Agony of mother set ablaze by Iraqis
By Julius Strauss
Shortly after three o'clock on a hot afternoon 37-year-old Nazif Mamik Tofik, an Iraqi Kurd, approached the border post carrying two five-gallon canisters of fuel.
She hoped to cross to the Kurdish-controlled side and sell them for a pound or two, which would help feed her eight hungry children.
Nazif Mamik Tofik whimpers with pain in Sulaimania hospital
As she stepped up to the Iraqi checkpoint, a military policeman suddenly pulled a knife, slashed open the flimsy plastic containers and splashed petrol all over her.
Then the head of the Iraqi border guard casually walked up to her, pulled a lighter from his pocket and set her ablaze. Soaked in fuel, she began to burn like a torch. That was on Monday afternoon. Yesterday Nazif lay in Sulaimania emergency hospital, on the Iraqi side, whimpering with pain. She had third degree burns and doctors said she was lucky to be alive.
A packet of blood hung on a metal stand above her ravaged body. The drip was inserted into her neck as her lower arms were too badly burnt to put it into her wrist. To ease the pain bedclothes would have caused, an aluminium cage had been placed over her body and covered by a blanket.
In a faltering voice, she said: "They said absolutely nothing, just looked at me with hatred. Then they set me alight. My whole body was in flames. I can't describe the pain.
"If it wasn't for an old man who smothered me with his coat I would have burnt alive.
"The border guards just stood and watched. Even after the flames were out they refused to let me return to the hospital in Kirkuk."
The border in the north of Iraq has never been a place for the faint-hearted. Ever since the Kurdish uprising in 1991, travellers have crossed at their peril. But in recent weeks the abuse meted out to those who cross has increased dramatically.
On the Kurdish side yesterday, travellers told how they were being routinely beaten with batons by the Iraqis.
According to one young man, Saman, and other travellers, while Saddam Hussein continues to offer co-operation with the UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad, preparations for war are well advanced in the provinces.
Saman said: "The Iraqis have dug ditches and filled them with oil. They say when the war comes they will set them alight and the smoke will render the American bombers useless."
Kais Hussein, Kurdish deputy commander of Chamchamal border post, said: "The people coming across all say the situation is far worse than a few weeks ago. Each night the Iraqi police arrest anybody on the streets."
In the Sulaimania hospital, Nazif was being visited by her sister yesterday. Dr Karokh Hassan, the doctor treating her, was asked whether there was any chance she had invented her story.
"I have no reason to doubt what she says is true," he said.
"It will be a month before her skin begins to heal. Only then can we begin the slow, painful process of grafting."