Almost six years since the liberation of Iraq, mass graves and symbols of past atrocities committed by the former regime are still uncovered regularly. Ironically, while the second Gulf War has been overshadowed by the seemingly elusive quest to unearth weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion, with rampant debate in the UK at the current time with regards to the “legality” of the war and lack of evidence as part of the ongoing Iraq Enquiry, people are forgetting that the greatest weapon of mass destruction was Saddam Hussein and specifically for the Kurds his key henchman, Ali Hassan al-Majid or ‘Chemical Ali’ as he became notoriously dubbed.
What other systemic weapon could do destroy over 4000 villages, kill over 180,000 people in less than a year alone, amass a network of torture and repression and devastate the lives of a whole nation?
As we rejoice at justice for Kurdistan, with al-Majid executed, we realise that no amount of death of any barbarians can ever redeem the plight of thousand of innocent civilians whose only crime was to be a Kurd. However, this justice severed in a way that he seldom provided to any of his victims draws this dark chapter to a close.
The new prominence of the Kurdistan Region is a testimony of the Kurdish refusal to lose hope and never accept the cruelty of its occupiers. We shall be forever grateful for the US liberation but must never lose perspective.
Who can forget that it was the west that provided the chemical weapons of the Halabja atrocity? At the time of the Halabja massacre, much of the West blamed Iranian agents. Saddam Hussein was a monster encouraged and empowered by Western powers for the purpose of their strategic goals at the time. The least they could do was rid the country of their mess. It may have come years late and at an immense human cost, but the Baathist regime was finally toppled, yet elements in the West still argue that there was no basis for war!
What proof do western intuitions wish to seek about capability of the Baathist regime? Heaps of rubble still dots the Kurdish landscape where villages once stood. While al-Majid is dead, thousands of Halabjan’s suffer in the aftermath of the chemical gas attacks with birth defects, illness and suffering. The affects of weapons of mass destruction did not die with the 5000 innocent civilians of Halabja, they are in affect even today.
Halabja was the highlight of Baathist Anfal (or “Spoils of War”) campaign. It was designed as a “final solution” to the Kurdish headache and remarkably al-Majid brazenly claimed that he would not have stopped if he was not “constrained” by Saddam. How merciful of Saddam. The ironies are simply endless.
The Anfal operation was a chilling echo of Adolf Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews, with al-Majid the personification of Heinrich Himmler of the Nazi machine. Illustrating the merciless nature of the campaign in Kurdistan, even animals did not slip the grasp of Baathist terror.
The execution of al-Majid makes the current bitter debate over barring of ex-Baathist from running in the national elections later this year even more interesting. The process should be evidently transparent and non-sectarian. However, US bartering, anxiety and running to resolve the issue is ironic. Undoubtedly, there are some individuals on the existing list that may have been barred with a hidden agenda in mind, but for some proven ex-Baathists who were the tools of Saddam’s barbaric orchestra, the notion that they have been endured a miscarriage of justice is even more ironic.
This is not to assume that all such figures were directly responsible for actions or policies of a dictatorial regime, and the process of vetting candidates must be done with utmost sensitivity and caution.
It is conveniently overlooked that the “barred” list is not exclusively made up Sunni’s. This is only drummed up to induce a sectarian flavour to the dispute and thus snare the focus of the US. Many prominent Baathist in the Saddam apparatus were Shiites or even Kurds.
Although, the US now has a key stake in Iraq and has made recent promises to their Kurdish allies over assistance in resolving ongoing disputes with Baghdad, Kurds need no reminders that the present reality is no prelude to any future status or standing.
As we mark a dawn in the Kurdish renaissance, let us never forget the immense sacrifice of thousands of Kurds. It was their passion, bravery and determination that stopped the Baathist machine and not the West. Whilst Kurds are ever thankful for the ousting of Saddam which has allowed the recent remarkable progress to ensue, it is such Kurds who undertook the greatest sacrifice that should be heralded for this new chapter and the serving of justice.
Kurdistan may be dramatically changing and modernising, with fast growing expectations. Let’s work to see Kurdistan prosper but let us never take one eye off our past and the scarring this has inflicted.
Al-Majid maybe be dead, but beware many other al-Majid’s can be created if we rest on our laurels. Even the deadliest of plants or flowers still start from a seed, which only requires watering (in the case of politics, ideological following). As long as the seed exists, the plant may well come to fruition one day.