February 13, 2006

Iraq Without a Gun

ERBIL, IRAQ – Until just a few months ago, Iraq was one of the last places in the world a normal person would want to fly into. Baghdad had the only international airport in the country, and you risked your life just taking a taxi to the kinda-sorta half-way “safe” Green Zone from the terminal. Today you can fly directly to Erbil (known as Hawler in Kurdish), the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan in the north, where the war is already over.

Erbil Skyline 1.jpg

So I took a charter flight on Flying Carpet Airlines and flew there directly from Beirut. I paid as much for that ticket as I would have paid to fly home to Oregon, but it beat the logistical pain of driving in over the border from Turkey.

Erbil’s tiny international airport – with its tiny little customs booth and its tiny little luggage rack – doubles as a military base. Civilian craft only started landing there a few months ago. A kiosk called “Tourist Information” was set up by the main entrance next to an office that rented “phones for tourists.” I had a hard time believing many tourists actually went there on holiday unless they were visiting from other parts of Iraq. As I later found out, “tourist” simply meant visitor.

Civilian cars weren’t allowed anywhere near the terminal for security reasons, so I had to take a bus to a checkpoint a mile or so away where my pre-arranged driver Mr. Araz picked me up.

Driving to the center of any city from an airport rarely leaves a good first impression. The only exceptions I can think of are the trips into Tunis and Istanbul. But my fifteen minute ride to the Erbil International Hotel (aka, “The Sheraton,” even though it isn’t really a Sheraton) was particularly unpleasant. The city didn’t look like anywhere I wanted to be. Few things in this world are uglier than totalitarian cities. And while Erbil isn’t totalitarian anymore, Saddam Hussein left his stinking thumbprints all over the place. Erbil desperately needs an aesthetic makeover. (As I later found out when I could explore the city properly, it is getting one.)

Erbil Water Tower.jpg

Erbil Sidewalk.jpg

“Today is Friday,” Mr. Araz said. “The city is more quiet than normal.”

Friday is the Muslim holy day when almost everything closes. But I had a hard time believing Erbil could ever look like a place with much activity. Such are rides from the airport. I hadn’t seen downtown yet, though, and I tried not to make too much of the first things I saw.

A perimeter of thick concrete bomb-blast walls was set up around the hotel in a 50-yard radius. I would have taken a photograph, but I decided not to help Googling terrorists with any logistical plans by publishing what the place looks like. Armed security guards made me get out of the car while they opened the trunk, rifled through everything, pulled out the spare tire, and checked under the chassis for bombs.

“Is it safe to walk around here?” I asked Araz.

“No,” he said. “I do not recommend it.”

Great, I thought. What the hell am I doing in this country?

“Why, exactly, isn’t it safe?” I said. I hoped he would say that I might get lost or be menaced by crazy drivers.

“I don’t personally know of any incidents that have happened,” he said. “But I never see foreigners like you walking around without a local person.”

I didn’t plan on spending much time alone anyway. I had already decided to hire a driver and translator. But it’s always best to explore foreign cities on foot when it’s possible, and I certainly wasn’t happy that Araz was telling me that I shouldn’t.

There was something fishy about the man, though. Sure, Erbil is Iraq. But it also is Kurdistan. The war is over in Kurdistan. He was the guy who was going to supply me with a driver and translator, and he wanted 350 dollars a day for that service. The Kurdistan Development Corporation told me I shouldn’t have to pay anywhere near that much. I suspected Araz was trying to scare me so I would pay his exorbitant fee.

After I checked in at the desk I asked Araz if he would lower the rate.

“I will have to see about that and get back to you later,” he said. I quietly decided not to hire him. All I had to do was call the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Public Relations office and ask them to set me up with someone more reasonable.

Night fell as a storm came in. Rain lashed against my hotel room window. I heard a solitary boom of thunder and, later, a jet that sounded distinctly military flying over my head.

Erbil, like the rest of Iraq, does not have a functioning electrical grid. Residents of the city get two hours of power each day if they’re lucky. I stood at my window and looked out over the dark and quiet city. I felt okay, and I was oddly happy to be there. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind: I’m in Iraq I’m in Iraq I’m in Iraq I’m in Iraq.


