March 19, 2007

A New Power Rises in Iraq

by Michael J. Totten

Liberation from Prison Kurdistan.jpg

ERBIL, IRAQ – What a difference a year makes.

Fourteen months ago I flew to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, from Beirut, Lebanon, on the dubiously named Flying Carpet Airlines. Flying Carpet’s entire fleet is one small noisy plane with propellers, cramped seats, and thin cabin pressure. Only nineteen passengers joined me on that once-a-week flight. Everyone but me was a Lebanese businessman. They were paranoid of me and of each other. What kind of crazy person books a flight to Iraq, even if it is to the safe and relatively prosperous Kurdistan region? I felt completely bereft of sense going to Iraq without a gun and without any bodyguards, and it took a week for my on-again off-again twitchiness to subside.

Last week I flew to Erbil from Vienna on Austrian Airlines to work for a few weeks as a private sector consultant with my colleague Patrick Lasswell. This time I didn’t feel anything like a fool. Almost half the passengers were women. Children played on their seats and in the aisle with toys handed out by the crew. We watched an in-flight movie and ate the usual airline lunch fare served by an attractive long legged stewardess. The cabin erupted with applause when the wheels touched down on the runway. The pilot announced the weather (sunny and 60) in three languages and cheerfully told us all to have a great day. Have a great day may seem an odd thing to say to people who just arrived in Iraq, but this is Kurdistan. I did, indeed, have a great day.

A man named Hamid picked up me and Patrick just beyond the passport control booth. He was kindly sent by a friend on the Council of Ministers. “Here is your car,” he said as he led us to his vehicle out in the parking lot.

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New construction near Erbil’s international airport

As he drove us into the city I felt none of the fear and apprehension I experienced the first time I came here. Instead I saw considerable signs of progress. The first time I drove from the airport into Erbil I felt that I had arrived in a dodgy and ramshackle backwater. This time I felt – properly, I must say – that I had arrived in the capital of a serious and rising new power in the Middle East.

Nation-building is a hard and violent slog in the center and south of Iraq, and it might not ever work out. But in Kurdistan, in the north, it already is a reality.

Massive new construction projects are literally everywhere. Most of those that had started when I arrived for the first time are finished, and ambitious new projects are well underway.

New Towers Near Airport Erbil.jpg
New apartment towers next to the Dream City project.

The Dream City, which only existed on paper when I first got here, is now partly constructed. Fancy new homes in the new city – designed on the New Urbanist model – are everywhere under construction.

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The Korek Tower will be the tallest building in Iraq

The Korek Tower will be the tallest building anywhere in Iraq when it is finished. It will more resemble a tower in Dubai or the United States than anything down south in Baghdad.

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Old road signs are replaced with new ones

Dingy and banged up road signs were replaced in the last couple of months with crisp shiny new ones. It may not seem like much, but the new signs give the city a more serious and modern look and heft.

The so-called Naza Mall recently opened to much fanfare in Erbil, and it made me wonder if the Kurds even know what a mall is. Naza Mall is a store, and it isn’t a particularly large one. But a new Western-style mall under construction next to the old souk downtown will be home for 6,000 stores and offices when it is finished.

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Erbil’s new mall takes shape next to the souk

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Inside the new mall under construction

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Some of the stores in the mall are already open

A whole new town called “American Village” is under construction next to the luxurious Khan Zad hotel on the road between Erbil and the resort town of Salahadin. Foreigners and locals alike are snapping up the properties well in advance.

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A castle just down the road from the up and coming American Village

Iraqi Kurdistan is still a Third World country in many ways – there is no sewer system, for instance, and the electricity fails every day. Unemployment is high. But it’s a Third World country with hope, and it is rapidly moving upscale. New houses cost more in and around Erbil than they do in some parts of the United States. An average sized 200 square meter lot can cost as much as 150,000 dollars – and that’s before a house is built on it. There are literally thousands of brand new houses here in this city, and the population is still just a little bit shy of one million.

Arabs are moving up here from the center and south – when they can, and as long as they are cleared by internal security – and they’re hired to do menial jobs the Kurds no longer want. Sunni Arabs were once the oppressors of Kurds. Now they are reduced to the same low status as migrant Mexican workers in the United States.

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The outer walls of ancient Erbil

The ancient old city walls next to downtown are an impressive sight, but inside the walls is a vast slum. Well, it was a vast slum until recently. A few months ago the residents were moved out so the city government can fix it up and restore it.

