February 21, 2007

Back to Iraq -- Revisited

My old friend Sean LaFreniere went on that spontaneous and rather ill-fated road trip from Istanbul to Iraqi Kurdistan with me last year. Inspired by the short video from the region on 60 Minutes last Sunday, he posted some of his own observations and photos.

My overwhelming impression was of a region and a people desperately wanting to be "normal". I was also startled (after living in Europe) to hear people talk about defending their land and risking their lives to do it. These people are peaceful, but pack guns - like Texas.

Their greatest complaint was of boredom. They are tired of hanging out at the "state park" at the waterfall in the hills every night. They want a Starbucks, a few more shopping centers, and maybe a movie theatre.

They seem used to spotty power and poor plumbing. Turkey gives them a few hours each day and the rest comes from generators. It is a bit sad since the Kirkuk oil fields should provide them with ample power if not for the political problems.

They have plenty of mosques and some women wear conservative dress. But I also saw Christian churches. And I never saw anyone drop what they were doing for the call to prayer (I have not seen that in any Middle Eastern country). They seem no more religiously strict than Alabama, maybe less.

Construction was everywhere: new roads, new schools, and new hospitals. Almost every car was shinny and new. The new houses were all several stories with impressive porches, hot tubs, and flat screen TV's.

Now that they have the freedom to spend some money on themselves they are going for bright and flashy. Maybe it is all a bit overdone, but I think I can understand. This is a bit like California, where too much is just enough to show your change of fortune.
Read the rest and see Sean's photos here.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 21, 2007 04:18 PM


Ah, the Kurds.

Even if the Arab portion of Iraq doesn't quite get it yet, seeing the Kurds build an enclave of civilization among the barbarism, repression and chaos of the region it's hard to question the wisdom of liberating Iraq.

Posted by: TallDave at February 21, 2007 07:00 PM

Well, its clear to us bloggers that there is indeed a secure, developing and booming civilization in the Kurdish cities and towns.

Most of us applaud them for it, and hope the rest of Iraq would emulate their success.

The prospect probably seems light years away, but I'd say with a vibrant electronic media, coupled with free and uncensored newspapers in Iraq, you may see the rest of Iraq progress and boom within a decade.

It probably has very little to do with the level of American troops, or the strategy they pursue.

Once the suicide bombers realise their strategy is pointless, there should be a de-escalation.

Posted by: Jono at February 21, 2007 08:19 PM

What I meant above with my comment about the role of the media is that people generally will start to see better living conditions in the Kurdish towns and villages, and either emulate them or migrate there (more likely).

Speaking of which, does anyone here know what the current situation is with non-Kurdish Iraqis and their option to migrate to the more prosperous Kurdish region ?

I appreciate the vast cultural and religious differences that exist within Iraq, and that historically a very tribal attitude existed where people would reside in an area corresponding to their religion, sect or tribe.

But otherwise, why don't we see thousands if not tens of thousands of Iraqi families migrating to the Kurdish areas ? Perhaps the police restrict movement and migration into these areas ? Or perhaps it is already happening and not being reported by the media?

Posted by: Jono at February 21, 2007 08:25 PM

POSITIVE SIDE OF THIS WAR & the best investment Americans made= the Kurds.

It was about time someone helped this ethinic group. They have been brutalized by many governments for decades, I am glad it was America that finally stood up for them.

Posted by: Frieda at February 21, 2007 09:37 PM

I've seen people drop what they were doing when the muezzin comes on - Kurds, in fact, from eastern Turkey but working in the hotel industry in western Turkey, where I'll soon be working. In southwestern Turkey, the Kurds are the most religious people around.

Posted by: brett at February 22, 2007 12:22 PM


From what I have read (some of it, I seem to recall, on this blog) the position of the Kurds on other Iraqis moving there is simple: OK, as long as you are willing to leave all that inter-faith violence nonsense behind you. If you want to come and work to build a better country, come right ahead.

Posted by: wj at February 22, 2007 01:40 PM

Makes you wonder then, why the hell can't the vast majority of Iraqis set aside their differences, pack up and start a better life for themselves and their families ?

The possible answers to this question are not encouraging at all.

It just shows that the sectarian mindset and tribalism in Iraq is a very very deep part of the culture.

With other successful modern cultures, you usually see the tribalism slowly evaporate as economies modernize and develop. When cities grow and flourish, jobs and employment opportunities abound and dozens of hard working people migrate to cities to build a better life for themselves, with only one condition - they have to mix, tolerate and interact with different people and different cultures.

I think thats why Lebanon could be one of the greatest success stories in the coming years. But Iraqis need an economic boom that could take 10+ years to start rolling.

Posted by: Jono at February 22, 2007 07:14 PM

Well, keep in mind guys, the Kurds had their own bloody civil war amongst themselves not long ago.

Arab Iraq mostly needs a lot of patience.

Posted by: TallDave at February 23, 2007 11:50 AM
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