Kurdistan Rising

For the pesh in northern Iraq, it's the birth of a nation—and they don't mean Iraq

"We're Kurds, but we're never against anyone," Dolani explains. "Our goal is every human on earth considering every other human equal."

That's Dolani the pesh-turned-politican talking. But even Dolani the politician betrays his nationalistic priorities. "[Kurds and Arabs] are all the same, but [the Kurds'] true leader is Talabani."

That's just Talabani. Not Talabani's coalition. Not the Iraqi government. Just Talabani.

Old anxieties: Kurdish kids line up on a bridge on March 20 to watch U.S. soldiers.
photos: David Axe
Old anxieties: Kurdish kids line up on a bridge on March 20 to watch U.S. soldiers.

In a moment of candor after an emotional visit to the Halabja shrine, Colonel Kamal is more direct: "Arabs were troublemakers from the beginning. This is our land, but no one will call it our land. It's the 21st century . . . and we don't even have a country."

And the U.S. government hopes it stays that way. In the meantime, anxious American officers in Kurdish cities keep an eye on their pesh and former-pesh comrades. American diplomats walk a fine line between their resolute demand for a unified Iraq and their tacit recognition and open respect for Kurdish accomplishments. Everyone waits and watches as Talabani and his landless people plan their next move.

As for K.G., he's torn. "I love the U.S. I love Kurdistan," he says. And even while he's fighting the good fight in Kurdistan—a Kurdish soldier in an American uniform—he's applying for U.S. citizenship so he can join the FBI.

But he says he'll always be a Kurd.

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