Residents huddled around fires in Sarpol-e Zahab to keep warm. Night-time temperature lows in Kermanshah province are about 3 degrees celsius at this time of year. AFP/P. Pakizeh Residents huddled around fires in Sarpol-e Zahab to keep warm. Night-time temperature lows in Kermanshah province are about 3 degrees celsius at this time of year. AFP/P. Pakizeh

Magnitude 7.3 earthquake rocks the Iraq/Iran border

Mon, Nov. 13, 2017
CAIRO – 13 October 2017: If you believed the Kurdish people deserved a moment of respite as the war against ISIS slows and the conflict in Iraqi Kurdistan has quietened; you were awfully mistaken.

A powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake has rocked the border region between Iran and Iraq on Sunday night, killing more than 328 people in Iran, seven in Iraq and injuring thousands more on either side of the border. The epicenter lay just miles outside the eastern Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja; a city infamous for the chemical attacks it suffered in 1988 under the thumb of Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid.

The earthquake centered 19 miles of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy damage, and large loss of life.

Middle East trembles as huge earthquake strikes. AFP/USGS

The worst damage appears to have happened in Iran's western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. Residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.

More than 236 people alone died in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, just miles from the Iraqi border. Three days of mourning have been announced.

“Sarpol-e Zahab has only one hospital, which was demolished in this incident. All patients and hospital staff have been buried beneath the rubble, so it cannot offer any service,” Farhad Tajari, the local MP, stated to local media.

More than 70,000 people were in need of emergency shelter, the Iranian Red Crescent said.

The Turkish Red Crescent has announced it is sending supplies to Erbil, including 3,000 tents, 10,000 blankets, a mobile kitchen, 3,000 heaters, and 10,000 beds.

Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to frequent quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people. The last major casualty earthquake in Iran struck in East Azerbaijan province in 2012, and killed over 300 people.

Although effects of the earthquake were felt in Arab Iraq and Persian Iran, the Kurdish people endured the most severe consequences.

A woman stands next to wounded people as they are treated following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah. REUTERS

Iraqi Kurdistan has faced more turmoil and upheaval in the past four years than most nations do in a decade; or two, or three. The wave of ISIS advances in 2014 shook Iraq and the northern Kurdish region. Several years of intense fighting followed, however while ISIS’s territorial majesty has been crushed, Iraqi Kurdistan has failed to regain stability. A controversial independence referendum in September gave reason for Iraqi and Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces to take control of significant strategic locations on the disputed Iraqi/Iranian Kurdish border.

Apartment complexes rapidly collapsed in Sarpol-e Zahab, with some residents barely evacuating in time. REUTERS

Although the death toll in Iraqi Kurdistan is far shy of that in western Iran, this comes as another blow to the region with the infrastructure destroyed and morale hit hard.


Joseph Colonna

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