A man and his son during referendum celebrations in Kirkuk on September 25. Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP
By: Jared M. Hill
I support a free and independent Kurdistan. This decision stems from a long personal knowledge and relationship that I have had with this people, starting with my time spent with them during my deployment to Iraq as a US Army officer from 2007 to 2008.
In 2007, I was deployed to Iraq for 15 months as part of the “Surge.” At that time, I was a transportation officer and team leader in the 571st Movement Control Team. My unit was the first modular movement control team deployed to a theater of operations, which means we had two teams under the command of a company grade officer performing two separate missions.
My team was first deployed to the Iraq-Jordon border in al-Anbar province assigned to bring in all coalition supply trucks into Iraq from Jordan and prepare them for convoy movement into Iraq. This was the wild west of Iraq and there were multiple instances of people attempting to run our check points during convoy operations. It has a worrisome situation to say the least.
My unit’s second team was stationed on the Iraq-Turkey boarder performing the same border mission of receiving and preparing supply trucks for convoy movement into Iraq.
About six months into my deployment, our battalion determined that it was not practical to have my commander constantly traveling to maintain control over his two teams separated by thousands of miles. As such, the decision was made to move my team to Mosul to assist with airfield and convoy yard operations. Concurrently, my commander decided to move me to the Turkey border to take over movement control operations at that location. It was at this time that I started to develop my great admiration and love for the Kurdish people.
The first thing I noticed upon entering Kurdistan was that the convoy commander gave the order to unload all weapons and to remove our helmets and vests. Then upon arriving at the Ibrahim Khalil Port Facility near Zakho, I further noticed that the local Peshmerga was providing all security. Soldiers and US contractors were walking around as if on a US Army Base and not outside the “wire.” Full battle rattle was nonexistent.
My next surprise, since I arrived on a Friday, was that soldiers from the convoys and soldiers stationed at the port were allowed to go shopping on Saturdays in the local towns of Zakho and Duhok. Again, full battle rattle was not required as the Peshmerga served as our security escort. Soldiers only carried their weapon and two magazines in their cargo pocket. All of this was a complete shock to my system coming out of the Arab dominated Anbar.
Over the next eight months, I came to know the Kurdish people. I attended Peshmerga military ceremonies, Kurdish weddings, and Kurdish parties. I worked with them on a daily basis as the Kurdish Regional Government ran the port facility. Kurdish people served as my translators for three different languages – Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic. The majority of our convoy drivers and local contractors were Kurdish. They ran our chow hall, cleaned our facilities, and lived and worked alongside of us.
I met both Christian and Muslim Kurds. In downtown Zakho, there was a Christian chapel across the street from a Muslim mosque. While I never met any Yazidi Kurds, I knew of them and passed by their settlements multiple times. Unlike my experience in Anbar, the Kurds respect and tolerate these religious differences because they are all Kurdish first. They are truly a tolerant, unique, and vibrant culture and people in a sea of Middle East chaos.
It was, however, after I left Iraq that I came to love the Kurdish people. One of the greatest honors of my life came when I had the chance to sponsor my translator, Husni, and his family in their immigration to the United States. Husni was one of my best translators. He was very dependable, honorable, and spoke English, Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish. Many of my accomplishments and the accomplishments of my team in Iraq could not have been possible without his aid. He became a trusted co-worker, adviser, and friend. As such, I volunteered to serve as his immigration sponsor.
Unfortunately, it took five years for his family to work through the cumbersome, bureaucratic immigration system, but his family made it to US soil in 2012. The first year was hard, but I was right by their side the whole way. During this time, I came to truly know and love Husni, his wife, and kids. I helped them get housing, helped Husni get a job, and served as baby sitter on multiple occasions. I was repaid with kindness, hospitality, and more food than I could eat.
Through him and his family, I came to personally know and love the Kurdish people and their culture. Eventually, he and his family moved to a Kurdish community in Minnesota, where his wife has extended family members. Furthermore, it is with great pride that I can report that Husni has established himself as a valued member of his community, worked his way up to a supervisor position at his job, and soon will be applying for his US citizenship. Well done my friend!
From all of my personal experiences with the Kurdish people, I can truly say that they are an industrious, tolerant, and freedom loving people. It is a culture and people that we as Americans can and should stand behind.
The Kurds stood behind us during the Gulf War, Iraq War, and the war against ISIS. It is time we stand behind them. We went to Iraq to topple a dictator. We tried to help Baghdad to establish a democracy. It did not, and has not, worked. Iraq is a failed state, but from those ashes an independent Kurdistan can rise like a phoenix. It is time for the US government to back our ally and the only true democracy in Iraq.
I urge all Americans viewing this article to write to their representative, their senator, and the president expressing Kurdish support. I support a free and independent Kurdistan!
Jared M. Hill was a Transportation Captain in the US Army. He served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and received a Bronze Star for his service. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Sam Houston State University. He currently serves as the chairperson for his local County Historical Commission and lives and works in Texas.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.