April 17, 2006

Back to Iraq Part V - By Force of Sheer Will

This is the fifth installment in a Back to Iraq series which is basically a single long essay. Don’t miss Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

Dohok from Hotel.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

DOHOK, IRAQ - Sean and I walked up to the front steps of the Political Science building at Dohok University and lit up a couple of cigarettes. We had just arrived in Dohok, Iraqi Kurdistan, and we had no ride, no guide, and no translator. What better place to pick somebody up than where the young and the educated gather to study, to meet, and to hang out?

Thirty or forty sharply dressed young men and women loitered with backpacks slung over their shoulders and books under their arms. I figured we could stand there for a minute or two and see if anyone felt like approaching us. But no one did.

“Let’s go talk to that guy,” I said to Sean and gestured toward a garrulous-looking barrel-chested young Kurd wearing glasses and a tie and joking with friends. “He looks friendly enough.”

“Hello!” I said to the young man who would, in fact, be our guide later that day. “Do you speak English?”

He looked startled.

“Yes?” he said. “Can I help you?”

Heads turned all around at the sound of spoken English.

“Yes, hi,” I said and shook his hand. “We’re Americans here for the day. We just came over from Turkey. Someone was supposed to meet us at the border and pick us up, but we couldn’t find him. We’re hoping somebody here can tell us where we can go to hire a driver and translator.”

“Of course, come with me,” he said and led Sean and I through the front door. “A translator works on staff in this building.”

“Excellent,” Sean said.

“I’m Michael, by the way,” I said.

“And I’m Sean,” Sean said.

“Kiman,” he said and shook our hands again. “Welcome to Kurdistan.”

Kiman spoke to the receptionist just inside the door. As it turned out, she said, the department’s translator had the day off.

“Do you know where else we can find one?” I said to Kiman. Just then I noticed that a rather large crowd of students had gathered around. They looked at me and Sean like we were some weird cross between rock stars and zoo animals.

“I’m sorry,” Kiman said. “I don’t know that.”

“How about the press relations office of the KDP?” Dohok is a stronghold for Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party.

“I don’t know that either,” Kiman said. “I’ll tell you what. I have class in an hour. I’ll be free at 2:00. I can show you around myself after that if you like.”

That would mean Sean and I would have two hours without a guide. I looked at Sean.

“What do you think?” I said.

“I don’t know,” Sean said. “What do we do for two hours?”

“We could take a taxi downtown and go to the souk,” I said. “Then we can come back here and meet him.”

“Okay,” Sean said.

“Great,” I said to Kiman. “We’ll pay you the money we were going to pay the guy who was supposed to pick us up this morning.”

“No, no, no,” Kiman said. “You cannot give me money.”

“We were prepared to pay money anyway,” I said.

“You are my guests,” Kiman said. “I will be happy to show you around. What do you want to see?”

“Just the city,” Sean said. “We don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know what we’re looking at. I’m studying architecture and would love to see some new construction.”

Kiman, kind soul that he is, wouldn’t let us take a taxi downtown. He drove us himself in his brand-new SUV.

I leaned out the window and snapped a photo of the Kurdistan flag painted on the side of a mountain overlooking the city.

Kurdistan Flag Over Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

“I have to ask,” Sean said. “I know what Mike says, but…are we safe here?”

“Um,” Kiman said. “Not really, no. You have to be very careful.”

What the hell? We weren’t safe in Dohok? Since when? The car was momentarily silent. I tried to figure out what to say to convince Sean that we were fine without acting like I knew Dohok better than someone who lived there.

Here, you are safe,” Kiman said, as though he realized what he just said could be misunderstood. “Dohok is safe. Kurdistan is safe. Just don’t go south.”

He dropped us off near the souk (pronounced seek in Kurdish) in front of an Internet café.

“I’ll meet you back here in two hours,” he said.

Sean and I said our thanks and goodbyes and wandered around downtown Dohok.

Dohok Souk.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

Although the aesthetic is different, the freshly constructed outskirts of Dohok are as modern as suburban Columbus, Ohio. Downtown is more interesting. It feels more authentically Middle Eastern, where the old and the new co-exist side by side. Older people wear traditional clothes while the younger dress more or less like Westerners. Brand-new cars share traffic with hand-pulled and donkey-towed carts.

Men in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

I knew I would once again write about Iraqi Kurdistan. Sean planned to give a presentation at school about Iraqi Kurdistan’s architecture and reconstruction. But the truth is we went there mostly as tourists. So we did what tourists do. We took pictures of each other in our new far-flung location.

I look as exhausted as I felt in the picture below. Somehow Sean managed to look chipper and ready to go. (Probably because I did all the driving so far that day.)

Me in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

Sean in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

If we were going to shop in the souk we needed Iraqi money. So we walked up the front stairs in a hotel and asked the man behind the counter if we could buy some dinars from him. He ran the Kurdish Iraqi version of a family-run boutique hotel. It wasn’t as nice as the fake “Sheraton” in Erbil, but it sure beat the dump of a place run by the PUK in Suleimaniya, the inappropriately named Suli Palace.

Iraqi Money.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

The power went out and the man finished his sentence without hesitation as though nothing was wrong. Welcome to Iraq where this happens every day.

Finally Sean and I could sit down and eat a proper meal. We found (what else?) a kebab place.

“Welcome my cousins!” said the host as we walked in the door. He shook our hands and slapped us on the back. The restaurant was full. It appeared there was nowhere for us to sit. Whether we liked it or not, though, we were Americans and we got special treatment.

The host walked over to a table where two young men sat and kicked them out to make room.

"No!" Sean said.

"That isn't necessary," I said.

"Please, please, sit down," the host said.

"Do you want to join us?" Sean said to the guys who were given the boot.

"Please," I said and gestured for them to sit. There was room enough for four at the table. But they wouldn't have any of it, not because they didn't want to sit with other people but because they wanted to make sure we were comfortable. That made us uncomfortable. But that's how it goes in Iraqi Kurdistan.

We ordered two kebabs. The waiter brought eight, along with enough vegetables and hummus to feed half of Dohok. He only charged us for two. We could only eat three.

A large table cleared out and a gaggle of Peshmerga came in. Half the men in the restaurant stood up. Everyone in the restaurant greeted them warmly. It’s fascinating to watch the Peshmerga soldiers interact with local Kurdish Iraqi civilians. If anywhere in the world has a genuine People’s Army, this place is it. I’ve never seen such genuine heartfelt love for soldiers as I’ve seen in Northern Iraq.

Peshmerga in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

Sean and I still had another hour before it was time to meet Kiman. So we went to the grocery store.

Back to Mazi Mart.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

Appliances in Mazi Mart.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

I could hardly believe I was back at the Mazi Mart. It's so incredibly normal in every way. Yet I've twice crossed the Middle East to go there and take pictures. Once again, I felt like a complete and utter goofball taking pictures of cartons of milk, sticks of margarine, boxes of Froot Loops, and thin cans of Red Bull. Everyone had to stare. What's so interesting about the grocery store that he has to take pictures?

Inside Mazi Mart Yet Again.jpg
Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

Because Americans are happy to see that Northern Iraq is a normal, reasonably prosperous place. Sean even took pictures of the laser scanner in the checkout line.

Mazi Mart Laser Scanner.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

We met two American soldiers in front of the store. They sat on a park bench outside. Iraqi Kurdistan is perfectly safe, so they did not carry guns. They did not wear body armor or helmets. (I foolishly did not catch their names. One wore a moustache, and I'll call him Mark. The other was blonde. I'll call him Jake.)

