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March 17, 2003

War Panic in Erbil

Today is the first official day of war panic in Erbil. Yesterday everything looked much like it has since I got here. Today many shops are closed, there are fewer cars in the street and people tell me their neighbors are fleeing the city for towns further towards the Iranian border. My translator's family all left for their hometown of Koy Sanjak, which is closer to the Iraqi lines but which they feel is less of a target. Shopowners are emptying their stores, putting their stuff in more secure locations in case there is looting during the war.

Most people are afraid of chemical weapons. As you know, this area was attacked hundreds of times by chemical weapons during the Anfal campaign of the 1980s. The most notorious incident, in Halabja, was 15 years ago this weekend. Over 7,000 people died in that one attack. Now people here are afraid that it will happen again. But people aren’t preparing much. Very few people have gas masks – other than the foreigners, of course. There is a military market here in Erbil, and I went a couple of weeks ago to stock up. I bought four German-made masks (for me, Carolina, our driver and translator) for $150, a little out of the range of ordinary Iraqis. The dealer told me the only locals who bought the masks were the richest ones. “The poor people want to die,” he said. “The rich people want to live 200 years.” One political party today was giving out leaflets on how to make a homemade gas mask. You take flour, coal and salt, wrap it in a cloth and hold it over your mouth.

I personally think the chances of a chemical attack are slim verging on zero, otherwise I wouldn’t have come here. But I don’t blame people for panicking. I’m told that during the Gulf War in 1991 Iraqi planes dropped white powder on Erbil and people went hysterical, thinking it was another chemical attack. It was flour.

People seem to think the war will start immediately. One woman I spoke to today was afraid because her son was in school and she worried what would happen if Erbil were attacked while he was in school. I am skeptical. I think that even if George Bush gives up on diplomacy, as he seems likely to do today, it will be at least a couple of weeks before anything starts. Due to the confusion in Turkey, there are still no American troops here (except for a few CIA paramilitaries) and it seems foolish and counterproductive to start the war without some sort of northern front. But who knows, this whole war seems foolish and counterproductive so maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

March 17, 2003 in Kurds | Permalink


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I'm hearing a good 72 hours before things will start, unless Iraq launches a pre-emptive attack, and if that, I'm hearing it will go south, not north.


Posted by: Chris | Mar 17, 2003 9:44:54 PM

I have 2 do a project on the war i want to know both sides send me information

Posted by: JACINTA | Apr 2, 2003 1:14:45 AM

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