The Anfal Campaign: A Politically Feasible Atrocity
The Anfal Campaign was an operation organized by Saddam Hussein targeting Iraqi Kurds living in Kurdistan. An incredibly brutal military operation,Anfal involved numerous chemical weapon attacks and mass executions. Anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 civilians died and thousands more were injured. The United States government was well aware of the atrocities taking place during Anfal. Yet despite this knowledge, nothing was done to stop the horrific campaign until almost six months later. This paper analyzes the reasons behind the United States’ failure to act and the implications of this inaction for humanitarianism and US politics. I conclude that during the Iran-Iraq warstrategic concerns tainted the US view of Anfal. Instead of viewing the operation as a genocidal campaign, government officials decided it was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation. Only after the war was over did US policymakers decide the campaign was a mass atrocity and work to stop it. Thus I argue geopolitical interest is often the lens through which the US government approaches foreign policy. Anfal shows that whether something is seen as a legitimate government action or an atrocity is rarely based on what is happening; it is based on where and when.
Vanessa Bernick is a senior at the University of Chicago majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. She was a Critical Language Scholarship recipient and spent the summer after her second year studying Arabic in Morocco. Last summer she worked for the NGO Amideast in Tunisia.