In 1979, immediately upon coming to power, Saddam Hussein silenced all political opposition in Iraq. He has also tried to silence ethnic and religious minorities. During the Anfal campaign of 1987-1988, the Iraqi regime eliminated more than four-thousand Kurdish villages and forced surviving Kurds into zones. Estimates of the number of Kurds who were killed range as high as one-hundred-eighty-two thousand. Thousands were killed with poison gas.
A U.S. State Department report, “Iraq: A Population Silenced,” documents what happened in one Kurdish town. In March 1988, Halabja [Ha-lob-JA], with a population of eighty-thousand, was attacked by the Iraqi Air Force. Over a three-day period, the Iraqis dropped mustard gas, nerve agents and V-X, a highly lethal chemical weapon. At least five-thousand civilians were killed within hours of the initial attack. Thousands more suffered and died over the next several years. The survivors continue to experience high rates of cancer, neurological damage, and psychological disorders.
Under Saddam Hussein’s orders, the security apparatus in Iraq has also routinely and systematically tortured individual citizens, including Kurds. Beatings, rape, breaking of limbs, and denial of food and water are commonplace in Iraqi detention centers. Balen Ahmed Salih [ba-lean ah-med sal-eh] is a former Iraqi prisoner who now works for the Voice of America’s Kurdish service. In a statement to the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Mr. Salih said he was arrested in 1982. He was one of a number of Kurdish students participating in a demonstration against the regime.
Mr. Salih said that he and the other imprisoned students “were subjected to all kinds of physical torture every day from eight in the evening until the next day.” Every night, said Mr. Salih, they tied his hands from behind and he was hung from the ceiling. He was also tortured by electric shocks, cigarettes being put out on his body, and by being beaten with a cable until he fainted.
One night, Mr. Salih said the Iraqi guards brought a dying man to his cell. His body had been burned with electric irons, his eyes were poked out and his nose was cut off. The director of security came to the cell door, and asked Mr. Salih, “Do you want to end up like him?”
Balen Ahmed Salih was eventually released and made his way to the U.S. For nine months, he was under the treatment of doctors for his physical and psychological wounds.
This is the nature of the regime that the world confronts. The Iraqi regime is a threat to its neighbors and to Iraq’s own citizens.