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The Iraqi Ba’th Regime’s Atrocities Against the Faylee Kurds

© Adel Soheil 2018 Förlag: BoD – Books on Demand, Stockholm, Sverige Tryck: BoD – BooksonDemand, Norderstedt, Tyskland ISBN: 978-91-7785-510-1

The Iraqi Ba’th Regime’s Atrocities Against the Faylee Kurds Nation-State Formation Distorted

Adel Soheil

Dedicated to the killed Faylee Kurds and those who suffered at the hands of the Ba’thists in Iraq


Introduction 1. Nation-State Formation, Homogenisation of Peoples and Nationalism Nation and Nationalism: An Overview The Ottoman Empire: Mass Expulsion and Genocide as Instruments of Nation-State Formation From Ottomanism to Arabism

1 8 11 16 22

2. Sunni Arab Dominance, 1921-1932: Early Strive for Homogenisation The Impact of Saati al-Husri The Unsuccessful Nation-State Foundation

25 30 34

3. Post-Independent Iraq Until the Revolution of 1958: Suppression of Ethnic Groups, Arab Nazi/Fascist Inclination The Assyrian Massacre Kurdish Demands Unheeded Sami Shawkat and His Legacy for the Ba’th Party

39 40 43 46

4.The Origins of Ba’th Ideology and its Rise in Iraq The Impact of Michel ‘Aflaq ‘Aflaq and Non-Dominant Ethnic Groups ‘Aflaq and Violence The Ba’th Party in Iraq: Early Years

54 58 60 63

5. The Origins of the Faylee Kurds: A Historical Overview Ethnicity and Language Posht-e-kuh During the Sasanian and the Islamic Conquests Language and Religion of the Faylee Kurds The Term Faylee Faylee Kurds in Baghdad

65 72 77 82 85 89

6. Qassem, the Kurdish Question, the Ba’thists and the Faylee Kurds 98 The Ba’thist Coup against Qassem and the Faylee Kurds 107 7.The Ba’thist Coup of July, 1968: The First Wave of Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds 113 The Shu’ubiya: Its Meaning, its Use and Implications 117 The Nationality Question of the Faylee Kurds 121 National Security and New Restrictive Measures 126 Events Leading up to the Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds 129 The Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds, 1970-1971 133 8. Saddam’s Drive for Homogenisation, 1980-1991 Saddam’s Rise to Power Arabisation of the Kurdish Population Arabisation of Kirkuk and other “Contested Areas” 9. Nation-State Formation and Mass Expulsion, 1980-1991 Conceptual Definitions and International Norms Reasons Contributing to Mass Expulsions: The State Security Reason: A) The Economic Position of the Faylee Kurds

142 145 150

160 167

B) The Political Activities of the Faylee Kurds The Mustansiriya Bomb Attack and its Aftermath The Second Wave of Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds,1980-1991 Eyewitness Accounts The Ba’th Regime’s Documents on Mass Expulsions 10. Nation-State Formation and Genocide in Iraq, 1980-1991 The Nation-State From Authoritarian to Totalitarian Regimes: The Road to Genocide Relationship Between War and Genocide: The Kurdish Dimension The Concept of Genocide. Genocide of the Faylee Kurds: Ba’th’s “Final Solution” The “Disappeared” Faylee Kurds The Riot at the Prison of Abo Ghraib The Prison of Nugrat al-Salman Ba’th Regime’s Lists of the “Disappeared” Faylee Kurds and the Year 1986

171 174 179 180 187 198 201 203 212 221 226 228 232 234

Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide











The history of the relationship between the Iraqi Ba’th party and the Faylee Kurds, an integral part of the Kurdish nation, provides ample evidence of insecurity and large-scale violations of fundamental human rights. The Ba’thists employed different strategical methods against the Faylee Kurds ranging from discrimination and social exclusion on the one extreme to mass expulsion and genocide on the other. They justified their systematic prosecution and repression of one of the main components of the Iraqi society based on national security. Saddam Hussein’s assuming the presidency of Iraq in 1979 without a doubt marked a dramatic turning point in the relationship between the Ba’thists and the Faylee Kurds. The Ba’th party and Saddam in person intensified their animosity against the Faylee Kurds during conflict-ridden relationships with Iran. Faylee Kurds were accused of being of Iranian origin, or tabaiya, a word the regime used for people it regarded as to be originally Iranian, and were then considered to be holding allegiance to Iran. They were therefore regarded by the regime as a fifth column in Iraq, who posed a threat to the security of the state. These accusations were on several occasions reiterated explicitly and implicitly in Saddam’s comments and speeches on the current domestic affairs accompanied sometimes by threat of “uprooting” (ijtithath) those who were deemed unfit for the Iraqi society by “purifying” (tathir), or “cleansing” (tanzif) the Iraqi population from them, or rendering it “homogenous” (mutajanis). The extensive Arabisation campaign was also part of the Ba’th regime’s idea of eradicating differences between the 1

