Memories of Witnesses of Chemical Bombardment

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


According to Iranian Oral History Website, 297th session of Sacred Defense's Night of Memory was held in Sooreh Hall of Hozeh Honari on Thursday, November 22, 2018. During this meeting, Hossein Vahdati, Parvin Karimi and Amir Saeedzadeh expressed their memories of period of the imposed war of Saddam Army against Islamic Republic of Iran.


Men of tough days

The first narrator of the session, Hossein Vahdati, was commander of dispensary unit of Imam Hassan (AS) brigade during the holy defense years. He was one of the first forces at that time who passed medical assistant. Hossein Vahdati said, "I'm telling memories from Operation Khyber. Operation Khyber was carried out in area of ​​ Hawizeh Marshes. Hoor was a region that had about two to three meters of water. Canes were grown inside it and it was called Hoor al-Hoveizeh (Hawizeh Marshes). Its upper part is called Hoor al-Azim. Hoor al-Hoveizeh is very long, and its width from our coast to coast of Iraq is about 45 km. We served in Imam Hassan (AS) brigade. Most of the brigade warriors were guys from the south; guys of Behbahan, a number of Susa guys and some from Ahwaz I already served in Ahwaz, and based on my experience, they determined my mission in this area. When we were missioned, we went along with command to introduce us the region. There wasn't a soul to be seen, it was empty and virgin. We were about 20 people. We scheduled enter area of ​​Hoor al-Hoveizeh and the operation in 48 hours; that is, one of characteristics of Operation Khyber was observance of principle of surprise. Perhaps one cause of its initial success was because of observing the same principle.


A few days before the mission was sent to us, we were based in a hotel in Abadan. Simultaneously with announcing the mission, the war of cities began. In the war of cities, Iraq regularly shot our cities rocket, but Iran never answered, until Iran had to counteract and threatened "if you strike our cities once again, we will also counteract." As soon as Iraq did not pay attention to Iran's threat, Iran also began to shoot, but our fire was not anywhere near as amount as Iraq's fire; Iraq plowed Abadan; that is, during the 24 hours that we were under fire in Abadan, Iraq destroyed Abadan as much as beginning of the war to that day. We had a mission at the time in Hoor al-Hoveizeh. We were gathering forces and facilities to move to the mission area, but we were faced with a lot of wounded. In fact, our operation began right here. We should also go toward the operational area while treating the command wounded. During the first 24 hours, we transferred our troops, equipment and facilities to Amirieh garrison, which was later called Shahid Gholami, the brigade commander. During the second 24 hours, all the command went from Shahid Gholami garrison to area of ​​Shatali in Hoor al-Hoveizeh like a caravan. The places we had considered for settlement of the command to establish our emergency had been filled. It was packed out, and all that area lands had been taken by other forces that were supposed to come there and be settled. The commands had been settled too tightly near together, which might was a big flaw in terms of military principles. If we found anywhere, we would station there, but we had to go two kilometers away and set up our emergency tent in a more distant area. We also had no time and we had to establish our main emergency inside the tent. To keep security, a tall bulwark was made next to the tents so that they would not be harmed at least from around. While we were setting up emergency tent, the troops would ride on boats and go to operational areas.



Our command was in Operation Khyber, and this area was also a part of operational area of Khyber. Our unit entered the area through two parts: a part that we were only connected with the front through boat and there were two villages named Al-Beizeh and Al-Sakhreh, and a part we only connected with helicopter, a place called Khandagh Road. The name of Khandagh was later called for this road, and we first called it Pad or road. We only had to go to this part by helicopter and support our forces. At the earliest opportunity, they gave us a helicopter to put inside it necessary facilities for emergency and rescue post. On February 22, 1984, the troops entered the operational area and they provided us with a flight. Khandagh Road was about 5 km; one side of the road was connected to Iraq and the other to Hoor. We debarked our forces at the end of this road and in Hoor side. We also settled our emergency there. When the forces were establishing the emergency, other forces related to relief post moved with necessary facilities toward a line which had been seized by the warriors. In that operation, Iraq never thought that Iran would pass from 45-km distance of Hoor and seize its other side. Iraq had considered Hoor as a natural protector and barrier, which is impassable. It really was not passable in terms of many military issues. Perhaps Iraq had guessed this right, but our war men had shown that they can do measures higher and away of Iraqis expectation. The forces were able to easily capture Iraqi coast and settle there with a small number of wounded. We also settled our rescue post in that area. The situation was very quiet and I returned to emergency department. We even had brought blood bank to the emergency and had provided enough. I decided to go for evaluating situation of rear and Jalal Ghaderi, deputy of the dispensary unit, stationed in the area instead of me. When I came back it was night.

