Operation Anfal’s lone survivor

Operation Anfal’s lone survivor

By: Daily Collegian Archive | April 09, 2003 |

Taimour 'Abdallah, from the village of Qulatcho

Taimour ‘Abdallah, from the village of Qulatcho

It was one of the most haunting pictures I have ever seen. But if I was Taimour, I, too, would probably have the same look in my eyes.

I do not know the Kurdish people. I’ve met very few Kurds in my lifetime, and I know very little about their history or the way they live their lives. I stumbled on Taimour’s interview through a recommendation from a friend who urged me to hear ‘another side of the story.’ I didn’t know what story to expect, but I didn’t expect Taimour’s story.

I have had a lot of misgivings about the war in Iraq. Is it really necessary? Why is the U.S. doing it alone? Is there enough justification? And does America’s history preclude it from passing judgment on the morality of other nations? I was hoping this interview was going to help me figure a few things out.

The interview was with Taimour ‘Abdalah, who is probably the lone survivor of operation Anfal, the campaign by Saddam Hussein’s regime to rout out the Kurds of Northern Iraq (if you’re wondering what Saddam thought about the Kurds, ‘Anfal’ is the Arabic word for ‘unbeliever’.) In the interview, Taimour, a twelve-year old boy, explains with the haunting clarity of a child what the operation was about. As Kurds from the village of Qulatcho in what Saddam considered a “problematic region,” Taimour and his family were put on trucks and transferred to the Iranian border, which contained many giant anti-tank ditches from Iraq’s long war with its neighbor Iran. The anti-tank ditches served as mass Kurdish graves. Taimour’s family was pushed in, shot, and buried. By a miracle Taimour survived.

Taimour’s life was not the only one affected by operation Anfal. The State department estimates that between 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds were killed in the 1988 campaign, of which Taimour is the only known survivor. The injustice done to Taimour was obvious. As an Iraqi citizen, he was not granted the rights to life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness by his government. Quite to the contrary, the Iraqi government was the very cause of the alienation of these rights. To make things worse, the misfortune of the Iraqis continued, and Iraqis today are no freer to pursue their inalienable rights under Saddam than they were in 1988. Does this justify regime change?

No nation is free of sin. Not the Americans, not the French, (who, with their recent air of self-righteousness, love to forget the atrocities they committed recently during the Algerian civil war) not any of the other nations of Europe, and of course not Iraq. All have, at one point or another, committed crimes against their citizens. But the question that should be asked is one of accountability. In a democratic country, an undertaking such as operation Anfal could not happen for the simple reason that the government is held accountable to its citizens. If 100,000 United States citizens were killed today by the government, its people and army would not let it pass, and the government would be toppled. The same thing goes for France, or Germany, or any other democratic country. But not Iraq.

As the sole remaining superpower in the world, America has no choice but to build an empire. It must build an empire to protect itself, because whether it likes it or not, the world is a big, bad, mean place, and even neglected backwards countries such as Afghanistan can serve as bases for the Sept. 11 attackers, and pose a danger to U.S. lives and interests. In its history of foreign policy, the U.S. has attempted to promote governments that bring stability to critical regions, and that are democratic and compatible with its own world view. These two prerequisites do not always go hand in hand, and the United States has often supported undemocratic regimes in the name of stability. But Iraq is neither of these. It is neither stable nor democratic.

The picture that made such a strong impression on me is the photograph that was taken of the interview while it was taking place. Taimour, draped in the traditional clothing of a Kurdish fighter, sits on pillows and answers the questions of the interviewer. What haunts me about the picture is the gaze that Taimour gives the camera. What stares at you is not the natural face of a child, but a face that you somehow know has been face-to-face with the evils of this world. Above everything, it is the face of a human being, which as the interviewer notes, “has a very good reason not to trust a human being ever again.”

It seems to me that Sept. 11 has made the United States lose a lot of its faith in the rest of the world. It has decided for better or for worse, to reshape some of the world in the name of its interests and security. But to survive, empires must not overextend themselves and recognize their own limits. In order to continue to thrive, the United States, despite past mistakes, must strive to build a world of free nation states, in which people are free to govern themselves and pursue their unalienable rights. But by what means, and when – these are more complex questions.

One outcome of a democratic world order is certain, however. Save a few tyrants, I doubt anyone would mind a world free of operation Anfals.

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