The Barzani tribe had long been a thorn in the flesh of the Iraqi central government. Hostilities reached boiling point during the Iraq-Iran War when Saddam Hussein accused them of collaborating with the Iranians. Soon afterwards between 5,000 and 8,000 Barzani tribesmen were abducted and never seen again.
When jihadists from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded the Sinjar region of northern Iraq in 2014 they committed genocide against the Yazidi population. One Yazidi family, the Chattos, survived their onslaught.
The Iraqi attack on the Balisan valley was the first time a sovereign state had used chemical weapons on its own populace. Shocked villagers who survived the attack likened the experience to witnessing "doomsday".
In 1988 the Iraqi army launched a ferocious attack on Kurdish communities south of the Turkish border. Fleeing towards Turkey, the villagers of Kureme found their route blocked by Iraqi soldiers and were captured. The male villagers were put in front of a firing squad – yet six survived to tell their story.
‘Arabs are still occupying the land that belonged to my grandfather’
In the 1960s Kurdish farmers were driven off their farms near Kirkuk and replaced with Arab settlers. SADOUN REZA MAHMOUD returned home after the 2003 Iraq war, but his claim to his family's land is still being challenged by the Arabs who took it.
‘Children were laid on the ground and some were dead: no breathing, no movement’
After a horrific gas attack on Balisan valley, survivors were imprisoned in Erbil without medical treatment. MOHAMMED RASUL QADIR, who was held in the same jail, saw 57 villagers from Balisan die within a week of their arrival.
‘I walked my son to the bus: I knew I’d never see him again’
Villagers from Sheikh Wasan initially refused to believe chemical weapons had been used against them. AISHA TAHA ABDULLAH remembers her son laughing when she urged him to cover his windows and doors with blankets.
‘If a bird flies its nest, doesn’t it always want to return?’
For decades Kurds living near Kirkuk strongly resisted attempts by the Iraqi regime to drive them off their lands. MOHAMMED AMIN RAHMAN ALI returned to Chalistan repeatedly, only to be forced to leave his home again and again.
‘My childhood was on fire, flames destroying my memories’
The first major Iraqi poison gas attack on the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) badly damaged Kurdish morale. ABDULKARIM HALADINI watched as chemical bombs and shells rained down on the PUK headquarters.
‘My Kurdish family were the original inhabitants of Mama village, not Arabs’
In the 1960s Arab militia drove Kurdish farmers from their homes near Kirkuk and established control over this oil rich territory. ABDUL QADIR ABDULRAHMAN describes how the Ba'ath Party made his family suffer.
‘The Arabs are still occupying our lands 45 years later’
Hundreds of Kurdish families were driven off their lands near Kirkuk in the 1960s by Arab militia known as 'The National Guard'. FAKHRADIN KAKASHEEN MOHAMMED tells how, as a five-year-old, he was forced to flee with his family.
‘The Iraqi army showed no mercy to women, children nor the elderly’
The Iraqi army systematically attacked Kurdish villages in the Lesser Zab valley as part of Saddam's Anfal campaigns. ABDULRAHMAN ABDULLAH SALIH describes how he lost his entire family as a consequence and how this hardened his heart.
‘The Iraqi National Guard stole everything of value in our houses’
In the early 1960s the Iraqi authorities confiscated Kurdish lands north of Kirkuk. To this day, legal title has yet to be formally restored to its original owners. MAJID MOHAMMED ISMAEL describes how Arab militia looted his family home in Qara Dara and killed one of his neighbours.
‘The Iraqis tortured, looted and killed so the people of Qara Dara rose up’
Iraq's ruling Ba’ath Party used brutal tactics to "arabise" oil-rich Kurdish lands near Kirkuk in the 1960s. HADI HAMA MUSTAFA, a child at the time, witnessed a Kurdish smuggler being shot dead at an Iraqi checkpoint.
‘We escaped the village with nothing but our souls’
The Iraqi Ba’ath Party ethnically "cleansed" areas near Kirkuk of their Kurdish and Turkman population in the early 1960s. TAHSIN OMAR BEG, a Turkman from Kutan village, remembers how Arab militia stole his father’s livestock, looted their home and executed their neighbours.
‘The Arab militia were firing at us from our village graveyard’
Arab militia groups supporting the ruling Ba’ath Party drove Kurdish villagers from their homes near Kirkuk and replaced them with Arab settlers from the south. ARRAS ABDULLAH MOHAMMED remembers how his neighbours resisted for two days before they were forced to flee.
‘The Iraqis even killed horses – I’ve never seen such a sadistic military force’
When the Iraqi army blitzed Kurdish peshmerga bases with poison gas in February 1988, AZAD SAGERMA, a senior field commander with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was unaware his forces would face a military catastrophe that could only end in defeat.
‘The Iraqi National Guard burned down whatever they could: houses, belongings and crops’
In the early 1960s Iraqi soldiers and tanks supported Arab militia as they moved into Kurdish villages northwest of Kirkuk. SAMAD KARIM AZIZ witnessed local people being overpowered as they tried to prevent the invaders from seizing their livestock and land.
‘The Iraqis asked why I attended a peshmerga funeral. I said, “He’s a human being and you killed him”‘
The Catholic Church in Kurdistan protected Kurdish civilians during Anfal. BISHOP RABBAN AL QAS ferried Kurds to hospital after poison gas attacks and urged villagers to flee to Iran and Turkey after learning of a government decree to destroy their homes.
‘The Iraqis razed 24 villages and drove people from their lands’
The 1963 Ba’athist coup against the Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qasim led to a worsening of relations between Arabs and Kurds. Arab farmer SHAHAB AHMAD AWAD witnessed the expulsion of Kurdish farmers from the Kirkuk region by Ba’aathist National Guards.
‘The Iraqis tried to break the Kurdish spirit with chemical weapons’
After their attack on Halabja, the Iraqis extended their poison gas attacks to villages closer to Sulaimaniya. With casualties rising after exposure to mustard and nerve gas, DOCTOR FAIQ MOHAMMED GULPI established a secret mountain hospital to treat the wounded.