Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Iraq and Occupied Kuwait
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||1 January 1992|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Iraq and Occupied Kuwait, 1 January 1992, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca591e.html [accessed 31 May 2016]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Events of 1991
Human Rights Developments
Throughout 1991, Iraq was under an international public microscope. A welcome result of this process was increased public awareness of the deplorable state of human rights in the country, a seemingly impenetrable one-party state where, until its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, rights abuses largely escaped sustained scrutiny and international opprobrium. Early in 1991, world attention was focused on the consequences of the Iraqi government's defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Foremost among these were Resolution 660 of August 2, 1990, condemning Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and demanding the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi military forces, and Resolution 678 of November 29, 1990, authorizing the use of force after January 15, 1991 to end the Iraqi occupation.
When Saddam Hussein refused to quit Kuwait, the international military coalition assembled by the United States moved to enforce the U.N. resolutions: Operation Desert Storm began with a massive airborne assault on targets in Iraq during the early morning hours of January 17. U.S. and allied violations of the laws of war during this forty-three-day international armed conflict are discussed in the chapter on the United States; Iraqi violations are discussed in this chapter. The first section of this chapter provides an overview of human rights abuses in occupied Kuwait by Iraqi forces in January and February. It is followed by a discussion of human rights developments in Iraq, and concludes with an assessment of Iraq's missile attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War.
Iraqi-Occupied Kuwait: January-February 1991
On January 2, 1991, the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait entered its sixth month. By that time, Iraq had completed its control over Kuwait; all institutions were by then run by Iraqi officers, including hospitals, colleges and the media. In the first two weeks of 1991, the Iraqi authorities continued their policy of appropriating Kuwaiti public property, but the start of the war on January 17 slowed this process. As Iraqi troops hastily retreated from Kuwait in the last week of February, they set on fire a number of government buildings, including the National Assembly and the Foreign Ministry, and a number of luxury hotels including the Holiday Inn, the Sheraton, and the seaside SAS Hotel.
During January and February, free expression and assembly in occupied Kuwait remained severely restricted. Kuwaiti television had ceased operation on the day of the Iraqi invasion and Kuwaiti radio was used to retransmit Baghdad radio programming. The only newspaper permitted to publish was al-Nida' (the Call), the occupiers' mouthpiece, which was produced using the requisitioned facilities of the pre-invasion Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas (the Spark). On January 1, al-Nida' itself was suddenly shut down without any stated reason. A number of small publications were printed and clandestinely distributed, including Sumoud al-Sha'ab (Steadfastness of the People).
The Iraqi occupying forces reacted ruthlessly to the growing threat of an allied attack after war was authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 678 of November 29, 1990. The Iraqi forces also reacted to violence blamed on the Kuwaiti resistance, including car bombs. For example, al-Farwaniyya Hospital records show that two patients, one of whom was an Iraqi, were treated for injuries they received when a bomb exploded on December 20 in a public market in the Hasawi district. On December 28, a car bomb exploded in the same market, killing four Iraqi soldiers and injuring twelve Iraqis and eighteen others, according to hospital records.
Summary executions increased during January and February, primarily in reaction to acts of armed resistance. Following a practice especially common during September and October 1990, Iraqi authorities ordered highly publicized executions of suspected resistance members. On January 12, 1991, Iraqi forces arrested Khaled al-Ahmed, 25, his brother Ahmed, 22, and his brother-in-law Abdel Rahman – all three former employees of Kuwaiti military or security forces. They were taken from Khaled's home on suspicion of armed resistance, a charge their family did not question when interviewed by Middle East Watch. According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Middle East Watch, the bodies of the three were brought back and thrown in front of the family home on February 5; the three had just been executed and their bodies bore signs of torture.33 Following another Iraqi practice, the family was told not to remove the bodies for several hours.
On January 14, Asrar al-Qabandi's just-executed and mutilated body was dumped in front of her family home. A Bahraini-born thirty-year-old woman, she was the most celebrated of Kuwait's women resistance figures. She had been detained since November 4 and accused of maintaining satellite-phone contact with the Kuwaiti government-in-exile and receiving large sums of money from that government to finance the resistance; neither charge was contested by her former comrades interviewed by Middle East Watch.
On January 17, at the start of the Desert Storm military operation, a member of the Kuwaiti resistance fired at Iraqi soldiers operating an anti-aircraft gun placed on top of a school building that was also being used as an Iraqi command post.34 Iraqi forces retaliated against the entire block from which the shots were fired. All houses in Block Four, a low-income section of al-Rumaithiyya, a southern suburb of Kuwait City, were searched. The house in which the gunman had been hiding was methodically burned. In a second house that was also burned, five resistance fighters were killed in a shootout, according to neighbors.35
Following the shootout, Iraqi forces arrested seven men who lived on Block Four. One of the seven arrested returned alive on February 20; one, Nasser Hamza Ali, is missing; and the other five were killed in detention. Those killed were Walid al-Saleh, 30; Hamza Abbas, 22, and his brother, Amir, 21; and Hamza Muhammed Ali, 56, and his son-in-law, Ali ibn Nikhi, 29. On January 22, the bodies of the executed men were brought back to the neighborhood and left for two days in a visible place on the block before relatives were allowed to bury them. Witnesses told Middle East Watch that the bodies of two of the men bore clear signs of gruesome torture. The body of Ali ibn Nikhi, one of the murdered men, had one eye gouged and the fingernails of one hand extracted, according to Mas'ud Ali, a brother-in-law who claimed the body.
The exact number of those killed by Iraqi forces in January and February has yet to be determined.36 Over 280 people are still missing after having been arrested or disappeared during that period. If a large number of the missing turn out to have been killed by Iraqi forces, the number of extrajudicial executions may prove to be higher than in previous months. But there is insufficient evidence to support the widely circulated reports by the Kuwaiti government-in-exile and repeated by U.S. officials that substantially larger numbers were executed in retaliation for the beginning of Desert Storm on January 17.37
Arrests during January and February 1991 increased considerably, after a noticeable decline during November and December 1990. As one indication of this trend, registration records at the Kuwaiti Association to Defend War Victims show a more than two-fold increase of arrests in January over December. More than 180 of those arrested during January have yet to be accounted for. Those detained between January 1 and February 18, if they were not killed, met the same fate as other civilian detainees arrested since the beginning of the occupation. There are numerous reports from this period of prisoners being subjected to severe beating, electric shock and extraction of fingernails to force them to confess to crimes or provide information on resistance activity.
In February, Iraq started a large roundup of Kuwaitis, culminating in the arrest of around two thousand Kuwaiti males who were seized at random between February 19 and 23, during the last week before Iraq's hasty retreat from Kuwait.38 Around one hundred of those arrested during February remain unaccounted for. The rest have been repatriated. Those seized during this roundup who have returned appear not to have been tortured. However, their places of detention were overcrowded and there was inadequate food and medical care, leading to at least one fatality.
During the entire Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, over ten thousand were either detained by Iraqi forces or disappeared and were believed detained. They include prisoners-of-war captured in the initial invasion of Kuwait as well as civilians detained throughout the seven-month occupation. Those captured were primarily Kuwaiti citizens and stateless Arab residents of Kuwait known as Bedoons, but included other residents of Kuwait as well. Most were deported to Iraq. In the case of civilian detainees, deportation is a clear violation of Article 48 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.39
Until the end of the war, Iraq did not allow visits to the prisoners by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Starting in the last months of 1990, family visits were allowed. In the case of the over six hundred Kuwaiti army officers detained in Ba'qouba, outside of Baghdad, treatment at the time improved considerably and family visits were thereafter allowed regularly. However, because of the long distance involved and the dangers of traversing the route between Kuwait and Baghdad once the air war began, few visitors were able to make the trip.
On January 21, CBS correspondent Bob Simon and three of his colleagues were captured by Iraqi forces near the Kuwaiti-Saudi border. They were subsequently taken to Baghdad where they were detained until March 2, when Iraq released them after a high-level international campaign to gain their release.40
After the war, most of those known to have been in Iraqi custody were repatriated. Between March and September, 4,219 prisoners-of-war were repatriated from Iraq to Kuwait through the ICRC. The ICRC also arranged the repatriation of civilian detainees, including 935 in March. Also in March, Iraq repatriated directly to Kuwait 1,174 civilian detainees who had been rounded up in the last days of the occupation starting on February 19. Hundreds more managed to escape Iraqi prisons during the March uprising in southern Iraq, and returned on their own to Kuwait. But there are still many more unaccounted for.
The Iraqi and Kuwaiti governments have expressed opposing positions on the issue of the missing. On October 13, the Kuwaiti government issued a report and an updated list showing 2,101 missing persons believed to be in Iraqi custody. The list includes 1,587 Kuwaiti citizens, 354 Bedoons and 160 people of other nationalities; of these, 214 are women and 115 are children below the age of twelve. The list does not include more than one thousand names, mostly Bedoon, Jordanian and Palestinian former residents of Kuwait, that had been listed by relatives as missing.41
The Kuwaiti Association to Defend War Victims registered 1,182 missing persons as of September 7, 1991, the majority of whom are believed by the Association to be in Iraqi custody. This list includes 699 Kuwaiti citizens and 318 Bedoons.
There is extensive witness testimony that most of those on the Association's list were in fact detained by Iraq and that some of them were recently seen in Iraqi prisons. Despite this evidence, Iraq denies that it is holding any Kuwaitis against their will. It has so far rebuffed attempts by third parties to help in releasing known detainees and accounting for the missing. In an August 29, 1991 letter to the U.N. secretary general, Iraq's Foreign Minister Ahmed Hussein claimed that Iraq was not holding any detainees from Kuwait. He added that there were 3,389 Kuwaitis in Iraq whose repatriation is delayed by the Kuwaiti government's refusal to allow their return.
Under international law, Iraq is obligated to account for all those detained by its forces, by providing complete information to the ICRC and the families about the fate of those detained. While the omission from the Kuwaiti government's list of the names of over one thousand Bedoon, Jordanian and Palestinian former residents of Kuwait is unjustified, Iraq is not entitled to use this failure or the Kuwaiti government's refusal to repatriate one group of former Kuwaiti residents as a reason not to provide information on the remainder, as it at times has suggested it is doing.
For a substantial number on the Kuwaiti government list, there is no evidence that they were arrested by Iraqi occupying forces. But the fact that they went missing during the occupation – a phenomenon unknown in Kuwait before the Iraqi invasion – places a clear obligation on the Iraqi government to try to locate them by vigorously searching its occupation records.
In its October 13 report, the Kuwaiti government responded to the Iraqi assertion regarding the Kuwaitis whose repatriation was rejected by the Kuwaiti government. The Kuwaiti report claimed that ninety-nine percent of those people left Kuwait on their own and were not detained by Iraq. It also claimed that around 2,900 of them were Bedoons of "Iraqi origin" who have no "legitimate residence" in Kuwait. For these reasons, Kuwait claimed, it was under no obligation to allow their reentry.
The Uprising In Iraq
In the immediate wake of Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, a new human rights crisis unfolded, this time in war-ravaged Iraq itself. Residents of at least two dozen southern Iraqi cities, joined in many cases by disaffected returning soldiers, rose up against the government in early March, ousting government forces from nearly all of those cities. Similar rebellions broke out within days throughout the predominantly Kurdish north of the country.
In their counterattack and when consolidating their recapture of these cities, government troops killed thousands of unarmed civilians by firing indiscriminately into residential areas; executing people on the streets and in homes and hospitals; rounding up persons, especially young men, during house-to-house searches, and arresting them without charge or shooting them en masse; and targeting fire from attack helicopters on unarmed civilians as they fled the cities.
For their part, rebels and their sympathizers in both northern and southern cities killed hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the security forces and others allegedly working for the Baath Party or the government. While many were killed in battle, others were summarily executed after they had surrendered and were taken into custody, sometimes after summary people's "trials."
The Iraqi authorities have charged the rebels with the uprising-related summary executions of over 2,500; in addition, they claim to have discovered mass graves in Suleimaniyya (bodies of 370 "citizens"), Kut Sawadi (150 bodies of "persons who had been killed by the groups participating in the disturbances") and Kushk al-Basri (fifty bodies).42 The Western press also recorded rebel abuses. For example, The Washington Post interviewed a Republican Guard officer from the unit that recaptured Karbala in southern Iraq who reported that "dozens of senior officials, including the chief of police, top security agents, the deputy governor and high-ranking members of the Baath Party, were killed in an outpouring of vengeful fury. Captain Abed said many of the victims had their throats cut and bodies burned by the insurgents, while Shiite mobs ransacked their houses and stole food supplies."43
There were reports of looting by rebels and their sympathizers in Basra and a few other cities, but this seems to have been less widespread and systematic than the looting carried out by government troops upon their recapture of cities. Many refugees from the relatively prosperous northern cities likened the plundering by soldiers of stores and households to the looting of Kuwaiti private property by Iraqi soldiers during the early days of the occupation of that country.
No reliable figures are available concerning the number of persons killed or wounded by either side during the uprising. Iraqi authorities have not released such statistics.44 One journalist reported from Iraq that the government "has forbidden Shi'as from displaying traditional signs of mourning – black flags and paper streamers printed with the names of the dead – because it would enable visitors to count the numbers of Shi'a 'martyrs.'"45 But senior Arab diplomats told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper al-Hayat in October that Iraqi leaders were privately acknowledging that 250,000 people were killed during the uprisings, with most of the casualties in the south.46 Independent investigation to verify this figure has not been possible, nor has it yet been possible to determine how many of these casualties were noncombatants.