"Hey guys," Sean said.

"Ah, hey, what's up?" they said and stood up to shake our hands. "What are you guys doing here?"

"We're tourists," I said.

"No way," said Jake.

"Yep," Sean said. "We drove here for the day from Istanbul."

"I've been here before," I said, "as a journalist. I wanted to come back and Sean wanted to check it out. We had a few days, so what the hell."

"Where are you guys from?" Mark said.

"We're from Portland," Sean said. "Although Mike has been living in Beirut and I'm living and studying in Denmark."

"We're from Seattle," Jake said.

“My wife says Portland is having some pretty rough weather right now,” Mark said. How odd to hear a weather report about what’s going on at my house from a guy in Northern Iraq.

“Are you here on R and R?” I said.

“Yeah,” Jake said. “It’s a bit embarrassing right now because of what happened recently.”

“Why, what happened?” Sean said.

“Well, you know,” Jake said. “Lots of us come up here to take a break. A few guys don’t deal with decompression after combat quite as well as they should.”

“Can you tell us what happened?” I said.

Mark and Jake looked at each other.

“I’d rather not,” Mark said. “Just understand that only a small minority don’t know how to behave.”

Sean and I later decided we wished we had witnessed whatever bad behavior these guys were talking about. We might have been able to put a stop to it if we said Hey, knock that shit off at them in American English, especially if I said I'm a journalist. Then again, maybe not. I have no idea what it's like to freak out after combat. Perhaps it's a good thing we missed it.

“How’s it going down there, anyway?” Sean said.

“Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in between?” I said.

“I’m pretty impressed with the Iraqi army right now,” Mark said. “They’re coming along much better than we expected. They’re great. The police are another story, though.”

“They’re tribal and corrupt,” Jake said. “It's awful. There isn’t much anyone has been able to do about it yet.”

“The Kurds seem to like us,” Sean said. “What do the Arabs think?”

“It depends,” Mark said. “Some of them like us, some of them don’t. A lot of them are conflicted.”

“I understand where they’re coming from,” Jake said. “They’ve had enough of the occupation. But they’re afraid. I don’t blame them for being tired of us. When we drive our military convoys down a two-lane street we take up the whole road and force all the other cars to get out of our way. We do it because we have to, for our protection. But I hate having to do it. I don’t want to force people out of our way, and no one likes being forced out of our way.”

“The Kurds are farther along right now,” Mark said. “Some of the Arabs still don’t get the freedom and democracy thing like the Kurds do. I just want to say to them: Haven’t you seen what it’s like in the north? What, exactly, is it that you’re not understanding?”

I don't know central or southern Iraq. I have never been there. An article just appeared, though, at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting about the economic divide on each side of the Kurdistan line. As it turns out, huge numbers of Arab laborers are heading north where they can make more money and live in a more secure environment. They're taking low-end jobs that the Kurds of Iraq no longer want. Arab Iraq is now to Kurdish Iraq what Mexico is to the United States.

“You guys have one hell of a job,” I said.

“I just want to say thanks for what you’re doing here,” Sean said and shook both of their hands.

“Thanks, man,” Mark said. “I really appreciate your saying that.”

“We better go,” I said. “It’s time to meet Kiman downtown. A pleasure meeting you two,” I said to Mark and Jake. “You guys be safe down there.”

Sean and I hailed a taxi and went back to the Internet café near the souk. Kiman pulled up in his SUV at the exact moment we arrived.

“Hello my friends!” he said as he rolled down the passenger side window.

It's hard to convey what it's actually like meeting Iraqi Kurds. Fleshing out the dialogue doesn't capture the feel of it. Americans and Kurds don't just get along because we're temporary allies of convenience in the Middle East. The connection is deeper and personal. Kurdish culture and American culture might as well be from different planets. But somehow, oddly enough, Kurds think much like Americans do. Let me rephrase that: Americans think like the Kurds. We have similar values despite our extraordinarily different cultural backgrounds. I find it easier to develop a rapport with Iraqi Kurds than with people from any other country I have ever been to. It's instant, powerful, and totally unexpected.

Michael Yon noticed something similar a year ago.
Meetings with Iraqi Arabs sometimes seem more like talking with the French. We are not enemies. But, generally speaking, there is no real personal connection. At best, our collective personalities just don’t seem to “click.” Yet by recognizing the sovereignty and inevitability of each other, we manage to cooperate toward our common interests, while not going to war when we disagree. But with the Kurds, like the Poles or the Brits, there is an easy and audible click. We have mutual goals, mutual enemies, and, also importantly, we actually like each other.

I hopped in the back of Kiman's SUV and let Sean take the front. I had seen more of the city than he had.

“What do you want to go?” Kiman said.

“Well,” I said. “We’ve already seen downtown. How about some of the new neighborhoods on the outskirts?”

“I’m working on an Islamic architecture project at the university,” Sean said. “I realize the new construction around here isn’t necessarily Islamic. But it’s in an Islamic country and I should see it.”

“As you like,” Kiman said as we pulled away from the curb.

“Thanks so much again,” I said, feeling a bit awkward that I was going to pay someone for this service but now we had it for free.

Dohok is not a large city. Perhaps 750,000 people live there. Somehow it feels even smaller. I wouldn’t say it’s a backwater, but it’s not a cosmopolitan capital either. The more time I spend in the Iraqi Kurdistan cities of Suleimaniya and Dohok the more I think they really are so much like Utah.

Dohok from Hotel 2.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

“What do you think of George W. Bush?” Sean said to Kiman.

“He’s controversial,” Kiman said. “A lot of people don’t like him. But I don’t care about that. American presidents are all the same from our point of view. We love Bush for freeing us from Saddam, but we would love any American president.”

“How many hours of electricity do you get here in Dohok?” I said. The grid seemed a little more solid than what I was used to in Northern Iraq.

“We get about twelve hours a day,” Kiman said.

“Twelve hours!” I said. “That’s pretty good. In Erbil they only get two.”

“We buy it from Turkey,” Kiman said. “We’re supposed to get 24 hours, but we don’t.”

The new construction in Dohok is amazing. Aside from a few standard apartment buildings, almost all the new homes are, at least on the surface, comparable to middle class, upper-middle class, and even elite houses in the United States.

Big House in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

Construction Site in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

Dohok Apartment Building.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

Expensive House in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

Glass Building in Dohok.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

It’s hard to write about Dohok because the place is so normal. Getting there is an adventure, but there is little adventure to be found after arrival. The most remarkable thing about the city is how unremarkable it is.

The first time I went there on a day trip from Erbil it seemed like such an innocent place. After seeing the rough hell of Turkish Kurdistan, though, and realizing that the Kurds in Iraq had it even worse under Saddam, it did not seem so innocent to me anymore. Iraqi Kurds struck me as deeply, profoundly, mature. It took so much work, blood, and sacrifice to build what they have. And they built it from nothing.

Iraq is the only country in the world where Kurds wield any power. They're ground down under the majoritarian boot everywhere else. For the most part they wield their power responsibly. Government corruption is still just atrocious, and they haven’t yet fully emerged from a traditional society into a completely liberal and modern one. A Kurdish journalist was recently thrown in prison after a fifteen minute show trial for blasting the KDP in a newspaper column. He was later released, but he’s not yet out of trouble. The Kurdish quasi-state wants to be liberal, but still doesn’t quite understand how or what that means.

Even so, they’ve made more progress in the region than anyone else except, perhaps, for the Lebanese and the Israelis. And they started a mere fifteen years ago from the bottom of Saddam’s mass graves. From the Mouth of Hell to…the Utah of the Middle East. By force of sheer will against extraordinarily long odds.

