By Nathan Deuel
I travel every few weeks to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Surrounded by low peaks, the city of two million hasn't seen serious violence in years, and most agree it's one of the safest places in an otherwise dangerous country. But it's still Iraq.
Last week, awaiting my flight to Turkey at the airport in Erbil, I watched a hawk disembowel a snow-white pigeon. Nothing else was moving on the tarmac. Long brown mountains stretched in the dry desert distance, and a puff of white feathers settled on hot wind.
I held my breath as the hawk dove its head deep into the dead bird, the bleeding neck oozing bright red. Seeing the untidy carnage, a Kurdish officer strode smartly over. With a gloved hand, he shooed the hawk away. Then he bent at the waist and plucked the pigeon from the ground. A colleague applauded. The pigeon was placed to the side, and the officers walked off into a sun-bleached distance.
Meanwhile, the hawk flew to a nearby perch, its talons gripping freshly painted metal. I couldn't hear, just then, if the fearsome bird screamed — all that I had registered were the polite noises of Iraqis lining up to fly somewhere else, anywhere else.
Nathan Deuel is a writer based in Turkey and Iraq. His work has been published by, among others, Slate.com, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, and TheAtlantic.com.
[Image courtesty of Flickr user doviedne.]