Saturday, March 15, 2003

The sign reads "A gift from Saddam for the people of Halabja."

Today (Friday) was probably the most rewarding day of my professional life. Sunday is the 15th anniversary of the chemical attack on the town of Halabja, which I’ve mentioned before. 5,000 people died and thousands more were disabled for life by Saddam’s forces.

We went to Halabja to film and do a radio piece to coincide with the anniversary. The setting is breath-taking – the town is on a plain beneath the mountains that mark the border between Iraq and Iran. Although, it’s getting noticeably warmer, the mountain tops are still covered in snow.

We started off at the mosque, filming friday prayers. Some of the faces there were just fantastic – mahogany skin, wrinkles like crumpled paper and crooked teeth stained yellow and brown. Everyone there had a tragic story of brothers, sisters and wives killed by poison gas. Some people said they didn’t want to talk to us. They’d shared their story with journalists before but said nothing had changed, nothing had improved. We found one man, though, who took us to the spot where the bombs dropped. Within hours 35 of his relatives were dead. I’m going to transcribe some of the interview we did with him and post it up.

After we’d finished in the town we drove up to the mountains, which was an eerie experience. The .Spring flowers were out and ageing Peshmerga fighters were sitting around chatting and lazing in the sun. Yet up on the higher ground is a graveyard, where many of those killed in Halabja are buried. They fled the town below when they realised they were being gassed. But the wind carried the poison towards them as they tried to escape, cutting them down along the road.

I’ve just had a quick look through the rushes we shot and they’re just great. Our cameraman, Kaveh, is a really talented guy – and great fun to boot. It’s going to make a fantastic piece.


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