Raparin, Iraqi Kurdistan. November, 2009. Bombs. Explosions. Terrorism. Snarls. Bandits. Violence. AK-47s. These words don’t describe my experience at all in Iraq. The people are friendly, my students are motivated. The security situation is stable. The food is tasty. One thing stands out in stark contrast to the states however: everyone has an AK-47. Well, not everyone, but If I paid close attention, I could probably count 50 security guards, Peshmerga forces, even doormen who have their trusty AK by their side. Hell, I’ve been on trips to the countryside, and even shepherds tote AKs.
As an American living in Iraq, the ubiquitous AK-47 was at first a bit off-putting. As the weeks and months melted away, however, my perspective changed somewhat. I’ve acquired a habit or giving the Kurdish semi-salute/hand-wave whenever I pass by an AK-equipped guard. We generally exchange pleasantries and every once in a while, he even passes me his AK.
Shortly before taking this photo I had such an experience. A small group of guards and I got our picture taken together as I was holding one of their weapons. We parted ways and on a distant mountainous plateau I spotted this Kurdish man looking over the city from his perch.
The man was some distance away, so I had to use a strong telephoto lens to get the framing I wanted. At 200mm, the shot just barely had the composition I was hoping for, with the main directly in front of the distant Zagros mountain range.