The Anfal operations 1988

Under the code-word "Anfal"- (title of a Quran sura, literally "the spoils") - the Iraqi Ba'ath-regime conducted a vast military operation against large parts of the rural areas in the Kurdish North of Iraq in 1988. Within a few months, thousands of Kurdish villages were destroyed, the population concentrated under army control; up to 182 000 young men and women were separated from their families and were deported and murdered.
The individual fate of most of them remains unclear until today.
Elders and women with children were detained and tormented for months; daily dozens of them died from hunger and exhaustion in the notorious prisons of Dibs and Nugra Salman in South Iraq. In September 1988 the survivors were released and forcibly resettled in so called "collective towns" under military control.

Street in the former resettlement camp of Sumud, today renamed Rizgary

Surviving after Anfal

Children in the former resettlement camp of Sumud, today renamed Rizgary After the Kurdish region achieved de facto autonomy in 1991, the reconstruction of the destroyed villages began. Yet many of the Anfal survivors, and especially women with children, remained in the collective towns, living amidst uncertainty and material hardship. Their suffering, after the violence and loss they had experienced, was prolonged by uncertainty on the fate of their deported loved ones. In addition, precarious economic circumstances and the women's unclear social and legal status in a traditional patriarchal environment, that did not provide any life concept for a woman without male bread winner, prevented them from developing new life perspectives. Yet despite all constraints women Anfal survivors mobilized enormous energies, did all kinds of hard work and developed strong collective structures to survive and raise their often numerous children.

After the fall of the Ba'ath-regime in 2003, women Anfal survivors' situation changed. More than 300 mass graves were discovered throughout Iraq; only a small number has been opened and the victims identified to this day. Thus uncertainty continues. Yet safety from the aggressor, the sentencing of the main perpetrators by the Iraqi High tribunal and economic and political stabilization of the Kurdish region have contributed to significantly improve the circumstances and the psychosocial situation of Anfal survivors. The Kurdistan Regional Government granted Anfal survivors pensions and housing and invested in the Anfal affected regions' infrastructure. Today women Anfal survivors and their meanwhile grown-up sons and daughters reconstruct their families and social networks.

Village in the Germyan Region

With the end of uncertainty and survival struggle, the women discovered their strength and survivors' pride and today clearly articulate their political claims towards the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi Government and the international community:

The legacy of the Ba'ath-regime

Ongoing violence in Iraq, and the increasing fragmentation of Iraqi society along ethno-religious lines, delay and impede the process of dealing with the past on a regional and national level. For all the different ethnic, religious, and political factions, past victimhood and current patterns of violence are central to legitimating sectarian claims for power sharing on a national level. Victims of violence, past and present, are often played off against each other, and receive insufficient assistance from the authorities. Throughout Iraq, survivors of violence and relatives of victims feel marginalized and alienated from the political process. The absence of a meaningful debate about the past only deepens the political, ethnic, and religious conflicts in Iraq.

Reburial of Anfal victims in Rizgary , April 2009

The Kurdish national victimhood discourse

In the Kurdish regional debate the Anfal operations are considered a "collective trauma", constituent for the Kurdish national identity and central for legitimating Kurdish claims to autonomy and national power sharing. In this discourse, women Anfal survivors are represented as passive victims and symbols of national suffering. Their concrete experience, testimonies and claims remain excluded from the public debate as well as their strong collective structures, that have helped them to survive during and after Anfal.
Women Anfal survivors at remembrance ceremony 25th anniversary of Anfal, Rizgary, April 2013
In this context the memorial forum initiative in Rizgary is the first women self help group that specifically engages for empowerment and political participation of women Anfal survivors.

Enfal - Haukari e.V., 2006

Read more:

Karin Mlodoch: "We Want to be Remembered as Strong Women, Not as Shepherds": Women Anfal Survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq Struggling for Agency and Acknowledgement in: Journal of Middle Eastern Women's Studies, Volume 8, Number 1 (Winter 2012) (gegen Bezahlung)

Karin Mlodoch: "Vergangenheitsbewältigung im Irak" - aus: Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 9/2011, 28.02.2011