On the eve of America's invasion of Iraq, Kamal Bewar points to the photo that he says sums up everything. In the picture, two bodies lie dead in the street, a man and an infant. The man is clutching the baby to his chest.
The photo was taken 15 years ago this week, following what Iraqi Kurds now call Bloody Friday, the chemical attack by Saddam Hussein's army that killed 5,000 residents of the Kurdish city of Halabja. This, says Bewar, is why the United States should attack Iraq — because Saddam has already proved he will use weapons of mass destruction.
Bewar, 34, identifies himself not as an Iraqi-American but a Kurdish-American. He moved to Utah 10 years ago after taking part in an insurrection against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. He lives in Salt Lake County in an apartment with a picture window that faces the Wasatch range, and satellite TV that gets two Kurdish stations from northern Iraq.
The stations have been running 15th anniversary programs about the chemical massacre in Halabja. Bewar has taped the programs, which have included poems and songs commemorating Bloody Friday.
"When I see peace protesters," says Bewar about anti-war activists in the United States and abroad, "they don't understand the kind of man we're dealing with. The United States is actually being very patient with Saddam. Twelve years is a long time to deal with Saddam peacefully. But he's not a peaceful man. He's a thug."
Saddam's connection to terrorism, Bewar says, is the al-Qaida affiliate Ansar al-Islam, headquartered in northern Iraq.
On Monday, the day President Bush gave the Iraqi leader 48 hours to leave his country, Bewar talked to his parents in his hometown of Erbil, about 200 miles north of Baghdad.
"They said they are packing and leaving," Bewar reports, because the Iraqi army is five miles from Erbil. "They aren't worried about being killed by a regular bomb but by chemicals. They don't have any way to protect themselves." His family is fortunate to own a car to help them flee, he says, but most people do not.
Bewar was still a teenager when he served in the Kurdish army against Saddam's army and was serving as a soldier when the city of Halabja — about 50 miles from Erbil — was attacked by chemical warfare. Halabja, then a city of 70,000, and its surrounding villages are part of Kurdistan and have long witnessed struggles between Kurds and the Iraqi regime.
The massacre began before sunrise on March 17, 1988, and included more than 20 chemical attacks, with mustard, nerve and cyanide gases. In addition to the 5,000 Kurds killed, more than 7,000 were wounded.
Some three-fourths of those killed and wounded were women and children, according to Bewar. This was only one of many attacks during the campaign Saddam dubbed al-Anfal ("the spoils") which destroyed 4,000 Kurdish villages.
"Ninety-nine percent of Iraqis will support the U.S.A.," Bewar predicts.