The Anfal Genocide in Kurdistan

One of the issues that I thought wouldn’t be much part of my research, but that has come to have an increasingly stronger relevance in this project is the Anfal genocide. Anfal refers to a sura in the Qur’an and literary means “the spoils of war”, but was also the code name for the genocide campaign carried out by Saddam Hussein’s government in the late 1980’s, mainly in 1988.

The campaign targeted the Peshmerga, the Kurdish (freedom) fighters who sided with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). In order to curb them and punish the ones helping them, the mountain areas of Kurdistan were targeted. The campaign included chemical attacks using poison gas, detentions, mass executions, population redistribution and large scale destruction of villages and agricultural lands. People were forced to relocate to resettlement complexes or camps where they were locked in. Between 100 000 and 200 000 people were killed and approximately 4500 villages were destroyed.

The campaign were divided in eights stages where different areas were attacked. Duhok governorate were subject to the final Anfal attack, between the 25th of August and the 6th of September. This map shows the area covered and the known chemical attacks.

Areas i Duhok where chemical weapons are known to have been used.

Areas in Duhok where chemical weapons are known to have been used.

Then what does such a tragic part of history have to do with population-environment dynamics? As I mentioned, the genocide campaign forced people to move from mountain villages to cities and resettlement complexes, which led to a change in their ways of life and most likely in their income sources. Furthermore, villages and agricultural land were destroyed in the attacks, which has been reported to affect agriculture severely, and is one reason Kurdistan, despite it’s potential, is today importing much of it’s food products.

A study by Mubareka and Ehrlich (2010) shows, using remote sensing, how the land use in the Jafati Valley (in Suleymania) changed after the genocide. Agricultural land was converted to grassland (between 1987 and 1989) and then between 1989 and 2000, the main change was back to agricultural land again. They also found, in the same area, that rural woodland had been converted to grassland and cropland, indicating migration to previously uninhabited areas.

Further reading:

  • Hardi, C. (2011). Gendered experiences of genocide: Anfal survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Human Rights Watch. (1993). Genocide in Iraq – The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds. New York.
  • Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). (2010). About Kurdistan Region: Contemporary History.  (

  • Mubareka, S., and Ehrlich, D. (2010). Identifying and modelling environmental indicators for assessing population vulnerability to conflict using ground and satellite data. Ecol Indic, 10(2), 493-503.

One thought on “The Anfal Genocide in Kurdistan

  1. Pingback: New (Open Access) Publication: Cropland changes in times of conflict, reconstruction, and economic development in Iraqi Kurdistan | Population and Environment in the Middle East

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