Lest we forget: Visiting Saddam Hussein’s
house of horrors in Iraqi Kurdistan
By Hana Raouf | Sulaimaniyah, Niqash
June 22, 2012
The former headquarters of Saddam Hussein in
Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq, and scene of
many past horrors. Photo: Bestoon Mohammed.
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Just like the former
concentration camps in Europe, the people of Iraqi
Kurdistan have turned one of their historic places
of horror into a monument. Niqash visits the Amna
Suraka, the former headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s
party in Sulaimaniyah.
Tahseen Qader has never forgotten what happened to
him inside the Red Security Prison, the former
headquarters of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in
Sulaimaniyah. “Those bitter days can never be
forgotten,” he says, standing outside the building
in northern Iraq.
Qader is just one of thousands who were detained and
tortured inside the walls of this pinkish-red
coloured compound in the semi-autonomous state of
Iraqi Kurdistan; many others were murdered there.
In 2008, the building was re-opened as a museum, a
kind of memorial of the horrors that took place
here, and parts of the building that were destroyed
during the Kurdish uprising against Hussein in 1991
are still being repaired.
“The purpose of this place is to remind current and
future generations of the crimes committed against
the Kurdish people by the former regime of Saddam
Hussein, and the pain and suffering inflicted on the
Kurds during his era,” Akko Ghareeb, the museum’s
director told Niqash.
The compound was originally designed by a team of
engineers from East Germany in 1977, built in three
phases and completed in 1985. The complex stands on
16,000 square meters and there are six buildings
inside the complex; some are three storeys, others
are only two. Inside there’s also a petrol station,
a garage for car maintenance, a medical clinic and a
restaurant – everything so that Hussein’s security
personnel didn’t have to leave the complex. And the
whole lot is surrounded by a two metre high fence.
The numbers imprisoned inside the complex are
unknown. But most of them were almost certainly
there because of their political inclinations –often
aligned with one of the two major Kurdish political
parties that now run Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan
Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK), but which, at the time, were seen
as Kurdish nationalists opposed to the rule of the
Arabist Baath party led by Saddam Hussein.
Those inside the prison later told horrific tales of
what went on there: all kinds of torture, including
electric shocks, beatings and sexual attacks. One
room inside the complex was known as the “red room”
where the security men would rape female prisoners.
And the “red room” is the only chamber that has not
been renovated – perhaps because it holds such bad
memories that they should never be forgotten, lest
they be repeated.
One of the saddest stories is that of a young
Kurdish woman, who, when released brought three sons
out of the prison with her – nobody knew who any of
the boys’ fathers were. But when she was released,
her brother killed her and her sons before
Researcher Amira Mohammed has been collecting
stories about the victims of the prison for years.
She currently has about 170 stories and she also has
a collection of letters, mostly hand written by
detainees here. Some of the letter writers are still
alive, others have passed away. And Mohammed says
she’s planning to print the letters soon.
“We will use them to remind people of the difficult
years,” Mohammed told Niqash.
Local man, Qader, was here in the security complex
in 1988 because he was a member of the PUK. He was
kept in prison here for nine months, then released
as part of a general amnesty, then imprisoned again
in 1990. In March 1991, while he was in solitary
confinement he was freed when Kurdish fighters freed
At the time, Qader says, “we didn’t know what was
happening outside the prison. We didn’t hear
anything about the uprising, we only heard gunfire.
After the prisoners were freed, when locals who
defeated Hussein’s troops began the formation of the
what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish refugees
fleeing from inside of Iraq were housed here for a
But in 2008, the complex became a museum. And today
it houses a variety of exhibits, documents, weapons,
artefacts and memorials. There are also
commemorations of other campaigns against the
such as the genocidal Anfal campaign, during which
close to 200,000 were killed and of which the
Halabja gas attacks were a part.
And basically anyone who visit the place will
testify to its oppressive and depressing nature, a
reminder of the evil that humankind can inflict on
“Nothing can make me forget my time here,” Qader
concludes. “The memories are like bullet holes in
this prison’s walls; nothing can remove them. The
only thing that makes me feel better is that there
is a museum here now – so that future generations
will make sure that Iraq is a country free of such
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