Within a one hour drive from Halabja away from the Iran/Iraq border, we reached Sulaymaniyah.
Known for its open, relatively liberal and tolerant society when compared to other cities of Kurdistan, this sprawling city has been regarded as the capital of enlightenment among the Kurds and on the national level “the Paris of Iraq.”
The main thing to see here is the Amna Suraka Museum, a security fort built in 1979 by East Germans that was used by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athists Party as a headquarters for his security officers. Here thousands of Kurds and other enemies of Saddam’s regime were brought in to be interrogated, tortured, and executed. This complex can be compared similarly to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and his Tuong Sleng security/torture/execution prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (which I had visited back in 2010).
It’s free to enter.
Before entering any of the buildings, there’s a series of decommissioned tanks and heavy artillery that had belonged to Saddam Hussein’s army outside where you can play war to your heart’s content.
Building 1 features the house of mirrors, a memorial room featuring 182,000 shards of glass, each symbolizing a life lost during Saddam’s Anfal Campaign against the Kurds. The 4,500 light bulbs above each represent a destroyed Kurdish village.
Building 3 houses the prisons where Kurdish prisoners were detained, tortured in various ways, and executed without trial. The first room is a holding area where they would cram scores of people in small rooms for processing.
Then the interrogation rooms themselves:
They’d separate women and children in other parts of the prison:
There is a newly renovated Building 5 that was once the dormitories for the security staff. The bottom floor is a memorial to the 182,000 that died during Saddam’s Anfal Campaign and the great exodus of 1991 during this time of turmoil.
The second floor is a tribute to the Kurdish Pershmega fighters and has been recently opened to commemorate those men and women soliders who died fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daish of recent day.
The newest exhibit profiles the thousands of remaining unexploded ordinance that still can be found in Iraq from the days of Saddam Hussein and ISIS/ISIL.
We spent about 45 minutes here before finally having an overdue Kebab lunch nearby.
The only other sight to see in Sulaymaniyah is the city center of Sera/Azadi Square.
I recommend walking there as you’ll have to otherwise drive through the intense bumper to bumper traffic of the frenetic Sulaymaniyah Bazaar:
Sera Square itself isn’t much but a convergence of all the main roads in Sulaymaniyah. We spent not even a few seconds here before heading back out.
And after a quick tea and shisha at View Café, a thunderstorm began to set in and we rushed to take the 3-4 hour evening drive back to Erbil before it got too dark.
- At time of posting in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, it was 17 °C - Humidity: 85% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: thunderstorm