As soon as I found out about the former prison of Amna Suraka that is now open to visitors, I was on my way. It turned out to be conveniently close to my hotel, and I walked under a pleasant winter sun to the complex that had served as an Iraqi secret service, or Mukhabarat, prison until the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, conquered the building in 1991. It had been operating since 1978, and inside its walls, thousands of Kurds had been tortured and killed over the years. It was easy to recognize the buildings: the pock-marked walls are just as they were when the peshmerga liberated the complex by force. Barbed wire on top of the walls, and watchtowers on each corner: very little has changed of either the outside or interior of the buildings since its days of operation. It struck me how Saddam Hussein would have used a building in the middle of the city to suppress the Kurds.
The door was closed, and a friendly soldier with an AK47 loosely hanging over his shoulders, told me it would open again in 5 minutes. When four girls arrived, the door swung open, and I followed. No entrance paid, no questions asked: the guy inside just pointed us to another building inside the compound. The first building we visited was a Tunnel of Mirrors. Looking like a lovely piece of art, this actually is a dizzying display of light from the ceiling reflected in the shards of mirrors on the walls. Every light (5,400) represents a Kurdish village destroyed under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and each piece of mirror, (184,000), a person killed. It takes walking up and down the dead-end tunnel twice for these numbers to sink in.
We crossed a courtyard, where several armoured vehicles and tanks are slowly rusting away, to reach another building where the Kurds have set up a display of Kurdish culture, in the form of tapestries, clothes, and jewelry. It seemed out of place, but at the same time, perhaps the best revenge on the former totalitarian regime that sought to suppress local culture. The next building was the most confrontational: the prison cells, isolation cells, and cages where prisoners were kept and tortured, kept exactly like they were when Amna Suraka was liberated. Some statues depict ways in which people were tortured. The light suddenly switched off; reality is, that electricity is still unreliable here. We had just enough light on our phones to see the rest of the exhibition: gruesome pictures of killed Kurdish fighters, writings found on prison walls, part of the archives the Mukhabarat had kept of its prisoners. When I was outside again, I was happy to get some fresh air, and went for a walk in the adjacent Azadi (Freedom) Park to let all the sobering impressions sink in.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Amna Suraka prison (Iraq). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Amna Suraka prison. Read more about this site.