Sean and I passed through our last Peshmerga checkpoint in a taxi on the way back to the border at Zakho.

Peshmerga Checkpoint.jpg
Photo copyright Sean LaFreniere

We thought our adventure was over, that all we had left was a drive on the autobahn back to Istanbul. We should have known, though, that getting out of Iraq and back into Turkey would not be so easy. Even if we did know what a horrendous pain that process normally is, there was no way we could have predicted what lay ahead.

Read Part Six

Post-script: Please help support non-corporate writing. I’d like to do a lot more traveling and writing in the future, but that's only possible if I can raise enough to cover the costs. Thanks so much for your support so far.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 17, 2006 04:13 PM
Comments

I absolutely love your column. It is beyond refreshing to hear how the state of Kurdistan is progressing. I look forward to purchasing your book when it comes out and spreading the word about your travels. Good luck and Good Travels!

Posted by: Chris at April 17, 2006 05:35 PM

Michael,

I am fascinated by your depictions of the Kurds. I am left to wonder if thier emergence from repression in Iraq will lead to healthy economic growth and the ensuing influence in the region, or will their emergence destabilize the region as they seek to carve out thier place in the region.

I wish them the best, God knows they deserve some good times after all they have and are suffering through, I just wonder what the future holds.

Posted by: Joel Mackey at April 17, 2006 08:27 PM

Plain and simple: What Michael Totten is doing here is a great thing.

FASCINATING!

Posted by: Jason Hannemann at April 17, 2006 09:47 PM

Really really good stuff. Look out Paul Theroux.

Posted by: ignacio at April 17, 2006 10:43 PM

I was glad you mentioned Michael Yon in your article. Michael Totten and Michael Yon are the two best journalists covering the Middle East right now. In fact yall are quite similar in the way you cover stories, the observations you make and the great pictures you take. Goes to show that independent journalism is the best kind. Robert D. Kaplan, though he writes for The Atlantic, is also an excellent writer and has been for many years. I recommend all check out Yon's old work from Iraq and his new work from Afghanistan as well as Kaplan's latest book Imperial Grunts. Thanks again for the great stuff Michael, I will contribute very soon.

Posted by: Rommel at April 17, 2006 10:47 PM

As a Kurd, and I am %100 sure that I represent most of my cousins' viewpoint: I totally condemn all terrorist attacks every where in the world. We kurds have been the victim of terror for decades, at the hands of criminals like Ataturk, Hafiz Assad, to Saddam to the shadow terrorists who blame all destruction on Kurds to demonize them in the world.

Yes, violence will not serve any cause anywhere in the world. But as I said before that it is a scientific rule, for every action there is reaction.

Those who throw flowers at Kurds, will for sure get flowers back.

But those who fire bullets at Kurds, what do you think they will get in return? flowers? NO
They will get the same.

Kurds are simply reacting not acting.
That dosen't mean that I sanction PKK's behavior. They are Marxists and I hate Marxists. But I swear to God a little democracy, cultural and political rights for Kurds in Turkey will ensure the peaceful end of the PKK for ever.

I am optimistic. My contacts in EU countries, who have "good contacts" as well told me that in the 21st century Europe/EU, no one accepts members who treat minorities like animals.

Thanks EU
Thanks EU
Thanks EU

Posted by: Abdullah at April 17, 2006 11:17 PM

So Sorry guys,
the above comment wasn't for part V of MJT's trip to Iraqi Kurdistan. It was for his article further down on MEN WITH GUNS.
sorry again,

regards from Izmir
Abdulla Dizaye

Posted by: abdulla at April 17, 2006 11:25 PM

Hey all... a quick addition in reference to the above comments...

We asked about the current plight of Kurds in the area. We also asked about the failed 1991 uprising. And the answers to both were surprising and informative.

Apparently the Kurds do not hold it against us that the 82nd Airborne did not parachute into the mountains to help them rebel in 1991.

I would personally understand if they did, being forced to flee your home into the mountains is not fun, and we kinda go them into trouble with our talk of spontaneous internal revolution. As it was put to us "you are here now.".

(We need to keep in mind that the situation of 1776 in the American colonies was unique. Both sides were similarly armed with muskets, the government forces were fighting a month's sea journey away from home with out radio communication, and we DID have the help of many European powers. We should stop expecting the oppressed people of the world today to simply rise up against their own mechanized totalitarian governments with zero foreign assistance).

They also are not afraid of a little more bloodshed in the name of their fellow Kurds, to protect them and to perhaps free them from non-Kurdish government oppression. If that means more young Peshmerga may perish, or even civilians, they appeared to be willing to pay the price.

Again, in this way, Kurds seem more like Americans than like Asians or Europeans. They are not interested in dominating their neighbors militarily, but they are still willing to use force to defend their people. They might want to borrow a few US mottos for their new government flags and seals... maybe "Don't Tread On Me" or even "United We Stand".

I must admit that the willingness to risk bloodshed to defend themselves was a bit startling after living in Europe. I am not sure that Europeans today would be willing to defend themselves from even Martians.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 12:18 AM

These are a great set of articles you have up. I'm also big on travel, and these snippets of Kurdish life make me want to visit. Seriously, I'm going to look up ticket prices right now.

Posted by: Ben at April 18, 2006 01:40 AM

I didn't think of it 'til now, but why is Kurdistan always cloudy?

Really, all your pictures from your last trip and all of the ones from this trip are remarkably gray. It wasn't something I fully appreciated until now.

The rain keeps it green, but it also does a good job making it look glum.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at April 18, 2006 05:39 AM

How many hours in total were you in Dahuk?

Sean,

Did you see any mosques? How old do you think is the oldest building you saw there?

Did you see any buildings made of stone? Everything seems to be concrete, which makes buildings quickly, but isn't as attractive as stone that could easily be quarried from the mountains.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at April 18, 2006 05:59 AM

Abdullah, What you are doing is verbosity. Your thoughts are subjective, so avoid using your thoughts for general. Every action resulting with reaction, doesn't make Reaction legal. In that case, it means that you should support resistance movement against US in Iraq. You really don't know what you are saying.

First of all, make up your mind if your position is making democratic demands respectful to Turkish borders or contirary to be at the opposite side who declares war to Turkey with calling a territory of Turkey as Kurdistan. You cannot be at both sides of the river.

Posted by: hakanbulut at April 18, 2006 06:28 AM

Michael, I just donated what I could to your cause and wanted to make a few comments.
1) I am currently in Turkey and yesterday I checked your blog for the first time since arriving - I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see that YOU were now writing about this country. It has been more than a pleasure to read, despite the fact that I now feel rather lazy for not going to Iraq myself! Alas... Your account of Istanbul was fabulous. I was a little bewildered when the "Russian prostitute bar scam" was first described to me by a Turk. Then I find out that Michael TOTTEN was nearly sucked into one! Hilarious.
2) I am extremely thrilled that you will write a book. I work at a Barnes and Noble and I can guarantee that your book will be my staff recommendation, repeatedly. I will sneak it onto displays, order extra copies...I got you covered.
3) You inspire me.

Posted by: Kirsten at April 18, 2006 06:28 AM

Kurdistan sounds more like an authentic country than Iraq. It also sounds more secular and cosmopolitan than the rest of Iraq. It is my theory that infantile religiosity like you find in Shia Iraq and Wahabi Saudi Arabia, keeps a people parachial and unable to care for themselves. If the Kurds have grown beyond that infantilism, good.

