— Shukor Rashid Shari kneels to pray on a small carpet. His face
is etched with lines below his traditional Kurdish turban. On the
wall above him is a fading slogan left by Saddam Hussein's army:
"A good soldier is a good Baathi."
Mr. Shari's home is a room just big enough for a lantern, a
little kerosene heater and his bed — a sheet of roofing zinc
propped on cinder blocks.
He has filled in the windows with mud bricks, leaving just a
small chink to let in the weak winter light, and he keeps a
battered tin teapot atop the heater all day for small cups of
sweet tea to fight the biting cold.
Mr. Shari, 69, is living in a former munitions storeroom. One
year after the end of the war in Iraq, he has set up house just a
few kilometres from his ancestral village, but he is far from
home. His struggle to get there is one of so many across Iraq: As
the politicking and profiteering play out in Baghdad, people like
this Kurdish farmer find themselves pinned down by the conflict of
other people's interests.
Thirty years ago, the valleys surrounding Qarahanjir were
dotted with small, grey stone villages. About 500 families lived
here, growing wheat and barley, and grazing sheep and cows. In the
1980s, the Iraqi government forced them off their land and into a
"collective town" here. Ostensibly meant to ease the
provision of piped water and electricity, the move was in fact
intended to break their ties to the land as part of Mr. Hussein's
goal of "Arabizing" the mostly Kurdish north.
In 1988, the Kurds of Qarahanjir were ordered to move again,
this time off their land altogether and into a wretched, muddy
town about 20 kilometres north. Their farmland was declared a
In 1991, after a Kurdish uprising resulted in the establishment
of an autonomous region in northern Iraq protected by a
UN-patrolled no-fly zone, the farmers and shepherds found that a
border suddenly stood between them and their land. They were in
Kurd territory, and the enemy army now stared down from bunkers on
their hills. It would be more than a decade before they saw their
Last March, two weeks into the war, the Iraqi army abandoned
its post here, its northern front. Kurdish troops moved in and
found the shell of what a large sign proclaimed to be
"Chemical Unit No. 8." It was impossible to tell, from
the stripped and looted installation, whether the Iraqi army had
in fact operated a chemical weapons site but rooms were labelled
for the storage of different weaponized chemicals and protective
Today, the large mural of a beaming Mr. Hussein is gone, and
Mr. Shari and a handful of other families have moved back, setting
up house in the village-turned-base-turned-village again, as close
as they can get to their bulldozed former homes.
"Even though we don't have anything, we're happier now,
because we have returned to our home," he said. "I
always had faith in God, I always believed that we would return to
our land. Your homeland is very precious."
Nothing remains of Qalodeh, his village. Once Mr. Shari was a
rich man, with 15 hectares of land and huge flocks, but the
deportation made him "a beggar," he said. He has no
money to rebuild, and no one, not the Kurdish government or the
new Iraqi authority, has offered any help.
"Our local government is putting their hand on our land
and saying it belongs to the government and they don't even let us
go there," Mr. Shari said. "We need access to our land
He said local Kurdish officials have told him and his fellow
villagers that because this was "government land" under
Mr. Hussein, it now belongs to the new authority — and they plan
to develop it into a tourist area. The old bar where Iraqi
officers drank has already been converted to a wedding hall. Three
small restaurants have opened on the site of the old army
No one in the local Kurdish government was willing to comment
on his specific complaints, saying only that the broader issue of
land claims is complex and still to be resolved.
All this has left Mr. Shari bitter. He fought for 14 years with
the Kurdish peshmerga militia, for which he was jailed and lashed
by Mr. Hussein's authorities; he said he was even dragged by an
ankle behind a tank when he refused to sign a card changing his
nationality to Arab from Kurd. In 1993, his two wives and three of
his eight sons were killed in Iraqi shelling of the collective
He pointed to the hill on the horizon where once Qalodeh stood.
"It's levelled to the ground now, but it has good springs,
good water." Come summer, he hopes that he and two of his
sons will start the work of rebuilding.
"If there is justice, we will get our land back. And if
there is no justice, then this is just the same as Saddam's