmad that he recognized one of the dead as a Republic Hospital employee from Sheikh Wasan.
.` The men were never seen alive again.28
After the mass disappearance of the men, the surviving women and children were taken out during the night and driven off in the direction of Khalifan, three hours to the northeast of Erbil. At a place called Alana, they were dumped in an open plain, on the banks of a river, and left to fend for themselves. They were reunited here with the Balisan Valley villagers who had fled to Suleimaniyeh. These people reported that they had been detained there in a converted hospital that was guarded by Amn agents and off limits to civilians. (There is no independent account of what happened to their menfolk, some of whom also disappeared.)
At Alana, the mother who had escaped from the Amn jail in Erbil was reunited with her children. She recognized families from the villages of Kaniberd and Tutma, as well as from Sheikh Wasan and Balisan, who told her that many children had died in this place of hunger, thirst and exposure. (With the exception of a few villages, the entire Balisan Valley had been evacuated in terror: Ironically, as we shall see, their flight mayhave saved thousands of lives during the following year`s Anfal campaign.) Eventually, sympathetic Kurdish residents of the town of Khalifan took some of the survivors into their homes--`in their arms and on their backs`--and cared for them until they regained their health and strength. Other survivors ended up in the squalid government complex of Seruchawa, where so many of their fellow villagers had fled on the night of the chemical attack. When the elderly mullah of Balisan went to Ba`ath Party officials at Seruchawa to plead for an improvement in conditions in the complex, he was told contemptuously, `You`re not human beings.`29