Erbil isn’t pretty, as Paris and Vienna are pretty. Some of it is aesthetically brutal, and much of it is still rough around the edges. But it’s stimulating and interesting all the same. The go-go-go and build-build-build attitude is infectious. Every time I come here it looks cleaner, and richer, and more like a normal place.

Ramshackle Erbil.jpg
Most of Erbil is still a bit ramshackle and rough around the edges

I’m less prone to boredom here than I am in Europe’s splendid capitals even though there is little in the way of entertainment culture. Erbil is the most ramshackle of Iraqi Kurdistan’s cities, but there is real raw power rising in this city and land.

Cranes Erbil.jpg
This is what nation building looks like

I have never seen so much construction going up so quickly anywhere. (There is more in Dubai, but I have never been there.)

The Hilton hotel chain is building a massive full-service tourist resort that will take five years to construct. It may seem dumb to build a tourist resort in Iraq of all places, but this is Erbil Province, not Anbar Province – there is no war, no insurgency, and no terrorism here whatsoever. The Middle East is a funny place. One part of a country may be consumed by blood, fire, and mayhem, but that rarely means the whole country is dangerous -- even when that country is Iraq.

*

I met two old friends for dinner and embraced them both. We knew we would see each other again, but it was nice to confirm it with another actual visit. This trip is my fourth to Iraqi Kurdistan in just fourteen months. A year and a half ago I could not have imagined that anywhere in Iraq would become a part of my life, let alone a pleasant part of my life. Iraq is strange, though, and more complex than it appears from far away. The civil war and the insurgency in Baghdad are real. But the civil war and the insurgency are not all there is.

“So much has changed since you were last here,” one of my friends said at dinner. “Kurdistan is a different place now.”

“What changed?” I said. Of course I had to ask, but this was a social dinner and not a formal interview. So I’ll leave their names out of this and paraphrase what they told me. Understand that they are in a position to know exactly what they are talking about.

Iraqi Kurdistan is de-facto independent already. The three northernmost provinces exist as a liberal-democratic state-within-a-state with their own parliament, their own laws, their own immigration policies, and their own military, border guards, and police. That much was already known. The region now, though, is even closer to formal sovereignty and actual independence than it recently was.

Nasdak Constructing the Future.jpg

The United Nations doesn’t recognize the existence of Iraqi Kurdistan because the United Nations is hung up on state sovereignty. But the individual governments that make up the United Nations are coming around. More diplomats from all over the world are coming here now, and this is exciting to the people who live here. Foreign dignitaries who meet with local officials recognize there is a government in Iraq that isn’t in Baghdad. 99.8 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted to secede from Iraq in a non-binding referendum, and recognition of their de-facto independent country is as welcome as love letters.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States have sent people here recently. One of my Kurdish dinner companions, who never wants to be quoted by name but is in a position to know, says the Democratic officials who come here support Kurdish interests as staunchly and reliably as the Republicans.

Laptops for Sale Iraq.jpg

Mobil Tel Net Iraq.jpg
High tech equipment is now as easy to find in Iraqi Kurdistan as it is in Israel and the United States.

I still hear complaints about the Kissinger Betrayal in the 1970s, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger summarily abandoned the Kurds to Saddam Hussein after promising them support for their resistance and liberation. But I don’t get the sense that too many Kurds are bracing for another round of that kind of statecraft even if the U.S. does withdraw its forces from south and central Iraq.

Three major obstacles to independence remain. The first is Iraqi Kurdistan’s relationship with Turkey. That relastionship is bad but improving despite the Turkish military’s well-publicized threats to invade Northern Iraq to eject the (Turkish) Kurdistan Worker’s Party, the PKK, from using Iraqi soil to launch attacks against military and civilian targets in Turkey. Relations between the (Iraqi) Kurdistan Regional Government and the Turkish government have quietly improved at the same time. Iraq’s Kurds genuinely want a civil relationship with Turkey because they can’t safely declare independence without it.

The Turks fear nothing more than Turkish Kurdistan declaring itself independent and attaching itself to a free Iraqi Kurdistan. A bitter civil war is still simmering in Turkey between the PKK and the Turkish state. Ethnic Kurds make up almost 25 percent of Turkey’s population. If they leave and take their land with them, the Turks will lose a huge amount of the eastern part of their country. A truly independent Kurdish state in Iraq would likely embolden Kurdish militants in Turkey – or so the Turks fear.

Iraqi Kurdistan is land-locked and surrounded on all sides by hostile people and states. They cannot survive on their own without first building a physical infrastructure that will allow them to survive border blockades as well as military invasions.

