Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraqi Kurds Back Bush

They may not know what the Republican Party is, but Sulaimaniyah residents are staunchly in favour of its leader.
By Sirwan Ghareeb

As the United States presidential election approached, George Bush and John Kerry were still neck and neck in the polls – unless, of course, you count those carried out in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish area of north-eastern Iraq. Here Bush would be assured of a runaway victory.


As in the rest of Iraq, people here may still not be enjoying the lifestyle and freedoms they had hoped would follow the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule, and many are openly critical of US policy. But in Sulaimaniyah, most of the people interviewed by IWPR are rooting for Bush to win a second term.


“Bush saved us from Saddam, the dictator who killed two of my sons. That’s why I’ll be very glad if he stays on as president,” commented Arif Faqe Rasheed, 71, who sells lottery tickets in front of Sulaimaniyah’s cinema. Arif’s fellow-vendors nodded in agreement.


After the fall of the Saddam regime, people began selling photos of Bush in the Kurdish areas, and sales of his picture now rival those of local leaders such as Jalal Talabani.


“Most of the people in this city love Bush and hope he’ll win the election,” said Markosa Kamal Abdulkareem, an 18-year-old photo shop employee. “When Saddam was captured last year, a lot of people came to buy Bush pictures.”


In Sulaimaniyah, Democratic candidate John Kerry is seen as the man who opposed the invasion of Iraq – although he did in fact vote for the war – a mistaken perception which instantly quashes any appeal he might have for people here.


“We love Bush because he crushed Saddam for our sake,” says tailor Diler Omer, striking a table to emphasise his point.


In contrast to other parts of Iraq which have seen widespread insurgency against Coalition forces, there is no such animosity in Iraqi Kurdistan.


Pensioner Tofiq San Ahmed says his people have a duty to support the Americans who saved them from Saddam. He added that since the fall of the Baathists, the Kurds have been able to negotiate directly with the central government in Baghdad, “Kurds can now have an active political life and direct their own affairs.”


Tofiq is originally from the village of Tawel, located near the Iranian border to the south-east of Sulaimaniyah. The village used to be under the control of the radical Ansar al-Islam group, until it was captured by US troops during the attack on Iraq. “We couldn’t go to Tawela and visit our orchards because of Ansar al-Islam” he states. “Now we can.”


Khabat Nasir Muhammed, a fifth-year preparatory school student, thinks Bush should win because under his rule, US troops will remain in Iraq. “Kerry wants to take them out, which would be the wrong thing to do,” she said.


Whatever the rest of Iraq might think of Bush, many in Sulaimaniyah see him as a hero who overthrew an oppressive government that would otherwise have continued to endanger them.


As a result, many people say they are anxious about what their future will hold if Bush loses. While the voting may be taking place a long way away, the wait for the results is likely to be as nailbiting here as it will be in Washington.


Sirwan Ghareeb is an reporter with the Hawlati newspaper in Baghdad.