I notice during our interview that he's wearing an Idaho lapel pin. Why Idaho? I ask him. He says an American general gave it to him. He then tells me he's applying for asylum in the U.S. for himself and his entire family -- his wife, four sons and a daughter. He fears for his life, and I believe rightfully so. He pulls a piece of paper out of his front pocket. It's a boilerplate answer from the U.S. State Department explaining that the U.S. does not offer asylum purely for personal safety, and that he should contact his local police for protection. I'm sure the irony of telling a police chief to ask the police for protection was lost on whichever foreign service officer typed up the note, but Sherko was not smiling. He is an older man, nearing 70, with deep lines and tired eyes. It's the face of someone who's experienced a lot of suffering and yet is still scared. I ask him if he's afraid he'll be the next victim and he says: "That would be normal."
Another night's sleep on crisp white sheets and, again, a wake-up call that worked. I feel like I'm staying at the Ritz. Today, though, we'll take a marked step down.
We're visiting an illegal village just outside Kirkuk. It is, at the same time, a good and bad news story for Iraq. During his rule, Saddam Hussein was expert at ethnic cleansing. He forced tens of thousands of Kurds out of Kirkuk, to make room for Arabs, particularly Sunnis like himself. Becoming a refugee was of course a more desirable fate than ending up in a mass grave, but the life disruption for Kurds was crippling. After the war, they came running back from the north in droves, particularly to Kirkuk. But housing was lacking or too expensive, so they built their own -- out of discarded bricks, trees, discarded war material, whatever they could find.
When I visited the village two years ago for the first time, it was a handful of shanties, built, if you can believe it, on the site of an old Iraqi army ammunition dump. I didn't recognize it today. Acres of once-barren ground were filled with new homes. Most of them were no better than stone shanties, but others were decent replicas of suburban houses -- with colorful tiles, double-paned windows, and driveways. Above me was a spider's web of electrical wires, jury-rigged and drawing illegally from the city power grid.
We walked through the muddy alleyways, followed everywhere by the ubiquitous crowds of smiling children. They are sweet at first and then almost invariably mischievous. One offered my cameraman a candy and then withdrew it demanding "one dollar," though with a smile.
We pass one small home and a young mother asks us inside. She wants us to film her mother who is very ill. She hopes, somehow, that appearing on foreign television will bring her help. I want to help but don't want her to believe that ABC will magically mean treatment and recovery. We ask her if there's a hospital nearby. She says yes but that they don't have the medicine her mother needs. It's a common problem in Iraq -- a shortage of basic medical supplies. She realizes we don't have an immediate solution for her and lets us go.