12 km from Mosul
I heard cheers from the guards after pulling away from their checkpoint during a trip outside the capital. After I casually chatted with them and thanked them for their service, my son, a one and a half year old with light blonde hair and an ever present smile, lifted his fist in the air towards the Kurdish men in uniform—a sign of solidarity and support that was greater than any words I could offer that afternoon.
During the journey, I was utterly astounded as my phone’s GPS app showed a decreasing number of kilometers to Mosul, one of the functional capitals of the Islamic State. We watched it tick down from 50 km, to 20 km, all the way to 12 km. We obviously weren’t intending on going anywhere near Mosul, but the proximity was unreal. We continued driving, our son singing happily along with a children’s CD, all the while we were merely walking distance from perhaps the most repressive governing force of the 21st century—a murderous group that not only stands against the music in our car but against all the values that we, and the free world, hold dear.
When you look at the safety and freedom of movement within the Kurdish region, it’s a miracle of security that is simply incredible. Whether you're an expat or a lo- cal, I hope this isn’t lost on you. It's not to say that more doesn’t need to happen. This region, and the world, will not be entirely safe while the Islamic State continues to exist, but what the Kurdish security forces have accomplished is nothing short of amazing. I've known this intellectually but feeling completely safe and protected while traveling only 12 km from the Islamic State struck me. This didn’t just begin with IS but it is rather continuing from 2003 and the beginning of American involvement in Iraq, when not a single American soldier was lost inside the Kurdish region.
We finished our lengthy journey untouched, unharmed, and not even worried. The only action we saw was that of smiling checkpoint officers reaching into my car to shake my hand—excited that an American would choose to live here and learn to speak the Kurdish language.
In a fast-paced political environment where many are looking towards future accomplishments, don’t forget to take those moments, whether safely enjoying a city park or 12 km from the hand of the enemy, to pause and grasp the reality of what has already been accomplished by the Kurdish security forces.