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A Hotbed of Hope


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:30 pm

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We passed a number of checkpoints while making our way up the mountain—some made up of Kurdish police, some of Kurdish border guards, others Peshmerga or Kurdish government forces. At one checkpoint women in uniform were working alongside the men.


I have been here in Sulaimaniyeh for over two weeks and have hiked, swum, and traversed some of the region’s more spectacular sights while tagging along with the survey team. Having come here to report on the effects of the war, guilt pervades my being—I have not been shot at once this trip. Of course, its not been all fun and sun. The members of the team—all have cameras, all experts in their fields—work practically round the clock, either out collecting
data from the lakes, rivers, and dry areas within Kurdistan, or back at the office/house organizing and analyzing the data. Or, in the case of Haidar Fishman, dissecting the fish samples he has collected. Or, in the case of the water study team, analyzing the water samples for levels of different planktons. For the most part, they spend a good part of each day in full sun with temperatures hovering at 100 plus.

This sort of work, on this level, has never been done in Iraq before. They are not only pioneers, but also incredibly brave men. (Chronogram cannot publish photos that show their faces for fear they will become targets.)

Just about all the survey team members have said they believe that Iran and al-Qaeda are behind the violence in Iraq. Most have said they don’t want the US troops to leave Iraq. On the day Fox News reported that the Bush administration planned to declare Iran’s internal army, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC), a “terrorist” organization, thus leaving the IRGC open to having their assets frozen—not to mention subject to attack by the US without the consent of Congress—just about all of the survey team’s members told me they hoped
the US would go to war with Iran and wipe out the present regime there. Some said they wanted America to replace Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki and install an Ayad Allawi type—someone who would kill Sunni and Shiite equally and not single out one sect for punishment over the other. When Maliki’s visit to Iran was aired on TV, the repeated showing of him holding hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nearly incited a gentle riot among them. “Th is is proof that Iran now runs Iraq,” said one, others nodding in agreement.

But no bombs have been exploding. I don’t recall hearing even a gun go off. The only shouts I’ve heard have come from crowds of people watching localsoccer games, although I did hear my first ambulance siren tonight. The central souk area, a seemingly endless maze of shops, has been nothing but teeming with people and goods of all kinds. I’ve been to an art opening, gone bowling with “the guys,” eaten at a Chinese restaurant (where an American peace-activist-filmmaker-posing-as-a-journalist told me, not once but twice, that I should die because I believe there are good things happening in Iraq along with the bad), and taken a three-hour drive through thriving towns on the way to the burgeoning and modern city of Erbil. The only alarm that’s gone off was within me, and it was in relation to the lack of a female presence on the streets in these smaller towns. Men are everywhere—but no women. I don’t think I have ever experienced that before.

I suppose it has been risky being here. I’ve been swimming in remote and not-so-remote mountain lakes and rivers, and climbed down into a dangerous but stunningly beautiful gorge where I did come close to being incapacitated—by heat emanating from the surrounding boulders. Touching them literally singed my fingertips. As part of our day-off picnic, I gave swimming lessons to some of the guys. Admittedly, it was a bit of a challenge attempting to teach eight grown men, whose languages of Arabic and Kurdi are alien to my tongue
and who are terrifi ed of the water, how to swim. Later, while photographing them playing soccer, I thought they might be thinking of eliminating me when the ball inadvertently went over the cliff and down a 30-meter rock scramble to a sheer drop-off into deep water. “Lorna! Lorna!” went the war cry. The only strong swimmer, I was volunteered to retrieve the ball—not once, but three times.

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