The turmoil began in Basra on March 1, one day after the cease-fire in Kuwait, and spread within days to Karbala, Najaf, Hilla, Nasiriyya, al-Amara and other mostly Shi'a cities of southern Iraq. The rebellion in the north began on or about March 5; by March 21, Kurdish insurgents controlled every major city in the north except for Mosul, which has an Arab majority.
The rebellions followed a general pattern. On the day of a city's uprising, rebels and masses of civilians ousted government forces from their headquarters, prisons and barracks, killing or capturing them or forcing them to flee. The revolts were aided by soldiers who either switched sides or deserted, as well as by some degree of planning during the preceding weeks and months by underground opposition groups.47 However, the outpouring of popular support for the uprising was largely spontaneous. It was fueled by anger at government repression and the devastation wrought by two wars in a decade, and a perception that Iraqi security forces were uniquely vulnerable after being crushed by the U.S.-led forces.
After seizing power, both Shi'a and Kurdish rebels freed prisoners from known and hitherto secret prisons. Many of the freed prisoners were found to be in poor health as a result of ill-treatment, and some showed scars that they attributed to torture.
The rebels then controlled the "liberated" cities for a number of days, while government troops – primarily the elite Republican Guard and regular soldiers – regrouped outside the city limits and began shelling the city from tanks and firing missiles and automatic fire from helicopters.48 Although the fire was sometimes directed at suspected rebel strongholds, little effort was made to limit civilian casualties, and on many occasions throughout the country civilians were directly targeted.
The rebels were unable to resist for long. The army, and particularly the Republican Guard, largely remained loyal to Saddam. Their counteroffensive was buoyed by the failure of the U.S.-led alliance to prevent Iraqi use of helicopter gunships.49
Meanwhile, the rebels had little experience defending captured territory and were armed only with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and a few heavier weapons captured from government forces. They were easily outgunned and outmaneuvered.
As the government forces closed in on a city, thousands of civilians began to flee, terrorized by the indiscriminate shelling and fearful of the vengeance that Iraqi troops would wreak. Over 1.5 million Iraqis escaped from the strife-torn cities during March and early April, crossing into Turkey and Iran, or fleeing into zones controlled by Kurdish rebels (pesh merga) in the north or into the marshes in the south, beyond the reach of government forces.
Their exodus was sudden and chaotic, with thousands fleeing on foot, on donkeys, or crammed onto open-backed trucks and tractors. Many, including children, died or suffered injury along the way, primarily from adverse weather, unhygienic conditions and insufficient food and medical care. Some were killed by army helicopters, which deliberately strafed columns of fleeing civilians in a number of incidents in both the north and south.50 Others were injured when they stepped on mines that had been planted by Iraqi troops near the eastern border during the war with Iran, and in rural areas from which the government had forcibly relocated Kurds during the 1980s.
The extent of the land-mine problem became apparent during a Middle East Watch mission to northern Iraq in September. Casualties from land mines during 1991 easily exceeded five thousand and may have topped ten thousand. The Suleimaniyya City Hospital alone recorded the treatment of 1,652 mine victims between March and mid-September, of which 397 underwent amputations. Many of the victims were Kurdish refugees who had returned to Iraq from Iran and Turkey and attempted to make their homes in unmarked minefields.
After bombarding a rebel-held city from afar, Iraqi tanks and infantrymen recaptured city after city, until they were back in control of all cities except for those in the "safe haven" around Zakho and Dohuk created by the U.S.-led alliance to lure Kurdish refugees back from Turkey, and cities in a rebel-controlled swath near the northeastern border with Iran.
Upon regaining control, Iraqi troops engaged in widescale looting and atrocities against the civilian population. The violence was heaviest in the south, where a smaller portion of the local population had fled than in Kurdish areas, owing partly to the danger of escaping through the south's flat, exposed terrain. Those who remained in the south were at the mercy of advancing government troops, who went through neighborhoods, firing indiscriminately and summarily executing hundreds of young men.51
There were many variations to this general pattern. Basra was the scene of chaotic, pitched battles, but never fell completely into rebel hands. In other cities, the rebels ousted the security forces with little difficulty. Similarly, the army recaptured some cities, such as Karbala and Najaf, only after bitter fighting, but swept into other cities, such as Suleimaniyya, with little resistance.
Refugees alleged to Middle East Watch and others that Iraqi helicopters dropped a variety of ordnance on civilians, including napalm and phosphorus bombs, chemical agents and sulfuric acid. Representatives of human rights and humanitarian organizations who saw refugees with burn injuries or photographs of such injuries were unable to confirm the source of these burns. However, doctors who examined wounded Iraqis said that some of their burns were consistent with the use of napalm.52
What follows is a description of human rights abuses committed during March in a sampling of cities, drawn primarily from interviews conducted by Middle East Watch with Iraqi refugees in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and London, as well as from press accounts and reports by other organizations.
Chaos reigned in many neighborhoods, as loyalist troops and bands of rebels and army deserters dodged snipers and fought at close quarters. At the outset, rebels slaughtered persons suspected of being government officials, Baath Party members and secret police. Meanwhile, the army rolled tanks through residential neighborhoods, firing at residential buildings and at civilians. Troops entered homes and machine-gunned civilians. The streets were littered with bodies, and loyalist troops conducted mass executions in public squares of persons who had been rounded up. Hussein Ali Kazem, 22, told The Washington Post that he watched the public execution of some four hundred people in central Basra before he fled the city on March 6. "Their hands were tied, then they tied them to tanks and shot them," he told reporters in Safwan. "The bodies are still there."53 Two refugees interviewed by Middle East Watch described watching separate incidents in which troops rounded up civilians, bound their hands and feet, attached rocks to them and tossed them into the Shatt al-'Arab waterway.
There were several independent reports that the troops used human shields to protect the tanks, either tying women and children to the tanks or forcing them to walk in front. One refugee interviewed by Middle East Watch in London saw a column of twenty tanks on March 8 coming from al-'Ashar toward the city center, with three children tied to the lead tank.
Both the rebels and the army engaged in looting in Basra, a city where war and the U.N.-imposed sanctions had created shortages and high prices.
Although the army had the upper hand within five days of the outbreak of the rebellion, it was not until April that it had completely subdued resistance in the city. By that time, the uprising had greatly compounded the devastation that Basra had suffered during the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars.
The army's counteroffensive began in earnest more than one week after the uprising. Its tactics were similar to those employed against other rebel-held cities: an initial phase of firing ground-to-ground and helicopter-launched missiles indiscriminately at civilian areas, followed by the entry of troops into the city, house-to-house arrests, the public execution of suspected rebels, and the invasion of Saddam Hospital and the slaughter of patients and medical staff. One refugee from Najaf told Middle East Watch, "If any resistance emanated from a house, that house was demolished." Refugees from other cities also described incidents of troops punitively demolishing houses, a form of summary collective punishment.
The last rebel stronghold in Najaf was the Tomb of the Imam Ali, one of the most important Shi'a pilgrimage sites in the world. The army pounded the shrine with mortar fire before entering it and shooting both rebels and civilians who had held out there. Other religious shrines and schools in the area were also damaged by shells, and others were demolished after the suppression of the uprising.
One young man described to Middle East Watch watching as soldiers went through a group of young men in their custody outside a former hotel, separating those suspected of participating in the uprising and executing them. The witness fled the scene after seeing four of the men shot dead. An Iraqi military officer who deserted told The Washington Post of a massacre in Najaf by loyalist troops: "When the Iraqi army entered ... the families that had fled the fighting returned with their children. They lined them up and executed them." Among the victims were his wife and three children.54
The army also rounded up Shi'a clerics in Najaf, including the ninety-five-year-old Grand Ayatollah abu al-Qassem al-Kho'i, the revered Shi'a cleric with a worldwide following. A member of the Khoei family reported to Middle East Watch that some 105 individuals affiliated with the Grand Ayatollah – relatives, staff, religious students and some senior clerics, including eighty-nine-year-old Ayatollah Mortaza Kadhumi Khalkhali, a top aide of the Grand Ayatollah – were arrested in Najaf between March 20 and March 23.55 A September report by the U.N. special rapporteur on Iraq notes some of these detentions. Iraq's October 25 reply to the report states that of the sixty-two associates of the Grand Ayatollah reportedly arrested in March and taken to Baghdad, four "are alive and enjoying full freedom" but "the competent authorities have no information concerning the others." Iraqi Shi'a sources told Middle East Watch on December 19 that the Grand Ayatollah, whose home in Najaf continues to be under surveillance by the Iraqi security forces, is living in extreme distress due to the destruction of the religious schools in Najaf and Karbala, concern about the fate of his missing family members, staff and students, and his lack of contact with followers around the world.
Within one day, government tanks and helicopters began pounding the city with indiscriminate fire. When army troops entered the city they encountered fierce resistance. There were pitched battles at al-Husseini hospital, which was used to treat wounded rebels. A physician from Karbala who fled to Iran told Middle East Watch:
[The hospital] was run by the rebels. Doctors there treated the wounded, people donated blood and whatever medicine they had at home. The army, when it attacked, concentrated its artillery on the hospital. When they invaded, they rounded up doctors and nurses, tied their hands and blindfolded them. They were later released, only to be rounded up again later and killed. The rebels put up strong resistance in defending the hospital.
The shrines of Abbas and Hussein, which became the city's rebel headquarters, were heavily damaged by artillery fire and by rockets fired from helicopters between March 7 and 11, as were the buildings near them. Further damage occurred when Iraqi troops burst into the shrines, in which rebels and civilian sympathizers had barricaded themselves. Hundreds of rebels and their supporters are said to have died during the siege, either from the artillery and rocket fire, or from the gunfire of the invading troops.
When security forces established daytime control again on about March 19, they took vengeance on both rebels and civilians who had not fled. They moved from district to district, rounding up young men suspected of being rebels, shooting some of them on the spot and executing others in large groups. In both Najaf and Karbala, there were reports that Shi'a clerics who walked on the streets were shot on sight, and that young men were "systematically collected," taken to stadiums, and never seen again. Summary killings occurred "in a manner that made a point," one Iraqi Shi'a told Middle East Watch. "Dead bodies were mined and they were not allowed to be removed from the streets." John Simpson, foreign affairs editor of the British Broadcasting Corporation, wrote about the authorities' round-up of the clerics earlier in the year. He visited Najaf in late April and found the city's center deserted: "Thousands of Shi'a clerics have been rounded up in Najaf and Karbala and disappeared," he wrote. "Normally the streets would be full of them. Not now."56
Civilians fleeing Najaf and Karbala were strafed by helicopters as they traveled on the road between the two cities. A refugee from Najaf who was interviewed by Middle East Watch in Iran that on March 17, "People were told on the loudspeakers to evacuate the city, for their own safety, within 24 hours and head north, in the direction of Karbala. When thousands of people had gathered in the northern outskirts of the city – it was afternoon already, around 3 o'clock, and they were mostly women and children – helicopters opened fire from machine guns at them. Between 250 and 300 were killed."
The ouster of government forces came in an uprising led by a small contingent of pesh mergas. Uprisers overwhelmed the government forces who had sought refuge in the headquarters of the dreaded security service (mudiriyat al-amn), capturing and summarily executing agents of the security forces and freeing prisoners held in grim cells. An English teacher recounted that the pesh merga and their supporters "took three hundred Baathist prisoners.... We punished those who had martyred our brothers and looted our homes. We killed them without trial.... During the first days after the pesh merga took over, some escaped. We caught many and killed them by shooting them and with axes. The mothers of martyrs killed twenty-one escaping soldiers with axes and stones."
During the next three weeks, Suleimaniya remained under pesh merga control. Kurdish refugees streamed into the city from other Kurdish towns that were coming under attack.
The army's assault on Suleimaniyya began around March 31. Troops began firing rockets from outside the city into residential neighborhoods, and dropping rockets on residential areas from helicopters. Sensing defeat, rebel leaders urged the population to leave before the army attempted to enter the city. The city emptied between April 2 and 4, and government forces easily retook the city. The troops then engaged in widescale looting of homes and stores, according to refugees from Suleimaniyya who later returned to the city.
By mid-March, Iraqi forces already had been ousted from several Kurdish and southern cities. Fearing that Kirkuk would be next, Baghdad dispatched reinforcements to Kirkuk.
On about March 10, the security forces placed predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods of the city under curfew and rounded up several thousand men from their homes, ranging in age from young teenagers to men in their fifties. The men, all of them nearly without exception Kurdish, were transported out of the city and held in vast compounds without charge or trial under harsh conditions, although they were neither interrogated nor tortured. Most were released in mid-April but were told that they would not be permitted to reenter Kirkuk. Many of the men traveled instead to Kurdish-controlled areas or to refugee camps in Turkey and Iran.
After the massive roundup of Kurdish men, Iraqi troops began demolishing houses in Kurdish neighborhoods, using dynamite and bulldozers. In testimony corroborated by others, a university student from Kirkuk told Middle East Watch, "Troops came to Arassa, a neighborhood that is strongly pro-pesh merga. They took the women to Kara Angir [a town north of Kirkuk], and told them, 'Go to the pesh merga.' The next morning, the forces demolished the houses. Arassa is totally destroyed, all the houses have been destroyed."
Nevertheless, Kirkuk erupted in rebellion on March 19 and by the next day was in pesh merga hands. Unlike in Suleimaniyya, however, their victory was promptly contested. Beginning on March 21, Iraqi tanks stationed outside the city began pounding residential areas with artillery rounds day and night, while Sekhoi helicopters flew overhead by day firing missiles.
