Patriot Acts

Far from his Kurdish home, Adnan Kirkuki seeks out soldiers to defend his new one in the United States

"When my soldiers leave, I say, 'You're gonna leave me here?'" he says. "They say, 'We can't take you.' I say, 'Can you put me in your bag?'" He often asks his older brother if he can help him and his wife get out of Iraq. "I try to explain," Kirkuki says. "My hands are tied." The United States accepted only 202 Iraqi refugees last year, bringing the total since the invasion to 466. Recently, after congressional criticism that the United States had done little to aid the estimated 3 million Iraqis displaced by the war, the State Department announced plans to interview 7,000 Iraqis for possible U.S. resettlement. The likelihood that Kirkuki's brother will be one of them is slim. For now, he's focusing on his recovery so he can return to work. And, like his older brother, he holds his optimism close. His hope? "To live together as one family," he says. "Kurd, Arab and Turkoman."

Since Kirkuki's job is the pursuit of a relatively small pool of people—young Middle Easterners who want to help the U.S. military fight a war in an Arab country—it requires a different approach than that of most recruiters, who spend much of their time at schools and community colleges. He posts fliers, leaves cards and brochures at local businesses and visits "community contacts" who might know potential recruits. This means lots of time behind the wheel of his Honda CR-V.

While driving one recent morning to visit an old friend who's introduced him to several recruits, he talks about President Bush and his plan for a troop surge. "He took responsibility for the mistakes he made—he's an honest person," he says. "What's happening in Iraq is chaos. I didn't expect that. I thought once people got free, they'd try to rebuild the country." The best thing to do at this point, he adds, is to separate the country into Shiite-, Sunni- and Kurdish-controlled areas. As Kirkuki turns onto Audelia Road, a melancholy Kurdish song gives way to an upbeat Farsi one and a strand of beads swings from the rearview mirror. The blue glass is painted with the eyes that are believed in many parts of the Middle East to ward off evil.

Kirkuki with a group of officers and translators holding the Kurdish flag.
Kirkuki with a group of officers and translators holding the Kurdish flag.

Catholic Charities of Dallas isn't just a place where Kirkuki goes to look for potential soldiers. The organization helped him and his wife find work and a place to live when they arrived from Iraq. When he walks into the office on Walnut Hill Lane, the waiting area is about half-full. Across from a World Refugee Day poster, an African family sits, the parents helping their little girl with her homework. After a minute, a tall, broad man in a blue shirt and navy sweater vest appears and greets Kirkuki with a hug. His name is Mohamed Salim, and he was Kirkuki's case manager.

"I met Adnan in 1998—he was very dedicated, always on time for appointments, focused on taking care of his family and educating himself," says Salim, himself a former refugee who fled the African country of Eritrea 14 years ago during its war with neighboring Ethiopia. In the 18 months that Kirkuki has been recruiting for the Army translating program, he's met five recruits through Salim, and two became soldiers. Most were Sudanese refugees. "They come to the U.S., they get freedom, and if they're interested in the military, they meet with Adnan," says Salim, who is obviously proud of what Kirkuki has achieved since he arrived in Dallas with close to nothing a decade ago. "The goal is for the client to be self-sufficient. Lots of people have businesses now, and they came as refugees." He doesn't know of any new arrivals interested in joining the Army today, but Kirkuki will come back soon.

The next stop is a tire shop on Ferguson Road. One of the salesmen is Kamaran Shubak, a local representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party. A small man with a salt-and-pepper mustache, Shubak is an effusive guy known in the Kurdish community for organizing parties, political rallies and meetings to discuss the future of Kurdistan and the constitutional article for normalization of Kirkuk. He's been in Dallas since 1992 and makes a point to welcome Kurds when they arrive. "I don't want them to get lost here," he says. "I want them to remember who they are." That's something Kirkuki relates to—his own three children prefer McDonald's to Kurdish food and opt to listen to wrestler and rapper John Cena instead of their parents' traditional music.

Shubak says he knows the families of most of the Kurdish soldiers Kirkuki has helped enlist. "I'm proud of them," Shubak says. "We want to be in the war—some of those 20,000 new troops [going to Iraq as part of the surge] are Kurdish."

One of the recent enlistees is a Kurdish woman who left her husband and three children behind to become a soldier. When she first called Kirkuki last year and said she was interested—she'd seen one of his fliers somewhere—he was surprised. "Middle Eastern society is a man's society, but she's different," he says. "I told her, you're going to be a soldier, you're going to go to Iraq and train with M-16s and everything. She said, 'I'm ready to defend the country.'" She worked as a nurse before shipping out for basic training, he says, and she wants to build a career as a linguist. The woman and her family declined to be interviewed for this story, but when Kirkuki told her husband about the article, the man expressed frustration that people might not expect residents from Arab countries to join the Army. "There are Middle Eastern people who love this country and want to defend it," Kirkuki says the man told him.

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