Iraqi Ba’th Regime’s Atrocities Against the Faylee Kurds Iraqi populace, and to create one single Arab nation inculcated by Ba’thist ideology. The ultimate goal of the policy the Ba’thists adopted since they took power in 1968 was to form a homogenous nation-state out of a society composed of different ethnic and religious groups. This policy found its violent expression under the rule of Saddam when hundreds of thousands of the Faylee Kurds were expelled to Iran and about 22,000 of them were exterminated. The policy of social exclusion and oppression of the nondominant ethnic and religious groups in Iraq was not only practiced by the Ba’thist rulers, its root can be traced back to the foundation of the modern Iraqi state. When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled after World War 1 the Allied powers superimposed the nation-state on Iraq as well as on the countries in the Middle East as a political system, disregarding ethnic, religious and social particularities. King Faysal 1, who was installed by the British in 1921 in Iraq, together with his entourage, consisting of ex-Ottoman officers, were ardent advocates of Arab nationalism. They were proponents of Iraq’s unity and undertook under the British aegis, the project of nation building which for the most part during the mandate period entailed ignorance and when necessary violent suppression of non-Arab groups’ demands. The Kurds as the second largest ethnic group after the Arabs in Iraq even though the Sèrvres treaty concluded in 1920, entitled them to an independent state, became, after the winning of the Mosul Wilayat in 1926 and thus the consolidation of Iraqi state, incorporated into Iraq. Neither the pan-Arab in power nor the British, favoured a serious accommodation of Kurdish aspirations, and this attitude, indeed, by and large, remained so until the downfall of the Ba’th regime in 2003. Other ethnic and religious groups did not escape the same destination; such were the Assyrians, the Jews, the Christians and the Shi’ites. Despite discriminatory treatments and hostile persecutions that the Faylee Kurds experienced during different nationalist and pan-Arab regimes, they succeeded to 2

Introduction play a significant role in modern Iraq’s history. They made themselves felt in the first place in the realms of trade, commerce and politics. Several leading personalities within the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, were Faylee Kurds. They were among the founders and promoters of these parties and their commitment to the struggle for Kurdish rights attracted many Faylee Kurds to these parties. Faylee Kurds merchants and businessmen, especially those who had prospered economically in Baghdad, also provided the Kurdish national movement financial help. Faylee Kurds were also active in other political parties, mainly in the Iraqi Communist party and to a limited extent in the Da’wa party. Consequently, Faylee Kurds were viewed by the regime as a subversive group, although they did not constitute any opposition force of their own. Nor were they involved in any anti-governmental group when the regime mounted its atrocities against them in April 1980, given that at the time the regime principally had destroyed its opponents. The aim of this book is to explore the antagonistic policy the Ba’th regime pursued vis-a´-vis the Faylee Kurds and also to explain the main driving force behind the regime’s and Saddam’s political endeavour in this regard. The theoretical framework for this study is mainly derived from the theories of Heather Rae, Mark Levene and Andreas Wimmer. Rae’s theory addresses the relationship between state building and the homogenisation of people which she calls “pathological homogenisation”. According to Rae, in the process of state building the elite employs discriminatory and violent methods against those perceived as “outsiders” and hence a threat to be removed. In doing so state-makers often adopt policies against the targeted group including deprivation of citizenship, assimilation, expulsion and extermination. The end goal of these policies is to achieve unity and “sovereign


