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Home » Africa/Middle East

The other Iraq

6 November 2007 No Comment

From Nov. 6, 2007

For the past week, I’ve been traveling through Iraqi Kurdistan — the “other Iraq,” as the region touts itself. It is a semi-autonomous region mostly populated by Kurds. It has its own government, much like a state does in the United States. It flies its own flag and has its own militia.

Folks here are not Arab. They are Kurds, a proud population that speaks its own language and has long been proud of its ethnic identity. Saddam Hussein had oppressed them, even using lethal gas against the people here.

This is a place that reveres the United States and is thankful for the U.S. role in liberating the region during the 1991 U.S.-led war.

Kurdistan is indeed the other Iraq. It is a different world.

Wide avenues were alive with traffic. Police stood at their posts, waving through taxis at intersections — not columns of armored vehicles. Sidewalks teemed with people, who strolled by shops and boutiques or sat at sidewalk tables enjoying meals.

There were few blast walls to be seen, particularly in Sulaimaniyah, the region’s second largest city. The capital of Irbil is touted by the regional president as the New Dubai.

Kurdistan is the only place of relative stability in Iraq. Instability wouldn’t be good for the economy. (Read the story here.)

The region is certainly booming. Cranes tower in cities but also in unexpected places — including seemingly desolate places where multi-story buildings are popping up in areas where there are seemingly more sheep than people.

I was up in the Kurdistan region to cover the brewing crisis at the Iraqi-Turkish border, where a rebel Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK as it is known by its Kurdish initials, has taken up arms against the Turkish government. (Read stories here and here.)

The United States has been trying to dissuade Turkey from launching a full-fledged military incursion into Iraqi soil to root out PKK fighters, perhaps as many as 3,500, who use Iraqi soil to train and orchestrate cross-border attacks. (Read the story here.)

I attempted numerous times to visit a PKK camp — but were told we would be welcomed when tensions subsided. The closest we got was meeting up with a fighter controlling a smugglers’ trail at the Iraq-Iran border. There is a bit of sympathy for the PKK in these parts — if not for its tactics, but for its goal of Kurdish solidarity. (Read the story here.)

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