Kurdistan, unfortunately, is still connected to Iraq’s main electrical grid. And that means, as often as not, there is no power. If you want 24-hour electricity, buy a generator. And keep it topped off with fuel. (Generators are everywhere, and the large ones are louder than lawnmowers.)

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A new electrical grid is under construction

Erbil Province is building a brand-new electrical grid that should work 24 hours a day and can’t be shut down by sabateurs in the Sunni Triangle or by a hostile government in Baghdad. As soon as all of Iraqi Kurdistan is electrically severed from Baghdad, the Kurds’ only remaining physical need is an oil refinery of their own.

The Kurds have enough oil. Huge new fields near Zakho were just discovered. Gasoline is expensive here, though, because oil has to be exported and then reimported.

Erbil from Chwar Chwa at Night.jpg
Even without reliable electricity, Erbil is fairly well lit up at night thanks to ubiquitous generators.

The Kurds of Iraq may not need to bother with a declaration of independence. It may fall from the sky, my source said, if the Sunni and Shia Arabs break Iraq in the course of their civil war. “What would we do, decide if we want to remain with the Sunni Arabs or the Shia?” he said. “We don’t want to remain with either of them.”

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Businessmen without bodyguards or guns check email in the lobby of the luxurious Khan Zad resort hotel just outside Erbil.

The Kurds couldn’t stick with the Shia if they wanted to. The Shia and the Kurds are on the opposite side of the country, with the Sunni Arabs wedged in between from Baghdad north to the southern portions of Kirkuk and Mosul. The Sunni Arabs are the Kurds’ principal enemies, and there is no way the Kurds (who also are Sunni Muslims) will stick with the Sunni Arabs if the Shia Arabs decide to go their own way. If the Arabs break Iraq, as they seem hell-bent on doing, the Kurds will be freed by default. There will be no more “Iraq” for them to stay shackled to.

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The gate to a Turkish-style mosque. Mosques never get blown up around here

In the meantime, the Kurds are doing their best to cultivate civil relations with the Sunni Arabs while digging a massive trench on the Green Line to keep the insurgents, the car-bombers, and the suicide-bombers out. The trench is more like a castle moat, really. It’s 5 meters wide, 5 meters deep, and it drops straight down. Anyone trying to cross it without building a bridge will find themselves in a free fall. It’s an inverted version of the wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians. Walls and trenches can be still be crossed, to be sure, but they can’t be crossed quickly, and they certainly cannot be crossed with any vehicles.

My dinner companions were shocked when I told them I’m going to Baghdad next month with the American military. (I’m going, that is, unless the Department of Defense delays my trip yet again.)

“Are you sure you want to go down there?” one of them said. “The Sunni militias cut throats and the Shia militias drill holes in people’s heads. That’s Baghdad.”

Recently some terrorists from one of the militias dumped three dead bodies on a street and broadcasted an announcement for the neighbors: Anyone who tries to bury one of the bodies will join them. For three weeks everyone walked past decomposing corpses as dogs tore at and ate the flesh. Innocent children who do not yet understand the cruel ways of their terrible city asked their parents why those people were sleeping so long in the street.

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A residential neighborhood in peaceful Erbil

Kurdistan is safe even without its anti-terrorist trench, and that’s not because it is protected by American soldiers. Only 50 or so troops remain in this part of Iraq. There is no anti-American insurgency (because there is virtually no anti-Americanism) and there is no terrorism. If the Arab Iraqis were as peaceable as the Kurds, the American military could have folded its tents a long time ago.

Iraqi Kurdistan is technically occupied by a foreign power, but this occupation surely ranks among one of the most absurd in human history. Dr. Ali Sindi, advisor to Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani, told me that South Korea is the official occupier of “Northern Iraq.” Korean soldiers are stationed just outside Erbil in a base near the airport. He laughed when he told me the Kurdish military, the Peshmerga (“those who face death”), surround the South Koreans to make sure they’re safe.

Every couple of weeks another government somewhere in the world drops their travel advisory for Iraqi Kuridstan. The regional government sends me an email every time it happens. It is always seen as yet another milestone passed on the road to independence from Baghdad. Not only is Kurdistan recognized as separate from Iraq, it is also recognized as different from Iraq. Iraq is dangerous, but the north really isn’t.

