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September 12, 2002

LIFE AMONG THE KURDS:

I watched the Iraqi troops from the roof of a house belonging to the forty-year-old Stia Ahmed. In her bedroom she has a large photograph of her husband, Qassem Mohammed, who died in Saddam's army fighting the Iranians during the war. In the picture he has long hair because he was, like many in Iraqi Kurdistan, a Dervish, a believer in the Sufi-influenced interpretation of Islam. In view of the proximity of the Iraqis I asked Mrs. Ahmed what she would do if the Americans attacked. She said that if the rest of the village fled then she would go too, but if they stayed she would stay. Then, expressing a view I was to hear from many in Iraqi Kurdistan, she said that despite the risks to her village, and even her life, she still wanted America to attack. "We would prefer Saddam to be destroyed," she said. "He did nothing for us."

At a nearby shop I met a group of some twenty-five men and boys of all ages. In these conservative and rural parts, girls and women do not venture out of their houses without permission or unless they have good reason to. The men complained that none of them had anything to do because many of their fields lay in Iraqi-controlled territory and unless you paid a large bribe you could not work them. Men of military age hardly dared to cross the lines anyway for fear of being drafted into Saddam's forces, while on their own side mines infested the fields. Ibrahim Kheder Mikhail, a sixty-eight-year-old, said that because of this, "it is like a prison here." I conducted a straw poll. Bearing in mind the risk to Shoresh if the US attacked, I asked who was in favor of a US-led offensive and who was against. Not a single man was against. It was certainly not a scientific poll but still, judging from many other talks I had with Kurds, I suspect that even if it had been, the result would not have been much different. These men, however, were not part of any armed force. . . .

According to Dilshad, over in Mosul "things in the market are very slow, because people are afraid of American attacks." What frightens people most, Kurds and Arabs alike, is the prospect of civilian casualties. Still, according to Haider, "people want America to attack because they are hungry and suffering a lot from Saddam."

Reader Jakub Rehor sent this link, and said he was impressed that the New York Review of Books is running this kind of stuff. Me too.