The next day we encountered a strange scene in rear guard. Other commands also had been stationed in rear of our front and there was a very heavy situation. We suddenly realized that something new was happening here. We had been engaged in heavy chemical bombardment by Iraq. Iraq had generally begun to bombard in various parts and in less mass, but widespread attack on the first place was Shatali in Hoor al-Hoveizeh. Of course, before the operation, we had predicted possibility of chemical bombardment and considered a series of facilities and measures. Special bags for removing contamination had been given to the troops and a number of medicines had been placed in the emergency room. We even had prepared necessary cars for quenching chemical bombs, but these weren't enough. A car came and neutral chemical bomb, and on the other side, a loader came and poured a few shovels on the bomb that was smoking. This chemical bombing caused all support forces to be infected. The only place that could help them was the emergency we had set up in a farer distance. In that emergency, primary drugs were given to chemical wounded as much as possible and they were sent back from there. When I went to that emergency room, I saw that pollution was very severe. I told them to tuck edges of the tent so that air to be passed and pollution in the emergency room to be reduced. Because when the forces had come to the emergency room their body was contaminated and there had become source of contamination. In this situation, all support forces were sent to rear forcedly. Finally, the troops who were working inside the emergency were contaminated and they were also dispatched rear. After our requests, the troops from Ahvaz headquarter dispensary were again dispatched, and we were able to replace them. I decided to go back to Khandagh road and see what's going there. I saw three helicopters had landed when I wanted to move. They had brought three vans of ammo to put within the helicopters and carry them to guys of the front. Before that when a helicopter landed, there were a hundred people to load the equipment and move forward, but the moment there was no one except the pilot of helicopters and van drivers. We tried with help of the drivers to load equipment into helicopters. When the pilots wanted to move, they said that one person should accompany each helicopter, otherwise we would not fly. Two drivers and I got on helicopters, and satisfied the pilots to fly.

When we arrived at the operational area, we saw that there was disordered and the forces were forced to retreat because the support had been destroyed. Friends may object me here why I'm talking about retreat. The war had both retreat and progress, and it should not be that we always talk about memories of progress. It should be said that if we captured a part of northern and southern isles of Majnoon in Operation Khyber, we would have to retreat in places like here because of such as loss of support. There was no way and the troops could not stand and die because we didn't want to retreat. Sometimes, a timely retreat can be a success that is recorded. This coming back could give us some experience. When helicopters landed and we wanted to empty vehicles, some forces were in a hurry to come to the helicopter and get on. Morale of all forces was not the same; some had a high morale and perhaps we could send them back forcedly, and some did not tolerate and wanted to leave the area faster. We unloaded ammunition hardly and I myself got off. In a moment I told Mr. Ghaderi to get on and retreat. He insisted on staying and I satisfied him to go. As soon as the three helicopters wanted to fly, Iraqi aircrafts arrived and sprayed them. Meanwhile, one of the helicopters burnt. The aircrafts did not shot bombs and only sprayed them, so only top of that helicopter was fired. As soon as it burned, the pilot and co-pilot of that helicopter and the troops within it got off. They got on in two other helicopters and flew. When helicopters took off, some people leaned their leg on pedal and their hands on door of helicopters, and their doors were not closed. Anyway, helicopters took off. As they went over water, the Iraqi aircraft shot them, but they did not succeed and didn't hit the target. All forces were watching this scene. Helicopters went. About 100 injured were there, and some were injured again, and we treated them. The medical staff did what was needed for them as much as possible.

