Sweet Tea with Cardamom: a Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan

Extract from: Sweet Tea with Cardamom: a Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan
Chapter Twelve
The Man with no Hands



Chapter Twelve - The Man with no Hands (September 1993)

We left the Hotel Peace early the next morning and took our things to the Hotel Abu Sana. I was wondering what to do first in Sulaymaniyah, when Omar and Mohammed, our guards, suggested we go to the Red Security Building to talk with the refugees from Kirkuk.
Of all the Kurdish towns and cities that rose up against the government at the end of the Gulf War, nowhere was the violence and destruction greater than in Kirkuk. The uprisings began in the south of Iraq in the Shi'i city of Basra on 28 February 1991, the day of the ceasefire, when a column of tanks fleeing from Kurwait rolled into Sa'ad Square and the commander at the head of the column stopped in front of a giant mural of Saddam and climbed onto the roof. He denounced the dictator as responsible for the humiliation and defeat of the Iraqi people, climbed back into the tank and began to blast the portrait with shells, to the delight of the assembled crowd.
Within days, turmoil had spread to Karbala, Najaf, Hilla, al-Nasiriyah, al-Amara, Samawa, Kut and Diwaniya - all the larger cities of southern Iraq. On 4 march, rebellion erupted in the Kurdish north, beginning in the town of Ranya to the northwest of Sulaymaniyah. It spread so rapidly that within ten days the Kurds were in control of every city except Kirkuk and Mosul. The Kurds' greatest moment came on 20 March, when they succeeded in capturing Kirkuk.
But the success of the uprisings, both north and south, was short-lived. In the south, the government regained control of all but a few areas by the end of March, inflicting indescribable suffering in the process and seriously damaging the holy Shi'i sites at Karbala and Najaf. This left loyal army units free to turn their attention to Kurdistan.
Kirkuk was retaken by 28 or 29 March, D'hok and Arbil were taken on 30 March, Zakho on 1 April and Sulaymaniyah by 3 April. There followed a mass exodus by the civilian population, who feared the renewed use of chemical weapons against them. By 5 April it was reported that up to 3 million people were on the move in Kurdistan, some heading east for the Iranian border and the rest heading north for Turkey.
In the south of Iraq, the force of the uprising had been increased by the participation of large numbers of soldiers whose disillusionment with the government led them to side with the rebels. In Kurdistan, much of the jash collaborator militia defected and fought alongside the peshmerga and the people. In both the south and the north, the rebels attacked security force headquarters, brutally killing large numbers of their personnel in revenge for the suffering of countless past torture victims. Prisons were sacked and large numbers of prisoners released, many of whom saw the light of day for the first time in more than a decade.

Before the uprising, the Red Security Building had been Sulaymaniyah's main security police building. People were tortured in cells in the basement, hundreds of women were raped in the 'Raping Room' and many people died there. During the uprising it was stormed by the people of Sulaymaniyah and in the course of a long battle the security personnel were all either killed or driven out. Now, two years later, the basement cells were full of water and two hundred and thirty refugee families from Kirkuk had made their homes on the ground and upper floors.

Sweet Tea with Cardamom: a Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan

firefox Format: paperback
Publication date: February 1997
Publisher: Pandora
Category: Travel / human rights