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New houses in Erbil

Kurdistan’s rise flips Iraq on its head. The Kurds are ahead, but they started from nothing. Under Saddam’s regime they had the worst of everything – the worst poverty, the worst underdevelopment, and worst of all they bore the brunt of the worst violence from Baghdad. 200,000 people were killed (out of less than four million) and 95 percent of the villages were completely destroyed.

The Kurds seem happy and well-adjusted. Scratch the surface, though, and any one of them can tell you tales that make you tremble and shudder. Everyone here was touched by the Baath and by the genocide. If living well is the best revenge, the Kurds got theirs.

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A bookseller in the souk in Erbil

“You see this place now with its government, its democracy, and its system of laws,” my guide Hamid said. “It wasn’t like this even recently, believe me. Before, it was a jungle.”

Baghdad, the Sunni Triangle, and Shia South are still jungles. No one I know here thinks the Sunni and Shia Arabs will be able to reconcile and live with each other in peace – there is too much bad blood between them. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s not. The Middle East is an unpredictable place, and I’ve made a fool of myself often enough by thinking I know what will happen.

What I do know for sure is that Baghdad is burning and Kurdish power is rising. The question up north isn’t whether Iraq will come apart, but only when, how, and into how many pieces.

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All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 19, 2007 11:13 AM

Comments

Michael,

I've followed your posts for quite a while now and have been impressed, obviously. One thing I can't recall seeing, however, in your discussion of the Kurds is the issue of Syrian Kurdistan.

Turkey's fears in regards to an independent Kurdistan in Iraq are well known. Isn't there a similar issue with the Syrians? How about the Iranians?

What do the Kurds you speak with have to say about their relations in those countries?

Posted by: AlanC at March 19, 2007 11:51 AM

So I'm wondering, is there any presence of the regular Iraqi military in Northern Iraq? Are they not welcome? Also, since the Peshmerga have been so successful in bringing security to the North, has anyone considered expanding the scope of the Peshmerga by adding people, resources, and territory or do they have no interest in expending their resources or risk their lives to bring security to points south of their current domain? Stay safe!

Posted by: John W. at March 19, 2007 12:45 PM

Can U.S. soldiers go to Erbil to see their relatives and friends, or is this discouraged by the U.S. or Kurdistan?

Posted by: bman at March 19, 2007 12:53 PM

I'm curious: how is the construction being financed? I imagine the Hilton people are financing their construction, but that's got to be a small fraction of the total construction. Where is the capital coming from?

Posted by: kwo at March 19, 2007 01:01 PM

Well, I hope the Kurds get their way. It looks like it is happening, finally.

If the Kurds have any sense, they will be satisfied with Iraqi Kurdistan, which the Arabs are handing to them on a platter, and will, at least for the forseeable future, drop any claims to or attempts on Turkish Kurdistan. Yes, much of traditional Kurdistan lies in what is now Turkey (same with Armenia). But the quickest way for the Kurds to lose what they are building is to go for the whole loaf rather than be satisfied with half.

Ther Jews have a state because they accepted the parition of Israel rather than fighting it as the Arabs did. We all know who came out ahead in that particular situation. I hope the Kurds follow the Israeli example.

When Israel opens a consulate in Ebril, we'll know that Kurdistan is for real.

Posted by: Ephraim at March 19, 2007 01:23 PM

This may have already been said, but... I'm not clear what the big deal is, here. Wow, a homogenous group of people (that'd be the Kurds) can live together in perfect harmony without trying to blow each other up. Add a burgeoning middle class funded (I assume) largely by oil revenues, yeah, I can see how that's a recipe for success.

I don't think you need to go all the way to Baghdad to see some sectarian strife. Kirkuk should be fine.

Posted by: Russ at March 19, 2007 01:30 PM

A few points about Erbil:
The city is ruled by a select political elite who live in luxury. Their contribution to the people of Erbil to date includes:

- 5-star hotels and iraq's biggest shopping mall
Luxury housing complexes
- 100s od luxury appartments in preparation for
the upcoming UN invasion
- New highways underpasses
- Private schools, colleges and universities
for the prviledged few
- Private health care
- More government jobs for the selected few -
usually their own relatives -than any other
previous administration
- Vast property empires: They've taken over
entire villages and real estate which used
to belong to Saddam Hussion's cronies

What they haven't achieved
Education for everyone
- A power grid which operates for more than a
few hours a day (They live in areas
supplied by private generators providing a 24
hour power supply
- Adequate sanitation - the city's sewers and
water supply have not been maintained for
decades
- Anything remotely resembling a health care
system.