I visited Abdolali Behroozi, deputy of commander of the brigade who settled there. I asked him to call and request helicopter to return the troops. He said it is unlikely helicopters come back here again. I asked him to call at least. An hour passed and we were in a hope and hopelessness state that the helicopters came back. Here, the pilots showed that they are men of tough days. Former flights were very ordinary, but from here onwards, the situation had become different, because they had seen with their own eyes how an Iraqi aircraft fired one of the helicopters and seen how Iraqi aircraft fired at them in the path. Helped by the pilots, we could bring the wounded back in two to three flights. We also asked the troops to let us first bring the injured back and then they would get on and return. The forces also here proved that they are men of hard days. We were in a road that in one side was in Iraq and in another side in water of Hoor. On the other hand, it was unclear whether another flight would take place after each flight. No boat had contact there until that time, and our only connection was through airway. The troops listened to us and waited to get on after the wounded. They helped to move the wounded into the helicopter. At that time, I was a 21 years young man old who did these things and carried out this management. My mean for saying this is good management of youth in the war. These are the young people who can solve problems of this country. I do not want to say that I was very brave and I did not want to go back. I was also looking for an opportunity to get out of the situation, but I could not leave the injured and I myself return by the first flight. We sent everyone and only four injured remained. I told myself that we would all be seated in the next flight and we could go back, but unfortunately, no other flight was conducted.

It was near sunset and a lot of warriors and four wounded had remained for us. It may not be logical to come a helicopter in that situation that was becoming dark. I went to the command post and they said they had been called and it is supposed a boat to come. When I returned to the injured, it was reported that a boat arrived, and we had to take on the wounded and moved. We carried them toward the boat and took on them. That was an inflatable boat. When we got on, water had risen to the boat's edges, and if we moved, it might spill within the boat. Having feared of drowning, we inevitably moved. We traveled about a kilometer and reached a crossroads. Hoor is waterway-like, and in canebrake as if roads are paralleled. There were roads in plus (+) shape that had northern, southern, eastern and western. When we arrived at the first crossroad, the sailor, whom I told him steersman, asked me which side do we go? I replied you are steersman and you say which side we should go. When he asked this question, I thought he had come from rear and they had given us the boat to return the wounded. I asked him. He said I have not sailed this boat so far, and this is boat of a commander that presented you. Here, I realized that our commanders are also men of hard days. That boat was for themselves and they could keep for themselves, but they refused to preserve this privilege for themselves and accommodated us and the wounded with it. They themselves had trusted in God to leave somehow along with rest of the forces.

In short, when we arrived at the crossroads, and steersman also did not know which side should go, I remembered that when I was coming with the helicopter, I looked from top to down. I saw that we were moving towards southwest and cut off the canals at 45 degrees. I accounted that if we now go a waterway to the east and another to the north, we would reach the main canal and eventually reach our own coast. I found also the North Star who helped us determine the route. We moved with this hypothesis, and after about two to three hours we arrived at the main canal marked by rope. That canal was connected to the front that its only route was through the boat. Seeing this canal we found that the way is right. After moving a little, we reached a number of boats that had stayed and did not know direction of the area we were in. They saw that our boat was very bad, so they changed our boat with one of their boats. We showed them the way, and they took the steersman who was with us with themselves as someone who knew the path. We separated from them. When we sailed with that boat for about an hour, I saw that a launch had sunk slantwise, and only half of its cabin had remained out of water. There was someone with a boat and a gun. When we wanted to pass there, he stopped us and said that no boat had the right to go back. We said the wounded are with us, but he did not accept. He said you should get off into the launch; the boat must return to the area and bring the injured. While I was disputing with him for the sake of the injured, one of the injured took my leg and said that it's okay, dismount us and let the boat return to the area. I found out here that our wounded are men of hard days too. While their lives were in danger, they wanted the boat to go back to save lives of rest of the wounded, even if they themselves were lost in this way. We got off the boat and kept the wounded about 2-3 hours in a slantwise launch so that a boat from rear and embark us and took to our beach. We got on the boat about sunset. When we arrived at our beach, it was almost sunrise, we were on water for about 14 to 15 hours with the wounded, but Al-Hamdolelah we gave them to the emergency, and nothing happened to them."