After a week of bombardment, Iraqi tanks entered the city on March 27. Among their first acts was to invade Saddam Hussein Hospital and to slaughter patients and medical staff, opening fire indiscriminately, slashing patients with knives and, according to eyewitnesses, throwing people out of windows. As in other cities, the hospital had been filled with both rebels and civilians who had been injured during the fighting. A primary school teacher told Middle East Watch, "When the tanks entered Kirkuk on March 27, they went to Saddam Hussein Hospital. My house is very near the hospital. About 150 meters away from me, I saw troops enter the hospital and then I saw pesh merga being thrown out of the windows. After they threw them on the ground, they shot those who were not dead from the fall."
As they consolidated their control, troops ordered the remaining Kurdish population of Kirkuk, predominantly women and children, to leave the city within twenty-four hours. Those who fled at this late stage reported widespread looting of homes by government troops and Arabs who had driven north from central Iraq. Kurds who attempted to return to the city in April were turned back at checkpoints that had been set up outside the city.
The Iraqi government was quick to assert that it had overcome the challenge of the insurgents, although reports of rebel attacks against government forces and installations continued throughout the year. Shi'a refugees in southwestern Iran boasted to Middle East Watch in late April that fighters were reinfiltrating Iraq and launching nighttime attacks on military targets on the roads near Basra.
Ongoing Government Abuses
On March 16, President Saddam Hussein castigated the rebels as "malicious traitors infiltrated from abroad" and declared that the uprising in the south had been crushed.57 On April 5, Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) issued a statement, announcing "the complete crushing of acts of sedition, sabotage, and rioting in all towns of Iraq." In the same communique, the RCC announced that it had "decided to pardon all Iraqi Kurds in the autonomous region for any behavior that they could be accountable for by law – except crimes of murder, violations of honor, and theft – that took place during the riots and acts of treachery."58 On April 20, an RCC decision extended a similar amnesty to all Iraqis involved in the uprisings.59
There is evidence to suggest that the amnesties were honored in the breach, particularly in the south where government forces had greater control. Saddam emphasized in an April 13 speech in Arbil that those suspected of certain offenses during the uprisings would be dealt with harshly: "[T]he orders the authorities have received are very clear: go after the killers, who violate the people's honor, and those who stole the state's assets and have not returned them. We give no guarantees to these people."60
There were also post-uprising reports of arrests and summary executions throughout the country, purges in the Iraqi military and Baath Party,61 and the detention of security-force personnel considered "soft" during the uprising.62 A representative of the Iraqi Kurdistan Front told Middle East Watch that some four hundred Iraqi soldiers who had returned to government lines after being captured by Kurdish irregulars in August were executed on charges of having failed to put up effective resistance to the enemy.
Government opponents charged that despite the amnesties, many Iraqis had been arrested and taken to detention centers, some of them secret, in Baghdad and elsewhere. The National Security center in the Radhwaniyya district of Baghdad was identified as one such facility. In a June press release, the London-based al-Khoei Foundation claimed that some 150,000 people had been arrested in southern Iraq, including 15,000 from Najaf, a center of the uprising. The U.N. special rapporteur's September memorandum highlighted that, despite the amnesties, arrests were continuing:
[A]llegations remain that the amnesties are ... used as a means of rounding up members of opposition groups, and that the terms of the amnesties are frequently violated by government agents who arrest certain persons returning out of places of hiding.... Several reports allege that persons already detained, as with several of those arrested during (and in violation of) the amnesties, rather than being released have actually 'disappeared' in the custody of the Government.
The special rapporteur noted "significant and repeated allegations" regarding Kurds from Arbil who had returned under the April amnesty and "were detained, ... taken to the city stadium, subjected to punishments or executed, or have subsequently disappeared."
Iraqis who fled to U.S.-controlled Safwan in southern Iraq came with reports of executions in Basra as late as May. The Washington Post reported that, according to refugees, "Iraqi troops are still seizing rebels, and civilians with any rebel links, after extracting confessions from friends and neighbors."63 A teacher told The Post: "They shoot them and throw their bodies in the street to make people scared of doing anything." A truck driver claimed: "They used an execution squad right in the main square. They would blindfold their victims and then shoot them, just leaving the bodies there." One refugee said that the authorities were "torturing people into giving the names of people who are involved in rebel fighting."64 The Post reported from Baghdad in May that the city was "rife with talk that thousands of southern Shiite Muslims suspected of rebel sympathies during the anti-regime uprisings last March have been summarily tried and executed recently."65 The U.N. special rapporteur's September memorandum noted reports of the summary execution by firing squad of seventeen people in Arbil on April 17. The memorandum also reported allegations that summary executions "are continuing to take place throughout the country, particularly in the northern Kurdish Autonomous Region, in southern Shia centers, and in the southern marshes."
The Post noted that the Iraqi authorities were continuing to respond in characteristic fashion to actual and perceived opponents: "Prisons are described as more full than ever. Families receive the coffins of sons and husbands, accompanied only by a military court order of execution, no reasons given. There are mass arrests and disappearances."66
Continued clashes between government forces and rebels often were at the expense of innocent civilians, particularly when government forces retaliated with indiscriminate artillery shelling and helicopter-gunship attacks on rebel positions. In northern Iraq, fear motivated large numbers of Iraqi civilians to flee to areas where they felt safe from government forces. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in late October that tens of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis remained in the mountain areas of the north, "either because their towns have been destroyed or because they fear a fresh outbreak of violence."
Both sides shared responsibility for the continuing unrest. Insurgents openly took credit during the uprising and its aftermath for the capture and execution of Iraqi security force, intelligence and Baath Party personnel.67 The most highly publicized abuse by anti-government forces during the year was the October 7 summary execution by Kurdish rebels in Suleimaniyya of at least sixty captured, unarmed Iraqi soldiers. According to Reuters photographer Kurt Schork, who witnessed the killings, the men were shot, kneeling, at point-blank range.68 The Kurdistan Democratic Party, whose fighters were suspected of responsibility, condemned the incident and said it was opening an investigation. To date, the findings of this investigation have not been announced.
Targeting of Shi'a Institutions
Representatives of Iraq's Shi'a community reported to Middle East Watch in 1991 that the Iraqi regime intensified its deliberate targeting of Shi'a cultural and nonpolitical institutions in an attempt to destroy the fabric of Shi'a society. These attacks were part of what they called a broader campaign of post-uprising "revenge on a massive scale" in southern Iraq.69 Iraqi Shi'a point out that the regime's retaliatory actions continue a pattern of discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government against the Shi'a religious majority in Iraq. They charge that the discrimination includes violations of religious and cultural rights including bans on publishing contemporary or traditional Shi'a written materials, transmitting radio or television broadcasts with Shi'a content, and teaching the Shi'a creed in the state school system, as well as widespread employment discrimination in Iraq's public sector.70
Promises of Reform
Despite Iraq's resounding military defeat by coalition forces and the turmoil of the uprisings, Saddam Hussein maintained and steadily consolidated his grip on power. Iraq's feared internal-security apparatus appeared to have emerged sufficiently unscathed from the Gulf war and the uprisings to remain a powerful presence. By September, some opponents of the regime felt that even if some political accord with the regime was struck, the most they could hope for in the immediate future was "a softening dictatorship" in Iraq. They stressed to Middle East Watch that the in-country opposition had "no illusions" about the prospects for genuine political reform under Saddam Hussein. The government's actions in 1991 tended to bear out this view, reinforcing the perception that the regime's rhetoric of reform was designed more for the international community than for the skeptical and beleaguered Iraqi public.
For several months after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf war, government leaders attempted to rebuild their domestic credibility through pledges to introduce political liberties unseen since the Baath Party's seizure of power in 1968. In a televised speech on March 16, Saddam Hussein blamed the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war for the deferral of the political reforms originally pledged in 1979. He held out a renewed promise of reform but, notably, without specifying a timetable for implementation. "Our decision to build a democratic society based on the Constitution, the rule of law and political pluralism is a decisive, irrevocable decision," he said.
Then newly appointed Prime Minister Saadoun Hammadi, in a March 30 speech on national television, spoke directly about democracy. Terming it "an integrated system," he stated that "in organizing relationships, democracy is not confined to the top echelon of the state but extends to all institutions from top to bottom." He pledged that "the democratic reform process in all the state institutions will start gradually and in accordance with the country's circumstances."71
In an interview in May, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that among the reforms being contemplated were the abolition of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council72 and replacement of the for-life presidency of Saddam Hussein with renewable seven-year presidential terms.73 In a televised speech on July 17, Saddam mentioned that a new political-parties law would soon be in effect. "We will soon start to apply the principles of pluralism in a broad manner.... Pluralism will be the main pillar in the next new phase," he promised.
Despite these commitments, it soon became clear that government initiatives said to be aimed at political reform and pluralism were fundamentally flawed. Most important of these were the new political-parties law, introduced in September, and the negotiations with the Iraqi Kurdistan Front coalition, begun in April and stalled several times, about measures for nationwide democratization.
The dismissal in mid-September of Saadoun Hammadi as prime minister, and his removal from the RCC, was viewed as a setback for the putative effort at political reform. It also was seen as a signal of Saddam Hussein's increased confidence and resolidification of power. In April, Hammadi, a Shi'a and Baath Party loyalist known for his pragmatic views, had openly advocated "the importance of strengthening the rule of law through the reform of the legal system, press freedom, and pluralism in all spheres, as well as through the change of revolutionary institutions into democratic and constitutional ones," according to the state-controlled Iraqi News Agency. One Western authority on the Arab world explained: "It was after he had expressed these views at a congress of the Baath party in Baghdad on 13 September that Hammadi was sacked."74 Some saw the move as a precursor to additional purges of reformers in the bureaucracy and the military and security establishments. The significance of Hammadi's later partial rehabilitation, through his appointment on November 6 as a presidential adviser with cabinet rank, remains to be seen.
The limits of reform could be seen in Political Parties Law No. 30 of 1991, which was issued by the RCC in September after the law had been amended and approved by the National Assembly, Iraq's rubber-stamp parliament. The statute states in part that "political parties constitute one of the basic pillars of the democratic system through which the citizen exercises his rights, duties and freedom." But the law grants the government significant latitude in vetting political parties. Under Article 3, parties must support Iraq's territorial integrity and national unity, effectively foreclosing the legalization of any Kurdish party that uses nonviolent means to advocate separatism or an independent Kurdish state.75 Article 3 also mandates that parties "value and be proud" of the 1958 and 1968 revolutions, in effect a pledge of political allegiance to the ruling Baath Party. In addition, Article 19 prohibits the organizing of political parties among the "armed forces, the internal security force and the other security organs"; only the Baath Party is entitled to recruit members in these key sectors.
The law empowers the Council of Ministers to approve or reject parties' requests for legalization, but the law gives oversight of political parties to the feared Ministry of Interior. The law clearly envisions the creation of Interior Ministry dossiers on all nascent political-party leaders and activists. Parties must register their applications with the Interior Ministry and submit the names, addresses, professions and brief personal histories of their founding members, who must number at least 150. Under Article 22, each January the Interior Ministry, as part of its ongoing monitoring, must be provided with the names, addresses and professions of all new party members as well as the names of those whose membership has lapsed.
The law provides for government aid to political parties and lays the groundwork for grants to be made on a political basis. Among the factors for grant decisions set forth in Article 24 is a political party's "role in the national struggle."
In an August interview, then-Prime Minister Hammadi was asked how much competition the ruling Baath Party would tolerate, and whether opposition political parties would ever be allowed to form a government. His answer was evasive: "[W]e may be ready to share power with another party if the situation allows and if there was such a party."76
Negotiations with the Kurds
It was the government's negotiations with the Iraqi Kurdistan Front (IKF) about an autonomy agreement that revealed most transparently the government's interpretation of democratization. The talks began in April between the government and the eight-party IKF, led by Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). In addition to greater autonomy in Kurdistan, the IKF submitted a proposed agreement which sought:
democratic rights under the rule of law. This must include guaranteed respect for human rights, multiparty pluralism, free elections to return the people's representatives to parliament, freedom of the press and publications, and the liberty to organize trade unions, professional associations and democratic institutions. Positions of power and authority must change hands peacefully in line with the freely-expressed will of the people.
The IKF proposals included provisions for an interim coalition government to arrange for free general elections in six months, and the participation of all national opposition political forces in the election of a National Constituent Assembly to draft a permanent constitution "and appoint a government of the majority." The government countered by proposing that the revised constitution, drafted in 1990 before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait but never adopted, be put to a national referendum.77
KDP leader Barzani explicitly stated in June that democracy means "a multiparty system; freedom of the press; free elections; separation of the party and state authorities; and separation of the judicial, executive and legislative authorities. We also agreed to draw up together the draft constitution and the press law and the multiparty system law."78 The same month Saddam reportedly sought Kurdish support to control the Shi'a opposition in the south, in the form of a demand that the Kurds "preserve the gains" of the 1968 revolution which established Baath Party hegemony over the country. One Kurdish negotiator at the talks interpreted this to mean that "when there is an uprising, a demonstration or confusion against the Baath Party that we must take the gun to kill their enemies."79 He added that government representatives "defined verbally" the enemies as pro-Iranian Shi'a groups and pro-Syrian parties.
