The Iraqi attack on the Balisan valley was the first time a sovereign state had used chemical weapons on its own populace. Shocked villagers who survived the attack likened the experience to witnessing "doomsday".
In 1988 the Iraqi army launched a ferocious attack on Kurdish communities south of the Turkish border. Fleeing towards Turkey, the villagers of Kureme found their route blocked by Iraqi soldiers and were captured. The male villagers were put in front of a firing squad – yet six survived to tell their story.
‘If a bird flies its nest, doesn’t it always want to return?’
For decades Kurds living near Kirkuk strongly resisted attempts by the Iraqi regime to drive them off their lands. MOHAMMED AMIN RAHMAN ALI returned to Chalistan repeatedly, only to be forced to leave his home again and again.
‘My childhood was on fire, flames destroying my memories’
The first major Iraqi poison gas attack on the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) badly damaged Kurdish morale. ABDULKARIM HALADINI watched as chemical bombs and shells rained down on the PUK headquarters.
‘The Iraqi National Guard stole everything of value in our houses’
In the early 1960s the Iraqi authorities confiscated Kurdish lands north of Kirkuk. To this day, legal title has yet to be formally restored to its original owners. MAJID MOHAMMED ISMAEL describes how Arab militia looted his family home in Qara Dara and killed one of his neighbours.
‘“We must abandon our baby,” I told my wife, but she couldn’t let him die’
Peshmerga in the far north of Kurdistan fled with their families towards Iran to escape poison gas attacks. When his leader Masoud Barzani told him it was impossible to send support units, commander AMIN HUSSEIN AHMED realised there was no escape.
‘The Iraqis even killed horses – I’ve never seen such a sadistic military force’
When the Iraqi army blitzed Kurdish peshmerga bases with poison gas in February 1988, AZAD SAGERMA, a senior field commander with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was unaware his forces would face a military catastrophe that could only end in defeat.
‘The Iraqi National Guard burned down whatever they could: houses, belongings and crops’
In the early 1960s Iraqi soldiers and tanks supported Arab militia as they moved into Kurdish villages northwest of Kirkuk. SAMAD KARIM AZIZ witnessed local people being overpowered as they tried to prevent the invaders from seizing their livestock and land.