There was the front too

The second narrator of the memory night, Parvin Karimi, was a witness of Sardasht chemical bombardment. She said, "We lived in Tehran before the revolution and also had a house in Sardasht and came and went. When the war began, and Imam Khomeini said behind the fronts should not be supportless, my father returned to Sardasht. He took my young brothers along with my mother. Sardasht is a border town that is about half an hour away from Iraq by car. It was bombarded from the first day until the last day of the war. On the first day of the war, about 20 to 30 people died a martyr there. At that time, nobody still knew that there was a war. Years passed and my father was still in war with my brothers. It was at the end of the war when my brother had a child, and we all went from Tehran to Sardasht to see that kid. My other brother was not in Sardasht for several years. He was left behind, so he took a plane ticket to Urmia and came from there to Sardasht. I had married for almost two months. That day we ate lunch with enthusiasm. It was too long time that my mother hadn't given me tea. I asked my mother to brew me tea and I went to the bathroom and washed children up. The kids were so fond of me that my brother's child told me, "Dear aunt! Do not marry in God's name. Those children thought that if I got married, they would get away from me. When I cleaned children, my mother knocked the bathroom door and said, "Come on, Parvin!" The aircrafts came again. In some days aircrafts came several times, but I never feared of them. I washed the clothes too. The bathroom was between kitchen and my little brother's bedroom. When I finished my work, I went to my brother's room. As I entered the room, they bombed our house. For the first time I was so scared. I was going to the yard; my brother took me on the way and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I do not know." I went to the yard. There was a tumult in the yard. Our house was in Sarcheshmeh neighborhood in Sardasht; therefore, all marketers had rushed into our yard. They told us they shot chemical bomb, moisture a cloth and put on your mouth. I did not know that water and all clothes upon rope were contaminated. I quickly moistured clothes in pool and gave people and my family in the yard. I did not even take a piece of those clothes. I wanted nothing to happen to anyone and I was not thinking about myself, but they all died a martyr and only I saved. What make me upset always is that if they told people of our city, what is chemical and when they shot chemical, what should to be done, some of my family and people who took shelter in yard of our house were alive today. I am proud to be child of a father who left Tehran for the sake of word of Imam, and returned to Sardasht with his sons in order not to be supportless back of the fronts. Maybe they say that there wasn't the front, but there was just the front."


Self-knowledge and enemy-knowledge

Amir Saeedzadeh was the third narrator of the session. He said, "Miss Karimi's brother was my close friend and her father was my master. Her father was one of warlord of nomads of Sardasht. Although he had great financial resources, he acted based on advice of Imam. I was present and saw these scenes. At that time we were young and IRGC considered me to identify the fifth pillar. Now fifth pillar is called infiltrator. The fifth pillar was ones when bloody Saddam Hussein fired bomb or missile, immediately came and took photo and reported location and extent of destruction to Saddam Army. They were a branch of hypocrisy. We went anonymously to identify them. We succeeded to God and we worked in relief too along this detection. Each day Saddam aircrafts arrived and bombarded and went. Imam had told don't leave empty behind the fronts and it wasn't left behind supportless. People remained, stood and resisted. Every time an aircraft bombarded, many loved ones died a martyr. That day was about 4 p.m. when aircrafts came. They were in a low height of land and were quite visible. Sound of bomb blast was much less than the previous explosions. I went to people to help. People said only one died a martyr and we thanked God. They said they struck main water pipe. Suddenly I smelled something and they said that it was chemical. We did not know what chemical was and hadn't experienced. We, who were young and were sworn by this system and the martyrs, did not leave the scene and went for relief. Until 10 p.m. they brought about injured 1,000 people were. We tore clothes of each injured they brought, and poulticed their body something like yogurt. We did primary works for them. They had dislodged bus seats and we used them as an ambulance. A person who accompanied a chemical injured was also infected. In all bombardments, people took shelter in basement, but in chemical bombardment it is reverse. Chemical material is heavy and comes down, and those who had taken shelter in those places were the most injured. Now I have 27% of my lungs and I live with oxygen, and like Mrs. Karimi, I have a problem to provide drugs. I was one of those people who worked before the revolution with Hojjatoleslam Ravaee Shirazi and Mr. Barikbin, who were in exile in Sardasht, Hossein Adelzadeh, Ali Salehi, Rahmat Alipour and father of Mrs. Karimi for the revolution. We distributed announcements. I did not know Imam Khomeini. I was young and did not have a political understanding and study. Until one day we were rolling the announcements, I saw picture of an old man holding a tea tray in his hand. I asked my friend who is he? He said he is Imam Khomeini. We advanced with sincerity. There was solidarity between student, worker and marketers, teacher, Kurds, Lurs and Baluch who progressed the revolution here. We were united. Now we have to know ourselves and then enemy.