Posted by: Ron at April 18, 2006 06:45 AM

I liked Sean's comment - but this struck me as a little naive: Again, in this way, Kurds seem more like Americans than like Asians or Europeans. They are not interested in dominating their neighbors militarily, but they are still willing to use force to defend their people. Since we have Americans not been interested in dominating their neighbors militariliy? I assume you have heard of the Mexican-American War where we not only dominated, we seized more than half of Mexico (what is now California, Arizona, New Mexico). We also made a half-hearted attempt against Canada in 1812 but decided it wasn't worth the effort. We've never been shy about sending troops to Central America when it was in our interest to do so. The US is militarily unchallenged in the New World. Our military dominance has guaranteed our freedom and prosperity, maybe the Kurds would be better off exercising a little military dominance rather than sitting back and hoping for the best.

Posted by: vanya at April 18, 2006 06:46 AM

Why can't you get this on 60 Minutes?

Posted by: William R. Casey,PE at April 18, 2006 06:49 AM

Vanya, Please clean the blood near your mouth which spread over when you were talking ;)

Sean, Are you insist on your definition, while the Kurds in Nothern Iraq keep on defining the region as Southern Kurdistan, which leads us to ask where the hell is the Northern, Western and Eastern?

Posted by: hakanbulut at April 18, 2006 07:21 AM

Vanya, what I meant was that both the US and the Kurds are interested in protecting their people... in the case of the Kurds this is an ethnic group, while the US is a bit more complicated. My point was that the Kurds may be willing to fight to unite their people and free them from oppression by Syria, Iran, or Turkey. But they are not interested in marching on Baghdad or seizing Persian oil fields. Thus they are not as much a threat to their neighbors as they might seem, allowing for the practical facts that freeing their breathren will mean "seizing" territory now claimed by these countries. I accept that mine was a simplistic characterization of the issues. k?

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:08 AM

Please keep in mind that Mexico was not the Mexico that it is today. It was a European imperial power. And It had little claim to the territory that you imention (you forgot Texas). In fact, Mexico invited American farmers to settle these lands in their name (to keep the British at bay). However, the settlers didnt get along with the Mexican government and this conflict led to the Goldiad the Alamo massacres.

We then sent a small batch of fresh West Point graduates to camp out next to the Rio Grande, on the accepted US side of the border, as a show of force or interest. The Mexican army, which greately out numbered the Americans and had many more cannons, decided to open fire. To their misfortune the West Point ballistics classes paid off and the Americans kicked their butts, seizing cannons and destroying villages, all the way to Mexico City. Hence the Marines fighting song "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli".

It is true that there were members of the US congress who argued for the annexation of all Mexico, but they were defeated by sounder heads. In the end we ended up PURCHASING southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico instead of just taking it - even though the Mexican claim was dubious and we already had conquered their capitol. Ok, maybe we got a great price? Same with Alaska and Louisiana. Anyway... but we did not simply sieze the land, even when we could.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:12 AM

And I would recharacterize the War of 1812. The British never respected American independence and sovereignty. They kidnapped our sailors, paid the Indians to attack our farmers, and basically refused to sign treaties and engage in normal diplomacy with us. Basically they only saw us as a pawn in their contests with France and Spain. Meanwhile, we tried standard diplomacy and economic pressure before taking to arms. Although the British burned our capitol, we fought better than expected, and in the end the British at least they knew we would fight.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:14 AM

And of course we sent troops to Central America... we saw it as our back yard, both a place of strategic and resource interest. If you recall many European nations were also interested in the area... hence the Monroe Doctrine proclaiming the area off limits to European interference (in fact, one could see the Monroe Doctrine not as a claim to power over the new world, but as a pledge to stay out of the conflicts of the old). Anyway, despite our interests the only territory we laid claim to was the Panama Canal zone, for obvious reasons given both our investment and our strategic concern. In the case of both Cuba and the Philippines we helped them set up democratic governments (although short lived in Cuba and constantly troubled in the Philippines) and then left (excepting naval bases in both cases), despite paying Spain for their loss.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:17 AM

Lebanon.Profile: How many hours in total were you in Dahuk?

About six hours or so, I think.

I didn't think of it 'til now, but why is Kurdistan always cloudy?

It's probably the time of year. I'll bet it's not cloudy in July.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 18, 2006 08:18 AM

"I am optimistic. My contacts in EU countries, who have "good contacts" as well told me that in the 21st century Europe/EU, no one accepts members who treat minorities like animals."

That is it for me.

I was always in favour of Turkey joining the EU. But now I realise how important it actually is.

With Turkey under some European control, the Kurds can prosper in Turkey and the Kurds in Iraq will have an instant connection to the world biggest market.

It is a deal that will benefit Europeans, Turks, and Kurds. The Americans want it as well.

It is perhaps a chance to do more for world peace than ever possible before.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 18, 2006 08:20 AM

In the above comments I wanted to show that I differ from the standard thinking about the US as a "nasty imperial power". I do think that we pushed our native peoples around and that we are active on the world stage. But I see this in context with world history. And I end up seeing the US in a unique light from the rest of the western powers. While Europe had a history of claiming colonies around the world, we once were a European colony. Although European powers prided themselves on powerful standing armies and navies the US kept sending its soldiers home after every conflict (until after WWII). We really wanted to stay out of world conflicts, as in the Monroe Doctrine and our reticence to join the world wars. Through out the Cold War we kept waiting for our "peace dividend" and Bush the Younger thought he could get it by canceling treaties and closing bases world wide until 9-11. So I now see our involvement in the GWOT as grudging and constantly looking for the exit sign. I do not see us as interested in taking over the planet. This colors my reflections on my own world travels.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:29 AM

I realize that my comments above will start a "flame war". So to save Michael I would ask you to email me directly on these issues (or even comment on my site). So I wont reply anymore to this particular line on this thread, but not because I intend to be rude, ok? -Sean

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:30 AM

Regarding Turkey and the EU... it might never happen.

In my travels I have noticed that Europeans are very "racist". The nicest Europeans still notice race and place a great deal of importance on it.

They have national stereotypes about eachother and use them, in front of eachother, with out complaint "Swedes are good with planning, but not with execution".

And when they meet a non-white American they often ask them where they are from... California or even Pasadena is not enough of an answer for them... they mean genetic ancestors no matter how many generations past.

Often this focus on ethnic origin is harmless. Sometimes it even leads to too much kindness or interest, as in the French focus on blacks.

But in other cases it is associated with all the negative prejudices that we Americans constantly watch ourselves for under the reign of "political correctness".

The basic line on Turkey is that it is seen as very, very poor by Europeans who ask why they should share their wealth with these "foreigners".

This is especially evident where ever the dominant immigrants are poor, radical Muslims (associated, fairly or not, with Turkey).

The recent spat of violence by the Kurds in Turkey will probably have the unfortunate effect of delaying Turkey's EU entry or even ensuring its denial entirely.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:42 AM

There are lots of reasons why an EU Turkey would be a good idea. And many of them are good for the EU as much as for Turkey.

Europe would gain a military force that works. They might even gain the will to defend themselves and to act upon the world stage alongside the US.

They would gain access to more oil fields, which is always a good thing. And they would gain many other natural resources, including some actual wilderness which (aside for the furthest freezing north of Scandinavia) is in short supply.

And they would gain a YOUNG, healthy, and growing economy. If the Turkish workforce remains under-educated as compared with parts of Europe (Norway), they would be little worse off than others (Greece). Also the Turks are some of the hardest working laborers (ahead of the Russians) and a very entrepreneurial people (on par with Russians).

