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Duluth to adopt Iraqi sister city

Today, the city of Duluth and the city of Rania -- a member of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq -- are expected to cement their relationship as "sister cities."...

Today, the city of Duluth and the city of Rania - a member of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq - are expected to cement their relationship as "sister cities."

Hiwa Qarani, the mayor of Rania, had hoped to attend a signing ceremony in person, but plans for an April visit were scrapped in the face of difficulties obtaining a visa to enter the country followed by mounting financial hardships in the region, said Wendy Ruhnke, a member of Duluth Sister Cities International's executive committee who also serves as the organization's secretary.

Instead, Qarani will appear at Duluth City Hall this morning via Skype. Duluth Mayor Don Ness will be on hand, as well as other members of a Sister Cities delegation that visited Rania.

Ruhnke was part of a 22-member team that made the journey to Rania in March of 2013 and said: "We're very connected to these people, and we were very disappointed when they couldn't come. But we wanted to do this official signing before Mayor Ness leaves office. So we decided to do it this way."

In the wake of World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower launched the Sister City organization.

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"It was his belief that the only way we were not going to have wars in the future is if people could start having one-on-one relationships with each other," Ruhnke said.

Although the U.S. House of Representatives, riled by fears of terrorism, recently took steps to make it more difficult for Iraqi refugees to settle in America, Ruhnke said her experience in Iraq left her with an overwhelmingly positive impression.

"Everyone who has been there feels the same way. Kurdish people are the most loving, welcoming people you will ever meet in your life," she said.

"Over and over again, they all asked for the same thing. They said: Tell our story. All they asked for us to do when we went back home was to tell their story. I took that very seriously and have done a lot of community presentations, and I continue to tell their story," Ruhnke said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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