I thought that we were getting closer, and I thought we were getting beneath the surface here, but it’s going to take longer - there is no black or white, there is even no grey. For every truth there is a counter truth and then another and another; you have to fight through the layers and create your own larger picture. People switch sides, form alliances, spread rumours and exaggerate facts. There are improvements, but there is also deterioration.
We have come to the mountains for a few days. To the minefields and the battlefields of the Peshmerga fighters, and for the first time I believe the things I hear. These are humble, honest people and kind people. They are also battled hardened in a ferocious way – so it is amazing to see how warm they are. They are tight knit, and were I not here with someone they respect – well I couldn’t be here at all. We are staying with a Scottish friend who lives here part of each year working on an amazing community project. He is Ex French foreign legion, and a great war photographer. There are 5 of use in the bedroom sleeping basically on concrete floors; The shower is freezing and all the lights in the city turn off at midnight. The streets are mud and I love it every minute here. The sky, the peace, the people, the company, the solitude are all welcome.
We have been hearing more stories of cruelty; more stories of bravery and more stories of corruption but none of them really surprise me any more. They all fascinate me and they all shock me but they are part of daily life here. In the same way that at the beginning of the week we spoke about death camps one instant and tv the next, so now we regularly talk of torture followed by fun. It is not abnormal.
Around us are the hills in which Ansar Islam held out against the allied forces in 2003, where during the last stand they tied their legs to posts in the ground to prevent themselves from running away – they were there to die as Martyrs. These are the same people who beheaded dozens of people at a time for lack of support, or simply because they were in the wrong place. These are the people who wanted regression, people who wanted blood.
We went to the abandoned villages and to an old Islamic training camp surrounded on all sides by minefields. The landscape on the Iranian border is covered with trenches and foxholes, rusting bullets and helmets. Tank battles, mortars and RPGs have all left their mark. Yet it is beautiful – poppies cover the hills, long grass ripples in the wind and birds sing all day.
We were taken by a local peshmerga hero called Wusher – an incredible man. He has lost both his legs and now walks on prosthetics that he had made in Japan. He has been shot 4 times in battle but returned to the front within days. He is known as the mine man and has disarmed over 2 million himself. He goes up every week on horseback and continues his work methodically. As he said to us earlier, he has sacrificed half his body, and will sacrifice the other. We visited the graves of his parents, his brothers and his sister which all lie under a wide tree overlooking the valley.
On these hills he lost his legs and 3000 friends fighting first against Saddam then against the Islamists. His pride and joy is his 1980s R24 rifle from the Shah’s army. As with everyone else we meet, he was born to fight, he is a born soldier and he will fight again if he must.
This afternoon we spent a few hours playing football with about 30 children. They are peshmerga in the making and have beaten me well. I can barely walk and can think only of my blanket and my concrete floor.