For most of us, genocide is a word seldom spoken. But for the Kurdish people of northern Iraq, genocide was a brutal reality under the regime of Saddam Hussein. After the first Gulf War, relief operations began and the horrible truth of Saddam's atrocities against the Kurds became clear to the entire world.
Every Kurd has a story to tell of personal tragedy at the hands of Saddam Hussein. The stories are of family members who were imprisoned, tortured, or taken away to an unknown fate. Mass graves littered the countryside in the north. Those who survived were forcibly resettled in collective towns where they were more easily monitored and controlled. An entire people and way of life were threatened with extermination. Between 1968 and 1988, approximately 400,000 Kurds were murdered, including thousands who were gassed to death with chemical weapons as they slept in their beds. A systematic campaign of terror was used against the Kurds to subdue, control, and ultimately kill them. The years of oppression culminated in 1988 in a brutal plan known as the "Anfal," an Arabic word meaning "permission to plunder." Four thousand Kurdish villages were systematically destroyed and reduced to nothing but rubble.
In 1991 following the first Gulf War, Saddam retaliated against the Kurds for uprising to overthrow the government. Saddam forced almost the entire population of northern Iraq, a million and a half people, to flee to the mountainous border areas of Turkey in the north and Iran in the east. In response, the U.S. and allied coalition forces imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq and forced Saddam to withdraw from the area. Refugees were encouraged to return and to start rebuilding thousands of villages that Saddam had destroyed. But in 1996, Saddam's troops again advanced north to the city of Erbil, forcing all international organizations to withdraw their workers from the country. In 2003, a US-led coalition of forces again attacked Iraq, finally forcing Saddam from power and into hiding and eventual capture, and opening the way for humanitarian agencies to return to the country.
Shortly after the first Gulf War ended, SFL began work in northern Iraq to help resettle Kurdish refugees who were returning to their homes after fleeing from Saddam Hussain's violent regime. By 1994, SFL had become the lead agency for refugee resettlement and school programs in northern Iraq and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) main implementing partner in the region. In three years, SFL succeeded in rebuilding over 1,000 houses for Iraqi Kurds. In addition to shelters, SFL repaired and reopened transportation routes and constructed nine schools and two clinics.
SFL was forced to vacate northern Iraq in 1996 along with all other humanitarian agencies because of severe political and military instability. However, after Saddam Hussein was later removed from power by coalition forces, SFL again mobilized to meet the needs of those suffering in northern Iraq. Currently, SFL is implementing a number of shelter, construction, and community development projects in partnership with the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) and the United Nations.
SFL provided life-sustaining shelter along with training opportunities by enabling 104 families who lived in substandard and unsanitary conditions to build new homes. This project supported stable economic futures by providing skills development, vocational training, and income generation opportunities. All aspects of this project were designed to encourage self-sufficiency and enhance local capacity, benefiting a total of 528 people. This project was funded by BPRM and was completed in March 2006.
SFL has linked six communities to a permanent water system, enabling a regular supply of clean water while the municipal water supply is developed. Health and hygiene education were also promoted to the 4,500 residents benefiting from the project. BPRM funded the project cost. This project was completed in February 2006.
SFL is continuing to work in Dohuk and Soran in northern Iraq to address the housing, water supply, and livelihood problems resulting from the social disruptions of the Saddam Hussain era. Houses for 51 families are being constructed to provide permanent shelter in Dohuk. In Soran, 882 families are participating in a livelihood grants distribution scheme; vocational training in sewing; and community mobilization to enable local communities to work on community projects which they have identified as priority needs. This project is funded by the UNHCR and is scheduled for completion in Feb. 2007.
Water supply is a pressing need in Soran and surrounding areas. To address those needs, SFL is trucking water on an interim basis to 1,000 families and a number of civic buildings until 7.4 km. of 40 cm. water pipe are laid to provide the western side of Soran with fresh spring water. The Kurdish Regional Government is supplying drinking water to the eastern side of Soran. In total, 25,000 households in Soran will be supplied with fresh drinking water. Besides water delivery and water supply, the project includes a community development component which provides public awareness of principles of hygiene and the environment; sensitization about rubbish disposal for school children; health and hygiene training for women; the promotion of municipal rubbish collection; and radio programming to broadcast public health messages. This project is funded by the BPRM of the U.S. Dept. of State and the Kurdish Regional Government. Project completion is scheduled for June 2007.
Shelter is more than a roof and four walls...