I went to IRGC to defend the country, and in 1981, because of my conviction and being a revolutionary, in civil war, counter-revolution captured me. They issued a death sentence after torture and persecution. When I was in jail, I saw someone named Kianoush Golzar Ragheb, who still had no beard or mustache. He was very young but I trusted him among prisoners. I thought about escaping. I dreamed that a river flooded in Sardasht and I wanted to go to other side of the river. As water waved, as if verses of the Qur'an had been written on the water. Suddenly an old man appeared there, dressed and bearded and all his body was white. He asked me if you want to go to the other side of water. I said yes. He asked, "Would you like to bring you to the other side? I said, "Who are you?" He said, "I am Khomeini!" The old man took my hand and crossed the river. There was no record of anyone able to escape from Komala prison. I was the first person to do this, and it was a hard blow to them. They took my father and said your father escaped you. Kianoush Golzar Ragheb and I had planned the escape. Kianoush's brother had been captured. I knew that Kianoush's brother had been executed but Kianoush did not know. Kianoush and his brother had been captured together, and Kianoush was also supposed to be executed, but because he was very young, they kept him. He changed his mind about escaping in the last moment. After release, I asked him, "Why you did not come?" He said, "I thought if I came, they would execute my brother, while his brother had been executed and he did not know. When I came back to Iran and again joined the warriors, counter-revolution had ordered to shoot RPG at our house and neighbors had prevented, but unfortunately they assassinated my brother instead of me. They said that person come and go in the way, they did not say my name and only told my family name. Then they seized my father. On the very day that my brother died a martyr, we wanted to proposed marriage a girl to him. We are in a atmosphere, school, and thought that we cannot stop by losing our loved ones. This revolution is for the martyrs and we are guardian and keeper of this revolution."

He continued, "A combatant in the front could have several positions at the same time. In Operation Valfajr-4, I was in support unit. Part of the operation took place in Sardasht and I went to send logistics. I saw somebody wore in a dirty dress and had fallen on the ground. I thought to myself that he might be a counter-revolution, and intended that I stop the car and kill me. Then I said to myself, maybe he is a Basij force and of our troops. I trusted in God and stopped the car. I saw that he was an injured Basij. He was middle-aged. I took his arm and said, "Lean the pear tree." I told him, would you like pick up pear to eat? He said, No, its owner is not here to get his allowance, it is forbidden. It came to my mind to go to the other side of the valley. I said, Iraqi cannons passed here and may hit here. He accepted. We went to the other side. He insisted that I go and not be engaged him. It took a few minutes that an Iraqi missile bullet hit exactly where we sit. All pears fell. He said, "Do you see God's will? God ordered the bullet to pick pears up for us!"

Saeedzadeh said finally, "Before the imposed war, there was a civil war in our region. The counter-revolution overtly wanted to separate Kurdistan from Iran. We had been told us that they install time bomb and we had not seen time bomb. I told my brother Ali, who died a martyr, if you saw something like this, it is a time bomb and you should not touch it. He came one day and said the bombs you mentioned are under trees beside tomb of the martyrs. They had set it for 4:30 p.m. when there was crowded. If it exploded, it would kill a lot of people. I went and saw it looked like what they had told us. Because I wasn't expert, I did not touch it. I informed the base and martyr Sayyad Shirazi came along with several others. He did not allow anyone to bomb. He said, "I will do this (removing time bomb), and you lie down in order not to be hurt."

297th session of Sacred Defense's Night of Memory was held by the Center for Studies and Research on Resistance Culture and Literature and the Office of Literature and Art of Resistance in Sooreh Hall of Hozeh Honari on Thursday, November 22, 2018. Next session will be held on December 27.

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