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2017-07-05 16:23:39 Views : 788 |

News: Notes from the Front Lines: It's the people in Iraq who are most worth remembering

Children are back in school in Mosul. (Photo by Stan Jones for The News-Sentinel)

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A column by Stan Jones, for The News-Sentinel Tuesday, July 04, 2017

They were selfless in helping others as things try to normalize.

Editor's note: Stan Jones of Spencerville has been working with

a non-governmental organization operating in northern Iraq.

This is the last of his occasional columns for The News-Sentinel.

In author Atina Grossman's 2007 book, “Jews, Germans, and Allies,” she points out that for many of rural Germany's residents the day-to-day confrontation of World War II was late in coming. The massive British and American bombing raids targeted primarily urban industrial and war-making sites, leaving the countryside relatively untouched. The generally unscarred rural landscape continued until after D-Day when the Allies went into France and pushed toward Berlin. With exceptions to certain consumer shortages and the ever-increasing death-in-combat notifications, life went on as before. Even when an entire nation is at war, not everyone is in the trenches on the front lines.

Life in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, has a somewhat similar tale. As noted previously, the eastward thrust of the so-called Islamic State from Syria into Iraq initially destabilized the status quo. However, after the IS invasion stalled and defensive lines were established, domestic civilian life reactivated and now approaches normality. Although the IS was always a direct threat, they never came within artillery range of significant population centers in Kurdistan. Now business is getting better, children attend school, weddings occur and futures are again imagined and hoped for.

This is not a claim that all is well. The thousands of internally displaced Iraqis still require attention until they can return to their homes. The fighting has caused a wide swath of physical destruction as well as the personal trauma that's attached; homes razed, infrastructure destroyed, missing or killed family members, everything in great need. Unfortunately, many on the ground now believe attention will wane and support for re-building diminish as the fighting subsides and headline grabbing problems appear elsewhere in the world. Also, the very real and understandable problem of donor fatigue may set in curtailing the many resources needed.

There is much to remember about this time in Iraq, the good and not so good, but mostly it's the people met along the way. There was Father Zacharias, the Syriac Orthodox pastor, and his parishioners who invited us to stay for their weekly “potluck” luncheon, even though we arrived at their church unplanned and unannounced. Their generosity to strangers was in the best Christian tradition. Their village sat at the foot of the Mar Mattai Monastery and was at one time less than eight miles from the front lines.

There was the young Yazidi woman who worked for us in the infant and well-baby program, an effort designed to help young mothers in the internally displaced person camps cope with and thrive in that environment. She was saving her salary and wanted to eventually leave Iraq and study abroad. There was the “surfer dude” from California who was working to expand and enhance the delivery of goods and food stuffs to non-camp IDPs. He was in Iraq looking for an adventure but had a desire to do something better than install solar panels on the left coast. Even though the young American had difficulty negotiating the office stairwell, she had a heart of gold and her work with the camp children showed it. There were expatriates from the Philippines, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and France all living and working to serve those in great need and not to be served themselves.

And then there was the local-national safety and security staff who provided a continuously updated status on general and specific security concerns, allowing the several active programs to conduct their business with relative certainty. If a problem or question walked into the office or arrived by phone or was encountered in the field they worked well as a team to find a solution. The office walls were covered with the latest maps and contact names to allow them to verify or not, rumors and claims of pertinent IS activity that could affect our folk. Whether trolling the internet for open- source information or gathering reports from their many local government and military contacts, they helped establish and maintain a safe work environment. And finally, a shout-out to the many Iraqi residents who comprised the backbone of the distribution system providing the World Food Programme supplies to the IDP camps.

Thomas Wolfe was not entirely correct: home is home wherever it is and it's good to return. Besides, some delayed projects around the homestead need tending. And the golf courses are open. Now if only the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Detroit Tigers were playing better, it might be a decent season yet.


A Syriac Orthodox parish welcomed Stan Jones and other humanitarian workers to their potluck. (Photo by Stan Jones for The News-Sentinel)

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