Meanwhile, if Turkey joins the EU then maybe the Kurds will stop wanting to leave? This may be the best way to solve the current crisis.

Continued war in SE Turkey is bad for both the Turks and the Kurds economically and internationally, not to mention the human cost. And succession by the Kurds would inevitably be followed by more conflict in Syria and Iran.

Of course miraculous grants of independence to the Kurds would be even better, but highly unlikely.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 08:58 AM

We saw many mosques and at least one Christian church. The church appears on a few websites, just google for dohuk church. I will try to get Michael to post a pic as well as I am sure we have one.

It is really hard to get dates on buildings there. They simply refer to them as "before Saddam" and "after Saddam" and none were dated. It looked to me like everything was recent, with the exception of maybe that Christian church".

I do notice that the design of that church appears to be consistant... a nearly identical one appears in Mosul.

The basic building method today appears to be the same as in Turkey...

A concrete post and beam frame with concrete floor slabs... then they infill with red bricks and add a coat of concrete to the exterior... then add windows and doors and paint. Viola.

Steel rebar is included in the posts, I dont know about the floor slabs. I assume that the metal quality is limited. About 8 stories appears to be the limit with this method.

In Turkey they certainly have taller structures, 20-30 stories, but I did not see any under construction and so cannot guess how they were made. But I assume they use steel frames.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 09:12 AM

Sean,

I do make a distinction between "militarily dominant" and "imperial". Israel is also militarily dominant, but it doesn't have any imperial designs on Jordan, handed the Sinai back to Egypt, and pulled out of Lebanon. Italy in the 1930s was a "nasty imperial" power, but arguably not really "militarily dominant." It just seems to me that comparing the US and the Kurds - one a dominant economic, cultural and military superpower and the other a country that just wants to be left alone - is kind of a stretch. Aren't the Kurds more like the Swiss (or the Israelis for that matter)? What would be interesting to know is the role of the individual in Kurdish society. Americans have a hard time dealing with French, Arabs or Japanese because those societies are tightly organized around families or extended family structures and not welcoming to outsiders. Poles and Brits tend to be more autonomous. Is that true of Kurds as well?

Also as far as us "purchasing" what is now the SW US, that is a matter of interpretation. Most Mexicans would tell you the Mexican government that sold it was not legitimate and had no right to do so, but that argument doesn't have much to do with Kurdistan or Iraq.

Posted by: vanya at April 18, 2006 09:28 AM

Vanya, actually I made a similar comparison to Michael about the Kurds. With their mountainous position and land locked status they might do well to follow Switzerland's lead.

If they could turn international aide and foreign remittances into high speed data lines from Baghdad to Istanbul they could perhaps become a financial haven.

With their relative security, personal integrity, and English skills they would probably be well trusted.

And since the Mid East has a reputation for distrusting traditional banks (relying instead upon the hawala system of personal money tranfers) they might have a ready market.

Oh, and I was born in SoCal and grew up part time there. I am familiar with the claim of many Mexican immigrants regarding California. Again, it is hooey. Mexico is not Spain and as I said Mexico of then is not the Mexico of now.

There was never a "Mexican" ethnic presence in California until the modern era. The natives of California are distinct "Indian" tribes. A vist to any catholic mission's museum would straigten anyone out on this point.

Posted by: sean at April 18, 2006 09:40 AM

It has been a pleasure to read Michael's (and Sean's) narrative and observations of their travels in Turkey and Iraq. It has also been a great and rare pleasure to read the comments, where disagreements are actually discussed using facts, ideas, and concepts rather than invective and rhetoric. I salute all of you and appreciate your insights.

Posted by: Robin Radlein at April 18, 2006 10:39 AM

kurdistan doesn`t belong to the kurdish people alon..it belongs to iraq ..the kurds in northern iraq never consider themselves as iraqi`s...they sided with the enemy IRAN during the iraq-iran war..they sided with the enemy the united states of america when they attacked iraq..the kurds will always distans themselves from iraq..any citizen of a country who takes sides with an enemy of that states is treator in my book.

Posted by: sal farhan at April 18, 2006 01:33 PM

sean -

Thank you for defending Texas. But not only did the American settlers not get along with the Federalista government, but neither did the original Tejano hispanic settlers. When Santa Anna dissolved Mexican congress in 1835, lots of Mexicans all over Mexico (including Anglos, for they took an oath of Mexican citizenship under the usurped Constitution of 1824) rebelled.

In fact, Kurdistan really reminds me of Texas in a lot of ways...we both had help from the states, we both were long time residents and newcomers, both love liberty, and absolutely hate dictators. One day I want to go there...although, I guess once I enlist I'll have a chance to.

Posted by: seguin at April 18, 2006 02:00 PM

Sal Farhan,

Please, if I may, you may want to reconsider your position. A problem now is that too many people do not want to forgive or forget. They want to continue fighting a war that is long over, but in their own minds.

What good is it to claim Kurds as traitors when they may well be the place and people that saves Iraq?

Where in will their industry and love of liberty be admired, an example that will lead others to believe and understand what a precious gift it is and its value?

I admit, having not lived there nor experienced the terribleness of that war that I cannot feel the pain of others, but one can understand that it was well over 16 years ago and what matters now is whether Iraq will be a democratic, free nation or one of eternal civil strife, forever taking reprisals and revenge.

Posted by: kat-missouri at April 18, 2006 03:54 PM

Devils Advocate-type question: If things get truly ugly down south in the Arab sectors of the country, how about leaving them to stew in their juices & redeploy to the north w/ the Kurds?

Let the Kurds take Kirkuk, secure the border & sit back & watch all that pent-up animosity amongst Sunni & Shia play itself out to the bloody end? I mean, what good to the Persians next door in Iran is the Iraqi Shia Badr Brigade card if we're not around to be overrun (per ex US senator Gary Hart's recent wild-eyed assertions)?

Seems to me like one big reason for Iraqi Freedom three years ago was precisely to put tens of thousands of battle hardened US/Brit line troops, alongside spec ops from both countries plus the Aussies, along with the Israelis on Iran's border. Suposedly, spec op forces train w/ the Pesh, maintain elec listening posts along the border w/ Iran, & send recon teams into 'Indian country', all part of framing the field for the REAL war, taking out the Iranian nuke capability & deposing the Shia theocracy.

We can really stick a permanent knife into the Persians and shake up the Mid East by allying Iraqi Kurds w/ their brethren in Iran, carving the first Kurdish state out the mutual rubble of Sadaam and the 'Mad Mullahs'. Let the Kurds in Turkey emigrate to a new truly liberal & democratic Kurdistan (I know, Barzani is basically a warlord, but both he & President Talibani seem to be highly respected) that has formed to the East, thereby (maybe) mollifying the Turks as the locus of Kurdish energy shifts eastward. So the US is happy, as we take Iran out of play (not without a bloody fight to be sure) + still have our bases in Mesopotamia, the Turks are happy to be rid of millions of Kurds, & the Kurds are happy, for obvious reasons. Maybe even the Persian people get some win/win out of this, hard to say. Emigres/exiles/immigrants from Iran I've known here in Cali over the years seem like great people, can't imagine their counterparts back home are any different. Question is, by tearing Iran apart, do we free her people & earn their admiration & gratitude, or do we launch into WW3?

Damned if we do, damned if we don't

Overall, one of the greatest periods of uncertainty in world affairs in a long while, certainly in my 30-something lifetime. Am I the only one who feels we're on the edge of some great precipice, with no idea if taking the leap allows the US to soar like it's national symbol, or simply tumble into the black abyss?

