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Iraq Transition

U.S.: Anfal campaign included poison gas, 'savage attacks'

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A Kurdish boy in a building allegedly used by the Iraqi army for torture during the 1988 Anfal campaign.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Anfal campaign is regarded by the United States as "one of the great atrocities against the Iraqi people" by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

It is believed that some 100,000 Kurds were killed and about 3,000 villages destroyed in a series of eight separate military operations staged in the Kurdish region of Iraq from February to August 1988.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, and Human Rights Watch provided detail about the campaign in recent statements.

"Anfal" -- which means "spoils" in Arabic -- is a term from the eighth chapter, or sura, of the Quran, the sacred Muslim book.

Hussein and six co-defendants went on trial Monday for their roles in the Anfal operation. Hussein refused to enter a plea to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. (Full story)

Human Rights Watch said the Anfal campaign "was the culmination of a long history of assaults against Kurds in northern Iraq, viewed as a threat by Hussein's Baathist regime."

In a fact sheet given to reporters Saturday, the U.S. Embassy said "hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds were displaced, arrested, tortured or killed" but a precise death count can't be established.

According to the embassy, "the evidence in the Anfal case is voluminous and compelling.

"It includes the testimony of numerous survivors, physical evidence from mass graves that has been subject to forensic examination, and regime documents."

"During the years preceding the Anfal campaign, large rural areas in the Iraqi provinces of Sulaimaniya, Irbil and Duhuk were 'prohibited' by the Iraqi government, and the people living there were ordered to abandon their homes and move into 'collective villages' closely monitored by Iraqi authorities," the statement said.

Kurdish villagers "who remained in these prohibited areas were subject to indiscriminate attack. They were regarded as 'saboteurs,' 'Iranian agents,' or 'deserters' and, under orders issued prior to the Anfal campaign, they were subject to arrest, punishment, torture and execution without trial.

"The Anfal campaign was distinguished by a series of savage military attacks on civilians who had remained in or moved back to the 'prohibited areas,'" the embassy continued.

"These attacks included the use of mustard gas and nerve agents. These weapons, or 'special ammunition,' as they were referred to by the Iraqi command structure, were used as instruments of terror to kill and maim rural villagers and to drive them out of their homes and enable Iraqi intelligence units and Ba'ath party organizations to arrest them.

"The infrastructure in the prohibited areas was destroyed, and the villages were flattened," the embassy said.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Kurdish Regional Government said the Iraqi government in the 1970s carried out what it called an "Arabization or ethnic cleansing program in Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Sinjar, and other areas inhabited by Kurds, Turkmen and other minorities."

"Non-Arabs living in Kirkuk were compelled under duress to change their registered nationality in their identity documents to the Arab nationality. Those who refused were forced to leave their homes and lands, and their properties were confiscated. Borders were gerrymandered to consolidate the change in ethnic composition in the governorates," or provinces, the statement said.

The KRG represents the provinces of Sulaimaniya, Irbil and Duhuk.

Kurds "continue to live with the legacy of suffering and bodies continue to be unearthed from mass graves," the KRG said. "The crimes have left behind a generation of women who lost their husbands, and children who lost their fathers, uncles and grandfathers. The Iraqi government's acts have resulted in illnesses from chemical weapons exposure, unusually high rates of cancer, large numbers of internally displaced persons, and families still fighting to reclaim their homes and lands."

The chemical attack on Halabja, where an estimated 5,000 people were gassed to death, took place during this same time period, but was not part of the Anfal campaign. It will be part of a separate case being investigated.

CNN's Joe Sterling, Nicky Robertson and Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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