June 2, 2012
The price of empire

By Pat Thompson

Despite the heavy heat outside, the
basement was cool, almost damp, with the smell of old crumbling concrete and
years of dust storms. It was dark but a light glowed, soaking everything in a
sinister red film, showing the way through, showing their faces, twisted with
fear, and pain, and loss.

Pictures hung on the walls, one per
wall. Large, almost life sized images of fallen bodies, decaying children,
bloated cows. I stood in silence. I know the history, the decades of brutality,
of ethnic cleansing, the systematic murder of Kurdish men, women and children
in the 1980s; Saddam’s al’Anfal campaign. I had even seen those
pictures before. But this was different; the horror was close and chilling.

I left the basement, up the stairs,
leaving the exhibition of the Halabja victims behind me. Stepping into the
sunlight, a soft rain was falling. Mohammed, our friend, was waiting, cigarette
in mouth, chatting with the guide.

          A desk in one of Amna Suraka’s interrogation rooms

Amna Suraka, the
“Red Security” prison stands in the middle of Sulaimani, a monument to the
Anfal campaign and the abusive control of the Kurdish people during the years
of Saddam Hussein. Amna Suraka still stands as a statement of Kurdish defiance.
Never again will they be treated like animals, abused, beaten, raped, tortured,
dehumanized simply for being Kurdish. In the ’80s Amna Suraka was the hub of
Saddam’s control in the city – the barracks, the administration offices, the
prison, the interrogation rooms, the solitary confinement cells: all necessary
structures in keeping people under control. Mohammed remembers those days; he
was a teenager then. He was silent as he sat on the steps, but he remembered. I
could see it in his face, the pain of memories, family and friends lost, maybe
to this prison.

For Mohammed’s pain, my home is partly to blame.
For the 182,000 Anfal victims, my country is partly to blame. The UK sold
Saddam some of the arms
 that he used against Iran. It also sold arms to Iran to use against Saddam. And we sold Saddam
chemicals that he used to make his chemical weapons – weapons he used against Iran and the Iraqi Kurds.

                            The main administration building

The British
continued to supply Saddam all the way through the Anfal. The chance that none
of these arms and chemicals were used against the Kurds is pretty small. And we
knew exactly what Saddam was doing, yet we kept supplying. We have excuses of
course; the ’80s were a time of recession, we needed the money, and Saddam,
like other “unsavory” characters, was willing to pay. We accepted in the name
of British interests, my interests.

I watched
Mohammed, sitting on the steps of one of Amna Suraka’s buildings; smoking
silently. I had to ask myself, what had I gained at the cost of his people? My
education, my “free” healthcare partly paid for by the deaths of so many Kurds.
It is not enough to say that Kurdish blood is on our collective hands. We are
up to our necks in it, and in the blood of countless other peoples from all
over the world, the remnants of our Empire.


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