By Pfc. Justin Naylor, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry DivisionFebruary 25, 2009
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.