Iraqi Ba’th Regime’s Atrocities Against the Faylee Kurds identity within the state.”1 Levene analyses the occurrence of genocide within a competitive international system of nationstates on the one hand and some types of totalitarian regimes’ atrocities against ethnic/national groups who resist their idea of national unity and social coherence on the other. Andreas Wimmer approaches the question of dominant ethnic groups’ policy towards non-dominant ethnic and religious groups which generally involves social exclusion as well as forced assimilation, ethnic cleansing and ethnocide. The argument of the national security was paramount in the Ba’th regime’s rationalisation of its policy towards the Faylee Kurds. Indeed, the concept of national or state security is closely interlinked with the enterprise of nation-state formation. Ethnic dominant groups claim to act in the interests and for the security of the state and the people, and that it is incumbent on them to ensure the security of the state and the people from other non-dominant groups which they consider a real or potential threat. The consequence of this rationale is often rendering the state free from them by means of mass expulsion, ethnic cleansing and even genocide in order to achieve a homogeneous population. In the case of the Kurds and some other minorities in Iraq, these practices were also accompanied by cultural assimilation and Arabisation. In fact, the security of the state, and hence, of those exercising state power, is embodied in international law. As it is established by international norms, a sovereign state has the right to mass expulsion as long as it does not violate international obligations. These norms also legitimise withdrawal of citizenship and expulsion of those who the state regards as a threat to its security, for example due to their collaboration with a foreign power. The security argument was already enshrined in agreements concluded after World War II between the Allied powers. At the time the mass expulsion or as it was called “transfer” of minorities such as 1

Heather, Rae, State, Identities and the Homogenisation of Peoples (Cambridge: 2002), pp.3-65.


Introduction ethnic Germans and other minorities to their homelands was carried out to guarantee the security of eastern and central Europe states.2 On the transfer of the fourteen million Germans, Ian Brownlie argues that it “may be justified as a part of the sanctions and measures of security imposed by the principle members of a coalition which had fought a lawful war of collective defence against Nazi Germany.”3 The main concern of the Ba’thists was ensuring their own security and the preservation of their power which they sought to achieve through infringement of basic international human rights law and norms which prohibit arbitrary and unlawful practices by a state against its own people. Nevertheless, the ambiguous nature of the term security in certain international laws renders a clear-cut interpretation of it difficult. It allows for different interpretation depending on the type of the regime and the agency and the purpose thereof. It is not to say that the Ba’thists acted in accordance with interpretation of any law or were constrained by some others. Yet, they should have been cognisant that the international principles vested in a sovereign state the right for protecting national security. This might explain the silence of the regional and international governments on the Ba’th regime’s policy towards the Faylee Kurds. I intend to carry out the study partly within the context of the political development in Iraq since the creation of the Iraqi state in 1921. In doing so, I will illustrate the attitudes of the Sunni Arab rulers towards other ethnic and religious groups as well as the influence of Arab nationalism from its inception formulated by Saati al-Husri on Michel ‘Aflaq, the principal founder of Ba’th ideology, who in his turn influenced the panArab rulers in Iraq and, on a personal level, Saddam Hussein. Emphasising the rulers’ nationalist ideology has the advantage of highlighting the role of agency in targeting non2

See this study pp.135-137. Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (Oxford: Charendon Press, 1963), 409.



Iraqi Ba’th Regime’s Atrocities Against the Faylee Kurds dominant ethnic groups in the process of nation-state formation. The study of the relationship between the Ba’th regime and the Faylee Kurds will hopefully be more comprehensible if it is conducted within the structure and agency framework. As it will be demonstrated in this book, structure and circumstances allowed for the policies the Ba’thists conducted against the Faylee Kurds and other dissenters in Iraq. The study will also partly draw on theories of nation-state formation and homogenisation of people presented briefly above which will be discussed in more detail in the course of this case study. As such, emphasis will be put on the state makers’ repressive strategies during the reign of the Ba’th party from 1968 to 2003 in dealing with non-dominant groups, with prominence given to the Faylee Kurds, in the process of nation-state formation. That said, the central argument of this study is that the Ba’th regime in Iraq, particularly during the rule of Saddam Hussein, envisioned to create a homogenous nation-state through different practices such as Arabisation, mass expulsion and genocide in order to acquire national security as well as legitimacy for its authority. The study of the case of the Faylee Kurds within the nation-state formation can contribute towards enriching the existing literature which focuses on either genocide or mass expulsion/ethnic cleansing. The latter concepts have been used by some scholars interchangeably as they deem mass expulsion as a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. The latter term has also been used by some researchers as a euphemism for genocide. The case of the Armenians which is referred to both as a genocide and ethnic cleansing serves as a good example. In this study, as has also been discussed in chapter nine, mass expulsion and ethnic cleansing are dealt with as two separate phenomena, the similarities between them notwithstanding. The case of the Faylee Kurds encompasses, apart from mass expulsion and genocide, the practice of intensive Arabisation. The latter term has also been employed 6