Friday, April 16, 2010

Kurds rebury massacred children

“My Hajar was quite a lady…like an angel.”
Anfal’s 22nd anniversary observed at a funeral of 104 children and two women

One day 22 years ago, Maryam Faqe Ali was separated from her family—she never saw them again. Seeking to start a routine rural life, they were interrupted by an army attack on their village of Askar, southwest of Suleimaniya.
Her husband, Hassan Mohammad, was shot dead. She and other women from the village smelled toxic gas. But the women were able to escape the army and the gas as they hid in a pool of water. Her three children and a daughter-in-law were captured and they disappeared.
“My eldest son was dear Sabir, and my Talib was like that boy,” she pointed to a child nearly 8 years old as she mentioned her lost children. “My Hajar was quite a lady…like an angel,” she said, then burst into tears. “The Baath government…only because we were Kurds,” Ali said in reply to why they were targeted.

Mrs. Ali was telling her story as she and a crowd of thousands gathered in Chamchamal town--70 kilometers west of Suleimaniya--to take part in a funeral arranged to rebury 104 children under the age of 13 and two pregnant women. The bodies were recently exhumed in three spots in Dubis town, Kirkuk, where there was a military jail for captured women and children.
Anfal is a name for military operations carried out by the Iraqi army in 1988 that led to the capture, imprisonment, and disappearance of tens of thousands of Kurdish villagers. Hundreds of the victims, among them women and children, were found in mass graves discovered after 2003 in different spots, especially in southern Iraq.
The funeral crowd reminds Azad Hama Bayir of the day they were gathered and arrested in their village of Zinana. He was 10 years old when he entered Dubis jail with a sister, two brothers and his pregnant mother, Mahbuba Mohammad. He cannot remember exactly how big the jail was, only that “it was very big…several big halls…so many people.” However, he remembers well the day his mother was suffering from a headache, diarrhea and vomiting. “She was taken to hospital,” said Bayir about the last memory of his mother. “I never could believe she was dead.”
“One of them is my sister,” said Naska Arif, 43, whose sister Dilniya was lost in the same jail. She noted that her 3-month-old sister died from hunger two days after their family was separated from each other in a jail in Topzawa, near Kirkuk. Naska also lost her mother and two brothers, and her father suffered a heart attack.
Earlier, witnesses from Dubis told the “Globe” that jail guards were handing over dead bodies to townspeople to bury. More than 200 children were taken out dead from the jail, according to witnesses.
The exhumation committee from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was able to dig out only 106 graves. “We could not be 100-percent sure about every grave of the children depending on witnesses’ information,” commented Anwar Omer, director of Mass Graves at the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs. He explained that some of the victims’ graves were mixed with others from the town itself, and other graves have vanished.
The KRG has reburied hundreds of Anfal mass-grave victims over the last few years. During last year’s Anfal anniversary, a group of victims was reburied in Rizgari district near Kalar town, south of Suleimaniya. They were 187 bodied found in two mass graves near Najaf.
“The massacre of Kurdish women and children must not be allowed once again; but we have to work for the [survivors] relatives of these victims to live in peace and welfare,” said Dr. Barham Salih, KRG Prime Minister, noting that this is an international responsibility.
“The honorable relatives of Anfal [victims] consider us as a part of you…be sure, with deeds, we will service you,” said Salih in his speech at the ceremony. He also pledged for that every Anfal survivor will be provided with a home, and their problems will be solved.
Other than extreme damages to so many lives, Anfal also paralyzed the infrastructure of the areas exposed to the operations. Nearly 4,000 villages were destroyed. Survivors of those villages were moved to camps--Rizgari and Shorish in Chamchamal are the most outstanding ones.
The villages have not been reconstructed completely yet, and not all survivors went back to their homes. Baba Ali Amin, 55, used to work as a farmer in his village of Jabari before Anfal, which took 18 of his relatives including his brothers. To revive his village, he demanded the KRG build him a house and provide him with basic services of water, roads, a mosque, a school, a hospital, and compensation for the survivors. Only three or four families are now living in Jabari, while it had 27 families before. “Once I can go back to my village, I will think my brothers have come alive again,” said Amin.

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