The Crimes of Saddam Hussein

By Dave Johns

1983 The Missing Barzanis

Photo of 3 missing Barzanis

In August 1983, Saddam decided to punish Kurdish clan leader Masoud Barzani for aligning his rebel Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces with the Iranians in the Iran–Iraq war. According to one account, the KDP had helped the Iranians attack northern Iraq earlier that year. In revenge, Saddam ordered his troops to abduct as many as 8,000 men and boys from the Barzani clan in the Arbil province of the Kurdish north. Troops sealed off villages, went house to house and took away every Barzani male older than 10 that they could find. The abducted Barzanis were never seen again. Until recently, all that was known about their fates was rumor –– vague stories that they had been executed somewhere in the southern deserts. Clan leader Masoud Barzani himself lost 37 family members.

The Barzanis, along with tens of thousands of Kurds, were sent to Nugra Salman, a remote prison fortress in Iraq’s southern deserts. Hunger, thirst and torture killed many imprisoned there during Saddam’s reign, and the prison was a key staging point in the regime’s systematic persecution of the opposition. Nugra Salman survivors have told of prisoners being beaten to death and thrown to dogs, tied to iron grills and left to fry in the sun, or given poisonous water to deliver a slow death. After Nugra Salman, special execution squads from Baghdad moved the Barzani prisoners to remote Bedouin encampments that acted as concentration camps. From there, batches of prisoners were bussed to execution pits in the desert.

Charges and evidence

The remains of 512 Barzani men, just a small fraction of those who “disappeared,” were unearthed from a mass grave in the remote desert triangle formed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and were laid to rest back in Kurdistan in the fall of 2005. Photos of the forensic work showed skulls with bullet holes, many wearing Kurdish headdresses typical of the Barzani clan. Documents uncovered by Dr. Mohammed Ishan, the Kurdish Human Rights Minister, mention that boys as young as eight were abducted. Investigators have also found evidence of Saddam’s direct involvement in the crime when a letter from his personal secretary was discovered in Baghdad.

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