Anfal Campaign and Kurdish Genocide

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were executed during a systematic attempt to exterminate the Kurdish population in Iraq in the Anfal operations in the late 1980s. They were tied together and shot so they fell into mass graves. Their towns and villages were attacked by chemical weapons, and many women and children were sent to camps  where they lived in appalling conditions. Men and boys of ‘battle age’ were targeted and executed en masse. The campaign takes its name from Suratal-Anfal in the Qur’an. Al Anfal literally means the spoils (of war) and was used to describe the military campaign of extermination and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid. The Ba’athists misused what the Qur’an says. Anfal  in the Qur’an does not refer to genocide, but the word was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Ba’athist regime for the systematic attacks against the Kurdish population. The campaign also targeted the villages of minority communities including Christians.

But the Kurdish genocide began decades before the Anfal and has claimed countless victims. The genocide perpetrated over decades began with the arabisation of villages around Kirkuk in 1963. It involved the deportation and disappearances of Faylee Kurds in the 1970s-80s, the murder of 8,000 male Barzanis in 1983, the use of chemical weapons in the late 1980s, most notably against Halabja, and finally the Anfal campaign of 1988. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people perished, families were torn apart, many still live with severe health problems. At the same time, 4,500 villages were razed to the ground between 1976 and 1988 undermining the potential of Iraqi Kurdistan's agricultural resources and destroying Kurdistan’s rural way of life and heritage.


The term al-Anfal is the name given to a succession of attacks against the Kurdish population in Iraq during a specific period. These attacks were named  “al-Anfal” by Saddam Hussein and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as ‘Chemical Ali’),  who used this term to describe the carefully planned and orchestrated eight-staged genocidal campaign between February 23rd and September 6th 1988. In Kurdish society, the word Anfal has come to represent the entire genocide over decades.


  • An estimated 1million people in Iraq have ‘disappeared’ since the 1960s, all presumed murdered or missing.
  • Human Rights Watch reported in its 1993 comprehensive report on Anfal in Iraq that at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds are estimated to have been killed at the hands of the Ba’ath regime.1  However, since then, several sources have stated that as many as 182,000 or even more people were killed in that operation
  • Gendercide: Throughout the Kurdish Anfal, men and boys of ‘battle age’ were rounded up and ‘disappeared’ en masse. Most of these men and boys were captured, transported to mass graves and shot in mass executions. Of the total victims of Anfal, an estimated 70% were men, approximately aged 15 to 50.2
  • Thousands of women and children also vanished. Unlike the men, however, they were taken from specific areas as opposed to throughout the region. Evidence also shows that many were taken to internment camps where they were executed or died from deprivation.3
  • During the 1980s, the Kurdish population was attacked with chemical weapons, killing thousands of men, women and children indiscriminately.
  • During the Anfal, 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed. 4


  • 16th March: Halabja Day, commemoration of the chemical bombing of the town of Halabja in 1988
  • 14th April: Commemoration of Anfal genocide against the Kurds in 1988
  • 10 July: Commemoration of the 40,000 displaced civilians from Kirkuk and the Kirkuk districts in 1962
  • 31 July: Remembrance of the Barzani disappearance in 1983
  • 18 August: Remembrance of the mass killing in Surria village in 1969
  • 4 September: Remembrance of the mass killing of Fayli Kurds in 1980

The following are some of the anniversaries of the chemical bombardment of towns and villages which took place across Kurdistan in hundreds of communites, in 1984, 1987 and 1988:

  • 26, 28 February: Chemical bombardment of villages Sargalu, Yakhsamar, Guezilla, Dolli Jafayti in 1988
  • 16 March: Chemical bombardment of Halabja city in 1988
  • 18 March:Chemical bombardment of villages Abnab village and Halabja district in 1988
  • 16 April: Chemical bombardment of Shekh Wasanan village and surrounding areas in 1987
  • 17 April: Chemical bombardment of villages Qzlar, Sangar, Mawlaka in 1987
  • 20 April: Chemical bombardment of villages in the Dolli Balisan Provinces in 1987
  • 21 April: Chemical bombardment of the Qarakh district in 1987
  • 3 May: Chemical bombardment of villages Goptapa, Aakar, Maylan, Sarchma, Shekhanm Kalasher, Chamy Rezan, Qochlakh, Zare in 1988
  • 23 May:Chemical bombardment of villages Malakh Gorasher, Kandol, Bardok, Ble, Tahe, Nazanin, Balisan in 1987
  • 28 June: Bombardment of Sardasht city of eastern part of Kurdistan (Iran) in 1987
  • 1 July: Chemical bombardment of many villages in Duhok district in 1987
  • 9 August: Chemical bombardment of the villages in the Bahdinan district and Gali Baze area in 1988
  • 16 September: Chemical bombardment of Mergapan village in 1984

Anfal campaign 1988

Anfal campaign in 1988 was performed in eight stages, in which 182,000 civilians lost their lives. Thousands of villages were destroyed, bringing the total destroyed since the 1970s to 4,500 The eight stages were orchestrated as follows:

  • 21 February 1988 – 18 March 1988: The first stage of the Anfal campaign started in Dolli Jafayty Marg
  • 22 March 1988 – 14 March 1988: The second stage of the Anfal campaign started in the Qaradakh district
  • 31 March 1988 – 14 April 1988: The third stage of the Anfal campaign started in the Garmyan district
  • 20 April 1988 – 18 April 1988: The fourth stage of the Anfal started in the Askar district, Goptapa, Shwan, Qala, Swaka, Dashti Koya
  • 24 May 1988 to 31 August 1988: The fifth, sixth, seventh stages of the Anfal campaign started in Shaqlawa and Rewandiz districts
  • 25 August 1988 – 6 September 1988: The eighth stage of Anfal campaign started in the Badinan district


[ 1 ] Human Rights Watch. (1993) ‘Genocide in Iraq - The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds.’ Available at:

[ 2 ] ‘Iraq’s crime of genocide’ by Human Rights Watch 1994, p.266 - 268

[ 3 ]  ‘Iraq’s crime of genocide’ by Human Rights Watch 1994, p. 13, 96, 115, 171

[ 4 ]  Le Monde diplomatique, March 1998 by Kendal Nezan