Posted by: berkeleyredneck at April 18, 2006 06:34 PM

Thank you.

I'm left breathless after reading your work. Yet it's so simple, really. It provides the missing link to an everyman's understanding of what life is like there.

If I were younger and my knees worked better, I'd be asking you for a job to carry your luggage. To have the opportunity to kick around in Iraq like this? Today? Dang...

Posted by: -Ed. at April 18, 2006 07:12 PM

and yes, thank you for what you're doing. I've learned so much from your experiences and observations.

Remiss of me not to mention that on my previous post

Posted by: berkeleyredneck at April 18, 2006 07:44 PM

Totten, Money is important for getting things like you are doing...done.

Get more of it. Many of your readers and myself do not want to use a card on line.

The reasons are neatly listed on BendGovernment.

My online mailing address is a postal box at a UPS store. That way you avoid any unexpected visits at home.

Why not accept an extra cheque or two by regular mail?

Why not get a family member to get a box for you and place the address on the blog.
site?

Mine only costs $11 monthly or annually $141.24.
including both taxes.
Not bad for totally secure mail.

Not only is your writing of great value but so too are the comments of the Kurd people.

I respect the strength and will one can see in the Kurds through their comments.

They seem durable like Canadians who live in tough climates in Canada North. TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 18, 2006 11:09 PM

Abdullah at 11:17... I like everything you said in that comment. I wish Hamas would learn the rule of every action gets a reaction.

Hamas should try flowers for a change. 32 years should be long enough to learn how to change... but change for the better may mean losing funding from Iran.

For sure, Hamas has to get rid of those websites that tell children to become walking bombs. Even Hamas who are parents hate that idea.

Change is never easy.. TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 18, 2006 11:23 PM

Aren't most war zones very normal?

I think only those who have never seen a city in the middle of a war zone are surprised about the normalcy the city exhibits.

Even in the most bombed cities citizens come out, do their daily business, live, shop, survive.

You see a new house or a check-out scanner or you find that electricity is on almost half the day.

Yes, people live their lives. What did you expect, everyone in combat helmets and rags?

Ask them what life was like under Sadaam. Did they shop? Did they take walks for pleasure? Did they laugh with friends? Did they live life?

Of course.

Only in the worst parts of the world is there no normalcy. Unfortunately the U.S. military is not there to attempt to restore it.

Posted by: F. Ganestrom Wilton at April 18, 2006 11:44 PM

Hakan and all,
As a Kurd let me answer what hakan said about where is Northren Kurdistan.

OK:
-Northren Kurdistan is what is known in some media as (south east Turkey).

-Southren Kurdistan is Iraqi Kurdistan.

-Eastren Kurdistan is Iranian Kurdistan.

-Westren Kurdistan is Syrian Kurdistan.

Please be advised that Kurds are NOT proud of being part of any of the dictatorships above. We do not hate Arabs, Turks and Persians. But we simply consider them invadors who took our lands and deprived us of our natural rights.We are a different race, different langauge and have our own lands. We are NOT Arabs, NOT Turks and NOT Persians. With regards and respects to everybody.

Posted by: abdullah at April 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Looking forward to part six with great anticipation. Great column, Michael ... keep up the good work.

Posted by: Konstelion at April 19, 2006 12:46 AM

"We are a different race, different langauge and have our own lands. We are NOT Arabs, NOT Turks and NOT Persians."

You are absolutely right, of course.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 19, 2006 06:01 AM

Great essay Mike. I spent time in Kirkuk, Suli and Irbil back in 2004, and also took many pictures of the outdoor markets, the restaurants, and the supermarkets. I agree with all of your points regarding the friendliness and the hospitality of the Kurds. I hope to go back in couple of years to do some snowboarding in the mnts NE of Dohuk.

Posted by: gilkman at April 19, 2006 07:19 AM

Was in Erbil last fall. Baghdad last June. Completely different places. The Kurds are proud people.

Posted by: Steve E at April 19, 2006 08:30 AM

I just can't get over this stuff....it must be funny to the Kurds that, to the two traveling Americans (and the readers at home), Kurdish Iraq is a little like Disneyland......I think I am going to be heading to the Middle East myself in a few months.....might need to hit Disneyland while I'm there.

Posted by: John at April 19, 2006 01:55 PM

If the Kurds could think of a way to become the 51st state they'd probably go for it: They like us that much. The US "No Fly Zone" is why Northern Iraq doesn't look and act like the rest of the country: During the '90s Hussein stole the "Oil for Food" money meant for Central and Southern Iraq and spent it re-arming and building grandeous palaces. But bBecause Kurdish Iraq was under US protection the money there was spent on food, medicine, schools, hospitals, etc., and they're very grateful. They lived in constant terror that the US would bail out one day and leave them to Hussein's "mercy". Because of Operation Iraqi Freedom they never have to fear that again.

Posted by: Orion at April 19, 2006 02:04 PM

Sean,

I certainly hope you are getting plenty of readers. Today I just linked to it while I was perusing news on MSN. Your objectivity and insight are not only refreshing, but commendable. College students in the US need your perspective. May you succeed with your continued work and stay safe in your travels.

Daria

Posted by: Daria at April 19, 2006 06:22 PM

Drunk comment of the night:

Daria is a great f-ing song. Cake didn't make many good ones, but "Daria" is fantastic.

BTW, Michael, Brooke's closed tonight. No joke. Mark shut down the place until October for "renovation." Wissam and I were there together to wish the old establishment off. Good times all around. Joumy and a friend showed up, too.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at April 19, 2006 06:41 PM

One glance at the updated www.religionofpeace will show that this is a dangerous adventure. TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 19, 2006 07:04 PM

I've got a question about the Kurds. It seems to me that Arabs/Muslims in Pakistan, Iraq, Gaza, etc, treat their women like dirt. I'm sorry if that offends anyone here, but that is my perception, and I'm not the only woman who feels that way. I'm wondering how the Kurds treat their women? I mean, would two American ladies be welcomed as warmly in Southern Kurdistan as you two (Michael & Sean) guys were welcomed?

Posted by: Renée C. at April 19, 2006 07:26 PM

So, hate to crash the party but a little reality check is in order here. (Just in case some gullible readers think that all the bases are been covered here)

How many of you guys think that the US wouldn't bomb the shit outta the kurds if they thought they would benefit from it politically/startegically?

I know the answer.
And so does 95% of the worlds population.
And the kurds know it too.

US foreign policy is determined by lobbies. They want certain things done. They dont give a shit about the kurdish people. They would bomb them instantly if they felt it would advance their interests.

Posted by: kevser at April 20, 2006 02:05 AM

Wow Kevser, such vitriol, you having a bad hair day? I hear comments like this all the time, as if the US government and military were run by aliens. Stop and think about for a second...

The government, whether it be state or national, administrative of military, is one of the largest employers in the US. Most likely someone you know, even a relative, works there. Are THEY bloodthirsty or stupid?

It is true that in a pluralist democracy lobbies play a large role in setting government agendas... we might not realize it, but it is SUPPOSED to work this way. Now what lobby group out there has personal stake or money making interest in "bombing the shit out of the Kurds"?

If the Kurds began cultivating poppies, maybe. If they began making mustard gas and attacking Syria, Iran, and Turkey maybe (but a faint maybe). If the Kurds invaded the Iraq oil fields AND shut off production, maybe. But they wont do any such thing.

Look up the last series of US led bombings. Go ahead, do a google search right now. I have seen a list of all US military actions (it is larger than most might think and includes stuff that wasn't in the media).