In a September 17 interview, PUK leader Talabani discussed the status of the negotiations with the government. In addition to disagreement over the boundaries of autonomous Kurdistan and objections to the continuing policy of "Arabization" in the cities of Kirkuk and Hanefin, he said that "the main obstacles are concerning democratization; the Iraqi regime totally refuses to make any kind of change." Talabani also indicated that the IKF was opposed to the government's condition that Kurdish parties have no contact with external groups. "[T]he right of the Kurdish parties and the IKF to have relations with other parties outside of Iraq was prevented according to the new law published by the so-called RCC," Talabani said. "[W]e are insisting that we have the right to contact other parties, organizations, international bodies, human rights groups and etc. and we will never accept such a presentation by the Iraqi government."80
U.N. officials expressed concern in September over the uncertain status of some 120,000 to 130,000 former Kurdish residents of Kirkuk who had fled the city during the uprising.81 The coordinator of U.N. activities in Iraq, Bernt Bernander, said that the Kurds sought a U.N. presence in the city prior to their return but the Iraqi authorities have not agreed to the opening of a U.N. office there.82 Beginning in October, the government began to exert economic pressure on those areas of northern Iraq that were under the virtual control of Kurdish rebels. Gasoline deliveries to Arbil and Suleimaniyya were reduced, delivery of food and electricity was curtailed, and civil servants in the north were required to move to cities under government control or be fired.83 By the beginning of November, there was a significant concentration of Iraqi troops and equipment around Arbil and Suleimaniyya, fueling fears that the government might be planning to oust the rebels by force.84 On November 12, it was announced that the government and the Kurds had struck a bargain: the economic sanctions would be lifted, and the Kurdish forces, in turn, would move out of the cities but maintain defensive positions on their perimeters.85 It was not clear whether the Kurds would agree to Iraqi troops entering the cities and towns; one KDP spokesman said: "We understand that government forces will not attempt to come into Irbil. If they attempt to come by force, a united force will fight them."86 But later in November, The New York Times reported from northern Iraq that the government did not honor this agreement with the Kurds, "instead closing roads and confiscating food and fuel from the few cars they let through. As part of the deal to end the blockade, the Kurdish guerrillas pulled their forces back three miles. But they say they have seen Iraqi soldiers move forward to fill the gap and begin to hammer their new positions outside Erbil, positions that are in the [allied security] zone."87 The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported on December 5 that 200,000 Kurds had fled areas of eastern Kurdistan, where Iraqi forces in October began shelling villages in the areas of Kelar, Kifri and Chamchamal in Suleimaniyya province.88 UNHCR coordinator for the emergency program in the Gulf Carroll Faubert said at a press conference in Geneva on December 5: "We are extremely worried about the situation. We see the possibility of hundreds of thousands of newly displaced persons living in the snow."89
The Oil Export Impasse
By most accounts, all Iraqi civilians – except the affluent and the politically connected – suffered directly throughout 1991 from the impact of U.N.-imposed sanctions. The most pressing problems for civilians were phenomenal price inflation for basic food staples, poor diet and sanitation, corresponding medical problems, especially among infants and young children, and inadequate medical services from a beleaguered and grossly undersupplied health-care system. In November, Iraqi Health Minister Dr. 'Abd-al-Salam Muhamed Sa'id reported that over 68,093 Iraqis had died between August 2, 1990 and September 30, 1991 as a result of sanctions-related shortages of food and medicine.90 He said that of this number 19,863 were children under five years old who died from diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malnutrition and contagious diseases. Another Health Ministry official, Under-Secretary Dr. Shawki Murqus, gave a different interpretation of the child-death figure in an interview earlier in the month with The New York Times. He said: "[T]he total deaths of children under 5 in Iraq since August 1990 was 19,863. This figure ... includes normal mortality as well as excess deaths caused by disease and malnutrition."91
The Sanctions Committee of the U.N. Security Council decided on March 22 to permit the unrestricted export of food to Iraq, as long as the committee was notified about each shipment.92 In addition, the import of other materials and supplies to meet humanitarian civilian needs – such as fuel, agricultural machinery, and water and sewage system parts and equipment – would be automatically allowed if none of the committee's members objected. The formal U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution (No. 687) of April 3 included these new guidelines.
However, the easing of the sanctions was not accompanied by a lifting of the U.N. prohibition of member states' imports of Iraqi products. Iraq claimed that with its overseas assets frozen it needed to export oil to acquire the foreign exchange to purchase food and other necessary items. It was not until September 19 that the U.N. Security Council, in Resolution 706, authorized Iraq to sell, under U.N. supervision at all stages, $1.6 billion of oil over a six-month period, with $933.7 million of the proceeds designated for the purchase of food, medicine and other essential civilian items. This amount was substantially less than the $2.5 billion recommended by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar as necessary for Iraq to meet essential civilian needs.93 The balance of the oil-sale proceeds were designated, in specific amounts, to cover compensation claims from Kuwait and the cost of border demarcation, weapons inspection and destruction, and U.N. humanitarian assistance and administration.
The Iraqi authorities objected to the various U.N. procedures governing the oil sale, including the depositing of all revenues in an escrow account administered by the United Nations. Iraqi petroleum exports thus have not yet resumed and, regrettably, Iraqi civilians continue to be the innocent victims of the impasse.94 The logic behind the strict U.N. control of Iraq's revenue and expenditures clearly is to deny the Iraqi leadership the opportunity to score political points with the beleaguered civilian population by permitting it to control the levers for the distribution of food and other necessities. While this concern is legitimate, the resulting stalemate extracts a high civilian cost.
There were additional indications that Iraq was playing politics with food, at the expense of the civilian population, by reportedly interfering with food distribution efforts by international humanitarian organizations in southern and northern Iraq. In at least one instance in October, a truck carrying food was turned back at an army checkpoint and not allowed to continue to Suleimaniyya.95 Iraq's Health Minister Abdul Salam Saaid told The New York Times in early November that food from relief organizations must pass through the government's distribution and rationing system; the policy resulted in the accumulation of about $4 million worth of food, including infant formula and other food for young children, in warehouses in Baghdad and Jordan.96 According to a representative of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), its food-distribution program in churches and mosques in Baghdad and Mosul was barred by the authorities in October.97 The CRS representative further charged that 250 tons of food designated for Amara, a city southeast of Baghdad, remained in a warehouse because the authorities would not permit the distribution.
Beginning with an initial attack at 2:00 A.M. on January 18, Iraq launched thirty-nine ground-to-ground ballistic missiles into Israel and the occupied West Bank during the Gulf War, killing a total of thirteen people, according to Israeli government statistics. A majority of the missiles were aimed in the vicinity of Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv. Asked about the missile attacks in a CNN interview on January 28, Saddam Hussein commented: "We said that if Baghdad were hit, we would strike Tel Aviv." Iraq's attacks were widely regarded as designed to provoke Israel to join the war and thus precipitate a split among the Arab participants in the allied military coalition.
At dawn on January 18, Iraq also fired a missile at the allied air base in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia, the first of the thirty-seven missiles launched at that country during the war. In late February, Iraq also launched one missile in the direction of Bahrain and one at Qatar, but both fell harmlessly in the Gulf waters; both Gulf states had participated in the war against Iraq and offered their territory as bases for allied air force units. According to statistics from the official Saudi Press Agency, these attacks produced only one civilian fatality – in Riyadh on January 25 – with an additional seventy-seven civilians injured, most of them slightly.
The possibility of the use of deadly chemical warheads on the Iraqi missiles generated fear among the Israeli and Saudi civilian populations and extensive civil-defense precautions. In the January 28 CNN interview, Saddam Hussein refused to rule out the use of chemical weapons during the war. Asked about Iraq's possible use of chemical weapons against the allied forces, he replied evasively: "I said that we will use weapons that are equivalent to those used against us." A similar reply was given in response to attacks on Israel.
Although Iraqi statements often left the impression that attacks were wholly indiscriminate, in fact not all of its missiles were indiscriminately fired at urban population centers. U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill A. McPeak acknowledged this at a press briefing in March: "Some of these were actually launched against military targets. For instance, King Khalid Military City was attacked in the northern part of Saudi Arabia." The majority of the missiles directed at Riyadh also were aimed at military targets, according to a U.S. Army official.98 In a July 1991 report, the U.S. Defense Department confirmed that "a number" of the forty-one Iraqi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia were against military targets.99
In contrast to the post-war public acknowledgments by the U.S. military that Iraq fired missiles at military targets in Saudi Arabia, Middle East Watch is aware of no public statements by U.S. military briefers or Israeli government spokespersons that described possible military targets in Israel that may have been the object of attack. On January 25, President Bush said in a news conference that the missiles launched at Israel constituted "brutal, senseless, non-military-value attacks on civilian populations." Given Iraq's apparent choice of targets and the limited accuracy of its missiles, most of the attacks on Israel support the president's conclusion.
Although a substantial number of attacks on Saudi Arabia and even some on Israel appear to have been aimed at or near military targets, Iraq's missile campaign as a whole was characterized by serious violations of humanitarian law. First, many of the Iraqi missiles appear to have been directed at civilian targets. The use of Patriot missiles to intercept the Iraqi-modified Scud missiles, as well as the inherent inaccuracy of the Iraqi missiles, often made it impossible to determine exactly where the Iraqi missiles had been aimed. But the repeated launching of relatively inaccurate missiles at targets in Tel Aviv and Riyadh, when a wealth of military targets were available outside these heavily populated areas, suggests a deliberate decision to harm civilians. Rhetoric accompanying the missile attacks suggested that the Iraqi military was at best indifferent to the plight of these civilian populations, if not intent on causing as much damage and suffering as possible. Firing missiles with the purpose of harming civilians flatly violates the customary-law rule that the civilian population shall not be the object of attack.
Second, even many of the missiles that appear to have been directed toward military targets violated the laws of armed conflict because the inaccuracy of the missiles rendered the attacks indiscriminate in the circumstances. The customary-law principle codified in Article 51 of the First Additional Protocol of 1977 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (Protocol I) prohibits attacks as "indiscriminate" which use "method[s] or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective" and thus "are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction."100 Among the weapons that the provision was designed to forbid are long-range missiles with rudimentary guidance systems that cannot with any reasonable assurance be directed against a military objective, such as the V2 rockets used by Germany late in the Second World War.
Whether the use of a particular missile is indiscriminate, assuming the object selected for attack is a military target, depends in part on the accuracy of the weapon, the size and location of the military objectives and the target's proximity to civilians and civilian objects. As one respected commentator said, "Those methods and means of combat which would be indiscriminate in a densely populated city, might be lawful in an unpopulated area such as a forest or a desert."101
The Iraqi-modified Scud missiles used against Israel and Saudi Arabia had a circular error probable (CEP) of one thousand meters, meaning that only fifty percent of the missiles launched could be expected to fall within a one thousand-meter radius of the point targeted. Accordingly, while Iraqi missile attacks on the huge Dhahran air base in Saudi Arabia or the Dimona nuclear facility in the northern Negev Desert in Israel could have been expected to be adequately discriminate, the missile attacks on relatively small military targets in Riyadh and Tel Aviv should have been expected to be indiscriminate given the inaccuracy of Iraq's missiles.
It is worth noting that this conclusion in no way depends on an assessment of Iraq's goals in attacking Israel or Saudi Arabia. Just as it would have been illegal for allied forces to harm Iraqi civilians with the aim of encouraging them to overthrow Saddam Hussein, as explained in this volume in the chapter on the United States, so it was improper for Iraq to target or launch indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Israel or Saudi Arabia with the aim of furthering Iraq's military or political objectives.
Third, the missile attacks against both Israel and Saudi Arabia came amid an outpouring of Iraqi rhetoric apparently designed to terrorize the civilian population of those countries. For example, an official Iraqi military communique of January 19 described the previous night's attack on Tel Aviv as "missiles pour[ing] out of the sky, making Tel Aviv and other targets a crematorium." A similar image was conjured up by Saddam Hussein in his April 1, 1990 speech, when he threatened to "make fire eat up half of Israel" if it attacked Iraq. An Iraqi military communique issued on January 23 stated that a purpose of an attack the previous night was "to disturb the sleep of the Zionists and blacken their night." Following a missile launching on February 11, Radio Baghdad said that the strike was intended "to sow death and alarm in the hearts of those who have isolated our women and children in the occupied land." The Iraqi Armed Forces General Command stated that the missiles launched against Israel on February 12 were intended "to spread death and terror among those who terrorized our nation." The language accompanying the attacks on Saudi Arabia, though perhaps somewhat less vivid, was comparable. For example, the Iraqi Armed Forces General Command stated that the missiles launched at Riyadh on February 8 were intended "to punish the traitor al-Sa'ud family" and "to disturb the sleep of the tyrants."
These comments, when coupled with ongoing missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia and the ever-present possibility that these missiles might be armed with chemical weapons, appear to have been made deliberately to spread terror among the civilian populations, in violation of the customary-law principle codified in Article 51 of Protocol I. Such spreading of terror is a violation regardless of whether any particular attack was aimed at a military or civilian target.
Finally, Iraq's missile attacks were not lawful reprisals. For those nations like the United States and Iraq that do not subscribe to an absolute ban on reprisals, reprisals are permitted under international law only in response to specified "grave and manifest violations of the law of armed conflict committed by the other Party," if taken for the sole purpose of enforcing future compliance with the laws of war, and if preceded by reasonable warning that retaliation will follow if illegal acts do not cease.
