“The wind whistles down this deserted street with its tattered wall posters of Middle Eastern pop stars. Whistles after us as we pass the long mounds of lime-covered graves – the whistle is then no longer such: it has become a crying wind.”
These are the words of Martin Malone as he describes the scene of the aftermath of the massacre of 5,000 people at Halabja on the Iran/Iraq border in March 1988. Motivated by the world’s lack of acknowledgement of the tragedy, the former military policeman, and Kildare author has penned a novel based on this atrocity titled, “On the Valley of The Peacock Angel.”
He points out that it was the 25th anniversary earlier this year and yet there was little international recognition. He recalls the Iraqi army, fearful of an Iranian advance into their territory, used chemical weapons to slaughter 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children. The UN dispatched over 300 military observers to oversee the truce including an Irish Military Police platoon with Martin on board.
“A patrol had to pass through Halabja and because it was still considered a risk area, he (the officer in charge) said we should draw straws. They were wine coloured and mine was very short…Our job was to investigate a reported sighting of Mujaheddin refugees crossing into Iraq and determine if they needed humanitarian assistance.
“At five the next morning we set off. ...On the outskirts of the town some of the buildings are perforated with bullet holes. The barks of trees are blackened by shell-fire. Easing along what looks to be a main street I see through the opened doors a blue and striped mattress, some children’s toys: a doll, plastic bucket and a blue spade,” he recalls.
‘It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me......Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”
Martin’s new book will be launched on July 18 at Kildare Town library.
- Niamh O’Donoghue