I met the Guardian reporter Michael Howard in the lobby. He and I have a friend in common, and he kindly gave me a solid welcome and introduction to Iraq and it’s politics. He has spent most of the past three years in the country, and he knows it better than most Westerners do.

There was more than enough time for me to get a grip on the politics. That’s what I would spend much of my time doing. What I needed to know right up front was how safe (or not) Iraqi Kurdistan really is.

“Realize that this hotel is a primary target,” he said. “Last year a bomb went off only 100 meters from here. Dozens of people were killed. Chunks of flesh were picked out of the garden near the front entrance.”

“What about kidnappings?” I said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but to my knowledge not a single person has been kidnapped in Kurdistan.”

“That’s true,” he said. For the first time since I arrived in the country somebody said something that made me feel better.

“So can I walk around by myself?” I said. I’m not afraid of terrorist bombs that explode once a year. In some parts of the country they explode every day. But when kidnappers target Westerners, and when I’m one of perhaps 100 Westerners in a 50-mile radius, I can’t afford to be naïve or stupid. “I need to know how to behave in this country, and right now I’m not sure. What do you do? Do you walk around by yourself?”

“I’ll walk the main streets,” he said. “But I don’t walk any side streets. You don’t have to worry much in Sulaymaniyah or Dohok. I’ll go anywhere in those cities. But Erbil is a little more dangerous.”

Last year’s attack near the hotel wasn’t the only terrorist incident in the city. In 2004 Sami Abdul Rahman, the Deputy Vice President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, was assassinated by a suicide bomber along with dozens of other people.

“I lost five friends that day,” Michael told me. “I missed that explosion myself by only five minutes.”

Just a few days after I arrived a memorial to the dead in that attack would be dedicated in the city park. I had plans to meet Bayan and Vian Rahman, the daughters of the murdered deputy prime minister, for dinner the next day. I hadn’t even been in the country for 8 hours and already the violence felt perilously close. It didn’t take long to become friends with people who recently had lost loved ones. But I tried not to let it frighten me too much. More people were killed by terrorists recently in Madrid than were killed in Erbil. And who is afraid to visit Madrid? Nobody I know.

My logic didn’t make me feel better, but I did what I could to relax. The bloody city of Mosul was just down the road. Any time I wanted I could hail a taxi and be within easy reach of the head-chopping killers in a mere 45 minutes. The Syrian assassins lurking in Lebanon’s shadows are one thing. But Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda jihad in Iraq is terrifying to think about when you’re in Iraq, whether or not the Kurdish armed forces, the Peshmerga (“Those Who Face Death”), stand in the way.

Later a man from the Kurdistan Regional Government rescued my nerves when I told him what Mr. Araz said to me about the dangers of walking around by myself.

“He told you what?” he said.

“He told me it wasn’t safe to walk around Erbil by myself,” I said.

He was literally taken aback – he flung himself ramrod straight against the back of his chair. His face flushed red. “Who is this man?” He pulled out his notebook. “What is his name and what is his phone number?”

I told him. “He also wanted to charge me 350 dollars a day for a driver and translator.”

How much?” he said. “He is lying to you. He is lying to you so you will pay him more money. I can’t believe he is scaring visitors like that. I am going to report him.” To whom, I wondered? “You are safe here. You are as safe here in Kurdistan as you are in any American city.”

I believed him, partly because I wanted to believe him, but also because it lined up with everything I had heard and read about Kurdistan before I got there. Yes, it’s Iraq. But the war is in a different part of the country. There are no Kurdish insurgents. The Peshmerga guard Kurdistan’s de-facto border with ruthless effectiveness. Those who attempt to cross away from the checkpoints and the roads are ambushed by border patrols. Anyone who doesn’t speak Kurdish as their native language stands out among the general population. Iraqi Kurds, out of desperate necessity, have forged one of the most watchful and vigilant anti-terrorist communities in the world. Terrorists from elsewhere just can’t operate in that kind of environment. Al Qaeda members who do manage to infiltrate are hunted down like rats. This conservative Muslim society did a better job protecting me from Islamist killers than the U.S. military could do in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

I did what I wanted and needed to do. I threw myself into their society, without a gun and without any bodyguards, and I trusted that they would catch me. And catch me they did. I trusted the Kurds with my life. No trust in the world is greater than that, especially in an extraordinarily dangerous blood-spattered country like Iraq.

