ARBIL - Polishing the picture of her husband hanging on a wall, Samira Jabbar,
44, was euphoric after an Iraqi judge handed the death sentence to several men
for the massacre of tens of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s.
Samira lost her husband and four other close relatives in April 1988 when Iraqi
army units raided their village Qafade, east of Kirkuk, as part of a large-scale
offensive against the Kurdish population.
"Our men asked the women and children to leave the village so that we
wouldn't fall into the hands of the army," said Samira. "We ran away
and never saw them again. My baby never saw his father."
Sentiments run high among Kurds over the sentencing.
"They deserve to be hanged," said Samira, who still wears black clothes
19 years after her husband disappeared. "I feel like my unhappy life has
ended today. I would love to dance out of joy."
Samira and other survivors are now looking for compensation.
After 61 sessions starting last August, Iraq's special tribunal sentenced to
death three of Saddam Hussein's former aides, including his cousin Ali Hassan
al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poisonous
gas against Kurds.
Former defense minister Sultan Hashem Ahmad and former deputy chief of military
staff Hussein Rashid were also sentenced to hang. Two other co-defendants were
sentenced to serve life imprisonment, and one was released for lack of evidence.
The defendants were convicted for their involvement in the Anfal operations
carried out in eight stages from February to September 1988.
Anfal is a Koranic term meaning "spoils of wars," and was picked
to inspire Iraqi army forces in an offensive that killed up to 180,000 people,
mostly civilians. More than 3,000 villages were razed, orchards were burnt down,
and even animals were killed.
The defendants said in court that they were targeting Kurdish insurgents who
were fighting the Iraqi government during the 1980s.
International rights groups criticized the course of the trial, saying that
basic standards had not been met.
But in the eyes of Kurds the verdicts were fair enough. Public celebrations
were held in many towns across Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. People danced
on the streets and cars drove around carrying Kurdish flags.
But the extent of jubilation was less than expected. This was noticeable particularly
in Halabja town, southeast of regional capital Arbil, where around 5,000 people
were killed by chemical gases. "Chemical Ali" got his nickname mainly
for gassing this town.
"People were happy that 'Chemical Ali' was sentenced to hang," said
Omar Halabjayi, 28, a schoolteacher from Halabja. "But because 'Chemical
Ali' was not sentenced over the Halabja gassing and because our city is neglected
in terms of public services, people didn't show that much enthusiasm."
The Halabja trial will be run separately, and al-Majid will be one of the main
defendants in that case as well unless he is executed first. The verdicts
will be sent automatically for appeal within a month before a panel of judges.
The court ruled unanimously that the convicted defendants were involved in
genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The verdict appeared a significant
gain for Iraqi Kurds.
But despite the rulings Sunday, the Anfal case has not ended, and there is
a long list of people accused of complicity in the operations who will be called
for investigations by the tribunal.
Among these are Kurdish collaborators, known as Mustashar, who were heading
paramilitary forces at the time and closely assisting the Iraqi army in carrying
out the operations.
Many in Kurdistan insist that justice will not be done unless these people
are put on trial.
"It was not only these six people in the dock that carried out Anfal,"
Shwan Mahmoud, 29, a university graduate from Arbil told IPS. "The verdicts
today are only part of the justice, and whoever was involved has to face the
families of the victims in the court."