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Hell Is Over By: Shawn Macomber
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 22, 2004

Hell is Over by Mike Tucker is available from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore for $22.95.

In 1982, a close friend of Kurdish freedom fighter Salah Ameydi was captured by the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi Secret Police. They brought him back to his village, and seized his wife and eight-month-old son. The new parents were then tied up and made to watch as their baby was burned to death in front of them with a hot iron. When the agents were finished with the child, they forced the husband to watch as his wife was brutally raped by four Iraqi soldiers. The husband was then dragged off to Abu Ghraib and tortured for years on end as a “political prisoner.”

His crimes: He was Kurdish and he was alive.


As unimaginable as it sounds, Ameydi and his friend can count themselves as lucky that they both survived Hussein’s genocide. This was dubbed, “Al Anfal” by the Ba’athists: “The Great Battle Against Non-Believers.” The purge killed somewhere near 182,000 Kurdish men, women and children, including 5,000 in one day alone when the Iraqi Air Force dropped chemical weapons on the village of Halapja.


Ameydi’s story is just one of dozens presented in a new oral history of the Kurdish struggle under Saddam Hussein, Hell is Over (208 pages, Lyons Press, $22.95). In 2003, war correspondent Mike Tucker traveled throughout Iraqi Kurdistan conducting interviews with Kurds from all walks of life which are presented unexpurgated and with little commentary. At last, the Kurdish people tell their own stories.


Kurdish resistance fighters, or peshmerga, some of whom have been fighting Saddam since 1960, tell of guerilla battles against a well-armed Iraqi foe. In the early years they fired at Iraqi jets with nothing more than old bolt-action British rifles. Kurdish women tell of being forced to watch their husbands and sons tortured, or, just as often, being taken away in the night, never to return. Sons tell of stories of fathers they will never know. One man tells of hiding from the Iraqi army in a cave with a pregnant woman who had to go through the pain of childbirth without making a single sound – any noise would have alerted the Iraqis, and they all would have been summarily executed. A father tells of a daughter so tormented by marauding Iraqi killers she literally went mad.


For good measure, there are also interviews with U.S. soldiers about the sheer horror of uncovering mass graves. One soldier recounts finding the skeleton of an infant with a bullet hole in the back of its head.


“Americans have no idea of the horror Saddam perpetrated,” U.S. Army Specialist Eric Debault tells Tucker. “All this was on my mind, standing there in the desert, looking at the skulls and bones. I would consider Saddam as the Anti-Christ…Saddam ranks right up there with Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini – with every brutal dictator who has ever carried out crimes against humanity.”


The tragic, brutal thread running through the entire book is that of animalistic brutality and torture: Beatings administered with chains, mower blades, wooden bats, and pipes. Electric charges administered to various parts of the body, including the genitals. Men drowned standing up. Common criminals enlisted to help Iraqi guard in the beating of prisoners.


In presenting these interviews in their entirety, Tucker has gotten out of the way of the victims and produced one of the most moving accounts about the terrors of pre-war Iraq. There is none of the phony context of a Dan Rather newscast, nor is this a simple recitation of facts that slowly dilutes them of their impact. The emotion and humanity of the victims is on full display. They are angry, and sad, and traumatized, yet still proud and defiant.


Tucker uses the last chapter of the book to make an impassioned plea on behalf of the Kurdish people, who now see themselves as firm allies with America in the War on Terror: Do not take the Kurdish people for granted again. Their wounds still smart from Kissinger turning a blind eye to genocide in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1975 and the failure of the American government to support the 1991 uprising against the Ba’athists. Despite it all, they have stood by America, and in their interviews, more than one Kurd expresses love for America and an interest in becoming, “the 51st state.” Kurdish forces, backed by American Special Forces took Mosul early in the war. They have since been ordered out of the city, and the keys have been handed over to “reformed” former Ba’athists. In this global war, it is as important to know our true allies as our enemies. We must stand by the Kurds this time. This liberation must not be a sweet dream between nightmarish realities.  


Some see America’s war with Iraq as having begun three years ago, while others take the long view and push the origins of the conflict back to 14 years ago when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The Kurds war, however, stretched over the course of more than four decades. For them, the events of the last year was “no rush to war.”


“Oh, I cried on April 9, 2003, I wept,” a Kurdish man, Kawa Fathi Massom, tells Tucker. “My daughter asked me, ‘Why are you crying?’ And I looked into the eyes of my children and I told them that all their lives I’d lied to them. That I’d always told them they’d have promising futures but that I knew I was lying and I hated myself for that…I can say, with my soul at peace, that now, my children, you have a future, and we have the Americans to thank for this.”


If the daily news out of Iraq has numbed you to the struggle, pick up a copy of Hell is Over for a dose of moral clarity and an unflinching look at the monstrous enemy we face in this clash of civilizations.


Hell is Over by Mike Tucker is available from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore for $22.95.

Shawn Macomber is a staff writer at The American Spectator and a contributor to FrontPage Magazine. He also runs the website Return of the Primitive.

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