Postscript: Comments are turned back on, at least for the time being. Everyone is welcome to argue with me and with others, but comments by trolls will be purged.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 13, 2006 02:13 AM

I wonder why "catch" came to your mind at the end, after noting how AQ terrorists are caught (like rats).

The protection of a "small town" -- everybody knows everybody, and strangers are known to be strange. And watched.

I'm pretty sure I would have tried to appease the protective cop w/o giving them the name of the tourist rip-off guy, but not sure. Happy to hear you're OK.

More, please.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at February 13, 2006 04:06 AM

Said Oliver: "Please sir, may I have some more?"


Posted by: Mike at February 13, 2006 05:44 AM

"5 Stars and Two Thumbs Up"

Posted by: Ratatosk at February 13, 2006 05:58 AM

Bravo, bravo!

..and welcome back!

Posted by: mary at February 13, 2006 06:28 AM

What a refreshing bit of normality: someone hyping the local situation to convince you to pay him more!

Thanks you for providing us with this look at a place most of us can't get to, but need to know about.

Posted by: wj at February 13, 2006 07:25 AM

I was reading your post, thinking "this doesn't sound anything like the Erbil I know of," and then to my surprise I saw that you talked with _____, a friend of mine from college. Seeing that, I'm sure you had everything you thought about Kurdistan confirmed despite your first encounter with Araz, the scam artist.

Posted by: Dave in DC at February 13, 2006 08:21 AM

Dave in DC,

I edited the name of the person out in your comment above. He asked me to remove his name from my post, and I complied. I didn't want to make trouble for him.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 13, 2006 08:29 AM

Fascinating stuff, I look forward to more dispatches. The notion that totalitarianism makes for an ugly cityscape is very true. I know that every time I go back to Lithuania that more of the ugly concrete of communism seems to be gone.

Posted by: David at February 13, 2006 08:39 AM

Good to have you back, Michael. Looking forward as always to your posts.

Posted by: malm at February 13, 2006 09:17 AM

Thanks for the post and pics. Looking forward to lots more of both.

Posted by: TallDave at February 13, 2006 10:08 AM

Yes!! More, more! Gosh, it's good to hear from you.

Posted by: Maggie45 at February 13, 2006 10:51 AM

As always, wonderful stuff. Thanks.

Posted by: crionna at February 13, 2006 10:51 AM

Welcome back! I can't wait to read more about this trip.

Posted by: Damian P. at February 13, 2006 11:31 AM

Re: "So I took a charter flight on Flying Carpet Airlines"

You are a brave man Michael, a brave man indeed.

Posted by: John B at February 13, 2006 12:41 PM


So, what did you really think of Araz? heh,heh... I'm sure he'll be getting a lot of business from your readers.

Good to see you're back to blogging.

I'm anxiously waiting to see your perspective.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at February 13, 2006 01:16 PM

so what percentage of journalists in Kurdistan or even the rest of Iraq would you say carry guns?

Posted by: ac at February 13, 2006 01:26 PM

Michael, another great post. Thanks for bringing us this important information from inside Iraq/Kurdistan.

Posted by: Asher Abrams - Dreams Into Lightning at February 13, 2006 02:30 PM

Yes, this is indeed very interesting stuff. It's a shame the power only comes on for 2 hours a day. I can't even begin to imagine life like that.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at February 13, 2006 02:39 PM

hey dude wb :).

Posted by: Wissam at February 13, 2006 03:30 PM

Fabulous! Glad to hear you're back and safe. Sounds like an absolutely amazing adventure. I can't wait to read more.

It is almost funny to read about something so "normal" as a scam artist.

I long for the day when we are as comfortable visiting Iraq as we are visiting Japan. Being in Japan is amazing considering that we nuked them only 60 some years ago.

