On Friday, the fourth platoon traveled to Shoraw Village to perform an initial assessment and thereby to ascertain the village’s basic needs. Shoraw is Kurdish, and contained about 150 families. We quickly learned that the village had not always been located here, but was originally located about 1 kilometer from where we stood. Shoraw moved after Saddam destroyed it, not once, but three times. After the previous two attempts to dislocate the village, the people had moved back and rebuilt, but not the third time. The older members of the village, including the former muqtar who had lost sight in one eye following a beating by Saddam’s soldiers, wanted to return their village to its prior location. We therefore traveled with them to view the old village. The land adjacent to the old village was good, expansive, and fit for farming, but there was little left of the old village itself but evidence of Saddam’s malice. The buildings, which were the mud brick homes common to this region, had clearly been bulldozed.
This was but another severe example of Saddam’s treatment of the Kurds. I have met Kurds from many villages that were displaced due to Arabization, a process in which Kurdish property was taken and given to Arabs. If the Kurds were lucky enough to keep their land, they would receive very little in the way of public services. The treatment is so obvious that you can tell whether a village is Kurdish or Arab before you meet the people: all you have to do is look at the wiring for the city. Arab villages typically have concrete and steel electrical towers running power to the homes. Kurdish villages, by contrast, will often have poor quality wires running from makeshift tree-posts. In Iraq, the municipal services for villages are provided by government offices in the large cities. Kurdish villages in this region at one time had received their services from Kirkuk, which was amenable to providing services to Kurds. Saddam remedied this by shifting the villages to the jurisdiction of his hometown of Tikrit, thereby assuring that services were functionally cut off.
Yet for all of Saddam’s ill-will, he inadvertently did much to assure the long-term success of the Kurds. Iraq operated essentially as a communist state under Saddam. Fuel, electricity, and a large portion of an average family’s food were provided by the state. Employment was contingent on party membership, and in many cases amounted to patronage dispensed by the state. The Kurds enjoyed few of these advantages and services, and therefore were forced to develop higher levels of self-sufficiency. Now that the shackles of dictatorship have been lifted and opportunity is available for those who are willing claim it, many individuals in the Arab communities appear ill-equipped to take initiative. By contrast, the Kurds, who have been forced by circumstance to be self-sufficient, are taking advantage of new found opportunities to better their lives. Thus, by favoring the Arabs, Saddam habituated character traits in the Arab community essential to those living under a tyrant—strong loyalty and weak initiative. But in the Kurdish community, his actions taught the people how to take care of themselves—a useful skill for those who seek in democratic fashion to rule rather than be ruled.