Newest U.S.-Iraqi Sister City Aims to Expand Cultural Understanding

Duluth, Minnesota and Rania, Iraq formalized their sister city relationship in April, making them the fifth U.S.-Iraqi partnership in the Sister Cities International network. The friendship city partnership first began in 2007, when Michele Naar-Obed from Duluth was working in Kurdish Iraq and established a connection with the Rania Youth Center. After learning about the possibilities of sister city exchanges, Ms. Naar-Obed spoke with the Duluth Sister Cities International (DSCI) Board of Directors and submitted a proposal to begin a connection between the two cities. Since 2009, three Duluth delegations have traveled to Rania and two Rania delegations have visited Duluth. Now with their official sister city title in tow, DSCI is excited to begin hosting several more future exchanges to create productive cultural dialogue and a broader understanding of Kurdish, Iraqi, and Middle Eastern cultures.

Duluth is also looking to its neighbor, Minneapolis, for ideas on how to build a successful program. Minneapolis’ strong relationship with its sister city, Najaf, Iraq – managed by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) – is a great example of how sister city relationships can further peace and understanding. DSCI is working on setting up a joint Duluth-Rania and Minneapolis-Najaf meeting and delegation visit to further break down barriers and aid American-Middle Eastern understanding.

Although Duluth doesn’t have a large Kurdish diaspora population, another neighbor of theirs, Fargo, North Dakota, is home to about 1,000 people of Kurdish origin who have established an active Kurdish community center. DSCI hopes to invite their Fargo neighbors to be involved with the new Duluth-Rania partnership, expanding the reach and awareness of their sister city even more.
The community reaction in Duluth has been extremely positive, as Rania was unanimously voted into the DSCI program and 170 people attended a fundraiser kick-off dinner, resulting in over $2,000 in donations for the program. With this positive beginning, DSCI plans to start with exchanges in art, music, and youth in the coming months and hopes to work with several communities to promote peace and understanding with their new sister city.