May 29, 2009
Rania visitors return, profess a deeper
By Andy Greder and Fatima Jawaid
Breaking through the fear of traveling to a war-torn
country, a group of six Duluthians put names, faces and friendships
on the other end of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.
The six — Tom Morgan, Donna Howard, Brooks
Anderson, Marv Heikkinen, Arno Kahn and Salima Swenson — returned
Wednesday from a weeklong, peace-making visit to the northern Iraqi
city of Rania.
“We wanted to get past the stereotypes and
meet people that aren’t trapped in the politics,” Morgan
said. “That is what we found. … We need to be mindful
of them when it comes to policy.”
Women greeted the Duluth women with many kisses.
Children displayed knowledge gained from a blossoming education
system. Men were welcoming and affable.
The people of Rania — a city of about 100,000
nestled next to mountains and lush farmland — associate more
with their Kurdish heritage than Iraqi nationalism. The people of
Rania expressed thanks for the liberation from the Baathist Party
and dictator Saddam Hussein. They also showered the Duluthians with
attention and gifts.
“We felt a part of something big, a major
piece in the history of this city,” Anderson said.
The visit was both a celebration and a chance
to make improvements. The Duluthians were whisked from reconstruction
projects that have resulted in air and water pollution to meetings
on the lack of women’s rights and a visit of a refugee camp
near the Iranian border.
“You read about the plight of the people,
but seeing it is the lasting impression I will take,” Heikkinen
“It was so sad and moving [to see the refugee
camp],” Heikkinen said. “How they are completely stuck
Despite being between war zones — one to
the south involving the U.S. and the one in the north involving
Turkey — the Duluthians emphasized the pride shown by people
“They were very open and very proud,”
Howard said. “They were proud of themselves, and very open
to other people and their culture and styles. … I just fell
in love with them.”
The mayor of Rania wrote a response letter to
Duluth Mayor Don Ness, expressing hoping that the visit is the beginning
of a long-term relationship between the cities.
“We are very eager to see the future of
this long-term friendship,” said Mayor Ali Hamad Baag in the
letter. “It is possible to make Duluth a successful example
for exchanging culture and knowing each other better than before.
Kurds generally and Rania particularly respect your country that
led the process of freedom and destroyed the dictatorship regime
“Now, Duluth is a valuable and loveable
word and it refers to a great meaning among the Kurds,” Baag
wrote. “We hope that our friendship has a wide product and
brighter future for the two nations, Americans and Kurds, especially
for peace, democracy and understanding our cultures better.”
Morgan said citizens of Rania hope to visit Duluth
this fall. Morgan also said efforts will be taken to garner more
interest in a second trip to Rania.
“Is this peace-making mission going to catch
on?” Anderson asked. “We know them now. They are our