The long wait by the Kurds for justice has ended. Today Saddam Hussein finally stands trial for the most notoriious genocidal attacks of his reign of terror. The Iraqi tribunal will begin court proceedings on another series of criminal charges arising from the brutal oppression of Saddam and his henchmen, primarily his cousin, “Chemical Ali”:
The chemical bombs were part of a 25-day siege of Sergalou and Bergalou by the Iraqi army involving jets, helicopters, rocket launchers and thousands of elite Republican Guard troops. Today, Saddam Hussein goes on trial in Baghdad charged with genocide over the siege and other military operations against the Kurds.
After holding out against vastly superior firepower, the Kurdish fighters eventually withdrew along with some 3,500 villagers. They made a hazardous trek through snow-bound mountains to safety across the Iranian border, but many were killed along the way.
As soon as they had gone, the bulldozers moved in. Crops were uprooted, and livestock slaughtered; wells were filled with concrete and every structure in Sergalou, Bergalou and at least 25 surrounding villages was razed. The pattern was to be repeated with increasing ferocity across rural Kurdistan over the next six months. The residents of Sergalou were the victims of the first phase of a campaign codenamed the Anfal, taken from the Qur’anic verse justifying the killing and looting of “infidels”.
Under the guise of counter-insurgency measures against Kurdish rebels, who were accused of aiding Tehran in its war with Iraq, the government in Baghdad designated huge swaths of Iraqi Kurdistan along the borders with Iran and Turkey as “prohibited zones”.
Thousands of villages were bombed; some were gassed. Surviving residents, including many women and children, were rounded up, taken to detention centres and eventually executed at remote sites then buried in unmarked mass graves. Human Rights Watch has estimated that during the eight stages of the Anfal operation, which lasted from February to September 1988, at least 50,000 and as many as 100,000 Kurds were systematically killed. At least 2,000 villages were destroyed.
The Iraqis may unravel over the future of their nation, but few dispute its past, and they intend to ensure it gets recorded into history properly. The Kurds have a claim on Saddam that few others can match. Saddam and his regime targeted them like no others, considering the Kurds to be too close to the West. He was determined to eliminate them, and so he gassed them, pulled down their villages, slaughtered their livestock and destroyed their farms — eliminating every possible means of subsistence. Men, women, children — all of them got targeted by the Tikriti faction, and many of them were murdered and maimed.
It is perhaps the greatest revenge of the Kurds that their areas have been rebuilt faster and better than the rest of the nation. Western-style cities have sprung up in the Kurdish region, and the local governments have even begun tourist campaigns in the West. Investment from Europe and America has flooded into these new showcases of the Iraqi embrace of open-market economics. They enjoy a better standard of living now than most Iraqis, thanks to the umbrella of Anglo-American protection during the twelve-year quagmire at the UN following the first Gulf War.
However, the Kurds want to ensure that Saddam accounts for his attempts to erase their people from the face of the Earth, regardless of whether Saddam gets the death penalty for the Dujail retribution case. That verdict will come in two months, giving the tribunal plenty of time to make its evidence public. Not everyone wants to see this, however, and some have pretty strange arguments for halting the trial.
One of the strangest comes from Human Rights Watch, the organization that has detailed many of Saddam’s atrocities. Richard Dicker twists the legal meaning of genocide to insist that the court prove that Saddam specifically wanted to kill all of the Kurds, rather than eliminate political opponents. HRW already admits that the Kurdish genocide killed women and children, so how Dicker can insist that the court should give the benefit of the doubt to Saddam that this was just a political purge beggars belief. Besides, is the specific motivation really at issue when the defendant razed over 2,000 villages and killed tens of thousands of Kurds? Does Dicker really want to argue that this may all be just a ghastly coincidence?
Saddam faces the correct tribunal in the correct venue. The Hague has no role to play; Saddam should be tried in the country he brutally tyrannized for four decades. The victims of his merciless rule have the right and the jurisdiction to try him, and they have provided a much more just environment than Saddam ever did, and more so than most of their neighbors as well. Let justice be done on Saddam, and let the people of Iraq decide how to deliver it. They’ve earned that right.