In any of these "bombings" can you find a serious complaint, or a dark hidden agenda, or even a "don't give a sht" attitude? A short list would show Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Sudan. You can take issue with Clinton hitting the "aspirin factory", but it hardly qualifies as "bombing the sht" out of anyone.

If the "powers that be" actually ordered us to bomb Scotland tomorrow, what soldier in their right mind would do this with out question? If soldiers in Germany were ordered to open fire on unarmed protestors and march into Berlin and seize the Reichstag, do you think they would?

I don't buy it. The US is not about to "nuke Paris" or bomb the sht outa the Kurds. Not with out a good reason. And I think you actually know it.

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 02:58 AM

Renee, I noticed that older women in N Iraq wore the abaya covering (in black). But young girls often wore grey wool skirts so tight that from the side you could see their entire, um, assets. They smiled at us and acted like they were happy. And at the university they were about 50% of the students, apparently. But I have also read from other travelers that there are conservative rules such as "dont make eye contact" and the like. Only I read this after I went and so violated it like crazy because I am a look yah in the eye and smile kinda guy (with both men and women, I consider looking away kinda rude). Ooops. Sorry my Kurdi friends.

I would not recommend that two women do what Mike and I did (alone). I say this because I am an old fashioned and sexist kinda guy. I also say this as a parent. Let's face it, most women are less physically able to defend themselves. And women are more often thought of as targets. This might be completely unfair, some men are wimps and some women are tough, but people do think this way, most often perps. So, women traveling alone kinda scares me in general.

But I would hazard the guess that no Kurd would lay a hand on you, not once. They wouldnt molest Michael and I because it is against their nature, against hospitality, against their religion, and against their current mood of thankfulness and friendship with American. I think it would go double for any woman. Just my take on it.

Ah, it is true that women get special seating areas away from the guys at restraunts and probably at mosque. As it was explained to me by Michael this likely has more to do with a room full of men being obnoxious to women who want a place to get away from them. SO families and women alone sat upstairs in all the establishments. Would that bother you?

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 03:07 AM

kurds tend to be conservative
there are still honour killings and vendetta
but kurds keep the problems in their families, it sound like a mafia film , i know, and do no want to harm foreigners
even if they are arabs or turkish
if we have a problem, we sort it out in iraqi kurdistan, if you want to there as a woman, it is safe for hee , no one there would offend you, because you are a guest
i am sure the guys would look at you, if you are a young blonde blue eyed beautiful lady but that is all
thre is a huge difference now in iraqi kurdistan between younger and older generation
the older people are still very triibal and religios
younger people are liberal and secular minded
that is why there were several protests in iraqi kurdistan , they are more like southern-europeans and turkish youths
it is because the government changed the education system but it seems that they , the government itself did not understand what it had teached people the government is still clan- ruled and there and their families and party members are better off then the rest of the population
but we as kurds are really in a democratision process
the government had to realize that it is not that strong
because everything in kurdistan is based on voluntary service
you are not forced to do something ypu do not want to do , not like iran saudi arabia or even turkey
that is why people love peshmerga and some refused to fight the demonstrators in halabja
and the oparliament wants to change the laws n order to guarantee press freedom and democratic rights , our big problems remains the situation in the south , we need to have security forces everywhere around
but as sean and michael pointed out
compared to turkey , WHICH HAS THE RUDEST AND MOST UNFRIENDLY POLICE AND ARMY IN THE WORLD, michael did not even want to take a picture of them and had the feeling to be in a occupied country , even sadam police and the us-army in baghdad are friendlier , in kurdistan you have the feeling that the peshmerga are for the people and not againat them , still it is harming the right for free speech

i would like to thank michael and sean for the amazing report and their trip shows really that is safe and people are welcome

Posted by: kurdo at April 20, 2006 05:16 AM

Hi Sean.

Actually, i've had bad hair all my life.

"Now what lobby group out there has personal stake or money making interest in "bombing the shit out of the Kurds"?
At the moment i cant think of one.

But what if an american puppet, I mean friendly, government is installed in Iraq (Allawi maybe? we know how popular he is in Iraq).
What if they want all the oil? What if they attack the Kurds like Saddam did? What will the american military do at that point? Sit tight in their enduring bases? Lead the bombing?
What do you think is the likely outcome of such a scenario?

Everythings possible when greed and profit and hegemony are your true goals. Where were the ameicans when Saddam was gassing the Kurds? Were they too busy with other humanitarian or freedom loving programms? Or were they courting arms manufacturers and chemical weapons laboritories so they could make money dealing with Saddam?

Remember, its the same people this time around. Why would they change their spots?

And its all made possible by sites and people like you who continue to propogate the myth that humanitarianism and freedom are the causes for which americans fight.
Do you understand my point?

Posted by: kevser at April 20, 2006 05:29 AM

Hi Sean,

Thanks for the reply. Would that bother me? No. There are differences between men and women, thank God, and I don't have any problems with that. There are differences between cultures, and I don't have any problems with that unless the differences are extreme. I pretty much have the same outlook as you do about this, and I'd be traveling with my hubby. I was just trying to get a "feel" for how, um......shall we say, "religious" they are. I respect religious freedom for folks, but fanatical extremes are not my cup of tea. ;-)

Thanks again Sean,
Renée

Posted by: Renée C. at April 20, 2006 06:00 AM

Kurdo, thank you. Yes, you folks are hampered by others around you, and it's sad. When I see what the Kurds have done, and then look at the on-going "stone age" mentality of many in Southern Iraq, it really breaks my heart. I know that many Iraqis are grateful for our troops being there, and want to move ahead to join in the 21st century, but there aren't enough of those yet, for various reasons. But I'm more concerned about Turkey. Let's hope that the EU takes a strong stand on the human rights issues. I dunno....maybe it's just me, but it seems like Turkey is going backwards, and not forwards.

Posted by: Renée C. at April 20, 2006 06:14 AM

Michael, Sean--
Thanks for propigating the myth that humanitarianism and freedom are the causes for which Americans fight. Keep up the good work--excellent posts!

Posted by: Duffman at April 20, 2006 07:06 AM

Kevser

But what if an American puppet, I mean friendly, government is installed in Iraq
What if they want all the oil? What if they attack the Kurds like Saddam did? What will the American military do at that point? Sit tight in their enduring bases? Lead the bombing? What do you think is the likely outcome of such a scenario?

If a government in Baghdad wanted all the oil? Well, they already have it. The Kurds have yet to get their hands on the Kirkuk fields. Meanwhile, if Baghdad wanted to send tanks into Kurdistan they would first need permission from us to mobilize in Baghdad and head north. Then they would need to gingerly move past US forces stationed in the area. And then they would need to engage the Pesh. What would we do? 1) Deny them permission to mobilize, 2) bomb the sht out of them as they rolled north, and 3) get in the trenches alongside the Pesh. So, its not going to happen.

Everything's possible when greed and profit and hegemony are your true goals.

I do not for a moment believe that "greed, profit, and hegemony" are the "true goals" of US military activity. If you would consider it for a moment from a less hysterical and conspiratorial perspective, putting full weight on the greed and profit ideas, you might see that it is actually in the US interests to stay out of any conflict, to keep our soldiers at home, and to simply do business with tyrants. As you note "Where were the Americans when Saddam was gassing the Kurds?"

Where were the US soldiers? On bases stateside and dealing with the base closure issue. See, we wanted out "peace dividend" and wanted to close bases, lay off soldiers, and spend the money elsewhere. Sept 11 was a big monkey wrench in Bush's plan to disengage from the world and focus on making money. It was also the end of the "ignore the problems and trade with the dictator" policy.

