IRAQ REFLECTION: Amna Suraka (The Red Security Prison)

23 January 2009
IRAQ REFLECTION: Amna Suraka (The Red Security Prison)

by Peggy Gish

Bullet holes and broken walls show marks of the battles during the 1991 uprising, when Kurds in Iraq took control of this Baath Regime prison in the northern Iraqi city of Suleimaniya.  Weathered tanks from the Iraqi military line one wall of the courtyard. The buildings have not been restored, remaining as a museum memorializing the cruelty of Saddam’s regime.

Rooms of pictures depict the atrocities of the chemical attacks of Halubja, and the mass killings of Kurds in the Anfal genocidal campaign of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Our desire to understand the suffering of the Kurds, rubs against our internal resistance to emotional overload.

We are taken to the “secret” prison, where the Baath regime had interrogated, tortured and killed Kurdish prisoners. We walk through rooms where women experienced torture and rape.  We peer into solitary confinement cells, where prisoners wrote or scratched messages or poems into the walls. In other rooms, we see realistic-looking statues depicting other methods of torture.

During these past years in Iraq, I have witnessed a lot of pain. I work now, to reduce the expression of my grief to minimal tears.  The tour ends in a room where 182,000 broken pieces of mirror cover the walls, representing the official number of people killed in the Anfal; on the ceiling are 5,000 tiny lights, one for each of the Kurdish villages destroyed in that campaign.

Before I left home this fall, my son advised me, “When you write, include stories of hope.” At times like this, however, when such cruelty seems overwhelming, it is hard to feel hope or to see God.

Our government rightly denounces the atrocities of Saddam’s regime, but it has also killed, tortured, and terrorized civilians here and around the world in the name of “democracy” or “the war on terror.”  If America looks, it will see its own refection in the mirrors.

Walking out into the bright sunshine, I look for hope in the fresh new grass, sprung up from winter rains, in roses still in bloom. I resist getting caught in a feeling of powerlessness when facing the power and destructiveness of evil. I affirm the power of life-giving realities that are more powerful than any evil memorialized here. I reclaim the reign of God that compels us to act to resist evil and make room for ways of living together that are healing and just. I affirm that this reality can break in and transform seemingly hopeless situations.

The lights and pieces of mirror also represent thousands of eyes and voices, seeing and speaking the truth about the futility of violence that cruel institutions of power use to hold onto their power and wealth. Each light and voice demands that such atrocities never happen again, and that we find another way.