Grateful Kurds in Iraq's north enjoy Americans and their cultu

Sunday, March 21, 2004

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq -- At MaDonal, a restaurant with a familiar name, diners munch cheeseburgers and fries. U.S. troops drink Diet Coke. An American flag flies next to the sign that bears the internationally recognized trademark yellow M.

The scene reflects a fact of life in Iraq's north: Many Kurds are fascinated with the culture of the superpower that freed an oppressed people from brutal persecution by the ousted dictator.

"The people like the Americans," said Dana Mohammed, who works at MaDonal, named after McDonald's. "They helped us get rid of the dictator, Saddam Hussein."

In Saddam's Iraq, the United States was demonized and largely blamed for the country's woes. But many Kurds -- ethnically distinct from Arabs -- have no qualms about expressing their support for the United States.

"The people like the American and British flags because they helped us liberate Iraq," said Delshad Ibrahim, a salesman at Halkawt Mini Market. Ibrahim said customers asked for U.S flags to hoist on their cars or at home, and pins to wear or give as gifts.

MaDonal's glass front is adorned with an image of the U.S. and British flags superimposed on a map of Iraq, flanked by the faces of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mohammed said patrons at MaDonal, unlike in some parts of Iraq, are happy to see U.S. troops stroll into the restaurant. "Many people ask to take photos with them and exchange laughs and jokes with them."

After years of persecution that saw many Kurds killed, tortured and displaced by Baghdad, the Kurds set up a semiautonomous region in the north under U.S.-British aerial protection in 1991.

Now that Saddam has been toppled, many Kurds are even more grateful. Some who hoped for control over more territory and a bigger share in power and revenue, however, think the Americans haven't done enough to support their demands in the new Iraq.

Benar Bakr, a 22-year-old, said some relatives are not happy with the way he looks up to U.S. culture.

"Many times we say stuff like 'Oh my God!' and 'yeah.' We also swear in American," said Bakr, his thick black hair swept back in a ponytail. "I like everything about the American culture, their food, the way they walk, everything."

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