It is utterly implausible, when judged against these criteria, that Iraq's attacks on civilians could qualify as lawful reprisals. Israel did not participate in the hostilities during the Gulf conflict, let alone commit the "grave and manifest" violations of the laws of war against Iraq that might have justified reprisals. In the case of Saudi Arabia, even if Iraq believed that the coalition of which Saudi Arabia was a part was committing illegal acts against the Iraqi population, Iraq had a duty both to detail those alleged violations and to issue a warning to the coalition that reprisals might follow unless the alleged illegal acts ended. No such itemization or warning was ever given.102
The Right to Monitor
Independent in-country monitoring of human rights abuses committed by or with the knowledge of the Iraqi government has rarely been possible since the Baath Party's seizure of power in 1968. Under President Saddam Hussein, who assumed full power in 1979, this right has never existed. Independent human-rights organizations cannot function in Iraq, while foreign organizations in the past have faced great difficulty in gaining access to the country and carrying out their work. Various Iraqi exile political organizations and expatriate groups release information about alleged abuses, but typically these materials lack details and methodological rigor, and even their members risked murder at the hands of Iraqi agents.103
Following the Gulf War, numerous private Arab, European and U.S. delegations were permitted entry to Iraq to deliver humanitarian aid, assess humanitarian needs, and document the damage to civilians and civilian facilities caused by the allied bombing campaign. These missions supplemented the post-war activities undertaken in Iraq by major international humanitarian and relief organizations such as the United Nations International Children's Fund and the World Health Organization. The office of the U.N. secretary general's executive delegate, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, had supervisory responsibility in Iraq for humanitarian matters, under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Iraqi government and renewed in November until June 30, 1992. Five hundred lightly armed U.N. guards were deployed mostly in northern Iraq under the terms of his mandate, but in practice these guards proved ineffective in preventing outbreaks of fighting between government forces and Kurdish guerrillas. Nor did they serve as an early warning system for human rights violations as had been hoped. The best that could be said of the U.N. operation in Iraq is that it provided an umbrella for the activities of a range of Western relief and humanitarian organizations.
These unprecedented post-Gulf war opportunities for access to nongovernmental organizations notwithstanding, Middle East Watch knows of no outside group working in Iraq in 1991 with an organizational mandate or agenda that includes the systematic documentation of human rights abuses committed by the Iraqi government. The Iraqi authorities extended Amnesty International an invitation on April 30, but when Amnesty in a May 8 letter set forth the organization's conditions for a visit to Iraq,104 the Iraqi government never responded.
Middle East Watch wrote six times to the Iraqi authorities between February and July 1991, requesting permission to visit Iraq to investigate the effects of allied bombing and to visit prisoners of war, but did not receive a positive reply. However, after an informal meeting with Iraqi authorities in September, Human Rights Watch was informed on October 5 by the international affairs director of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) that approval for a visit to Iraq had been granted. On October 24, Human Rights Watch wrote to the IRCS outlining the guidelines that it would expect to follow on such a mission, including unrestricted access to and unaccompanied private interviews with local residents of cities and towns south of Baghdad. The ICRS has yet to respond to this letter.
In the absence of reporting from Iraq by independent international or domestic human rights groups, the dispatches of foreign correspondents provided the only public source of information from inside the country about current human-rights conditions and abuses. The movement of journalists was severely restricted during the Gulf war, and their reports were subject to censorship. However, on May 5, the Iraqi authorities lifted the requirement that the Ministry of Information undertake prior review of foreign journalists' stories,105 opening a window on Iraq that has enabled greater public awareness of the country's internal affairs than previously had been possible.
In March, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution that expressed "grave concern at the flagrant violations of human rights by the Government of Iraq." The resolution requested the chair of the Commission to appoint a special rapporteur to conduct a thorough study of human rights violations by the Iraqi government, notably those committed in 1991. Max Van der Stoel of the Netherlands was appointed special rapporteur on June 25, and on August 27 in Geneva, in his first face-to-face contact with a representative of the Iraqi government, Van der Stoel obtained permission to visit to Iraq. In a detailed memorandum to the Iraqi minister of foreign affairs dated September 16, Van der Stoel laid out numerous allegations of human rights abuses, based on information he had collected from various sources, and requested highly detailed information from the Iraqi authorities.106 This memorandum, and Iraq's October 25 response, was submitted as the special rapporteur's interim report to the forty-sixth U.N. General Assembly session, which began on November 13. Van der Stoel informed the Iraqi authorities that he wishes to travel to Iraq in early January 1992, prior to submission of a final report to the forty-eighth session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in February 1992. This would be the first mission to Iraq by an independent human rights investigator.107 Van der Stoel requested from Iraq's Foreign Ministry "unrestricted access to all parts of the country and to such establishments, centres, compounds, buildings, documents, persons, etc., as may be deemed necessary for me to carry out my mandate, accompanied by such United Nations personnel and necessary advisers as would be required for the fulfillment of my tasks." It is not known whether the Iraqi authorities have agreed to these terms of reference for the mission.
One unexpected byproduct of the turmoil in Iraq in 1991 was the unprecedented exposure of the regime's past human rights abuses. While the abysmal record was generally known, precise information had been difficult to come by. However, during the uprising in March, when rebels seized control of prisons, they captured huge amounts of documentary evidence of past abuses. Following the ouster of the rebels, the exodus of refugees brought to the world's attention thousands of victims of past repression who were unafraid for the first time in their lives to speak frankly to foreigners. In addition, with the pesh merga in control of much of northeastern Iraq, Kurds and foreigners were able to travel extensively through rural Kurdish areas for the first time since the Baghdad regime had mined and sealed them off.
These developments helped to flesh out knowledge of past atrocities, particularly with regard to the government's campaign to empty the Kurdish countryside, the disappearances of scores of thousands of Kurds, and the harsh conduct of Iraq's security agencies throughout the country.108
At year's end, human rights workers were still sifting through the mounds of documents, videotapes and material evidence captured from Iraqi security agencies. The evidence made the case strongly that past reports of the regime's brutality toward suspected dissidents was, if anything, understated. The discovery of several mass graves – which are due to be analyzed by forensic experts – may finally provide answers to the cases of tens of thousands of Kurds who disappeared during the 1980s.
The manner in which the Iraqi government suppressed the Shi'a revolt in the south and the Kurdish revolt in the north produced some of the most extensive and severe violations of human rights in 1991. Although Human Rights Watch is highly critical of the role of the Bush Administration with respect to these abuses, we do not espouse the view that military intervention was required for humanitarian purposes. Iraq was not the only country in which it might be argued that such intervention was required during 1991 to avert human rights disasters of great proportion.
Yet there are many arguments against military intervention even in such urgent circumstances. Without attempting to set forth those arguments here, it should be noted that the difficulties that attend this question are so great that Human Rights Watch has not yet adopted a policy on this question.
Nevertheless, we think that the Bush Administration deserves criticism because the conflicting signals that it gave probably contributed greatly to the tragedy that took place in Iraq when Saddam Hussein's forces massacred thousands in putting down the revolts and when nearly two million were forced to flee their homes. In part, the Bush Administration's actions may have reflected a lack of sufficient concern for the consequences of the signals it gave; in part it may be due to miscalculation; and in part it may be attributed to primary concern with political considerations unrelated to the well-being of the residents of Iraq. Whatever the reasons, the Administration contributed to the making of a tremendous human rights tragedy.
In other ways as well, despite the Bush Administration's persistent castigation of Saddam Hussein, the protection of human rights within Iraq was not a high priority in 1991. The Administration's pre-war criticism of the Iraqi government's human rights violations focused almost entirely on abuses committed in occupied Kuwait; the previous history of systematic atrocities inside Iraq was barely noted. A similar selective vision could be discerned once the Gulf war ended and the unprecedented uprising against the Baathist regime was met by the government's brutal suppression of the revolt and the unexpected mass flight of civilians. The Bush Administration expressed concern for human rights violations during this period, but acted forcefully only insofar as those fleeing the carnage became allied responsibility as they huddled in winter weather on the Turkish border. Three times as many Kurdish and Shi'a refugees fled to safety in Iran, but the mutually antagonistic relationship between Iran and the United States constrained Washington from either expressing concern about those on the Iranian border or providing much practical assistance. Indeed, for related reasons, very little was said by the Administration about the Iraqi Shi'a, whose suffering paralleled if not exceeded that of the Iraqi Kurds.
The Administration's greatest opportunity to prevent serious abuses by Iraqi forces came in the course of the uprising. Strong warnings reportedly were issued to the Iraqi authorities on March 7 against the use of chemical weapons during the unrest, but the Administration equivocated about the Iraqi military's use of helicopter gunships against civilians. President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker stated in mid-March that the helicopter gunships should not be used, but other Administration officials gave conflicting signals. In the end, the aircraft were employed to attack rebels and civilians alike without any more forceful reaction by coalition forces. Inquiries to Administration spokespersons about why the warnings had not been enforced met with embarrassed buck-passing and no substantive explanations.
Adding to the controversial nature of this equivocation was the president's call, in two separate speeches on February 15, for Iraqis to revolt: "[T]here's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside."109 This at the time was the Administration's most explicit public statement that Saddam should be overthrown.110 The message, broadcast on Voice of America, suggested to many Iraqis that the United States would support them if they rebelled.
But once the call was heeded and the uprising began, fears of a disintegrating Iraq led the Administration to distance itself from the insurgents, downplaying the significance of the countrywide revolts and spelling out a policy of nonintervention in Iraq's internal affairs.111 The Administration's unwillingness to back the insurgents – indeed, its eagerness to dispel the politically embarrassing impression that it had encouraged the uprising – appears to have led it to equivocate on the entirely distinct issue of Iraqi government abuses committed while crushing the insurgency.
A rationale for nonintervention was offered by Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis, who was interviewed after meeting with Secretary Baker in Washington on March 4. Expressing concern about the "fragmentation" and "Lebanonization" of Iraq, he said, "I am sure Saddam Hussein will go, but my worry is we will not have another friendly regime" in Baghdad.112 In the following days, senior U.S. officials expressed similar sentiments. On March 7, U.S. Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney said, "The breakup of Iraq would probably not be in U.S. interests."113 The same day, Secretary Baker described the uprisings as "just one heck of a lot of turmoil." Asked if the United States preferred continued Baath Party rule to an Islamic revolution in Iraq, Baker said: "I'm not going to make a choice because I'm not sure that's what the choices are necessarily. I will say this – we do not want to see any changes in the territorial integrity of Iraq and we do not want to see other countries actively making efforts to encourage changes."
On March 5, Rear Admiral Mike McConnell, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that "chaotic and spontaneous" uprisings were under way in thirteen Iraqi cities, but stated that Saddam would prevail because of the rebels' "lack of organization and leadership."114 White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater appeared to discount the insurgents when he stated the same day, "It's not clear to us what the purpose or extent of the fighting is."115 Secretary Cheney, in remarks on March 5, said he expected "a period of instability" in Iraq, but that "it would be very difficult for us to hold the coalition together for any particular course of action dealing with internal Iraqi politics, and I don't think, at this point, our writ extends to trying to move inside Iraq."116 The secretary's comment was reinforced by Marine Major General Martin Brandtner, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who on March 5 ruled out U.S. military assistance to the rebels: "There is no move on the [part of] U.S. forces ... to let any weapons slip through, or to play any role whatsoever in fomenting or assisting any side."117
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained on March 6: "We don't think that outside powers should be interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." On March 21, Boucher added that "it's neither our intent [n]or our purpose to try to choose the future leadership of Iraq." Asked whether by doing nothing the United States was giving Saddam a free hand to crush the revolt, Boucher replied, "Well, that remains to be determined." On March 23, President Bush himself publicly back-tracked: "I don't think it is for us to see what will follow on in Iraq.... I think it would be inappropriate to try to shape or suggest even what government should follow on."118
With one significant exception, this reluctance to take sides in the revolt translated into a refusal to take a strong position about Iraqi government abuses committed in the course of the revolt. The exception was a forceful warning to the Iraqi government against the use of chemical weapons on the insurgents. A senior Administration official told The New York Times that Iraqi military communications had been intercepted revealing the imminent use of chemical weapons: "We got an intercept on [March 7] indicating that they were going to drop a gas bomb on a specific place at a specific time.... We told them in very explicit terms that this was something that would not be countenanced." The Times reported that "[s]enior Iraqi diplomats in Washington and New York were summoned [on March 7] by State Department officials and warned that the United States would not tolerate chemical attacks on rebellious Iraqi civilians."119 One warning was delivered by Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to his Iraqi counterpart, Abdul Amir Al-Anbari.120 On March 9, Secretary Baker said in Saudi Arabia, in reference to the possible use of chemical weapons, "We think it's important to warn them."121
However, the Administration was unwilling to move beyond blocking the use of chemical weapons to barring – at least in a consistent manner – other weapons that were being used to slaughter civilians, particularly the helicopter gunships that were being used to fire indiscriminately on fleeing civilians. President Bush said on March 13 that Iraqi helicopter gunships "should not be used for combat purposes inside Iraq."122 The next day, the president obliquely tied the withdrawal of U.S. troops to the use of helicopters by Iraqi forces: "I want to bring [U.S. troops] home, but I'd like to have some security arrangements in place, and ... using helicopters ... to put down one's own people does not add to the stability of the area.... " On March 17, Secretary Baker discussed an allied meeting with ten Iraqi officers in Safwan that day: "We've also said that helicopters should be used for logistical purposes, not for the purpose of shooting and dropping bombs on your own people."123
On March 15, the president's and secretary of state's remarks notwithstanding, U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of allied forces in the Persian Gulf, said that Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft would "be subject to being shot down" by coalition forces but said nothing about helicopters.124 According to a Pentagon official, Major General Robert Johnston, General Schwarzkopf's chief of staff, had warned at the March 17 meeting in Safwan that the use of helicopters against the rebels was a "threat to coalition forces" and could lead to U.S. military action against the helicopters.125 On March 21, even Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams acknowledged that U.S. policy regarding the use of helicopters was not clear. While admitting that "dozens" of helicopters were being used against the rebels, Williams declined to say whether U.S. forces would fire at these aircraft. He answered affirmatively when asked: "Is our policy somewhat ambiguous?"
