Photographs and narratives by ROBERT LEUTHEUSER from and of his travels through Kurdistan and the greater Middle East. Published in conjunction with his photographic website

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01 November 2009

Landslide at Mawaliyah

28 October, Wednesday
Rawanduz, Iraqi Kurdistan

Not all tragedies in Iraq are the result of war. On Monday night deep in Iraqi Kurdistan's Zagros Mountains, a mountainside collapsed burying two men.

Mawaliyah is a small village, a 45-minute drive from its district capital, Rawanduz which is renown for its history of Kurdish resistance, proximity to the famous Hamilton Road hewn through the mountains in the 1930s, and spectacular beauty.

At 7:30pm, 60-year old Zaniwar Ababakey called the owner of the quarry where he and 25-year old Hogr Mohammed were night guards. He reported that he had heard what he thought to be an explosion. His next, and final, words were, “He is going to die!” Their bodies were recovered early Wednesday morning, Zaniwar with his mobile phone in hand.

It is estimated that one million cubic meters of earth and rock slid down, the mountain finally responding to 7 years of mining at the quarry. I accompanied the Rawanduz District Mayor, Serwan Sereni, his body guard, and assistant, to the site on Monday night, speeding over the rough roads in the darkness, three hurried voices and three mobile phones. Hundreds of men milled about a mile from the site. After conferring with others, and inspecting the site eerily lit by headlights in the half-moon night, the mayor decided that the recovery actions would have to wait until the morning.

The next day a legion of 30 front-end loaders, bulldozers, and dump trucks began to nibble away at the unstable mass, uncovering some of the quarry's twisted heavy equipment, but no bodies.

Wednesday morning we drove back under overcast skies, Mr. Sereni having just gotten a call that one body had been recovered. Another call came while driving – the second body was being exhumed from the rubble.

A leg was all that was left to remove when we arrived. It was quickly wrapped in a prayer rug and carried away by a son, shouting at others who tried to stop him. It was laid covered on the ground with the rest of the body under the watchful eye of a serene white- turbaned imam, then put in the back of a pickup truck and driven down to Mawaliyah for burial.

Two men were already scratching the rocky soil in the small cemetery when we arrived.

Mr. Sereni was at peace, telling stories from his youth of his father's friend, Zaniwar Ababakey as we drove back to Rawanduz.

Robert Leutheuser

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