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THE IRAQI SERIES, DAY 14 & 15

ERBIL – SULAYMANIYAH

Saddam’s torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah. Although strictly not a different country, Kurdistan is like a different world compared to the rest of Iraq!

WELCOME TO COUNTRY NUMBER 161

Its buildings, bright lights and roads are a different level to what I have seen.

WHERE IS ERBIL?

Erbil

SWEET MARKET 

Today turned out to be a day of walking around eating, drinking and smoking as much of the city as we could. Erbil is known for its various markets and going to the sweet market first was probably not the best idea as we ate our way through one of the local stalls, trying everything from traditional sweets to sujuk which is pistachio within a long piece of gelo, it doesn’t sound appetising but the stuff is hard to beat. The people up here are as nice as anywhere I have been.

After realising the Citadel was closed due to restoration we sat on what could only be described as Shisha Street, a small alley with nothing but Shisha Bars talking and smoking with the locals. The more I travel the more I realise that no experiences come close to talking with locals.

Saddam’s torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

DAILY INFO….

ERBIL

  • HOTEL – Bashqal Hotel 6.5/10
  • RESTOS – Kebab Yasien 9/10
  • ATTRACTIONS –
    Sweet market
    Money market
    Gun Market
    Hookah street
    Great Mosquet

Saddam’s torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

DAILY INFO….

SULAYMANIYAH

  • HOTEL – Bashqal Hotel 6.5/10
  • ATTRACTIONS –
    Redhouse
    Iranian border
    Halabja
    Market walk

GUN MARKET 

After a walk around the money market, never seen so much money just sitting about, we headed to an underground (literally) gun shop to look at weapons that would look more in place in the hands of the Cambino mafia.

Everything from Tommy Guns to shotguns and also the odd Bazooka. Apparently the gun market is more open here in Kurdistan than Federal Iraq but although it had some new guns, it looked more like collection items than anything else.

It’s important wherever you go in Iraq that you try the Shisha. I’m not one to smoke or get stoned but I enjoy a shisha when it’s possible and the shisha in Iraq is like nothing I have tried. My virgin lungs are too tame for this sort of stuff.

Gunsmith at gun market at Erbil in Iraq. Saddam's torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

Saddam’s torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

KEBAB YASIEN 

To say the least, our driver Ali has an appetite and when you travel with someone who needs to eat a lot frequently then you need to do the same, I have sure added a few kilos.

I cannot remember the last time I was properly hungry, however, it turned out that stopping at the next restaurant was absolutely essential. I have tried a number of different meals throughout the Middle East, but I have never tasted kebab quite like this one. Tender beyond what I could have ever thought possible and the flavour was just a different level. I know when we hear Kebab in the west it doesn’t sound the most appetising of meals but trust me, if you ever come to Erbil you must put this place at the top of your list. Kebabs in the middle east are not like the kebabs in the west, the ones you can barely get into your mouth at 3am.

Saddam’s torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

FLAG….

  • THE STAR – Representing rebirth of an entity or the reincarnation of an idea.
  • RED – Symbolizes the blood of those sacrificed in the Kurdish struggle for freedom.
  • WHITE – Represents peace and equality.
  • GREEN – The mountainous landscapes and serene waters connect the Kurdish nation.

SULAYMANIYAH 

After our 16th chai of the day and quick stop at the Great Mosque of Erbil we made off to our next stop, Sulaymaniyah.

WHERE IS SULAYMANIYAH?

Sulaymaniyah 

DAY 15 – SADDAM’S TORTURE CHAMBER

Our first stop of the day was a Amna Suraka, aka the red house. This was the headquarters for Saddam’s special intelligence, at least in the north anyway. It was used as a detention centre, mostly for Kurdish rebels but also a lot of innocent people. Most would be tortured on a regular basis, going through some of the most barbaric techniques and conditions you could imagine!

MUSEUM

We first had a walk around the museum which showed how Saddam treated the Kurds. Not only were they a minority and thus treated like a second class citizen but he also accused them of colluding with Iran, which was true but only because the Iranians treated them as human beings.

