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Kurdish Dohuk: The Face Of Iraq's Future?

Holding up their national flag Kurdish and a banner that reads, 'Kirkuk', men and women demonstrate in the northern town of Dohuk, 485 kms from Baghdad 14 August 2005. Hundreds of Iraqi Kurds demonstrated today in Dohuk and in the northern oil-city of Kirkuk, calling for self-determination in the constitution and demanding a Kurdish identity to Kirkuk, which was partially 'Arabised' under ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. AFP Photo by Safin Hamed

Dohuk City, Iraq (UPI) Aug 30, 2005
Dohuk province, in northwestern Iraq, is a place apart. The Kurdish-majority area of which it is a part was protected for nearly 15 years from Saddam Hussein's forces by the U.S.-enforced no-fly zone. Those buffer years allowed a democracy to get up on its legs.

It has two major parties and its own military and police force, still evident in the streets of its eponymous capital city despite the effort to fold them into a national force.

Not a single American or coalition service member has been killed in combat in Dohuk province since the invasion. The 50 or so U.S. soldiers here -- primarily reserve civil affairs teams -- ride around in civilian SUVs and trucks. While they wear body armor, helmets are rare out in town.

Dohuk is what the rest of Iraq might be, if the insurgency is quelled. It is also instructive in what challenges await those who will tackle the peacetime needs of this economically ravaged nation.

The main challenge is transforming the government-controlled economic system so the country's enormous natural resources can be harnessed and turned into wealth.

It is a massive undertaking.

"Everything is a hand out," said Capt. Steve Hayden, 35, of Atlanta, Ga., a manufacturing manager in his civilian life. "I'm trying to get everyone away from that, to do their own thing and make their own money ... Once we pull out there's not going to be handouts anymore."

Government workers have long taken personal cuts out of the public money that passes through their hands; it has been an Iraqi way of life, and one that has to stop if Dohuk's major problems are to be addressed.

"The trick is convincing the government officials they are getting paid to oversee and manage. That's what their salary is for. It's not to take money" out of the public till, said Hayden.

The province is mountainous with lakes and reservoirs, and the soil clearly fertile. In high summer it is dun colored, but with irrigation it turns a rich chocolate brown. The region is a visual relief from everything south of it but still arid and hot in the summer.

Farmers here grow wheat, apples and pears, sheep, cattle and almonds, and lots of it. But many lack the ability to get it to market. No refrigeration, freezing or canning means much of it goes to waste. In a country where hunger is a real problem, half of the produce grown in Dohuk is discarded due to a lack of buyers, Hayden said.

"A lot of villages have plenty of surplus but they can't get it out because of the road network," Hayden said.

The farmers are also frequently undercut by produce coming from Turkey and flooding the market; there are no trade barriers protecting them.

He is trying to get the Kurds to set up co-ops for both canning and dairy production, an approach that is completely new to them.

The small team of civil affairs soldiers has been able to do a lot more than their counterparts in other parts of Iraq because of the permissive security environment.

Nearly 70 percent of the population has access to health care clinics; with another 40 health centers 95 percent of the population would be covered.

The team is bringing in 40 tons of pesticide to spray wheat against a local pest that consumed 75 percent of the wheat crop over the last few years. Homes and camps are being built for some 180,000 internally displaced people, generators are going to small villages for electric power, and fresh water projects are on the books.

The Army civil affairs team has proposed 29 projects for funding, which all told would cost about $8 million. About $3 million worth would meet urgent needs. The remainder would get the province set up for real success.

The United States has already invested some $300 billion in Iraq, and the civil affairs team is not optimistic the money will be forthcoming. To their distress, Dohuk may be a victim of its own stability.

Money tends to flow to areas where there are problems at the expense of places like Dohuk that could be pushed into prosperity and be both an engine and an example for the rest of the country.

"The general idea is that the Kurds don't need any help," Hayden said. But he says it is wrong. "There's a lot of need in this place."

Inherent to Dohuk's calm are the red-bereted Peshmerga, the fierce Kurdish militiamen that fought their way down to Mosul during the invasion with help from U.S. Special Forces.

They are ostensibly being wrapped into the national Iraqi army, but the transformation seems mainly in name only. They remain in primarily ethnically Kurdish units. One of the Peshmerga battalions has been renamed the 2nd Battalion, 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Iraqi army, and is patrolling Mosul about an hour south.

"They don't even speak Arabic," said Staff Sgt. John Tyvela, 25, of Gaithersburg, Md, a police officer when not a soldier. "They can't even communicate, but they are going."

That willingness to work in the majority Sunni Arab areas -- particularly last November during a major insurgent offensive -- suggests a growing nationalism to some. The Kurds will increasingly be put into training with other Iraqi Army forces to accelerate their integration.

Diyarr Bamerni, 35, an American citizen who left Dohuk in 1988 during a violent crackdown by Saddam's forces and returned two years ago with the Army as an interpreter, is not sure the Peshmerga can ever be integrated into an Iraqi army.

"How can these people trust the Arabs to have one united army?" he said. "They have been fighting the former regimes since the 1940s.

"The personal side of me I can totally agree with that, but the coalition part of me says they should be (one army). You can definitely see there's a lot of complications with that. Personally, I see a big opportunity for civil war."

Dohuk, because of its safety, is home to a new non-commission officers training academy, one of the key components for the development of a professional military. There are also 300 border police and 550 new recruits coming into the area. There are about 1,000 Iraqi police, and some 1,600 Iraqi army soldiers, mostly Kurdish.

The concern locals feel about the economic abandonment of Dohuk if the United States withdraws is echoed on military training as well.

"We've been told we'll be here till about the April time frame," said Maj. Calvin Robinson, the senior officer at forward operating base Phoenix, a cluster of guarded homes on a hillside street above the city.

They don't know whether anyone will follow them into the region to continue their work.

"If the U.S. wanted to pull out forces, this would be one of the first places to go," Robinson said.

The possibility frustrates the soldiers, who see an opportunity here.

"Why pull out from safe areas when you could do so much work here, particularly with the training?" Tyvela said. "It doesn't make sense."

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Washington (UPI) Aug 30, 2005
"We are the sons of Mesopotamia, land of the prophets, resting place of the holy imams, the leaders of the civilization and the creators of the alphabet, the cradle of arithmetic." So reads the ringing language of the Iraqi draft constitution submitted Sunday to the country's National Assembly.

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