By: Kareem Omer
Published date: 4/8/2003
NUGRA SALMAN PRISON
–– After several preparatory meetings, a group of
independent Kurdish persons set off from Sulemaniyeh
to visit this notorious prison in Salman district,
about 180 kilometers to the southwest of Samawa city
where the group had received a very warm welcome
from the Sarnawa governor and tribal leaders.
Meanwhile a group of Faili Kurds, journalists and
representatives of Alliance for International
Justice came to Nugra Salman prison from Baghdad.
The three day journey may have had various
objectives for each person but had one commonality
for all the 36 visitors: These Kurds do not want to
forget about Anfal.
Anfal (“the spoils”') is the name of eighth Sura
“chapter” of the Koran and is the name of the
military campaign, essentially an exercise in
genocide, that the Saddam Hussein government carried
out against the Iraqi Kurds from February 23 to
September 6th 1988. Estimates dispute the number of
people killed and villages and towns destroyed in
the campaign. The Kurdish parties say that 182,000
people, mostly civilian, died and 4500 villages and
towns were razed during the operations. Middle East
Watch in its book “Genocide in Iraq” –– The Anfal
Campaign Against the Kurds estimated Kurdish deaths
as up to 100,000.
Both executioners and victims of the Anfal campaign
dubbed the events of the period “A Visit to Hell.”
“Kurds are traitors, and we know where to send you.
We will send you to a hell that is built especially
for the Kurds,” an Iraqi army officer told one old
man during the Anfal operations. A surviving inmate
of the prison, Muhammed Hussein, then 80, told
Middle East Watch in 1992: “If you know about hell,
this is hell. We have seen it.”
“The departing point for us was Dubiz, a town about
20 kilometers from Kirkuk,” recalled Haji Amin, a
man in his 60s and a survivor of the prison who
accompanied younger visitors. “We were taken through
the cities and deserts. Men and women were looking
at us. Some were shocked while others jeered.”
Amin comes from Chiman Bawa village. He was among
the first batch of people sent to Nugra Salman in
mid April 1988 and was released five months later
after the Sept. 6 general amnesty.
Those who jeered the Kurds, like most of the Iraqis
at the time, did not realize the depth of what was
happening to their fellow countrymen and women.
Later on, even the Kurds themselves, who have
enjoyed semi-independence from the Iraqi regime
since 1991, avoided mentioning Anfal and neglected
to undertake any in-depth research and data
collection into this unique tragedy.
On July 25, after two-hour drive from Samawa, Nugra
Salman prison came in to view. It sits on a hill
surrounded by barren deserts on four sides. The
prison is in the shape of a well-built fortress of
two stories. Silent, unpeopled halls which served as
communal prison chambers surround a central yard
area. According to Middle East Watch's book, the
now-deserted prison housed between 5,000 and 10,000
Kurds during February and September 1988.
The events of Summer 1988 and the fate of the Kurds
turned on one critical date, the festival of Eid al-Adha,
which ended on July 26 and marked the operation's
resumption with renewed vigour and brutality.
Chemical weapons were again used by the Iraqi air
force, which went quite unnoticed by the
international world unlike at Halabja in March of
the same year where the chemical bombardment was
brought to the world's attention after being
recorded on film.
Once inside the castle, the visitors scattered
through the fortress. Some of the Kurdish artists in
the group had brought art equipment and painted a
collective picture, while a lute player sat in a
corner of the prison playing a slow and sad music.
The visitors also studied the walls to trace the
memories of the prisoners who once were imprisoned
there. The writings on the walls are both in Arabic
and Kurdish. The Kurdish writings were mostly
nonpolitical, which confirms widespread suspicions
that the prisoners were not political activists or
opposition members. Conversely, the top of the walls
were otherwise dense with Baathist slogans in
Arabic, such as, “it is your order, my sir: We will
damn all their ancestors.”
Searching for some message while gazing out of the
windows of the prison, one could easily realize what
a torture is for a Kurdish person grown up amid
mountains, hills and greeneries to be caged in such
a merciless, barren prison in the middle of a
desert. Yet the place seemed to invite the young
visitors to listen and look, as if they wanted to
tell the stories of those who suffer a mysterious
life and death.
“I heard a young girl seeking help from me,” said
Ako Kareem Maaroof, a short story writer.
“When I entered the castle I felt the deadly silence
in the air of the prison,” said artist Rebeen Ahmed,
24. “I also thought of the silence surrounding the
matter in the Kurdish world. Both types of silence
are linked and one is the extension of the other. I
think we should break both silences.”
On returning,, the group issued a statement asking
for some urgent demands to be acted upon, including
putting on trial the decision-makers and
implementers of Anfal campaign, to preserve Nugra
Salman prison as a museum and include historical
information on Anfal in the new Iraqi curriculum.
Published date: 4/8/2003