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Military News About Fleeing Saddam With The Kurds
- Mar 26, 2018 -

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Twenty-five years ago, virtually the entire Kurdish population of northern Iraq fled the forces of Saddam Hussein. 

BBC Middle East correspondent Jim Muir, who witnessed it first hand, recalls the dramatic exodus.

I arrived in Kurdistan, crossing the swollen border river in a tiny boat, armed with the technology of the day - two notebooks, a 

tape recorder and four cassettes.The Kurds had taken over the whole of the area they regard as theirs, including the big cities 

of Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk. The Iraqi army had fallen to pieces. The Kurds were jubilant - generations of struggle 

against the central government in Baghdad had, it seemed, suddenly been magically rewarded.

But disaster lay only days ahead. Saddam struck back, sending tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships to attack the big cities 

on the flatlands. A vast flood of humanity, several million strong, poured out of those cities and up into the mountains, heading 

for the Turkish and Iranian borders.

They travelled in every kind of vehicle you can imagine. A patient being trundled out of Dohuk on his hospital bed, still hooked 

up to an intravenous drip. Children being carried out of Erbil in the scoop of a bulldozer. And of course, many just walking, often 

barefoot, past the vast queues of stalled vehicles, stretching from the borders 9,000ft up in the mountains all the way back 

down to the plains.The weather was foul and freezing. Many died of hunger, exposure or dysentery. Dead children were being 

buried at the roadside.While the civilians fled, the Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas stayed behind and I witnessed several of the 

battles in which they pushed back Iraqi forces trying to advance into the mountains.

But the plight of the Kurds, meanwhile, had caught the world's attention. The western powers imposed a no-fly zone and a safe 

haven in northern Iraq so the Kurds could stay and return to their homes.Nowadays, of course, there would have been satellite 

trucks and the internet, and all of this would have been transmitted live minute-by-minute.

But all I could do to get the barest news out, if I was with Masoud Barzani's KDP fighters, was to shout despatches down a 

Peshmerga backpack military radio to an office in Damascus that somehow managed to pass them on to London - or, if I was 

with Jalal Talabani and his PUK, I could shout them down what may have been the only satellite phone in Iraq at the time. But, 

meanwhile, I was recording on my four cassettes, descriptions of what was going on, interviews, and battles.

When I eventually left, walking up through the mountains across into Turkey, I carried those unheard tapes with me. Things had, 

of course, moved on by then. There were new stories to cover, so those tapes remained unheard, sitting in a drawer, for 25 

years, until we decided to make a programme with them.