When I am out meeting constituents and helping with their day-to-day issues in Stratford-on-Avon it is sometimes hard for me to think of how differently my life could have turned out. We are products of our upbringing and I often reflect on how lucky I was to have moved here to Britain in the 1970s, a move that happened because my Kurdish father faced imprisonment or death under Saddam Hussein’s murderous rule.
Under the Ba’athist regime, Iraqi Kurds endured a systematic military programme of discrimination, demonization, removal and death. More than a million people in Iraq have ‘disappeared’ since the 1960s, all presumed dead, most murdered.
Men of ‘battle age’, (which could mean a tall, strong boy of twelve years old), were rounded up and ‘disappeared’. Thousands of women and children also vanished. There is strong evidence that many were taken to internment camps where they were executed or died from malnutrition and torture. Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, were buried in hundreds of mass graves which have only been discovered in recent years. While we all know that Coalition forces did not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they certainly found a large number of these mass graves and the thousands of bodies they were supposed to conceal.
This year is the 25thAnniversary of the final act in this persecution, the ‘Anfal Campaign’, which in Arabic literally means ‘the spoils of war’.
This last and best known phase took place in 1988 when about 182,000 men, women and children are believed to have died. To put this into context, that’s enough people to fill Wembley Stadium twice over, or when compared to the horror of the September 11 attacks on the US it is 60 times the 3000 innocents killed on that terrible day.
The most notorious incident was the bombing of the town of Halabja by Iraqi planes armed with mustard gas. Five thousand people died a very painful death and thousands more were injured. Many babies born were born with deformities long after the bombing.
It is of course partly because of my heritage that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan. I am proud that here in the UK and across the globe, survivors of the Kurdish genocide are bravely rebuilding their lives and their homes. Kurdistan is now the safest part of Iraq: it has a booming economy, an emerging tourist industry and a strong higher education sector.
But I believe it is hugely important that the victims of these atrocities are able to come to terms with the horrors they have endured. To do this, they need international recognition of the state-sponsored savagery inflicted on them. This is why it is so important that the ‘Anfal Campaign’ should be recognised internationally as the genocide that it truly was. Educating people about it will, I hope, help ensure that this form of hatred is never allowed to flourish again, in Iraq or indeed the rest of the world.
Finally, I think that we as Britons should be proud of our role in defending the Kurdish people after the events of the first Gulf War. John Major’s government was instrumental in securing the no-fly zone over Kurdistan which forced Saddam’s army to retreat and ended the nightmare once and for all.
I now hope that Britain will continue to be a close friend and ally of the Kurds and that our Government, like the President of Iraq itself and the Government of Sweden, will pledge to ensure that this act of genocide is recognized in this its 25thAnniversary year.
On Thursday January 17th 2013, the Kurdistan Regional Government is holding an international conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the intervention in Iraq and the 25th anniversary of the Anfal genocide operation and the chemical attack on Halabja.
Nadhim Zahawi MP will take part in a panel discussion entitled, ‘The role of the diaspora then and now’, chaired by Meg Munn MP