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This year’s just-concluded Smithsonian Folklife Festival won raves for its cross-cultural scope. There were Iranian spiritual bodybuilders, lute virtuosos from Kyrgyzstan, and dozens of other participants spanning the nations of Central Asia’s Silk Road. Yet there was a detour on the old trade route: None of the singers, dancers, or chefs came from Iraq. Richard Kennedy, co-curator of the Silk Road program, says it’s because researchers couldn’t get into Saddam country to do fieldwork. But Afghanistan was off limits, too, and Afghan expats took part. “There’s just so many people you can bring to the festival, only so many resources,” Kennedy says. “This program is not about countries. [The Silk Road] occurred across borders.” So how did the Iraqis feel about the slight? “It’s not the first time, my friend,” said a staffer at the Iraqi Embassy, refusing to identify himself or comment further. —David Morton