The Kurdish village of Sewsenan, close to the Iranian frontier, is at the centre of the second trial of Saddam Hussein, which began today. The survivors are thirsty for revenge.
On 22nd of March 1988, the village was blanketed with mustard and sarin gas by the Iraqi army during the biggest of Saddam’s campaigns against the Kurds: Operation Anfal.
Officially, the intention was to end a Kurdish military insurrection, supported by Iran in the wake of the Iran-Iraq war, but many stones in the village graveyard show women and children lie here. Even those who escaped the gas, fighters and civilians alike, perished at the hands of the army. Only 70 of the 300 original families remain among the ruins.
One woman says: “We fled after the chemical attacks but fell into a trap, and most were taken by soldiers. We survivors may be alive, but it’s not really living; we have lost everyone.”
In eight campaigns between 1987-88 between 50 and 100,000 Kurds died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. In all, 25 villages like Sewsenan were decimated with gas, and 2,000 others were wiped from the map, demolished with bombs and bulldozers.
Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known by his toxic nickname, “Chemical Ali”, led the operation. Named head of the Baath party’s Northern Iraq region, he created “off-limits” zones in the Kurdish regions where anyone found alive was considered an insurgent, and killed or moved out.
Ali, along with Saddam, faces charges of genocide. Since the early 1990’s several humanitarian organisations have been gathering evidence, exhuming remains from hundreds of mass graves, identifying them, and examining the methods used to shift the Kurdish people south before executing them.
For the survivors of Anfal, like those who demonstrated in Kalar today to call for Saddam’s execution, condemnation needs to be accompanied with compensation. Although the scale of the regime’s attacks brought the Kurds under international protection, most survivors have only been granted less than 100 euros a month by the Kurdish authorities.