The Administration justified distinguishing fixed-wing aircraft from helicopters by the differing threats posed to U.S. forces, without regard to atrocities being committed against civilians. White House spokesman Fitzwater explained that "the planes pose a far more serious threat to U.S. personnel because they fly faster and higher."126 Fitzwater also stated on March 26: "We made it clear that we do not believe that they should be flying helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft over the country, that we intended to shoot down fixed-wing aircraft because of the direct threat that they posed to our forces."127 Deputy White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk, when asked on March 29 about Kurdish requests for U.S. attacks on the helicopters, responded as if the matter concerned only which side prevailed in the conflict, not whether certain weapons were being used to commit gross abuses: "The issue of internal unrest in Iraq is an issue that has to be settled between the government and the people of Iraq. It's a decision for the people of Iraq to make."128 Asked on April 2 why President Bush issued the warning against the use of helicopters if he was not prepared to act on it, the State Department deferred to the White House. Secretary Baker was asked the same question two days later, but he, too, declined to answer. "Well, that's a question that you can address to [President Bush]," he said.
After Iraqi military forces crushed the uprising, senior Bush Administration officials adopted a self-consciously low public profile about the situation in Iraq.129 On April 3, the president picked up the theme that what really was at issue was simply an internal conflict. "I feel frustrated," he said, "any time innocent civilians are being slaughtered. But the U.S. and these other countries with us in this coalition did not go there to settle all the internal affairs of Iraq."130 One senior Administration official told The Washington Post: "Engaging on this issue gains us nothing.... This is not a crusade. It is a somewhat painful acceptance of a certain reality. You manage it in as low-key a way as possible and hope you get through it."131
On April 13, President Bush emphasized the Administration's top priority: "I want our troops out of Iraq and back home as soon as possible." While condemning the "continuing savagery" of the Iraqi president, Bush reaffirmed the U.S. policy of noninterference in internal Iraqi affairs, with the sole exception of protecting the provision of assistance to internally displaced Iraqis and Iraqi refugees. Rather than condemning the abuses that accompanied the suppression of the uprisings, the president downplayed the significance of the nationwide revolt by describing it as a manifestation of a long-standing internal conflict:
Internal conflicts have been raging in Iraq for many years, and we're helping out, and we're going to continue to help these refugees. But I do not want one single soldier or airman shoved into a civil war in Iraq that's been going on for ages.... We will not interfere in Iraq's civil war. The Iraqi people must decide their own political future.
The Bush Administration continued to worry that it would be held responsible for having encouraged the uprising. In a carefully crafted statement, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said on April 2 that the Bush Administration had "never, ever stated as either a military or a political goal ... the removal of Saddam Hussein." She said that although the United States had said that normal relations with Iraq were "next to impossible" while Saddam Hussein was in power, it did not "cal[l] on [the] Iraqi people to put their lives on the line to overthrow the current leadership." It is unclear how the Administration could square this comment with President Bush's entreaty on February 15 for the Iraqi people "to take matters into their own hands."
On April 5, President Bush adamantly denied that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a U.S. policy goal. He appeared particularly sensitive to any perception, by Iraqis or others, that the rebels were betrayed by his Administration, stating:
I have not misled anybody about the intentions of the United States of America. I don't think the Shiites in the south, those who are unhappy with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad or the Kurds in the north, ever felt that the United States would come to their assistance to overthrow this man.
The president also said unequivocally, "I made clear from the very beginning that it was not an objective of the coalition or the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein."
Some senior officials did use forceful language to highlight Iraq's suppression of the uprisings. But their strong words were coupled with equally strong indications of the limits of the U.S. role in post-uprising Iraq. On April 3, for example, President Bush condemned "in the strongest terms continued attacks by Iraqi government forces against defenseless Kurdish and other Iraqi civilians." He called on Iraq "to halt these attacks immediately and to allow international organizations to go to work inside Iraq to alleviate the suffering and to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches needy civilians."
Similarly, Secretary Baker, on April 7 in Turkey, spoke of the "utter brutality" of the Iraqi government and emphasized "Saddam's savage and indecent use of force." He said that "Iraq's forces are killing, threatening, and committing crimes against the Iraqi people." But Baker ruled out any more active effort to stop the slaughter: "We are not prepared to go down the slippery slope of being sucked into a civil war. We cannot police what goes on inside Iraq, and we cannot be the arbiters of whom shall govern Iraq.... We repeatedly said that could only be done by the Iraqi people."
As allied forces assumed responsibility for hundred of thousands of Kurds fleeing northern Iraq to Turkey, Secretary Baker was stronger in indicating that interference by Iraqi forces with international humanitarian assistance in any part of the country would not be tolerated. On April 8, after a brief visit to the hundreds of thousands of Kurdish families on the Turkish mountain slopes, Baker termed their situation a "mounting human tragedy." In a joint statement with the Turkish foreign minister that day, he said:
Once again, the brutality and folly of the Iraqi regime has created yet another gruesome tragedy: hundreds of thousands of refugees and many deaths among Iraqi citizens who sought only their democratic rights. The Saddam regime has not contented itself with more repression but has acted with excessive force, driving its own citizens out of their own land.
Baker also noted: "The international community has once again closed ranks in insisting that Iraq end its repression and allow immediate and unimpeded access by international organizations to all in need through the country."132
With Kurds dying in inclement mountain terrain along the Iraqi-Turkish border, U.S. and allied troops established a 3,600-square-mile "safe haven" in northern Iraq to encourage the Kurds to come down from the mountains. This time, Iraqi helicopters were effectively grounded; under the terms of an agreement with the Iraqi government, Iraqi helicopters could not fly north of the thirty-sixth parallel which marked the southern edge of the security zone.
On June 7, responsibility for relief operations in the zone was transferred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and allied troops began to leave. Meanwhile, the United States announced plans for a "residual force" in Turkey to deter possible – but unspecified – Iraqi repression against the Kurds. Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said on June 25 that the mission of this force would be "to stand by in the area in case there were problems in northern Iraq that required the military action."133 Though again noting that the United States "cannot solve long-term ... long-standing problems in the region between the Kurds and the Iraqis, between the Shi'as and the Iraqis," Williams adopted a more forceful stance than during the uprising, stating that there would be "very clear markers laid down to the Iraqis" about their expected behavior.134
Similarly, President Bush this time hinted that the United States might consider some sort of unspecified intervention to protect Iraqi civilians "if the situation requires." In a commendably firm, albeit after-the-fact September 16 letter to congressional leaders, the president stated that his Administration remains concerned about the situation of the Kurds and other internal population groups that have been the object of repressive measures by the Government of Iraq. We have informed the Government of Iraq that we will continue to monitor carefully the treatment of its citizens, and that we remain prepared to take appropriate steps if the situation requires. To this end, an appropriate level of forces will be maintained in the region for as long as required by the situation in Iraq.135
The State Department also continued to insist that there was a clear link between "the residual coalition military force" in southeastern Turkey and the "deterrence" of Iraqi repression, at least in northern Iraq.136 The Pentagon had taken the same public position some months earlier. In a July 24 interview, the then U.S. commander of the allied force in Turkey, army Colonel E.E. Whitehead, declined to specify the factors that might trigger allied intervention in northern Iraq, but warned that "we have the aircraft and means, if necessary, to move forces into Iraq."137
It soon became apparent that the Administration's stance had more bark than bite. In early October, reports indicated that Iraqi military forces had indiscriminately shelled the northern city of Suleimaniyya, held by Kurdish rebels, and the towns of Kifri and Kalar south of Suleimaniyya,138 and that thousands of civilians had fled to the mountains.139 On October 8, State Department spokeswoman Tutwiler offered only this mild comment: "Iraq must allow the return of refugees to their homes in Suleimaniyya, Kirkuk and other parts of northern Iraq. This is an essential component of restoring stability." The Pentagon was sophistic about the reports and appeared to excuse the actions of Iraqi forces. Spokesman Williams said that since the Iraqis were "not using any aircraft" to attack Kurdish forces north of the 36th parallel of the safe haven, the actions did not violate cease-fire agreements with the allies.140 Tutwiler said on October 9 that the previous day "the State Department called in the Chief of the Iraqi Interests Section in Washington ... to urge Iraq to cease using artillery against population centers." Little was made at the time or in the following weeks of the fact that up to 200,000 new refugees were created by this and a series of other Iraqi military actions along the internal cease-fire line.
Throughout the year, the Bush Administration showed a preference for highlighting the problems of the Kurds while tending to neglect, almost entirely, the situation of Iraq's Shi'a population, particularly after the March uprising in the south was crushed. This policy was undoubtedly linked to the long-standing fears of Western governments of an Iranian-style revolution in Iraq by Shi'a opposition groups. Following the crushing of the uprising, the same distrust of Iran, a Shi'a-led theocracy, and its religious kin in Iraq, led the allies to concentrate their relief efforts on Kurds fleeing to Turkey. The need to protect relief operations in the north then compounded the discrepancy in treatment.
In many Administration statements, the Kurds were mentioned by name while the Shi'a – in fact the majority religious group in Iraq – were subsumed in descriptions such as "other Iraqi civilians." Some international relief organizations complained that political considerations led the Administration to ignore the pressing need for humanitarian assistance in the war-ravaged Shi'a south. A senior policy analyst at the private U.S. Committee for Refugees said in June that the Bush Administration was spending $7.60 on each Kurd fleeing toward Turkey but only $1.00 for each displaced civilian in flight toward Iran.141 "The U.S. has weighed aid in a way that fits into our foreign policy objectives and doesn't take refugee needs into account," he charged. An official with the private International Rescue Committee said it was "the most political situation I've seen."142
Andrew Natsios, the director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which was responsible for coordinating U.S. humanitarian assistance in the Persian Gulf, conceded that southern Iraq was neglected: "I just didn't see any purpose of operating there," he admitted in June. "The crisis is in the north, not the south now."143 This disparity between levels of humanitarian assistance to northern and southern Iraq continued throughout the year. State Department spokeswoman Tutwiler said on October 9 that there were approximately 1,339 foreign humanitarian workers in Iraq – including "U.N. guards, humanitarian type of workers, nongovernment organization type of people, Red Cross people" – and that about seventy-three percent of them were in the north. A Geneva-based journalist wrote in December that most relief agencies and the U.N. guards have been unable "to penetrate far into southern Iraq."144 She noted that the Iraqi authorities were making cynical use of the dire situation in the south to score sanctions-lifting points with international public opinion.145
The U.S. policy stance, portrayed as one of noninterference in internal Iraqi affairs, was contradicted in part by the Bush Administration's continuing hard line on maintaining international trade sanctions against Iraq until Saddam was ousted from power. Publicly disclosed in incremental fashion, this goal went beyond the objectives of the key post-war U.N. Security Council resolution pertaining to Iraq.146 Equally significantly, it represented an undeclared about-face from U.S. public statements earlier in the year. On January 24, shortly after the war began, State Department spokeswoman Tutwiler explained U.S. policy this way: "We have been very clear of saying that our goal is not the change of Iraqi government, the change of Iraqi borders, etcetera. This is about withdrawing from Kuwait." Two weeks later, Tutwiler reinforced this statement, denying that the removal of Saddam was a U.S. objective. She asserted on February 11 that such action "would set a new goal, a new objective, and a new mission. And that is not what the United States and the U.N., in these resolutions, have called for." On February 27, when asked about a report that it was U.S. policy to maintain sanctions against Iraq after the war, to make it difficult for Iraq to restore itself unless Saddam Hussein was toppled, Tutwiler said: "I have never heard that mentioned.... I have checked in this building [the State Department] and I have checked at the White House. I am not aware of a United States decision to keep an economic embargo."
On April 3, President Bush hinted for the first time at a new link created by the United States between the lifting of sanctions and a change of leadership in Baghdad. Applauding the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which established the formal cease-fire with Iraq, the president said:
Certain sanctions will remain in force until such time as Iraq is led by a government that convinces the world of its intent both to live in peace with its neighbors and to devote its resources to the welfare of the Iraqi people. [Resolution 687] thus provides the necessary latitude for the international community to adjust its relations with Iraq depending upon Iraq's leadership and behavior.
The president's hint gathered more substance about six weeks later. On May 8, State Department spokesman Boucher said: "The[re]'ll be no normal relationships with the United States or with any other countries by Iraq as long as Saddam is in power. The President said sanctions are going to stay there as far as we are concerned."
The first full-blown articulation of the U.S. intent to link the lifting of sanctions with the downfall of Saddam came in a May speech by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates. In a clear addition to the provisions of Security Council Resolution 687, Gates said that Saddam's "leadership will never be accepted by the world community, and, therefore, Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone. Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government."147 The new policy was repeated almost verbatim on May 20 by White House spokesman Fitzwater.148 The same day, President Bush said: "[M]y view is we don't want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." Despite these statements, State Department spokeswoman Tutwiler insisted on May 21 that, with regard to Iraq, U.S. "objectives and goals have not changed."