Posted by: Megs at February 13, 2006 06:04 PM

I have no personal connection with Iraq: never been there. I was drawn to read your report by the fact that you flew there to check reports that conditions have improved. It's a valuable counterbalance to the negativity of the deaths around Bagdad. One tends to forget how large and diverse Iraq is. Thanks for improving my understanding of the situation in Kurdish areas.

Posted by: Philip at February 13, 2006 07:30 PM

Good post, keep it up and trust your gut. I know your safer with the Kurds than I was last week down on the Texas-Mexico Border. It's a war zone down there, bombs, automatic weapons, kidnapping, murders and everyone is scared it will get worse.

Take care and continue your Mission.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Posted by: Papa Ray at February 13, 2006 08:54 PM

Outstanding! I foreward your thing to my Iraki buddy, and I look foreward to reading his comments on your post! At last- some sanity coming out of that place! (As they say in China: Fu kin su pah!) Any decent restaurants in Erbil?
Any recommendations on where to hang out on a Friday nite?

Posted by: dave at February 13, 2006 10:57 PM

"Flying Carpet Airlines...."

I googled to double-check if that was the name of a real airline, and sure enough. Pretty hilarious.

Digressing to the topic of one of Kurdistan's neighbors, I don't know if you've seen the somewhat depressing stories about some Turkish attitudes at present towards America that I link to here, or the much more chipper Valentine's Day related story from the Evil MSM I linked to here. (Direct link here; Sumer-time is coming soon. ;-))

Posted by: Gary Farber at February 14, 2006 12:46 AM

Damn, I wish I'd hit that tip jar harder! Next time I'll think less about paying the bills and more about the priceless nature of well-written reports from the front line. Thanks, Michael.

Posted by: fish at February 14, 2006 01:24 AM

This conservative Muslim society did a better job protecting me from Islamist killers than the U.S. military could do in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Dunno if that's entirely fair, it's been some time since anyone was killed in the Green Zone.

Thanks for going to see for yourself. I'm quite sick of reporters who work out of the bar in the Hotel Palestine.

Posted by: rosignol at February 14, 2006 04:13 AM

Great stuff, Michael!
Safe-ish or not, I'm glad to know you're out of there as we read this.

Posted by: Jeremy Brown at February 14, 2006 05:22 AM

I worked for a year in Iraq for KBR. Drove trucks all over that country. When people tell you the insurgency is limited you can believe it, I felt good about 99% + of the folks I ran into.

My favorites were the Kurds though. They couldn't get enough of Americans either. Zakhu is a border town with Turkey I went to continuously when the Turkish drivers would not come south. The Kurds (and Arabs) there were friendly to the extreme. We would be parked along the road from the border waiting to head south and guys, just plain guys would drive up and take pictures with us and offer to make store runs for us, we couldn't leave the trucks. The US military guys were extremely nervous at first but these guys were great. Kurds would throw there arms on our shoulders and tell us they loved America and all. The restaurant's near the international bridge we all ate at was normally a male only environment but they agreed graciously to allow our female soldiers and female KBR folks come in eat and all. They even stood guard at the bathroom door allowing our females to wash up and all.

Kurds are great people. I like the Iraqi Arabs too. But Kurdistan is a place anyone could go and experience Iraq before it becomes another McDonald's type country.

I loved it over there. I still want to visit Lebanon (mainly after reading this blog for so long) Jordon and Syria even. And someday when Iraq's troubles are over I want to go back there too.

Posted by: john beard at February 14, 2006 10:17 AM

This is very courageous of you Michael.

Posted by: Vox Populi at February 14, 2006 11:02 AM

Really enjoyed your comments about Kurdistan. A shame the MSM don't cover Kurdistan like you are. Looking forward to reading more posts about your travels there.

Posted by: J. Sanford at February 14, 2006 11:35 AM

I have a picture from up in that area around June of 2004. The children are the future. They know who liberated them from Sadam. We sort of opened the airport in Mosul to accept civilian air traffic. The Russians were the only ones flying in there then. The town is about 2 million, but needs to be cleared of the bad guys first.

