• Sheikh Hussein Akbar, whose family has been taking care of the shrine of Sultan Saqi Shrine for nearly 400 years, stands at the doorway of the shrine on Feb. 5 at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq. The Sheikh is reflecting on this history of the holy site, and how it has changed in the last three years since he visited it. He is part of a group of individuals that are at the shrine to discuss allowing local citizens to visit the shrine.

    Sheikh Hussein Akbar, whose family has been...

    Sheikh Hussein Akbar, whose family has been taking care of the shrine of Sultan Saqi Shrine for nearly 400 years, stands at the doorway of the shrine on Feb. 5 at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq. The Sheikh is reflecting on this history of...

  • Officials from Bilawah and Tis'Ayn villages and officials from Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, stand outside the gate to Sultan Saqi Shrine also on FOB Warrior, Feb. 5. The leaders are discussing future plans for the shrine and how they can allow local citizens to pay respects to the holy site.

    Officials from Bilawah and Tis'Ayn villages and...

    Officials from Bilawah and Tis'Ayn villages and officials from Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, stand outside the gate to Sultan Saqi Shrine also on FOB Warrior, Feb. 5. The leaders are discussing future plans for the shrine and how they...

  • An HTT member looks at the graves in the cemetery outside of the Sultan Saqi Shrine on Feb. 5 at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq.

    An HTT member looks at the graves in the...

    An HTT member looks at the graves in the cemetery outside of the Sultan Saqi Shrine on Feb. 5 at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq.

  • A local religious leader lends his support to arranging future visits to the Sultan Saqi shrine on Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq, Feb. 5. The nearly 700 year old shrine holds what local citizens believe to be the bodies of distant relatives of the Prophet Mohammed. The man is visiting as part of a group that came to discuss ideas on how to allow local citizens to visit the shrine.

    A local religious leader lends his support to...

    A local religious leader lends his support to arranging future visits to the Sultan Saqi shrine on Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq, Feb. 5. The nearly 700 year old shrine holds what local citizens believe to be the bodies of distant...

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq- For more than 30 years, citizens around what is now Forward Operating Base Warrior have not had full access to the cemetery and shrine of Sultan-Saqi. The name of the shrine comes from a brother, Saqi, and sister, Sultana, who are entombed there. Over the years, Sultana became Sultan, and to outsiders, it would now appear as though the name described one person, Sultan-Saqi. The shrine is considered a holy site to residents of Kirkuk, who believe that Sultana and Saqi are distant relatives of the prophet Mohammad. The shrine also holds special significance for many, some of which have generations of family members buried there.

Local leaders from the both Bilawah and Tis'Ayn villages had an opportunity Feb. 5 to discuss plans with officials from FOB Warrior about how to reconnect villagers with their deceased relatives.

"Cemeteries are of utmost importance to this culture," said Vancouver, WA resident Dan Sockle, a member of the Human Terrain Team on FOB Warrior. "We [Coalition Forces] can certainly relate to that. It is a common bridge between our cultures."

The cemeteries are a bridge between Turkmen, Sunni and Shia Muslims, and their ancestors of both sects, as well as their heritage, said Sockle.

Future plans for the cemetery involve weatherproofing the dome, adding moisture barriers and refurbishing the interior and exterior of the building, said Sockle. The HTT and Chaplains on FOB Warrior also hope to set up a regular liaison that would allow some 30-50 local residents at a time to visit the shrine and identify ancestral graves of their loved ones, many of which are in need of repair.

"A long term goal is for Iraqis to resume taking care of their shrine and burial places," said Sockle.

For Sheikh Hussein Akbar, whose family has been taking care of the shrine for nearly 400 years, the shrine has a unique importance. He has instructions passed down through generations of his family from the Ottoman Empire appointing him and his descendents the Motawali, or person in charge of maintaining and serving the holy place, according to a report from the HTT.

Although unhindered access to the cemetery and shrine might be a long way off, IA and FOB Warrior officials recognize the importance of allowing Iraqi citizens to come and pay respect to the shrine. Follow up meetings with local leaders will focus on visitation planning for small groups of Iraqi citizens several times per year.

Page last updated Wed February 25th, 2009 at 14:03