There are images of each of the Kurdish rebels that died during the fight, men, women and kids. Mostly probably joining because they knew someone who was killed, which is often the case; kill a soldier and you create 10.

  ABOUT THE COUNTRY – KURDISTAN:
  • LANGUAGE -Kurdish
  • HELLO – Chony bashy
  • HOW TO CHEERS – Badenoş
  • BEVERAGE OF CHOICE -tea
  • POPULAR SPORT – soccer, wrestling, hunting and shooting
  • STAPLE DIET – dolma (vegetables stuffed in grape leaves)

ISIS

Like a lot of this region ISIS also played a part as they looked to take control of huge areas of the Middle East. Stamp seals that were used by ISIS were on display. Official documentation that was stamped helped create an identity and legitimise their governance. A knife recovered from one of the fighters was also on display.

PRISON ROOMS

As you would expect, cells were small, cramped and with just a hole in the ground for the toilet. Often prisoners would have just 1 square metre and a basic blanket to lay on.

Microphones would be plastered into the walls of some of these rooms so guards could listen into the conversations between inmates.

Solitary confinement was even worse. A tiny concrete box with a hole in the floor and barely enough room to lay flat. I could not imagine kipping here for 24hours, let alone weeks at a time.

Prison cells at Red House museum in Iraq. Saddam's torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

YOUNG INMATES

A room of just 15m2 would hold up to 40 young inmates under 18. However these prisoners could not be executed due to their age so Saddam created a council who had the power to legally change their age. Check out the writing on the wall by one of the inmates.

PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE

New inmates would often be handcuffed to the wall for several hours at a time, with passing guards putting their cigarettes out on their back or kicking and punching them as they passed. A number of these psychological techniques were used to immediately disrupt their moral as much worse physical abuse was to follow.

CHEMICAL ALI’S TORTURE ROOMS

The Redhouse was probably most famous for its horrendous torture techniques. There were several rooms which inmates would have been hung by their hands tied behind their back, I couldn’t imagine the pain! Guards would have fixed electrical wires to their ears and hung weights from their groin in rooms cladded with wood to ensure the sound doesn’t travel to the other prisoners.

A lot of this was overseen by the infamous Chemical Ali who often preferred to sit in the interrogation rooms and ask the questions himself. This man would go on to be sentenced to death for his role in the Halabja massacre which happened not far from here.

IRANIAN BORDER

In 2009, 3 American tourists were hiking through the highlands of eastern Kurdistan until they unknowingly cross the border and were swiftly arrested and charged with espionage. It would be two years before they were released, I wanted to check out that border. 🙂

Unfortunately I was approached by two guards who said it wasn’t possible for foreigners to pass, for the exact reason mentioned above. Even staying on the Iraq side was a danger as Iranian military had been known to cross the border and initiate tourists on the Iraqi side.

HALABJA

On march 1988, Chemical Ali ordered the dropping of chemical weapons on the small town of Halabja. 5,000 people would die instantly and with soaring cancer rates and birth defects, many more would feel the effects for years to come. It would be known and still is, as the world’s worst chemical attack.

The exhibit is set underneath a memorial showed challenging images taken after the massacre along with the names of each person who had died. Many items have been recovered and on display; vehicles, clothes, tanks and what I couldn’t believe, one of the aircraft that was used to drop the weapons.

It’s places like this that show the true nature of Saddam.

Halabja museum in Iraq. Saddam's torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah
Jet fighter display at Halabja museum in Iraq. Saddam's torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

Saddam’s torture house, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like any city in Iraq I expected a lot but Erbil could well be a favourite. The food, the people and the traffic was much different to that from federal Iraq.

Sulaymaniyah, although it didn’t hit the heights of Erbil had some of my favourite attractions in the Redhouse and Halabja. You don’t need to go far to see what the Kurds have gone through.

NEXT UP

A long trip to Basra for my final days and some football!! Click to read.

SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
161/229

This post is part of The Iraqi Series, for the entire series click here or for episode 1, click here.

To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.

Question Time

  • Would you prefer Iraq or Kurdistan?
  • Do you enjoy trying street food?
  • Are you shocked at what the people have gone through here?

Let me know in the comments below . . .

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