Posted by: Chief RZ at February 14, 2006 11:42 AM

"What a refreshing bit of normality: someone hyping the local situation to convince you to pay him more!"

Sounds like a certain Old Grey Lady I once knew...

Posted by: Ged of Earthsea at February 14, 2006 11:52 AM

How interesting!!!
It's good to have you back here Michael!

I am also looking forward to more stories that reflect to us your perception of Kurdistan!

Keep up the fascinating job!

Posted by: Cedar-Guardian at February 14, 2006 12:16 PM

Just checking in to let you know that I did read your first posting from Iraq.

You really do give a 'sense' of what the average guy(generic & non-sexist guy) would feel entering a new and 'dangerous' area for the first time.

Stay safe. Looking forward to your next slice of life report.

Posted by: dougf at February 14, 2006 12:34 PM

Great job Michael. Thanks for reporting "from the street" the things that the Western public needs to know.

Posted by: Mark at February 14, 2006 12:36 PM

I was only kidding my friend! My offer is now $300 a day.

Posted by: Araz at February 14, 2006 01:34 PM

I'm curious, do you record most of your conversations, or are these dialogues paraphrasing?

Posted by: bye.nova at February 14, 2006 01:52 PM

Some conversations are taped. Most quotes are written down in real time in the notebook I always have with me. Some quotes are given to me through translators, which makes them even easier to write down.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 14, 2006 02:09 PM

Wow! Great reporting!

Posted by: Sean at February 14, 2006 02:28 PM

Out of curiosity, Mr. Totten, how are relations in Iraqi Kurdistan between the Kurds and religious minorities such as Jews and Christians? Are they able to worship openly, without fear? Are churches and synagogues in evidence? Or must they keep their religious symbols and places of worship hidden?

For instance, the Kurds have had a good working relationship with Israel, yes? Is Kurdistan free of the anti-Jewish propaganda that seems rife in so many other Middle-Eastern countries?

Posted by: Brother Bark at February 14, 2006 02:34 PM

And yet, 55% of Americans surveyed feel we are "losing the war". How sad that the liberal left MSM is doing it's level best to undermine the success of democracy.

I agree with one comment above. The Texas border is growing increasingly dangerous. I believe this will become a significant source of conflict until we take firm preventive action by actually enforcing the border.

Posted by: Steve in Texas at February 14, 2006 02:58 PM

Meg.... We did not nuke Japan. Thank GOD we did not have that technology yet!!!

The Atomic Bomb (twice), however, did prove to be enough to end that War. Saved millions of lives from brutle conventional warfare accross Japan.

Atomic vs Nuclear. BIG, really BIG, difference.

Hiroshima and Peace Park were very attractive, reserved and well visited, oh my, some 35 years ago. Time flies. I greatly enjoyed my year and some in Japan.

Posted by: RoyK at February 14, 2006 03:01 PM

Michael, thank you for your time, patience and willingness to do this.

If in the course of your tour you get a chance to see/hear/talk about the health care system, I'd be very curious. Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has an occasional guest poster who is a medical student touring the Kurdish region, and he has some very interesting posts. Anything you could add to that would be great.

Please take care and post often!

Posted by: Steve White at February 14, 2006 04:11 PM

I'm sure that if the US military could act as ruthlessly as the Peshmerga and without fear of repercussions, they would be able to keep you safe too.

Having said that, my son served in the Marines in Diwaniyah in the south in Fall/Winter 04, and they never had any problems at all there. They were out in the community all the time. Of course they were carrying M-16s.

Posted by: Mark at February 14, 2006 04:16 PM

I have enjoyed reports of all of your trips to other nations, and really can not wait to hear your reports from Iraq.

Keep it up, and thank you.


Posted by: Josh Coray at February 14, 2006 05:18 PM


Nuclear, Atomic, same apples. You are confusing Thermonuclear which is an entirely different animal, but it too requires a nuke as a trigger. Regards

Posted by: Ed Poinsett at February 14, 2006 05:57 PM

The ressurection of a de-facto independent (or at least autonomous) Kurdistan is the greatest side-effect of the Iraq War. A grave historic injustice has been corrected. I believe US has acquired a loyal ally in the region that will remain faithful to it forever...

