by Vahal A. Abdulrahman
The word “Anfal”, meaning “The Spoils of War” was supposed to remain a 7th century Arabic term, immortalized by the eight Surah of the Quran. In the late 1980s, however, Saddam Hussein resurrected the term to label his genocidal campaign against rural Kurdistan. I recently spoke to an Anfal survivor and expert from Quebec, Canada by way of Garmian, Iraqi Kurdistan; Mr. Khalid Sulaiman, in a rather depressing way, defined the Anfal for me as, “that moment during which I lost the taste of life.” For 182,000 Iraqi Kurds, including scores of immediate relatives of Khalid, the Anfal simply meant the end of life through a meticulous and systemic operation commencing with being trucked in military transportation vehicles and ending in the mass graves of the deserts of Iraq.”
Mr. Khalid Sulaiman, Iraq Memory Foundation
Born The district of Garmian is often referred to by Khalid as “Anfalistan”; it was here where the young Khalid Sulaiman watched his fellow countrymen, including members of his immediate family line up to get into the back of trucks and be taken away never to be seen again. The dead shared an identity; they were Kurds, insofar as the Saddam regime was concerned, that alone qualified them to be the “The Spoils of War.” On the tombstone of Khalid’s childhood, the word “Anfal”, and only that word, reads as a reminder of a time when the people of Iraqi Kurdistan underwent the wrath of Arab nationalism mixed with a deafeningly silent international community that included – but by no means was limited to – the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Today, Khalid Sulaiman resides in Canada where he works as an editor for al Dhakira newsletter, a publication of the Iraq Memory Foundation. The soft-spoken Khalid, traumatized by the hatred of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party led by Saddam Hussein, described the Anfal as the type of cruelty that humiliates humanity. That statement instantly reminded me of Eli Wisel who once wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
So, thousands of miles away from Garmian and thousands of miles away from Anfalistan, Khalid from his home in Quebec, has decided not to be silent and through the documents of the Iraq Memory Foundation, he tries to tell – in Arabic – the story of the Anfal to an audience that is either brainwashed by Arabist propaganda or deliberately made ignorant of the facts of history. Behind the Saddam who deified the Arabs and their civilization and who swore to liberate Jerusalem, there was a genocidal man who took the lives of at least 182,000 men, women and children whose only crime was that they were born Kurds.
I asked Khalid what he wanted the world to know about the Anfal, and he instantly replied, “I want the Arab and Muslim worlds to recognize this genocide.” Khalid, who chronicles the Anfal details in Arabic and has published a number of articles and books on the subject, believes that Saddam conducted this operation in name of Muslims by using an exclusively Quranic term as the name of the campaign. Why there was no outrage as hundreds of thousands of Kurds were sent to their deaths in the name of the Quran is less important to Khalid than why there is no recognition of that cruelty today in spite of all the undeniable evidence.
Khalid Sulaiman, the eloquent multilingual Iraqi Kurd who happened to be born a Kurd and lived through 1980s in Kurdistan, appreciates that the new Iraq recognizes the Anfal as an act of genocide but is worried about how some Iraqis to this day link the Anfal to the Iraq-Iran war and see it as a mere incident of the war.
I asked Khalid about the number of dead during the Anfal, fully accepting the official Kurdish claim of 182,000, and he told me that that number may be right but it is possible that it may be a little more than that. Khalid said that in his small village consisting of only 30 households, at least 80 men, women and children were killed. That is an addition to at least 4500 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan – most of which were much bigger than his village – that were demolished and their residents Anfalized.
On Darfur, I asked Khalid whether he thinks there is an adequate Kurdish condemnation for the genocide in Sudan. He immediately said, “Condemnation alone is not enough,” and added that Iraqi Kurds who constantly complain about the Arab/Muslim silence over the Anfal should think of the day when the people of Darfur express similar concerns. Indeed the tragedy of Darfur is an Iraqi Kurdish issue as much as it is a Sudanese issue, and as much as it is an issue affecting all of humankind.
Khalid Suliamn who admits that he is drowned in the testimonies and documents of the Anfal campaign lives in Canada, yet his heart is still in that small village in the Garmian district where the brutality of the Saddam regime lives with him every moment of every day. When I asked Khalid what he thinks the most about, he told me in a powerful tone, “the last moment”; the last moments of the dead from the Anfal, what they must have been thinking as they were collectively executed.
Between Khalid Sulaiman and Iraqi Kurdistan lie oceans and continents, yet the word “Anfal” that was meant to be remain a mere Quranic reference lives with him every minute of every hour of every day.