- - Monday, July 7, 2014

“You must be living on another planet. That’s wishful thinking,” a colleague told me about three months ago when I told him that I was waiting for Kurdistan to become a country before taking the next steps of my career.

His comments weren’t really surprising, as the thought of an independent Kurdish state was far from anyone’s mind up until a week or so ago. For a Kurd like me though, the possibility was always more likely than not. The dream of a country of our own has been running through the veins of every Kurd for hundreds of years. Why shouldn’t it? Kurdistan has been one of most stable and prosperous regions in the Middle East for decades, and Kurds couldn’t be more different from their Arab counterparts.

Having lived in the shadow of the Arabs for hundreds of years, the Kurds from the mountains of Iraq have a rich and cultivating culture very different from that of the Arabs with whom they live. Not only do the Kurds have a unique culture not shared by the Arabs, but they also speak a completely separate language and have a different writing. We Kurds are perhaps the most curious creatures that ever lived. We are hungry for education and are constantly in search of new strategies to conduct business in order to become more technologically advanced. We persistently look to our Western peers to develop new investment ideas in order to improve our way of life. Perhaps the most prominent distinguishing factor is our religious beliefs.

Most Kurds in northern Iraq are Sunni Muslims; however, the religion does not dictate their daily lives, and nor do the Kurds subscribe to Islamic radicalism. Despite all these differences, though, the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan have tried to live peacefully with their Arab cohabitants — until now. With the recent developments inside Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attempting to spread its radicalism throughout Iraq and into Kurdistan, the Kurds think they must at long last break away from a country that they cannot really call home, from a corrupt government with little interest in its own people and from the violence tearing Iraq to pieces.

Unlike the Iraqi army, the Kurdish soldiers called Peshmerga (“those who face death”), are ready to pay the ultimate sacrifice to protect their land. This willingness lives in the hearts of the Kurdish Peshmerga, and it is because of this loyalty that they stand ready to defend their land against the enemy. Seeing top-ranking Iraqi officials and the Iraqi army desert their posts after the influx of the ISIS into key cities in Iraq, and the Kurdish military forces replacing them and holding their grounds against the enemy, has once again proven that the Kurds will do whatever it takes to defend themselves, their families and their nation.

Seeing these events unravel before our eyes with military posts once under American control being abandoned by the Iraqi army has angered many Kurds as well as the American veterans who once fought to hold them. They cannot believe how so many positions have fallen to the enemy since their brothers and sisters paid the ultimate sacrifice to eliminate terrorists from those areas during both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The feeling is certainly mutual with the Kurdish military forces, as most of them fought side by side their American partners to wipe out these terrorists during those operations.

Despite the anger and animosity toward the Iraqi army for abandoning their posts in a time when their country needed them the most, I am hopeful that the American veterans realize that their time and sacrifices in Iraq did not go to waste and that their brothers and sisters did not die in vain. They died protecting their country while setting the stage for the emergence of another Kurdistan.

Americans gave the Kurds in northern Iraq a chance at education, a chance to become creative thinkers, and most importantly, a taste of freedom. They liberated them from a regime that did not allow the Kurds freedom of speech or the freedom to be Kurds, but rather calling them “The Arabs of the Mountain,” as Saddam Hussein said in one of his speeches. The opportunities that the Iraq War veterans gave to the Kurds are countless, with investment opportunities, constructing amusement parks, city malls and airports, and most importantly, the opportunity to build their own nation under the protection of unmatched military forces.

The Kurdish Special Operations Force, also known as the Counter Terrorist Group, consists of brave men who stand ready to defend their country, and are equipped with highly advanced weaponry ready to respond to the call of duty. It is without a doubt that they are an unbeatable force owing to the training they received from the Iraq veterans. They were trained by the best — the American soldier.

Just as we celebrated Independence Day here in America, the celebration of a Kurdish independent state is far closer than ever before.

Zamawang Almemar is from the Kurdistan region of Iraq and sought asylum from the Saddam Hussein regime in the United States.