Cliff Kindy Iraq Blog

Current entries are related to Cliff Kindy's fourth Iraq trip, beginning in October 2007. The blog archives contains letters from Cliff's third Iraq trip in 2004-5.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Visit to Halapja, Story of Chemical Attack in 1988

Bakrideen Haji Saleem and his wife

Anita David, Michele Obed Naar, Peggy Gish and Cliff Kindy with Shadan translating and Driver Mohammad accompanying met with this couple in their home for over three hours.

Bakrideen started by saying, “We like the US, but they do not return the appreciation. Where is the US human rights message with their support of Turkey as Turkey bombs the borders of Kurdistan? Why did it happen during our feast days?"

My home is in the old Jewish quarter, part of a very ancient city. My first home in a village near Halupja was destroyed, then a home here in Halupja, this is my third home.

The US is not alone at fault. The US people are also to blame because they vote for the government. During Vietnam the people took to the streets and stopped the government. We received the US with flowers in 2003, but got nothing in return. The US supports its enemies better than us. Our people in Turkey and Iran are being mistreated. We can provide six times the support for the US that Turkey can. Kurds are 50 million people in all countries. New ideas cannot come into the Mideast without Kurdistan.

My two sons and three daughters (the youngest 20 days) died in the chemical attack by Iraq on Halupja.

I know the US from Abraham Lincoln through civil rights, and I am just a common man. I know what happened in Cuba, Panama, and the Soviet Union. You can’t neglect other people. Now, since the Soviet collapse, the US is the father in the world. You must be faithful to your promises.

In the US there are civil organizations and students, but they are not active now. The US is more than government. Two hands (US NGO – CARE?) supported the Kurdish Revolution 40 years ago with cans of food. At that time Saddam Hussein accused us of being US agents. But to no avail; we were dropped by the US.

Two of our children remain alive, a daughter in Germany and one here with this one year old grandson playing on the floor.

Bakrideen is an art teacher (sculptor). He showed us a stone carving he did of a young boy and told us of another carving with Jesus and a lamb. He indicated strong support for Jesus as a prophet and for Christianity. He sent an oral message and pictures to father Bush in 1993 via a representative who visited with Bakrideen in his basement.

“Now we want Kirkuk. We could have had our own country with Kirkuk separately, but wanted to stay together. This is not like the Falkland Islands. There is a history; we have family there; not Babylon, just Kirkuk. In school we say Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. Arabs came there through Arabization; Turkomans are the remains of the Ottoman Empire. 800 years ago there were no Turks. They did a genocide of Armenians, now Kurds. US Congress said genocide in Armenia, administration said not. Kissinger talked about breaking with the Kurds in some 1974 US statement about Kurds. The master of the world should not break its word.”

Bakrideen went on: Iran was not a good support of the Kurds. Iran and Iraq chose this area as a battlefield. Other areas were emptied of people. Halupja was full, about 70,000 because villages had been destroyed. That is why Iran chose this area. Iran attacked from all sides, but Iraq provided no defense for us. Iraq did not care for Kurds; Iran discovered too late. Iran was paving roads here – I saw this while in the army- and building bridges across the Sirwan River. Iraq retreated to draw Iran in.

March 13, 1988, Iran attacked. 14 and 15 they circled the city. 15th they entered; one Iraq plane observed. On the night of 16th we wanted to leave. Iranians stopped us. I was preparing for 10 days. A neighbor tried three gates and couldn’t get out, even to the caves. The river bridge was controlled and no one could leave.

We used salt and ashes in a wet towel for a quasi gas mask. Peshmerga Kurdish fighters were here in the city too. A couple hours before the chemical assault, Iraq attacked with napalm until sunset to break all the windows so the gas would work. Then there were 20,000 canisters in a couple hours. Iran trucked most of those out for metal. I bought two so there would be evidence.

I buried my dead children with their clothes on, again for evidence. I told my family to go to the basement. Mom was unconscious. Our daughter brought her small sister to me. I put the children on my shoulder; tears prevented me from seeing except at my feet. I was walking in the middle of destroyed houses. Hopeless, I sat down. My mother died. “I am just going to die.” Our 8 year old daughter said, “Not you; I will die.” {crying now.} I woke up in the morning with my wife still alive {also crying now} with daughter.

With the chemicals, maybe my children died of hunger. My son had asked for bread and water. I brought bread back in my pockets, but forgot because I was affected by the chemicals. 17th I dug a place to bury our children. A nephew had died since evening. My brother was in Suly, so I left sign so he could find the body. That evening I thought, “I am losing control.” The other daughter was still alive, eyes very red. My wife and I drank salt water to vomit, but could not open my daughter’s mouth. I was also told that fires are good to clean lungs.

Iranian soldiers told me that they would take us to Iran. I was getting ready to bury another body and the soldiers said, “There are too many dead people to bury.” “Don’t argue with Iranian soldiers,” said my friend. Then he brought a car, “Let’s go to the cemetery so we can be easily buried when we die.”

