Iraq: First Impressions

by Sophia Hochstedler

Having crossed the border from Turkey into Iraqi Kurdistan, CPTer Gerald Paoli and I began the six-hour drive to the team’s house in Suleimaniya.  Along the way, I was struck by the beauty of the mountains surrounding us and the richness of the land.

In a warring country, I noticed a steadiness to the life there.  I admired this quality as I watched people, many of them displaced from their villages, carrying their recently harvested crops.

I saw that the Turkish military bases were not merely along the Iraqi Kurdish border with Turkey; they are inside the Kurdish Regional Government territory, within Iraq. I saw one base right in the middle of a town on a hill with its tank pointed down at the houses and people below as if to declare Turkey’s power over the people of Kurdistan, a wagging finger telling them that if they make one misstep it’s over.  I am sure these bases continually humiliate and threaten the Kurdish people, grinding into their sense of self.

And what a sense of self it is!  There are many political divisions and differing opinions among the Kurds; Kurdish factions fought each other in a civil war not more than 20 years ago.  At the same time, I see that a Kurdish person does not identity him or herself as an individual, but as a member of a family, a tribe, and the Kurdish population at large.  As a people who have been without a land to safely call their own for hundreds of years, the Kurds have grounded their identity into their collective whole.

The KRG is facing a lot of instability and questions about its future, from Turkey, Iran, and the Iraqi central government.  Some people within the KRG may take advantage of this uncertainty, and live selfishly, taking whatever they can for themselves.  However, I sense that most Kurds, despite their differences, respect each other, choosing to maintain an order amongst themselves so that they can be one people, functioning together while the world tries to tear them apart.