The semi-autonomous region of Iraq has been at the centre of independence struggles and wars for 100 years. Most recently, the Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, have been the main force in defeating IS in Iraq.

The photo above shows the cemetery in Halabja for the victims of Saddam Hussein's chemical bombing of the city in March 1988. 

Medical priorities have been the management of trauma such as burns. Conditions such as cleft lip and palate have inevitably been neglected. Many patients remain with unrepaired palates. Many more have had poor surgery by inexperienced surgeons.

There is no speech and language therapy school in the whole of Iraq. The one therapist in the country, who was trained in Iran, works in Sulaimania and spends one day per week working with patients who have had cleft palates.

Mr Brian Sommerlad has been visiting annually at the invitation of the plastic surgeons from Sulaimania and support of Kurdistan Save the Children, an independent Kurdish charity. The trustees of CLEFT decided in 2018 to make Kurdistan one of the countries which we would support.

CLEFT’s role is to help train and support the surgeons who will be doing most of these operations and to assist in the development of multidisciplinary teams.


Mr Sommerlad, above, is photographed above demonstrating a cleft palate repair under the operating microscope in Sulaimania in 2014 and right, working with the new operating microscope donated by CLEFT in 2023.

Read the full article on the unveiling of the new microscope here.

Paul Whittaker, our film-maker visited Sulaymaniyah and Erbil with Brian in November.* In the two cities, more than 130 patients were seen – the majority needing surgery. Some were too poor to travel for surgery. Some had been in refugee camps. Others did not know that treatment was available.


Aso, aged 12, is pictured here with an unrepaired cleft palate and needing further surgery.

The following short video clip shows twins who have an inherited condition known as van der Woude syndrome (where a cleft is associated with pits of the lower lip) sharing a special moment together. The moment they realise they have been caught on camera is very sweet!

(* As with all such visits, the costs of this visit were not paid by CLEFT)