Rania residents at risk of ‘siege mentality’AMMAN, Jordan — The mood was upbeat and full of hope during our seven-day visit from the Northland to Rania, Iraq.
By: Tom Morgan, For the Duluth News Tribune
AMMAN, Jordan — The mood was upbeat and full of hope during our seven-day visit from the Northland to Rania, Iraq.
The five other Americans and I visited government offices, schools, institutions of higher education, child-care and youth centers, art exhibits and cultural attractions. We hiked in the mountains overlooking the city. We had several dinners in the private homes of local business and political leaders. We even attended (and took part in) a wedding dance.
Yet, there is a dark side.
The Kurds see the world as a very dangerous place, and they take nothing for granted.
“There are many terrorists in this country that threaten us every day,” said Bawar Mahmood Qadir through an interpreter. “And we have enemies all around us — the Turks, the Iranians, the Syrians. They all would like to destroy what we have.”
Bawar is headmaster of the Rania Fine Arts Institute, and his attitude is typical of what we heard from people of all walks of life. This attitude may lead to a kind of “siege mentality” — or worse. More than once we saw maps in city offices showing a “Greater Kurdistan” that includes portions of present-day Turkey, Iran and Syria. Once we saw a map that showed Iraq minus the three Kurdish provinces, which were drawn as a separate state.
What’s more, while Iraqi Kurdistan seems to be making progress toward creating a true democracy in the Middle East, oversized pictures everywhere of the political leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani create an Orwellian atmosphere for visitors from the West.
There are other signs of even more tangible trouble ahead for the Kurds.
Air and water pollution are serious issues that need to be addressed. There was a heavy haze in the air many of the days of our stay in Rania. Garbage and waste disposal is primitive as are water and sewage treatment. And the postal service is slow and underdeveloped in many parts of Iraqi Kurdistan.
There is clearly a building boom going on, but the problems of rebuilding a society after decades of war seem almost insurmountable.
“Everything about my job is so difficult,” said Dana Ahmed Majed, governor of Sulaimaniyah Province in a meeting with us in Sulaimaniyah City just before our departure. “The problems are so hard. I may not run for a second term in December.”
Besides the tasks of rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, Dana spoke about the challenges in improving the lives of women in his country and in creating a first-rate educational system.
And then there’s the issue of the growing number of internally displaced persons, victims of the bombings on the Turkish and Iranian borders.
“We need to find a way to help them go back home, not just find a new place for them to live,” he said.
Still, we Americans can’t help but be impressed by what the Kurds already have accomplished since the yoke of Saddam Hussein has been lifted. We are impressed by their resilience and their spirit.
We know that the story of the Kurds represents only one small piece in the complex web of the Middle East. All of us understand that we need to listen to still more voices in this part of the world.
But learning about the Kurds has been a good start.