Searching for healing through justice

Toward the beginning of the Saddam Hussein's second trial for genocide against the Kurdish people, three different coloured posters appeared on the streets of Suleimaniya. On one, the face of a frightened Saddam Hussein peered out behind jailhouse bars. The message on the poster asks, "What punishment would begin to fit the crimes he committed?" Another showed Saddam pointing a gun at a column of people, and bore the statement, "The forced exodus of the Kurdish people is a violation of human rights." A third read, "Humanity does not accept mass graves."

Kurds in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) area are intently watching Saddam's second trial. Seared in their memories are the atrocities he committed against their people. The Ba'ath Party forced Kurds from their homes in the oil-rich areas around Kirkuk and replaced them with Arab families beginning in the 1970s before Saddam came to power. But most of the "genocide," referred to as the "the Anfal campaigns," took place during 1988, when an estimated 160,000 Kurds were shot, gassed, relocated, or "disappeared."

Anfal survivors see this trial, in which 160 Anfal witnesses will give evidence, as a victory. They hope it will bring world wide attention to the magnitude of their suffering, but also serve as a warning to repressive regimes that the world will no longer tolerate the inhuman and unjust treatment of all peoples. And they expect this trial to be healing not only for the Anfal survivors, but for all the Kurdish people.

With the trial have surfaced other controversies. The Kurdish people insist that the trial be handled by non-Arabs. Kurdish officials say they will file suits against foreign countries or individuals who had assisted the Ba'athists in killing or abusing Kurds. The Kurdish people have also called for the arrest of Kurds who had collaborated with the Iraqi Army to carry out the Anfal campaign. And survivors have said that many of these collaborators are currently holding positions in the KRG.

What does this mean? How far does this indictment of international collaborators with the Anfal go? Does this mean sanctioning countries such as the United States, which sold Saddam the chemicals used in Halubja and other Kurdish areas? Does it mean deposing officials in the KRG?

What is clear to me during my time in the Kurdish region, is that the wounds are widespread, raw and deep. Seeing Saddam in a fearful state and facing punishment seems to be satisfying and healing to Kurds. I wonder, however, if it will really give them the depth of healing they long for.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations. Supporting violence-reduction efforts around the world is its mandate.