Never forget Saddam’s crimes

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Robert Halfon makes the case for recognising the genocide against the Kurds, February 22, 2013

Which people today has the most similarity with the modern Jewish story of marginalisation, demonisation, persecution, genocide, redemption and revival?
The answer is unexpected. It is a Muslim nation in the Middle East: Kurdistan.

The Kurds have faced their own Holocaust. I do not use that word glibly, but when you look at the similarities of what happened to the Kurds, the effect is not just chilling but a reminder that the Jews are not alone.

It is strange that whilst the world knows much about modern genocide – the Bosnians by the Serbs and the tragedy of Rwanda- little is known about the Kurdish story. In fact, their genocide, known as ‘Anfal’, is not even recognised as an international genocide by the United Nations – something that I, as chair of a committee of academics, lawyers and Parliamentarians, am trying to change.
The fact is that if you define genocide as scientifically planned mass murder then the Kurds suffered genocide.

Saddam and the Baathists were determined to ‘vacuum’ the Kurds from Iraq, partly because of Arab nationalism, partly a desire to gain full control over Kurdish lands.

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed in a campaign that began in 1963, carried through to 1969, 1976 and 1988. Thousands of Kurdish villages were destroyed, prison camps built and torture chambers established. In one, known as the Red House, which I have seen for myself, there was even an Auschwitz-style incinerator. Women were raped in what was known as ‘the party room’. Their foetuses and babies were burnt in the incinerator.

As with every other genocide, the methods of killing became ever more sophisticated (think shooting in the woods by the Nazis and then the concentration camps).

The culmination of the Kurdish genocide came in 1988 when Saddam Hussein decided to drop mustard gas on the Kurds, including the city of Halabja. First, the planes bombed the houses, so windows and walls would break and leave no respite. Second, the pilots let loose the mustard gas. Five thousand Kurds died, almost instantly. Thousands more were disfigured. Even in 2011, recent diggers of mass graves have died from residual mustard gas.

If it were not for the safe havens over Kurdistan established by John Major in 1991 and Tony Blair’s determination to get rid of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator would most likely have succeeded. There would be no Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq.

Unlike Nazi Germany, where many of those responsible for the Holocaust were tried, there has been little justice meted out to those responsible for the Kurdish genocide. It is said that organisers of the Anfal and some of the pilots remain at large, some even in Europe.

The Kurds have waited too long for justice. Iraq has now officially recognised the genocide. It is the duty of the rest of the world to do the same, to ensure that all the perpetrators are brought to the International Criminal Court and to help with education and remembrance, so that Saddam’s butchery can never be forgotten by future generations.

As a Jewish Parliamentarian, I believe that Jews especially have a moral duty to help other nations who have suffered from genocide. That is why I am actively participating in a historic Commons debate on the genocide of the Kurds in the Commons on 28 February. If the Motion that calls for recognition of the genocide is passed, then the UK, alongside the Swedish and Norwegian Parliaments, will have helped the world to advance a major step forward towards bringing the perpetrators to the ICC.

I have been to Kurdistan three times. On my last visit, the head of the Iraqi graves commission made a remark that has haunted me: “There is another Iraq, buried under Iraq.”

If we are to make ‘never again’ more than just a slogan, we have to mean it and ensure that the Kurdish genocide by Saddam is recognised as one of the world’s greatest crimes.

Robert Halfon MP for Harlow, is Vice Chairman of the All-Party Kurdistan Group and Chairman of the Committee to recognise the Kurdish Genocide

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