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Remembrance and reconciliation

"Remembrance and reconciliation" Continued...

Issue: "John Bolton: Take cover!," May 7, 2005

Kurds spending a day socializing with Arabs was once unheard of. "We don't have to carry weapons anymore," said Mr. Faraj. "Instead of killing each other we can talk."

But Mr. Faraj said he did take the opportunity to preach to the Arabs about the Kurds' love for democracy and thankfulness for the presence of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. "We understand 100 percent why they are here," he said, referring to U.S. troops.

Several visiting Arabs said the trip into Kurdistan gave them a vision of what their city could be like in a few years. "I pray to God that one day all of Iraq has freedom like what you see in Halabja," said Asakra, one of the Arab sheiks.

The Kurds' laid-back lifestyle did not go unnoticed either by the U.S. soldiers on hand for security. With a lack of terrorist activities here, the Kurds could be unrestrained in their displays of support for the Americans. Shouting children ran alongside the humvees, women snuck peaks from behind courtyard doors, and teenagers honked horns and cheered as they tried to speed by the humvees, something the U.S. drivers are not accustomed to further south. U.S. escorts from Diyala slid down the ballistic glass windows on their humvees, sticking their hands out to wave back. "It's like trying to go to a Fourth of July barbecue by the creek," said Sgt. Mark Halliday.

Mr. Faraj said patience is the key for As Sadiyah and other cities trying to shake the aftereffects of Hussein's regime. Kurdistan, he said, has had 14 years of practice governing as an autonomous region protected by the U.S.-enforced no-fly zone after the 1991 Gulf War. As Sadiya officials acknowledged the hurdles in their hometown. "People are miserable because they have no money," said Mohammed Kider, a Kurd from As Sadiyah.

Easing tensions between the Kurds and Arabs also will take more than one pleasure ride and cookout. Kurds continue to move south to reclaim land and homes lost when Saddam kicked them out during his forced Arabization of Iraq. Arabs are reluctant to hand over property they have occupied for years, forcing Kurds to live in improvised tent cities on the outskirts of their homelands.

Capt. Smith said the Halabja outing did not change a volatile and unstable situation. His unit conducted night raids and detained two suspected insurgents in As Sadiyah on April 26. But for Arabs and Kurds "this is the beginning of what we hope is a stabilizing period," he said. "They need each other."

-with reporting by Mindy Belz; Edward Lee Pitts is military affairs correspondent for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, currently embedded with the Tennessee National Guard 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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