"Were they too busy with other humanitarian or freedom loving programs?" Do you mean such as Kosovo, Somalia, or Indonesia? Where we helped Muslims protect their homes, feed themselves, and recover from disaster? Yeah, maybe.

"Or were they courting arms manufacturers and chemical weapons laboratories so they could make money dealing with Saddam?"

Um, you might look into this a bit further. Saddam's army was armed with Mig's, T-72's, and Ak-47's. We don't make these. And the weapons labs were German, his missiles were French, and the chemical weapons manufactured according to East Bloc specs with German and Russian ingredients... this was proved by Iran and the UN during the Iran-Iraq war. You can find plenty of documentation on this.

"And its all made possible by sites and people like you who continue to propagate the myth that humanitarianism and freedom are the causes for which Americans fight."

I have never suggested that we invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, for humanitarian reasons. We invaded because trouble came from these areas and we could no longer ignore it. The side benefit of losing a war to the US is economic and democratic development (ask Germany and Japan). As it is sometimes goals line up... we wanted a reasonable ally in the Iraq area and the Kurds have proved to be it. Now that we have proved that we can work together I am thrilled by the alliance, thus far, and so, apparently, are the Kurds. So what's not to like?

"Do you understand my point?"

Do you understand mine?

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 07:35 AM

Renee, I think you and your husband would do fine in Iraqi Kurdistan. You might want to fly there direclty, however, as you noted Turkish Kurdistan is not doing so well lately. Oh and as for religiousity, I never saw anyone drop what they were doing and run for the mosque when the Muzzins call went out. I suspect that the older folks take it more seriously, but I never saw this impact daily life. I think you wouldnt find it any more conservative than parts of Spain, Italy, or France. Do keep in mind that ATM's are limited, there are no currency changers, and you just never know who you might be dealing with. This is a similar problem in many parts of the developing world. But, for the reasons state earlier, I think you have more cause to feel secure in Iraqi Kurdistan than in these other locations. And again, this is just my opinion after a limited visit. But Mike spent a month there and would probably agree with my assessment.

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 07:43 AM

Had some formatting problems there Kevser... let me try that post again.

"But what if an American puppet, I mean friendly, government is installed in Iraq. What if they want all the oil? What if they attack the Kurds like Saddam did? What will the American military do at that point? Sit tight in their enduring bases? Lead the bombing? What do you think is the likely outcome of such a scenario?"

If a government in Baghdad wanted all the oil? Well, they already have it. The Kurds have yet to get their hands on the Kirkuk fields. Meanwhile, if Baghdad wanted to send tanks into Kurdistan they would first need permission from us to mobilize in Baghdad and head north. Then they would need to gingerly move past US forces stationed in the area. And then they would need to engage the Pesh. What would we do? 1) Deny them permission to mobilize, 2) bomb the sht out of them as they rolled north, and 3) get in the trenches alongside the Pesh. So, its not going to happen.

"Everything's possible when greed and profit and hegemony are your true goals."

I do not for a moment believe that "greed, profit, and hegemony" are the "true goals" of US military activity. If you would consider it for a moment from a less hysterical and conspiratorial perspective, putting full weight on the greed and profit ideas, you might see that it is actually in the US interests to stay out of any conflict, to keep our soldiers at home, and to simply do business with tyrants. As you note "Where were the Americans when Saddam was gassing the Kurds?"

Where were the US soldiers? On bases stateside and dealing with the base closure issue. See, we wanted out "peace dividend" and wanted to close bases, lay off soldiers, and spend the money elsewhere. Sept 11 was a big monkey wrench in Bush's plan to disengage from the world and focus on making money. It was also the end of the "ignore the problems and trade with the dictator" policy.

"Were they too busy with other humanitarian or freedom loving programs?"

Do you mean such as Kosovo, Somalia, or Indonesia? Where we helped Muslims protect their homes, feed themselves, and recover from disaster? Yeah, maybe.

"Or were they courting arms manufacturers and chemical weapons laboratories so they could make money dealing with Saddam?"

Um, you might look into this a bit further. Saddam's army was armed with Mig's, T-72's, and Ak-47's. We don't make these. And the weapons labs were German, his missiles were French, and the chemical weapons manufactured according to East Bloc specs with German and Russian ingredients... this was proved by Iran and the UN during the Iran-Iraq war. You can find plenty of documentation on this.

"And its all made possible by sites and people like you who continue to propagate the myth that humanitarianism and freedom are the causes for which Americans fight."

I have never suggested that we invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, for humanitarian reasons. We invaded because trouble came from these areas and we could no longer ignore it. The side benefit of losing a war to the US is economic and democratic development (ask Germany and Japan). As it is sometimes goals line up... we wanted a reasonable ally in the Iraq area and the Kurds have proved to be it. Now that we have proved that we can work together I am thrilled by the alliance, thus far, and so, apparently, are the Kurds. So what's not to like?

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 07:47 AM

Duffman and Kevser, just out of curiousity would you mind stating your nationality, age, and education level? Do you consider yourselves left or right? Do you conisder yours views the norm among your peer groups? (might as well ask you to contribute something to the discussion since we are taking time to talk).

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 07:50 AM

Not in my most wildly egotistical dreams would I consider that Michael's site or my own have to power to "make possible" US foreign and military policy. It's funny that you give us that credit.

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 07:54 AM

Reneee,

I do agree with Sean. Go to Iraqi Kurdistan with your husband if you want to. The Kurds won't give you any trouble at all.

Sean is wrong about one thing, though. He said ATMS are limited. Actually, they are non-existant. No one takes credit cards. You have to bring all your cash in with you.

I would take my wife there without a moment's hesitation. She has visited five Muslim-majority countries, four of them with me. She only had "man" problems in two of them - Libya and Tunisia.

You'll get more trouble in Egypt than anywhere else (that I've been).

It seems that the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) is, for whatever reason that I cannot explain, more friendly to women travelers than North Africa.

If you really want to avoid obnoxious treatment by men, go to Lebanon. No woman I know has ever had any trouble there, including my wife, my mother, and some of my friends who live there right now.

Supposedly Syrian men are respectful of women travelers, too, but I haven't yet been there myself and I haven't heard as many reports from women to be quite as certain of that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 20, 2006 10:13 AM

Thanks, Michael, for providing better understanding of our friends across the world (and thanks for mentioning the great state of Utah.)

Excellent writing. Keep up the good work.

RC

Posted by: Utah Senate at April 20, 2006 11:45 AM

Mike, one of the commentators noted that the building that housed the restaurant where we waited for our driver has an ATM in back. We never saw it though.

There may be others in similar locations that we never saw. So I said "limited". But yes, for essential purposes they do not exist.

If you bring US dollars, however, you will be fine. You can exchange these at a hotel or other such location...

But understand that the person making the exchange is going who knows where to talk to who knows who to get some cash from a stash. So you will pay whatever rate he thinks is fair (which will be fair, but will also include related "costs" to him and others).

So consider that you will be wondering into a country like Iraq with American cash on you. Makes you feel nervous eh? But again, you SHOULD be fine.

Posted by: sean at April 20, 2006 02:07 PM

I'd love to see a map on the blog showing where these cities are, what roads you probably took.

Posted by: h0mi at April 20, 2006 02:28 PM

Sean & Michael, Thanks guys! :-)

Posted by: Renée C. at April 20, 2006 02:45 PM

How is the rest of Iraq doing?

Posted by: Graeme at October 20, 2006 11:32 AM
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