Later in the year, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 23, President Bush straightforwardly remarked that "it is the United States' view that we must keep the United Nations sanctions in place as long as [Saddam] remains in power.... " The president reiterated this policy on October 1, during a visit by the emir of Kuwait to the White House. In remarks after the meeting, President Bush said: "[W]e reaffirm our view that U.N. sanctions must remain in place against Iraq until a new leadership emerges in Baghdad, a leadership willing to live in peace with its neighbors and its own people."
On November 20, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Edward P. Djerejian, in a statement before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, said that "we bear no animus toward the Iraqi people who have suffered too long under a brutal regime. They deserve new leadership." He criticized the Iraqi authorities for playing "a shell game with food and medicine," and accused Saddam of a "callous policy of diverting supplies away from those who oppose him."149 At the same time, Djerejian indicated that the U.S. policy on sanctions would mean continued suffering for Iraqi civilians as long as Saddam rules: "President Bush has made it clear that sanctions will continue as long as the ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein remains in power."
Ironically, the same Administration that rejected the use of sanctions to force Iraq from Kuwait now publicly advocated the continued application of sanctions to bring down Saddam Hussein, with Iraqi civilians "pay[ing] the price," as Deputy National Security Adviser Gates said in May. The policy presented Saddam with no way out: even assuming he complied with the terms of all post-war U.N. resolutions, if the United States had its way with the Security Council, as it consistently had over the previous nine months, the sanctions regime would not be changed as long as he remained in power. Although never stated as such, in reality the policy offered the Iraqi people a devil's bargain: keep Saddam in power and suffer the effect of continued sanctions, or attempt to overthrow Saddam, unassisted, and suffer the consequences should this undertaking fail – as it did in March.
The only other option appeared to be a military coup from within the Iraqi strongman's close-knit circle of aides and relatives, an eventuality which, given the brutal rights record of many of the possible coup-makers, could offer no consolation to the long-suffering Iraqi people. Indeed, this appeared to be the Administration's preferred option. In its dogged determination to see Saddam gone and finally hail the Desert Storm victory as complete, the Administration seemed willing to absolve the many other military officials who have made his abusive reign possible. President Bush himself openly suggested this approach in a July press conference. "We'd be perfectly willing to give the military another chance," he said of an army that has been responsible for the summary murder of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, "provided Saddam Hussein was out of there." The strategy was evident in end-of-the-year leaked reports that the Administration was once again contemplating support for a military coup. It will be a tragic irony for the Iraqi people if, after enduring an international war that they had no voice in launching, the ruthless crushing of a popular uprising, and a cruel international embargo, their compensation is to be saddled with a new Saddam.
The Work of Middle East Watch
A substantial proportion of Middle East Watch's resources were devoted to working on different aspects of Iraq's human rights record during 1991, an allocation of resources remarkable for the fact that the organization has yet to gain official access to the country. In all, seven missions were sent abroad to gather information pertaining to Iraqi government violations.
Four missions were sent to neighboring regional countries: to Jordan in February, to interview refugees from Kuwait; to Kuwait in March, to review the Iraqi occupation record over the previous seven months; through Iran to the Iraqi border region in May, to interview refugees from the uprising; and to Israel in June, to undertake a first-hand investigation of Iraqi missile attacks during the war. Another mission went to Britain, to interview Iraqi exiles. Finally, in the continued absence of official permission, two clandestine missions were mounted inside Iraq itself, in September and December, to the Kurdish rebel-controlled north of the country.
Repeated requests to Baghdad during the year to visit Iraq and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait openly were met by either flat denials or stonewalling. Nor, despite U.S. government sympathy for the objective, was it possible to gain legitimate entry to Iraq through United Nations Security Council Resolution 698, which mandated access by foreign humanitarian organizations. In what appeared to be a breakthrough, on October 5 the Iraqi Red Crescent Society extended an invitation to Human Rights Watch – Middle East Watch's parent organization – to make a visit. However, by the end of 1991, exchanges of letters had still not resulted in Iraqi agreement to the autonomy and confidentiality needed to conduct a meaningful investigation.
The exceptional amount of attention paid to Iraq by Middle East Watch during 1991 was hardly surprising. Even if it had not been for Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait and the Gulf War, the Iraqi regime's atrocious domestic human rights record would have preserved that country's high priority on the Middle East Watch agenda. Reflecting that priority, Human Rights in Iraq, originally published in February 1990 and re-released later in a Yale University Press edition, was this new organization's first major report.
Commencing in late 1990, Middle East Watch embarked on a large-scale enterprise aimed at studying the repression of the Kurdish people on a regionwide rather than purely national basis. The twenty-four to twenty-six million Kurds form a significant ethnic group in six regional states: Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and the former Soviet Union. But their political epicenter during this century has usually been Iraq, where they comprise a larger share of the population (about twenty-five percent) than anywhere else. Previous reports on the mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey have been issued by Helsinki Watch, while previous Middle East Watch prepared reports on Iraq and Syria have contained sections on their Kurdish minorities. But no attempt previously had been made to draw parallels across borders about the treatment of the Kurds.
What altered these plans was the collapse of the March 1991 uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, spurring a refugee exodus of Biblical proportions and gaining widespread international attention for the Kurds for the first time in their history. Plans by Middle East Watch to produce the regional report were thus dropped in favor of a more historical book of both text and photographs, intended for a wider public. The book aims to highlight cyclical patterns of repression and survival by the Kurds over the centuries. Scheduled for publication in 1992, Human Rights Watch is one of a group of international organizations sponsoring its publication.
Another Human Rights Watch-authored book due for publication in 1992, by Yale University Press, will present a broad overview of rights abuses linked to the Gulf war, much of them committed by Iraq. Most of the research for this book was carried out during the second half of 1991, in New York, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Work undertaken during the past year on the Kurds book included three photographic trips to the region, to Iraq, Iran and Turkey; photo-research in the United States, Britain and France; field research on contemporary conditions in Turkey and Israel (the Israeli population today includes over 90,000 Jews of Kurdish origin); participation in conferences in Stockholm, Athens and Bonn on Kurdish human rights; and extensive archival research in several countries.
Discrete, separate research projects being undertaken by Middle East Watch on the treatment of the Iraqi Kurds by Baghdad are to run side by side with the larger demands of this book. In March, to coincide with a visit to Washington by a delegation of Iraqi Kurdish leaders pleading in vain for U.S. government aid, Middle East Watch gave a briefing on the fate of the more than 100,000 Iraqi Kurds who had escaped an earlier wave of persecution by Baghdad, in 1988, and whose plight in exile in Turkey and Iran had been largely ignored by the West.
Earlier in March, Middle East Watch held a press conference in Washington to alert public opinion to the imminent danger of a massacre of Iraqi government opponents, as Saddam Hussein moved to crush civil unrest in the north and south of the country. Regrettably, those predictions of mass killings of unarmed civilians and the wholesale destruction of property were realized.
In April, a Middle East Watch delegation traveled with a staff member of the Washington-based U.S. Committee for Refugees to Teheran, Qom and refugee camps in western Iran, where they interviewed scores of recently arrived Iraqi refugees about recent and past human rights conditions in Iraq. The refugees provided extensive information about the March 1991 uprisings and their aftermath. They also provided detailed accounts of the government campaign to depopulate the Kurdish countryside during the 1980s, a decade in which over one hundred thousand Kurds disappeared; widespread arbitrary arrests and torture during detention; and the repression of the Shi'a in the south of the country.
Further work on the continued persecution of the Shi'a, including the destruction of religious property, mass arrests and a siege of tens of thousands of people trapped in the southern marshes, was conducted in London during June, through interviews with refugees and exiles, and later by telephone to Iraqi opposition groups based in Iran. The findings of these missions are summarized in the section above on human rights developments and will be the subject of forthcoming reports.
In September, a land-mines expert engaged by Middle East Watch on a three-month consultancy spent much of the month touring the rebel-held zone of northern Iraq. His task was to determine the prevalence of minefields laid by government forces over a period of many years, so as assess their impact on civilians. Preliminary conclusions from this pioneering study, which demonstrated that illegally laid mines may have caused up to ten thousand largely civilian casualties during 1991 alone, and were a serious obstacle to the resettlement of over half a million Kurdish refugees without shelter, were brought to the attention of the United Nations in Geneva, the U.S. Congress and State Department, and international relief organizations. A final report will be issued in early 1992.
As the Kurdish guerrilla organizations and parties regained control over their traditional homeland during the summer, in the shadow of Operation Provide Comfort – the U.S.-led military operation based in Turkey – a growing body of evidence began to emerge on the full extent of the Baathist regime's persecution of the Kurds. Journalists, Western parliamentarians and relief organizations encountered mass graves and huge caches of seized Iraqi secret police documents, photographs and tapes attesting to suspected atrocities committed during what Baghdad had secretly dubbed the Anfal (a Koranic expression for the plunder of infidels) campaign of the late 1980s.
As a first step toward obtaining proof of the scale and circumstances of the killings, a joint Middle East Watch and Physicians for Human Rights mission was dispatched to the region in late December. The forensic anthropologists involved were asked to conduct a preliminary investigation of some of the many mass graves recently discovered in Iraqi Kurdistan. Further follow-up work is planned for early 1992.
Much of the Middle East Watch work on Iraq during 1991 stemmed from breaches of international humanitarian law. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities on January 17, the greatest preoccupation had been with the grave violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention committed by Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait. Testimony by the Middle East Watch staff before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East on January 8 provided a resume of Iraq's record in Kuwait over the previous five months; it also looked back at the Kuwaiti government's own adherence to universally accepted human right norms prior to August 1990 and addressed U.S. human rights policy in the region after the Iraqi invasion.
On January 18, in the wake of the first Iraqi missile attack against Israel, Middle East Watch reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligations under the Geneva Conventions to respect noncombatants. On March 7, immediately after the cease-fire, it issued another newsletter – its sixth of the conflict on human rights and humanitarian issues – addressing the overlooked issue of the legal requirements governing treatment of prisoners of war, the wounded and the bodies of killed soldiers. An April article in the New York Review of Books, based on a recent visit to Kuwait, reconstructed the last terrible forty-eight hours of the Iraqi occupation.
During February, a Human Rights Watch specialist in humanitarian law spent three weeks in Jordan, at the height of the air war, interviewing former foreign residents of Iraq who were attempting to return home after fleeing the conflict. That mission provided part of the raw material for a March 6 newsletter on the bombing of Iraqi cities. It condemned the bombing without warning by the U.S. Air Force of the Ameriyya air raid shelter in Baghdad, in which two to three hundred civilians died. It also provided much of the testimony for a much larger Middle East Watch report, published in November, on civilian casualties resulting from violations by both sides of the Geneva Conventions and other applicable rules of war. Entitled Needless Deaths in the Gulf War, this 402-page report was widely quoted and reviewed, both for its ground-breaking legal analysis and for its disclosures about the many instances in which the public portrayal of the air war by the U.S. government and its allies, as being in strict compliance with legal requirements to minimize civilian casualties, were at variance with the facts on the ground.
Jointly with Physicians for Human Rights, Middle East Watch also conducted research during the year into the misuse of U.N.-mandated economic sanctions against Iraq, with highly adverse consequences for the civilian population.
By treating human rights abuses in occupied Kuwait in the chapter on Iraq, Middle East Watch in no sense condones the Iraqi invasion of August 2, 1990, or recognizes Iraq's annexation of Kuwait as the country's 19th province. Rather, placing the discussion here reflects Human Rights Watch's policy of addressing abuses according to the forces committing them rather than the geographic boundaries in which they occur. For a discussion of human rights developments in liberated Kuwait after February 1991, see the chapter on Kuwait.
Neighbors gave the name of the gunman to Middle East Watch as Talal Mousa al-Bannai, but that could not be confirmed. They also reported that the school was equipped with four anti-aircraft artillery guns; the placements were still visible when Middle East Watch interviewed the witnesses on March 27, 1991.
The house in which the shootout was reported to have taken place bore clear signs of a gun battle, with numerous bullet holes in the furniture, walls and windows of most rooms. The house appeared to have been set on fire deliberately, a common Iraqi practice for homes of suspected resistance members.
See, e.g., Edward Cody, "Exiled Kuwaiti Leaders Say Iraqis Kill, Steal for Food," The Washington Post, February 10, 1991; Victor Mallet, "'Iraqis executed over 200 Kuwaitis,'" Financial Times, February 15, 1991; Caryle Murphy, "U.S. Says Iraq Stepping Up Terrorist Actions in Kuwait," The Washington Post, February, 24, 1991; Judith Miller, "Officials of Kuwaiti Government Move to Saudi City Nearer Home," The New York Times, February 25, 1991; Jimmy Burns, "Kuwaitis tell of 7,000 dead and Iraqi atrocities," Financial Times, February 20, 1991.
The February roundup was probably the largest in a single month since September 1990. But claims that in the last week of the occupation, up to forty thousand were rounded up were false. Such claims were circulated, shortly before the ground war, by Kuwaiti representatives and given currency by U.S. defense officials. See, e.g., Knut Royce, "Kuwaitis Next Human Shields?," Newsday, February 20, 1991; "Iraqi Forces Arrest 7,000 Kuwaiti Citizens," a dispatch by the Kuwaiti News Agency, February 25, 1991; "33,000 Koweitiens portés disporus," Le Monde, March 5, 1991. See also the transcript of General Norman Schwarzkopf's press conference on February 27, 1991.
