We often hear people laying part of the blame for the mass murder of the Kurdish nation on the Kurds themselves. They argue some of these crimes were a direct response to Kurdish revolutions and armed struggle.
By bringing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into the heart of Kurdistan’s territory during the Iran-Iraq war, some suggest the Kurds gave the Baathist regime an excuse to target the Kurds.
They accuse some Kurdish leaders of that era of deliberately provoking Saddam Hussein and his regime to attack civilians in order to draw attention to the Kurdish question among the international community, which at that time supported Saddam in his war against Iran.
Following Saddam’s arbitrary mass arrest of Barzanis in 1983, rivals of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) propagated the claim that the KDP had invited the IRGC to capture Haji Omaran, causing Saddam to retaliate by slaughtering the Barzanis.
This kind of accusation was not leveled against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in regard to Anfal or the Halabja chemical attack until 2010, when the late PUK leader Jalal Talabani, during the party’s third congress, blamed the late Change Movement (Gorran) leader Nawshirwan Mustafa for the disaster of Halabja. Mustafa responded by blaming Talabani for the crime of Anfal.
When the PUK and the Islamic Republic of Iran were considering a deal on bringing the IRGC into Kirkuk, the PUK’s current acting leader Kosrat Rasul warned against giving Saddam an excuse to attack the Kurdish nation, warning the international community would not come to their aid, according to some historical accounts.
If we look into the mentality of Arab authorities in Iraq, both past and present, and the litany of crimes committed against the Kurdish nation, it appears the ethnic cleansing of Kurds was a state strategy.
Although the crimes committed against the Kurds during the war with Iran were massive, those committed before this period were no less serious. True, civilian deaths could have been prevented had Kurdish leaders allowed people to escape Baathist attacks, but this does not mean Saddam would not have committed genocide at some point against the Kurds even if the war had not happened.
The Arabization process dates back to the foundation of the Iraqi state. The Arabs planned to eliminate Kurdish identity and Arabize Kurdistan when southern Kurdistan was first bound to Iraq. Consecutive governments bolstered this strategy, which reached its peak under Saddam.
There is probably a grain of truth, at least in terms of timing, to support the argument that the Kurds provided the regime with an excuse or an opportunity to attack, but these crimes would likely have been committed sooner or later, perhaps under a different name.
How might events have unfolded had the crimes occurred following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait or during the Kurdish uprising of 1991?
Would there have been an uprising at all had it not been for the Anfal campaign? Would the autonomous Kurdistan Region have ever emerged?
The Baathist regime was overthrown in 2003 and Saddam executed three years later. But instead of drawing lessons from his death, Iraqi Arab politicians are pursuing the same mechanisms of Arabization. A repeat of Anfal-like crimes will always be an open possibility.
The Kurds should put an end to this mentality in order to remain a nation. But bitter experience and history suggest the Kurds cannot halt such crimes alone. They need the international community to recognize these crimes for what they are – genocide.
The Iraqi High Tribunal has recognized the ethnic cleansing of Kurds, including Faili minorities, the mass murder of Barzanis, the chemical attack on Halabja, and the atrocities of Anfal, as genocide. This will help move the international courts to also recognize these crimes for what they are.
But this requires careful planning, and the Kurds should take this task seriously to win international protection as a nation. This is the only way Kurds can achieve their national objectives and be certain they will never again face the horrors of Anfal.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.