Michael's Dispatches

A Fork in the Road

June 2, 2005

Just Married

Dohuk, Northern Iraq

Approaching Dohuk, a short drive north of Mosul, brings to mind the countryside in Italy. The war is over in Dohuk. After suffering perhaps a half century of fighting, the people have finally gotten the peace they wanted long ago. With the old Iraqi government vanquished, Dohuk is thriving. In fact, this Iraqi city appears to be doing at least as well as-perhaps remarkably better than-many comparably-sized towns in Italy. A visit to this place affords more than a break from the rugged routine of war; it also provides a postcard of a possible future for all of Iraq.

Dohuk from the roof of the Jiyan Hotel

Coalition military presence in the region is scant, and those who travel here come mainly for shopping, or to relax and drink tea with friendly Iraqis, who often will not allow Americans to pay. Despite there being a few too many “thank yous,” the people know when they are intruding and have the manners to smile and quietly go about their way.

A group of soldiers from Deuce Four planned to drive to Dohuk, so I asked to hitch a ride. We drove out from Mosul without being attacked, and within a short time passed “the green line” into Kurdistan, where every odometer click was a mile deeper into safety. Checkpoint after checkpoint, the Kurdish police and soldiers searched cars and papers while smiling and waving the Americans through.

Once in Dohuk, American soldiers removed helmets and body armor, and carried only their weapons. The commander set them free, with orders to return later that day. I walked with some soldiers to a department store where we passed by the kiddie rides outside. The storefront may well have been in Colorado Springs, or Munich. There were big push-carts for the adults, and little carts for the children.

Inside the store was a grocery section, where the people smiled, fresh canteloupes smelled sweet, the apples were red and green and yellow. There were oranges, bananas, and more. Nearly half a year had passed since I had seen such things.

Water for sale, just under the Red Bull

I remembered in America and Europe when bottled water became “the thing,” but who would buy water when it’s free? Aisle after aisle, the shelves were fully stocked.

For the new kitchen…

Perfumes, makeup, dishes, strollers and stuffed toys. Aisle after aisle, and two floors tall.

For the new television room…

After about a half hour, I told Captain Matt McGrew, the American officer in charge, that I would like to stay behind in Dohuk. Captain McGrew sent his interpreter with me to scout a hotel.

The Army left me behind and I stayed alone. I walked for miles and miles.

Through the marketplace, up and down the streets.

Downtown Market

There were shoeshine boys, flower shops and computer stores. The computer stores in little Dohuk are much better stocked than those in Milano, Italy. This is fact.

I walked into a store called Zanest Computer & Electronics, at 14th Anthar Street, and there I sat with Mr. Abdul Shukry, and asked him about business. Mr. Shukry said business is good, and that the US Army had come a few days earlier and purchased sixty computers and sixty UPS’s and gave them all to Dohuk University.

Abdul Tawab M. Shukry: Zanest Computer & Electronics

“That’s great,” I said, “but how are sales if you do not include the Army business?”
“Still is good,” he said, “Since the war has ended, all is good.”
“Are the people happy?” I asked.
Mr. Shukry paused for a moment, as if it were the simplest question he’d been asked in months, “Of course they are happy,” he said.
“Are you Muslim?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Sunni, yes?”
“Yes, Sunni. Most Kurds are Sunni.”
“Many people think the Sunnis all make war.”
“Not us. We are Kurds.”

We talked on, exchanging answers to questions like, “What do you think of the police?” “What do you think of the US.?” “What do you think of the UK.?” “Of Germany, of France?” “What do you think of Yezidi people?” “What is on your mind?”

Talk of villages and cities in the region piqued my curiosity, and over the next few days I traveled to villages where people had never met Americans or Europeans. These proved to be very interesting and important conversations, warranting a separate dispatch to come.

A picnic in northern Iraq

For another perspective of Dohuk, please visit the website from the university in town: http://www.uni-dohuk.net/web/gallery.html

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