I could hear water running, but couldn’t see it. I was very thirsty. 18th before sunrise another daughter died. By then I could open my eyes. I put her body in a rice bag to protect her from animals. I was assured that my friend would return to bury her, since I wanted to save my two living daughters.

That day I chose to stay alive to save my other children. There was a village nearby; I took the rest of my family to a school there. It is only ten minutes away, but it took us four hours. I saw Iranian soldiers and an empty mosque. The Iraqis destroyed 5000 mosques in 5000 destroyed villages. This mosque was saved for Iraqi soldiers to bed in, not for worship. Iranian soldiers gave ointment for our eyes and canned food. At night we went by car to Iran.

19th we reached Kermashan in Iran. We got injections and were treated like prisoners. Traveling in a bus, too crowded, a young girl died. Ordered to get out, I argued with them. We reached a hospital then were quarantined. We got clean clothes and were guarded. Mahawand is an historical city where people, not government, brought us clothes, food and crying.

Khomeini said, “Those people are our guests.” Then treatment became better. People were still dying; I had trouble breathing; couldn’t feel air in my lungs. How can my family breathe? I couldn’t sleep for 9-10 days. Then the doctor said I was okay.

I couldn’t cry for my lost family. A doctor gave me a pill he said would sleep a horse. I was still ½ dead and ½ alive with my family. People died with smiles because of the chemicals. Parents were laughing when their children died. The gas smelled like rotten apples and orange peelings remind me of the gassing.

I woke up and started crying after 15 days. I cried for one year, like a habit. I got relief by crying. Now we are better except at each anniversary event. I was comforted when Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed. Now he and his wife could feel as we did – no son to carry on name. We didn’t want Saddam Hussein to die as he did; there was no revenge or punishment for what he did to Kurds.

Everyone in the world, with its history and civilization, should know about this story. The whole world should have objected. Kurds never attacked another nation.

Taweila village on the border was destroyed before he came to Halupja. There he had gardens, trees, property. He was also a teacher in Rania where his house was destroyed in 1974 when it was just he and his wife.

Bakrideen continued: If Kirkuk is solved, I’m okay and nothing can happen to me from now on. I will feel safe. We are not afraid of death; we only want support. I and my family are ready to sacrifice for Kirkuk. Your place of birth is very sacred, but I pass by it unaware.

Seven times I was in the army; drafted, and you know what that is like. I lost my younger son, who was everything.

I was 37 years as a teacher in the same school that children were in when they were killed. This daughter (helping to serve fruit and hot chocolate) was born in 1989. We never gave up on life; we had four others too, 13 altogether.

CPT asked about health problems. My wife has vocal cord problems and had surgery in Teheran. Her brother died. Two hundred and ten from my village were victims here in Halupja after moving from the village. 72 were relatives. I have diabetes, can’t hear well or breathe well. It affected my brain too.

Many children are affected too – missing body parts, anxiety problems. There are blood and ovarian cancers. Many women are sterile, but no studies have been done. Average life expectancy is under 50, though it used to be above 70. There are many heart attacks, brain problems.

Halupja is like a nut being cracked between two countries. Now I own nothing. I receive only 100,000 ID compensation per month from the KRG. Kurds have 12% of the Central Iraq Government. “We as a people of Halupja are satisfied with the KRG, especially compared to the previous government. This one comes from our own people – kind of holy – KRG doesn’t have the capacity to rebuild. Charities came and helped to rebuild.

Kurds (the KRG) are contracting for oil; the central government blacklisted those companies. Local oil used to come to our families, but was stopped by US. Now Kurds get cash from Central Government. One barrel is 75,000 and we also buy from a former Soviet country.

The US is paying for bases in other countries; we’d provide it for free. When France, UK and US had the no-fly zone, children were named for Mitterrand, Blair and Bush. I have a US flag which I put up in 2003. We put Bush up with Talibani. We have sympathy for US people – we hope tornadoes won’t hurt them. Kurds welcome foreigners.


Blogger Brennzn said...

That Halapjo 1988 poison gas attack is a murderous example of cultural warefare morea. Their tribal hatred is a psychological approach which is behavioristically conditioned by their society and becomes a morea of culture and/by confuses the operant with ethnocentricity (RE:Turks).
Solution is re-building and developing Ecocentrically. Bakrideen states that the international politica of USA(gov.) lies and lost influence, and also, the Christian majority people with neo-Christian American values, have not responsively helped.
USA Christians are egotistical: 1.) Promote large families with a procreation cultural morea evident by "Right to Life" "Anti Abortion" "family values" "pet health" etc. 2.)Neo-Christianity perpetuates ideology with an annual behavoristically "R-R" postive reinforcement of gifts with a pseudo relation to Christ. Commercialization is the capitalistic reality and a belief in Neo-Christianity is strengthened enough to pervade the psyche until next christmas. Thus that culture will not be of necessary help because of egotistical, self-centered ethnocentrism.
I suggest a refugee-run water and waste service.
BRENNZN 25 Dec 2007

11:41 AM  

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