The Anfal conference organised at the end of January 2008 in Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocidal campaign which left 180,000 Kurdish victims in 1988 drew a large audience – not just the usual scholars, Kurdish politicians and special journalists who attend these conferences, but also hundreds of Kurdish students and professionals. Among them, Hadar, a frail veiled Kurdish woman looking traditional and shy ; in fact, she is a lawyer and was a member of the group of Kurdish lawyers indicting Saddam Hussein.
Hadar Zubeir Abdulla’s childhood was an ordeal and nothing predestined her to confront Saddam Hussein in a courtroom. Her father, Zubeir Abdulla, from the leading Kurdish Barzani tribe, owned a few trucks and was running a prosperous transport company. But in 1975 after General Barzani’s resistance movement collapsed, like hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds, he became a refugee in Iran where he later married.
Misled by an amnesty proclaimed by Saddam Hussein, he went back to Iraq believing he could return home to his village of Barzan and pick up his old life. In fact the Barzani people had already been deported close to the city of Diwaniya, in central Iraq. They were living in tents, in very bad conditions, far from the city, far from everything. This is where Hadar, one of his six children, was born in 1979.
In 1981 the Barzanis were allowed to return to Kurdistan and to settle in Kouchtepe, a village 15km south of Erbil. But the worst was still to come. On 31 July 1983, Saddam Hussein, enraged by the alleged participation of the Barzani peshmergas in an Iranian offensive in Kurdistan, ordered the deportation of all the Barzani males ; 8,000 men, aged from 14 to 70, were rounded up and disappeared for ever.
Speaking of her childhood, Hadar recounts, « My father, four uncles and a number of cousins were captured and deported. Even an 11-year old relative of mine was rounded up. You cannot imagine what my mother went through. She was left alone pregnant, with five kids, the youngest one only six months old. There was no water in the village. She had to walk miles to collect water and was beaten on the way by the Iraqi soldiers. We should build a monument to our mothers. »
There was no milk available in Kouchtepe, and in 1984, when her last baby was born, Hadar’s mother decided to move to Erbil. She sold an old truck and used he money to rent a house in Erbil. After a miserable start Hadar could now lead an almost normal life and go to school. She was a bright student, and went on to university to study law.
« I hesitated between medicine and law, and I chose law with a sense of revenge, » says Hadar. « When I was a kid all the people around me were women. Once, we were in the market, my small brother grabbed a man’s leg and cried “I want a dad“ ! Maybe revenge is not good, but I remembered too many of the sad stories these women had to tell. »
Hadar graduated in 2003. « Saddam’s capture coincided with my graduation. My dream had come true, » says Hadar. After graduation, Iraqi law students must work with an established lawyer for one year as an intern. Hadar decided to join a group of Kurdish lawyers involved in Saddam’s trial.
« I was working with two male lawyers, which was against the Barzani tradition, but it was too important for me, » Hadar explains. « We were investigating the Anfal case. The investigation office was based in Baghdad, but for security reasons we worked in Erbil. The Anfal case was so big that other lawyers were asked to join in, and in the end we were 11 lawyers working voluntarily on that case without salary. We were going to the villages, interviewing the families of the victims and documenting the case. Some of the witnesses were still too afraid to speak, fearing that they would become targets. »
The Anfal trial finally started on 21 August 2006. Hadar did not attend court until 11 September 2006. « I chose a place with an excellent view of Saddam. When he entered court, my heart beat with joy. It was unbelievable that somebody as powerful as Saddam Hussein was now in a sort of cage. I could not help remembering my terrible youth… »
During the third session she attended, Hadar asked Saddam Hussein several questions, not directly but through the judge. She observed Saddam Hussein during the projection of a film on Anfal. The audience was cring but Saddam was untouched. Hadar then asked him : « How can you defend yourself ? »… Saddam stood up and answered, « When a lion is in a cage, even weak persons can hit the lion ». « I was so relieved that he was hit by my words, » comments the young lawyer.
Asked whether she got a chance to ask Saddam Hussein why he used chemical weapons against the Kurds, Hadar says, « unfortunately we could not ask him why he used them. He was hanged so quickly. Many questions remain unclear. »
Hadar claims that not one of the former government officials on trial ever asked for forgiveness. Confronted with a recording of a meeting with military commanders during which he ordered them to exterminate the Kurds, Ali Hassan al Majid said : « Yes, it is my voice, I said this… It was to frighten them. » And Sultan Hashim, former defence minister, went as far as calling one of his daughters Anfal.
Asked whether she is satisfied with the outcome of the trials, Hadar answers : « We wanted the execution of the criminals, compensation for the victims and the recognition of Anfal as a genocide. We got what we were looking for. But we feel uncomfortable because the sentences of Ali Hassan al Majid and Sultan Hashim were not carried out. »
But Hadar startled the audience of the Anfal conference declaring loudly : « Everybody speaks of Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al Majid and Sultan Hashim but there are other people involved. I can forgive the killers who exterminated several members of my family, but I cannot forgive the mostachars (the tribal chiefs of the Kurdish mercenaries). « They were the main criminals of the Anfal, she told us afterwards, Ali Hassan al Majid and Sultan Hashim could not have acted without the help of the mostachars. »
The Middle East magazine, July 2008
Umm Qasr, Iraq