For example, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was reported to have personally intervened to secure the release of the CBS team. See Eric Pace, "Baghdad Releases CBS News Crew," The New York Times, March 3,1991.
The Kuwaiti government had earlier demanded the repatriation to Kuwait of those additional one thousand people. Starting in August, however, the government dropped the names of all missing Palestinian and Jordanian residents from its lists. It also deleted the names of Bedoons who were not affiliated with the military or the police.
This follows an apparent Iraqi government policy. Final tallies of Iraqi military and civilian casualties during Operation Desert Storm have not been released, although the allies have been no more forthcoming in this regard.
Jonathan Randal, "Kurdish Uprising Aided by Clandestine Army Contacts," The Washington Post, March 23, 1991. Activists from southern Iraq told Middle East Watch that underground groups had laid some of the groundwork for the rebellions that erupted in southern cities.
Middle East Watch heard credible testimony from numerous Kurdish refugees that a number of members of the Iraq-based armed Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, fought alongside government troops in suppressing the Kurdish rebellion in Kirkuk and elsewhere. However, it was not possible to ascertain the extent of their role.
The provisional cease-fire signed on March 3 prevented Iraq from flying fixed-wing aircraft. While the U.S. shot down two jets flying over northern Iraq in March, it did not interfere with the helicopters that proved so effective in putting down the uprising. This U.S. stance is discussed later in this chapter in the analysis of U.S. policy.
Kurdish refugees told Middle East Watch that armed pesh mergas sometimes accompanied those fleeing. However, they said, the attacking helicopters made no effort to distinguish between the rebels and unarmed civilians.
A letter and memorandum to the Iraqi minister for foreign affairs, dated September 16, 1991, from the U.N. special rapporteur contained specific allegations of summary executions committed by Iraqi forces during the uprising. The memorandum described executions of: 150 men and boys who were taken to a military garrison near Hilla on March 16; another seventy civilians from the same city on March 19; scores of civilians in Samawa between March 20 and 29; seventy patients and medical personnel at Hilla hospital on March 9; hundreds of civilians in Qara Hanjir from March 27 to 29; and the death by burning of forty people from Arbat on April 3.
According to information supplied by the London-based al-Khoei Foundation, all of the detainees were affiliated to Shiite religious schools in Najaf. Of the total number, forty-three were Iraqi nationals, twenty-eight were Iranian nationals, and the balance were nationals of Lebanon, India, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iraqi officials repeatedly claimed that Iran and Iranian-backed forces were involved in the uprisings, although little attention was devoted to this issue in the Western media. On March 12, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said there was no evidence of Iranian military assistance to the uprisings "or indeed any official Iranian assistance at all." (Elaine Sciolino, "Iraqi Gains Against Rebels Sometimes Fade, US Says," The New York Times, March 13, 1991.) On March 19, however, Bush Administration officials said that Iran was supplying arms to insurgents in the north and south. "There is some support, some arms from Iran," one official told The New York Times. "Is it a major supply operation? The answer is no." (Elaine Sciolino, "Kurds Alone Viewed As Unlikely to Oust Saddam," New York Times, March 20, 1991.)
RCC Decree No. 109, dated April 20, stated: "All Iraqis, whether in northern, southern or central Iraq, will be included in the general and comprehensive pardon stipulated in RCC Decree No. 103 dated 10 April 1991. They will be pardoned from any legal effect or legal proceedings resulting from any action punishable by law which took place during the circumstances of the events of rioting and treason. The crimes of premeditated murder, violation of honor, and theft are exempted from this."
For example, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Iran-based Shi'a opposition coalition headed by Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, reported in May that some forty Iraqi security forces and military-intelligence personnel in Amara, a city north of Basra, were arrested, apparently because of their failure to put down the uprising there. (Press Release, London, May 20, 1991.)
A number of their allegations are included in the November 1991 report of the U.N. special rapporteur on Iraq, including the following: "there are no functioning religious centres of learning in Najaf and Karbala, including the ancient universities ... the Al-Khoei school has been razed to the ground ... the traditional call to prayer and pilgrimage in the holy shrine of Najaf and Karbala has been banned along with public prayers in these holy cities ... many Shiah clergymen are banned from wearing their traditional uniforms and from performing their religious duties ... more than 1,000 religious books have been banned by the Ministry of Information ... various religious practices (such as Shiah traditional rituals about Iman Hussein) are prohibited both in public and in private places ... the holy shrines of Shiah Islam (especially in Najaf and Karbala) have been desecrated by government forces ... religious manuscripts and books in a number of libraries are said to have either burnt or otherwise purposefully destroyed." (p. 16)
Such a move, if implemented, would have far-reaching consequences. Under the Iraqi Constitution, the unelected RCC is empowered unilaterally to promulgate laws and decrees, to mobilize the army, to approve the budget, to ratify treaties, to declare war, and to conclude peace. The RCC alone is empowered to amend the Constitution.
The draft constitution was published in July 1990. In the assessment of the U.S. State Department, the document "would alter the form but not the substance of Iraq's political system. In the new 'Presidential Republic,' the President would assume most of the current powers of the RCC, which would be abolished." (U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1990, p. 1457.)
Kurds claim the city is part of Iraqi Kurdistan, while Turkomans – Iraqis of Turkish descent – say it is Turkoman. Muzaffer Aslan, secretary general of the National Turkoman Party of Iraq, said in September: "The plight of the Turkoman people is terrible.... Saddam Hussein is now trying to enact legislation to Arabize the Turkoman people.... Thousands of Arabs are being resettled in Kirkuk, with more than 2,726 arriving in just the last two weeks. Saddam Hussein wants to make the Turkomans a minority in this area. Meanwhile, the regime is forcing the Turkomans to register themselves as being of Arab extraction." (Istanbul Gunaydin, September 2, 1991, as reported in FBIS, September 6, 1991.) Fu'ad Muassum, a senior IKF official, affirmed in September that the Iraqi government was counting Turkomans in Kirkuk as Arabs: "The Baghdad Government says that the majority of the population in Kirkuk is Arab. The fact is they are considering that the Turkmen who live there are Arab." (Agence France-Presse, September 14, 1991, as reported in FBIS, September 17, 1991.) Kurds also claim that the authorities are attempting to Arabize Kirkuk, prevent its inclusion in the autonomous region, and not allow displaced Kurds who fled earlier in the year to return.
Paul Lewis, "United Nations Eases Rules On Food and Fuel for Iraqis," The New York Times, March 23, 1991. Previously, pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 666 of September 13, 1990, food could be exported to Iraq only if the U.N. Sanctions Committee determined that "circumstances have arisen in which there is an urgent humanitarian need to supply foodstuffs to Iraq or Kuwait in order to relieve human suffering." If food was to be sent, the resolution provided that it be done under the auspices of the United Nations "in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross or other appropriate humanitarian agencies and distributed by them or under their supervision in order to ensure that they reach the intended beneficiaries." There was no restriction on the shipment of medicine to Iraq.
For example, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported in July that "Iraq's population is facing a massive famine as a result of the war and a poor harvest." (Jerry Gray, "5 Powers At U.N. Decide to Allow Iraqis To Sell Oil," The New York Times, August 8, 1991.)
Patrick E. Tyler, "Baghdad Now Seen Exerting Economic Pressure on Kurds," The New York Times, November 6, 1991. The first food diversion by the Iraqi authorities was reported as early as June, when the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. World Food Program said that the Iraqi authorities diverted food bound for Kurdish areas of northern Iraq; other sources said that at least three thousand tons were diverted to Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein. (Middle East International, June 14, 1991.)
Amnesty requested meetings with Saddam Hussein and other government officials, sought access to all areas of the country, and asked for permission to interview and conduct medical examinations of individuals known to be held in custody at prisons and detention centers.
The memorandum covered arbitrary detention, disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, measures used by the government to control civil disturbances, hostage-taking, and the use of civilians as human shields. It also requested information about Iraq's executive and judicial institutions, treatment of ethnic minorities, religious tolerance, and granting of equal access by all segments of the population to food and health care.
Previous efforts to investigate Iraq had been consistently blocked at meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Western nations, including the United States, had been less than enthusiastic prior to the Gulf war about supporting such investigations, but following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait their attitude changed dramatically.
See, e.g., "Kurdistan in the Time of Saddam Hussein: A Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate," November 1991. The report was written by Peter Galbraith, staff director of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
President Bush made this statement in remarks to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in Washington, and again to an audience at a Raytheon Company factory in Andover, Massachusetts. He was responding to a lengthy statement issued by Iraq's RCC, which was broadcast on Radio Baghdad on February 15. The RCC hinted at a possible willingness to withdraw from Kuwait. Without mentioning Kuwait by name, the RCC announced "Iraq's readiness to deal with Security Council resolution No. 660 of 1990, with the aim of reaching an honorable and acceptable political solution, including withdrawal." The president dismissed the RCC statement as a "cruel hoax" and said there was "nothing new" in the various Iraqi demands included in the statement. ("Baghdad's Offer and Conditions for Ending War Over Kuwait" and "Excerpts From 2 Statements by Bush on Iraq's Proposal for Ending Conflict," The New York Times, February 16, 1991.)
As early as August 11, 1990, the president had hinted of his desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted: "No, we're not prepared to support the overthrow, but I hope that these actions that have been taken will result in an Iraq that is prepared to live peacefully in a community of nations. And if that means Saddam Hussein changes his spots, so be it. And if he doesn't, I hope the Iraqi people do something about it so that their leader will live by the norms of international behavior that will be acceptable to other nations." ("Excerpts From Statements By Bush on Strategy in Gulf," The New York Times, August 12, 1990.) The president said more on August 30, 1990: "Well, it wouldn't disappoint me if the Iraqis got up and said, 'Look, this man is our problem.'" ("Excerpts From President's News Conference on Gulf Crisis," The New York Times, August 31, 1990.) After the Gulf War began, the United States insisted that Saddam's removal was not a goal of U.S. policy. On February 1, 1991, the State Department denied that destroying Saddam's regime was a U.S. goal. However, on January 23, President Bush said that the United States would "shed no tears" if Saddam was overthrown.
However, in August 1990, President Bush had secretly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other U.S. agencies to undertake covert intelligence operations to destabilize the Iraqi government. (See Middle East Watch, Needless Deaths in the Gulf War, November 1991, pp. 84-85.) But destabilization efforts did not meet with success. The Washington Post reported that from August 1990 until the end of the Gulf war, "the CIA reported periodically that it had not found substantial or unified opposition to receive such assistance." (R. Jeffrey Smith and John M. Goshko, "U.S. Weighs More Aggressive Campaign to Topple Iraqi Leader," November 25, 1991.)
David Hoffman and Barton Gellman, "U.S. Threatens to Down Any Iraqi Combat Aircraft," The Washington Post, March 16, 1991. Among the terms of the March 3 cease-fire agreement was a prohibition against Iraq's use of fixed-wing aircraft. According to the Post, "The precise details of the ceasefire agreements have been unclear.... U.S. officials had said [on March 14] that, so far as they knew, there was nothing in the provisional cease-fire that explicitly prevents Iraq from using its helicopters in combat against rebellious forces." The Post reported:
[White House spokesman Marlin] Fitzwater said the use of helicopters was not specifically addressed in the written agreement secured by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.... According to Fitzwater, Schwarzkopf, when he met with Iraqi military leaders March 3, did discuss informally their intentions to use helicopters for transportation purposes. That was before the large-scale uprisings throughout Iraq had begun. Fitzwater characterized those discussions as outside the written agreement governing the provisional cease-fire and said the reason that U.S. officials concerned themselves at all with Iraqi aircraft was to protect U.S. troops.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 688 of April 5, condemned "the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq," demanded that it cease, and insisted "that Iraq allow immediate access by international humanitarian organizations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq." The resolution only mentioned the Kurdish population and the Kurdish region of Iraq by name. It was passed by a vote of ten in favor, three opposed and two abstentions.
At the time of the president's remarks, there were 36,266 U.S. military personnel deployed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf. Of these, some 16,000 were navy personnel in the Gulf and surrounding waters and almost 11,000 were army personnel in Saudi Arabia.
According to The Washington Post, "Kurdish sources said the fighting broke out [on October 5] when the guerrillas intercepted an Iraqi military communication ordering the capture of key rebel-held positions in the mountains around Kifri and Kalar. The government reportedly blamed the outbreak on Kurdish rebels." (Jonathan C. Randal, "New Exodus of Kurds Underway," October 9, 1991.)
"According to serious witnesses, the general food situation in Baghdad has improved; even prices have stabilized, although at a high level. The real problem is in the south of the country, where the regime has few scruples about letting water-borne diseases and lack of medicines become visible enough to the selected visitors to make good copy abroad." (Ibid.)
Security Council Resolution 687, which established the Gulf War cease-fire, provides, in the language of a U.S. State Department summary, for the lifting of all sanctions on Iraqi exports "when Iraq agrees to the destruction of its weapons of mass destruction and missiles, provides their locations to the Special Commission, and agrees not to acquire or develop them in the future, and when the Security Council approves the Secretary General's plan for the compensation fund." (U.S. Department of State, Dispatch, April 8, 1991.)
Fitzwater said: "All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone. Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government. Time is not on Iraq's side so long as Saddam holds onto power."
In a report from Baghdad, The Washington Post said that diplomats believe that the import and sale of food in Iraq are controlled by relatives and close associates of Saddam Hussein. (Caryle Murphy, "Iraq, Despite U.N. Sanctions, Is Able to Buy Food, Rebuild," December 10, 1991.)