Posted by: Sonia Belle at February 14, 2006 08:23 PM

Now that you have been to Iraq, could you please tell us who is blowing up 130 people at a time at marketplaces and in front of mosques? Who is assassinating seculars and dissidents who do not submit to a certain ideology? Is it the Americans who plant an IED in front of a bank so they can get 25 college educated citizens into pieces?

Say it Michael - SAY IT. Do you fascist-left still support the "insurgents"? Are the "insurgents" and the Shiite Islamists doing all if not most the killings?


Posted by: mandra at February 15, 2006 01:03 AM


One more post like that and you're banned for trolling.

I'm not a "fascist," I'm not "left," and I never supported any insurgency. You're on the wrong blog. But even if you were where you thought you were, you would still be a troll.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 15, 2006 01:28 AM

Ooops - sorry wrong blog, wrong person. My apologies. I am a bit confused tonight...

Posted by: mandra at February 15, 2006 01:57 AM

Your site is being recommended by right wing shills (instapundit)which unfortunately forces me to wonder if this is another outlet biased reporting ala Faux News.

Hope this isn't the case.

Posted by: toM at February 15, 2006 07:38 AM

Very impressive piece. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

I don't think anyone will ever convince me that the Iraq War was a wise investment for the United States or a smart way to fight Islamist terrorism... but the Kurds are clear winners in this otherwise messy situation. I hope we can all agree--left and right, hawk and dove--that these people deserve our support and deserve the opportunity to build their Dream City.

I've enjoyed your entire series of reports from the Middle East. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Violet at February 15, 2006 07:41 AM

Yikes!! That comment from Mandra sounded a little psychotic. "SAY IT!! SAY IT!!"

Michael, it would seem you may be safer on the streets of Kurdistan than exposed to the world on the information super highway.

Thanks for the great work, btw. Always fascinating stuff.

Posted by: Whitney at February 15, 2006 07:59 AM

Thanks for giving me info I won't find in the main stream media.

I wonder if a person could make a living just reporting, in English, from Kurdistan. Or Libya. You're covering both, plus Lebanon.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Patrick at February 15, 2006 08:56 AM

Great job Michael - and thank you. I called my twelve year old son in to read some of what you wrote and show him the pictures. I could see that it had an impact on him, helped him to understand more about Iraq and its people. There is nowhere else we can get such realistic reporting. I read/scan Time, and the other magazines like it, and the major newspapers both local and national - but nothing like this.

The simple, elegant clarity of your text is refreshing. Thanks again.

Posted by: Dr. Deano at February 15, 2006 11:11 AM

First time on your site, linked from small dead animals. How refreshing to read from someone who is there experiencing life in Iraq.

Look forward to reading more! Keep up the great work!

Posted by: Lisalou at February 15, 2006 12:39 PM

thanks for the report!
I subscribed to the CentCom newsletter a while back, here is (a snip of) what the latest issue says about Erbil. maybe the power will be more reliable and available soon.
Mosul, Iraq—The 80,000 local residents of Erbil will have a more reliable source of electricity service through two new substations and several overhead feeder lines.

The $10.2 M network requested by the Erbil governorate and built by a local contractor completed this month. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had quality control and assurance over the project.

Building the Khanzad and Debaga substations included installing two 10 MVA transformers, a building switchgear room and a guard house at each location. Each substation has two 33kV incoming lines; one that feeds from the Salahaddin to the Khanzad and the other from Azadi to Debaga, both located in Erbil.

Posted by: Jim,MtnViewCA,USA at February 15, 2006 07:03 PM

I missed reading your blog the last few weeks. It's good to hear from you again! It's wonderful to hear well written, first hand accounts of the Middle East. There's no other site like yours, truly. As for that Mander guy, whew! It sounds like he followed a link to the site from one of those nutso sites to spew some garbage without even bothering to read any of your posts! What has this country come to? Anyway, thank you for your stories!

