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Cultural trauma and genocide

Genocide targeted both men and women in different ways. Women were subject to detention, violations and abuses, while men were tortured, before being killed. Human Rights Watch gathered that men of military age were singled out and exterminated during the Anfal campaign. Women were also singled out in concentrated regions, like the Hamrin Mountain area where an estimated 2,000 women and children were executed or put into detention camps. Overall the Human Rights Watch investigation suggests that about 70 percent of all those who "disappeared" were "battle-age" males.1

A survey conducted in 2007 found that Anfal widows make up about 15 per cent of the Iraqi Kurdistan population – an exact figure was not provided.2  Remarriage is difficult if not next to impossible for Anfal widows. Many of them are dependent on their families who receive 100 USD per month from the Kurdish government as well as loans to build a house on a small area of land. But most women aren’t interested in financial compensation and demand the resources for their children to ‘build a better future.’3 

Iraqi legislation states that a woman cannot remarry until her husband's fate is determined, but in 1999, the Kurdistan parliament passed a law stating that those who disappeared during Anfal were declared dead officially. But widows were not aware of this law since it was not made public until the fall of Saddam’s government. The widows who don’t have the option of marriage as a means of support feel that they need additional compensation.

The chemical attacks were thought to have caused infertility, malformation of babies, miscarriages, and other various pregnancy complications. The Halabja project at the Kirkuk Centre works with these survivors offering therapy to those who are ostracised and their offspring who are also branded as unhealthy or detrimental to society.4   However, it should be pointed out that many survivors have gone on to have healthy children and the stigma is often unfounded.

In 2006, Ms Chnar Saad, the former KRG Minister for Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, met with British MP Ann Clwyd and Baroness Emma Nicholson to ask for assistance for the survivors of the Anfal campaign, chemical gas attacks and particularly widows. Ms. Saad also met several UK-based NGOs at the time.  NGOs with expertise in women’s rights discussed with Ms. Saad how to mobilise and empower the many Anfal widows in the Kurdistan Region, and how to gather useful data on their living conditions and problems as well as provide psychiatric and medical assistance.5

  1. Gendercide Watch. (2002) ‘Case Study: The Anfal Campaign (Iraqi Kurdistan), 1988’ accessible at:

  2. Anfal Widows Get Little Relief, (3 Mar 2008), Institute for War and Peace Reporting, IWPR,

  3. Tahir, W. (2006) ‘Anfal Widows’ Sad Fate: Kurdistan.’ Accessible at:

  4. Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims, (2011), ‘Projects for Victims of Chemical Attacks in Halabja.’ Available at:

  5. KRG. (2007) ‘Anfal Affairs minister asks British MPs and NGOs for support.’ Accessible at: