Published: Feb. 3, 1998

A large cache of secret police documents citing Iraq’s repeated use of chemical weapons and its genocidal campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq will be opened to the public for the first time as a result of a recent acquisition by the Archives at the University of Colorado at Boulder, according to curator Bruce Montgomery.

The collection, known as the Captured Iraqi Secret Police Files, also details Iraq’s top leadership, security and intelligence agencies, and collaborators.

The acquisition is the latest in the Archives’ six-year-old Human Rights Initiative, which also has secured the archives of many of the world’s preeminent human rights organizations.

Produced by the regime of President Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi military and security information was seized by Kurdish rebel groups in a 1991 uprising at the end of the Persian Gulf War. An agreement among the rebels, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Human Rights Watch, a global human rights organization, resulted in the materials being airlifted out of Iraq under U.S. military cover.

The materials have been held under strict security at the National Archives branch in Maryland since the summer of 1992, Montgomery said. They were approved in January by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee for transfer to the CU Archives.

“We are extremely honored to be selected as a repository for this important body of documents,” said Chancellor Richard L. Byyny. “CU has earned an international reputation for our collections on human rights issues, and this acquisition further solidifies our leadership role.”

The materials -- including 5.5 million pages of documents, military maps, audio and videotapes, and photographs, weighing about 18 tons in all -- are in the process of being shipped to an undisclosed site designated by the university.

“This is an incredible body of material,” said Montgomery, head of the Archives. “The Iraqi files record the atrocities of a brutal regime in its own words. What we have here is a genocide collection.”

Joost Hiltermann of Human Rights Watch, who supervised two years of research on the documents while they were in U.S. government custody, said the documents are “candid about practices that are clearly illegal, such as use of secret courts, executions without due process and chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds and against Iran.”

“It is rare that this kind of evidence is made available to the public,” he said. If the information becomes available in Iraq where individuals named in the documents reside, “it could cause quite a stir,” he added.

“The information will be of tremendous importance to Kurds who want to find out what happened to their loved ones,” Hiltermann said, noting that about 8,000 Kurdish people emigrated to the U.S. after the war.

Human Rights Watch has been working to bring a case of genocide against Iraq before the International Court of Justice -- the World Court -- in The Hague.

“We have been trying to put together a coalition of states to make a case against Iraq. So far we haven’t found enough governments to do it,” Hiltermann said.

Montgomery plans an aggressive effort to translate the materials and make them available on the World Wide Web, for the greatest possible access.