Posted by: tony at February 15, 2006 09:42 PM

Michael, terrific post. But in light of your comment that there aren't any insurgents left in Kurdistan, I'm wondering what's become of Ansar Al-Islam. They were a Kurdish jihadist group that, if I remember correctly, merged with Zarqawi's glorious head-choppers some time ago. Have they been chased out of the Kurdish hinterlands? Or just gone covert?

Also, aren't there a few Kurdish Islamist parties in the new goverment? I thought they'd merged with the "Arab Sunni block" or something.

Just curious.

Posted by: dan dragna at February 16, 2006 03:15 AM

Michael, terrific post. But in light of your comment that there aren't any insurgents left in Kurdistan, I'm wondering what's become of Ansar Al-Islam. They were a Kurdish jihadist group that, if I remember correctly, merged with Zarqawi's glorious head-choppers some time ago. Have they been chased out of the Kurdish hinterlands? Or just gone covert?

Also, aren't there a few Kurdish Islamist parties in the new goverment? I thought they'd merged with the "Arab Sunni block" or something.

Just curious.

Posted by: dan dragna at February 16, 2006 03:24 AM

" Someone hyping the local situation to convince him to pay you more"
Michael dont you warry i will translate for you cheapper than that! In fact i shall translate for free! Isnt it a good offer from a Kurd not in Kurdistan but in United Kingdom!
if you really want a translater then let me know:

Posted by: hiwa mahmmud at February 16, 2006 04:03 PM


First time reading your blog. Was encaputured. Working for a Tunisian for many many years and hearing his "side" of all things Arab, I was totally enlightned and shall slide this blog onto him. he will so like it! I gotta come back here again real soon!


Posted by: jair at February 17, 2006 12:04 AM

I can't wait to read everything you write about your experiences there!
Thanks very much.

Posted by: Beth Donovan at February 17, 2006 04:27 AM

Just out blog surfing, stumbled in on you. Very interesting reading of your travels. I have a link on my blog from a soldier in Iraq... I enjoy his rambles too.

Good luck there, be careful.

Posted by: Malinda777 at February 18, 2006 12:28 PM

Dear Michael,

I read your blog two days ago and i've been hooked man. As you might know already i'm from Kurdistan myself. My dad talks to my uncles back in Erbil and Sulaimany but not even them could describe most of the questions and answers you have described on your blog.

You're doing a very vital work Michael and your work cannot be overlooked. I have a lot of American friends and I was surprised to find out that few people knew of the Kurds. I say i am from Iraq and most of the time I get "ohh".

You're doing a fantastic job and i love your site, keep up the good work and I can't wait for your new photos!!!


Posted by: Ako Shwani at February 26, 2006 09:51 PM

Good story Michael,

I have been in and out of Kurdistan for the past 18 months or so, but mainly Sulaymaniyah. The Kurds are great people, and very loyal. I usually have 2 or 3 with me when I run around town, remember to expect the unexpected. I always felt safe up here (Sulaymaniyah) where I am now. Walking in and out of the markets. They even have a MacDonals (no d) here in town.

Head over here next time. Kirkuk is not as safe though, and a few other places I would not feel safe, as an American, walking around.

Posted by: Andy Turner at March 19, 2006 06:47 AM

Kurdistan is the place to be!
Esspecially Duhok.

It is great

Kurdistan is not Iraq, Iraq is just war and terrorists. Kurdistan is the homeland of the Kurds...

God bless Kurdistan and USA!

Posted by: Kurdi at April 2, 2006 01:59 PM

Your article is very interesting. I have ived here in Erbil since early 2004, so I can relate with many things you wrote.

Since I am entering this response in July of 2006, however I will say that there are indeed Kurdish insurgents. In fact yesterday some were convicted in court for the June 2005 bombing of a police training camp. They are Ansar Al Sunnah members.

Also apparently you haven't heard of Sheik Zana. It is interesting but you will often get the positive spin from some and the negative from others.

Erbil is safe and I feel no threat of danger when I walk around but one needs to always be wise.

Kurdistan is a wonderful place and I hope ot stay here for many years.

Thank you for your interesting story.

Posted by: An American In Erbil at July 17, 2006 01:07 AM
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"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere

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Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn