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JewishJournal.com

September 28, 2008

Iraqi First Lady at Museum of Tolerance: I remember the Jews of Kurdistan

Did Iraq approve visit? 'I go where I want to go'

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/iraqi_first_lady_at_museum_of_tolerance_i_remember_the_jews_of_kurdistan_20

Hero Ibrahim Ahmed
Photo by Bart Bartholomew
Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center

Hero Ibrahim Ahmed
Photo by Bart Bartholomew
Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center

The wife of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani paid a visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Friday, toured its Museum of Tolerance, and recalled her friendship with the Jews of her Kurdish hometown.

Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, the petite first lady of Iraq, briefly recalled the killings and tortures the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein had inflicted on her fellow Kurds.

She added, "In every person's mind there is a small Saddam. Killing Saddam is nothing, but killing the Saddam in our minds is everything."

The Journal, the only media outlet admitted to the event, asked whether the Iraqi government had approved her visit to the high-profile Jewish and ardently pro-Israel institution, which plans to build a Center for Human Dignity in Jerusalem.

Ahmed, owner of an Iraqi media group and a strong advocate for children's rights, answered quickly, "I don't ask for permission. I go where I want to go."

Her visit reciprocated a dinner she had hosted at her home in Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq for Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and Liebe Geft, director of its Museum of Tolerance.

Cooper and Geft had been invited to come and consult on plans for a traveling exhibit to commemorate the murder of 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children in the town of Halabja.

The independence-minded Kurds had long been a thorn in the side of Saddam Hussein, who on March 16, 1988 ordered his planes and artillery to blanket the town with poison gas.

On a side trip to Halabja, Cooper and Geft inspected Saddam's torture chambers and watched footage of the massacre, some of which "was too horrible to look at," said Cooper.

During the dinner at her house, Ahmed reminisced about her childhood hometown, and her puzzlement when residents of the Jewish quarter suddenly started to build and eat in outdoor huts -- which the American visitors quickly recognized as the celebration of Sukkot.

When the guests said goodbye, they invited their hostess to tour the Museum of Tolerance, if she were ever in Los Angeles. Two weeks later, she called to say that she was on her way.

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