What's more:
- The average citizen earns less than $500
month.
- Prices are similar to in the US
- The price of gasoline has trebled over the
last 4 months
- There are street kids and beggars are
everywhere. Most have migrated into the cities
from the country.
- Farmers grow crops and can't sell their
produce because the government sits back and
watches most fruit and vegetables being
imported from abroad.

The people of Kurdistan is not enjoying any form of prosperity. Like the rest of Iraq most are worse off than when the Baathist were in power

The uprisings are just around the corner!

Posted by: Mike at March 19, 2007 01:39 PM

Mike: "Like the rest of Iraq most are worse off than when the Baathist were in power"

I dare you to go the city center and say that in public.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 19, 2007 01:51 PM

By the way, Mike, I know from reading Patrick's blog that you say you're a resident journalist here in Erbil. That makes you a public figure of sorts.

Please include your full name and byline so we can Google your articles and see what else you're about aside from being a water carrier for the genocidal murderer who killed your neighbors' friends and family members. (95 percent of villages destroyed. Such prosperity under the Baath.) Thanks.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 19, 2007 01:55 PM

I hope you are planning pictorial
books of your journeys into
Iraq and Lebanon.

Posted by: nbpundit at March 19, 2007 02:10 PM

Great information. Looking forward to more posts.

Posted by: Keith at March 19, 2007 02:24 PM

Great article, although I do somewhat agree that you are focusing on many positives and ignoring just as many negatives. The fact that there is still only 4 hours of power is pretty sad, considering how long it has been a problem. Govt. corruption is incredibly rampant. Mike may be over emphasizing, but it is true that the Govt. is run as a huge mafia, and I doubt any Kurd would deny that. Thats just typical of 'middle eastern' democracy though, so not what I would call unusual. And definitely not something that would cause a revolution, hehehe.

Also, I have lived in Erbil for nearly 2 years now. And, I have been flying into and out of Erbil in 737's every time, I'm pretty surprised you took a prop plane in just a year ago, Kurdistan airlines has a weekly flight to Frankfurt that is far more comfortable and only about 600 bucks one way.

Also, there are way more than 50 soldiers in Kurdistan. I don't really know why that is the number always thrown out, but hell, there are more than 50 in Erbil alone. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that there are more than 50 just living on the ROK (Republic of Korea compound) as liasons. And trust me, those poor guys are in the minority, :)

And, although it is terribly safe compared to many of the other places you go, there is still a very real danger to westerner's here. You may not hear about the kidnappings and other plots, but that is because those '50' americans are very busy up north.

Keep up the excellent work.

Posted by: Chupa at March 19, 2007 02:51 PM

This is great journalism, Michael. You can learn more about what's going on in the Mideast in one of your posts than in ten AP or BBC articles.

What you see in Iraqi Kurdistan is what you'll see in all of Iraq in a few years once the insurgency subsides. Of course, the snarky naysayers will by then have moved on to other problems that they can blame on the Americans.

Posted by: Philip Cassini at March 19, 2007 02:57 PM

kudos Michael, for the report and the "MIKE" TKO! ;-)

Posted by: Rubin at March 19, 2007 03:04 PM

Michael, if you get a chance, I've heard Kurdistan had its own ugly little intra-Kurdish civil war in the 1990s. Might be interesting to hear what your friends know about that period, and what parallels it might have to the current situation in the rest of Iraq.

Posted by: TallDave at March 19, 2007 03:07 PM

Thank you, Michael J. Totten, for your postiive and inspiring report on the city of Erbil. I spent several months living in Erbil as a Civil Affairs Army Reserve soldier before moving southwest to Sulaymaniah. I was there in early April of 2003, and know firsthand how depressed and decrepit the city looked. I spent many months working directly with the Kurds on projects that would help to strengthen their infrastructure.
I am heartened to know that there have been such postitive changes that have occured throughout the city. I found the Kurds to be warm, welcoming, and extremely generous. I would have trusted the Peshmerga with my life.
So, thank you again for your update. I am happy to hear this news.

Posted by: Elizabeth at March 19, 2007 03:09 PM

jerome ;) -- how long are you in kurdistan? last time we talked, it was uncertain. as much as my parents would, um, hate it, i'd kind of love to visit you over there and see it all for myself. plus it would be great to see you, obvi :)

Posted by: carine at March 19, 2007 03:17 PM

Aside from the mosques and not having any ocean Erbil looks a lot like San Jose del Cabo. Well, without the tourists and drunken 80's rock stars comatose in the gutters.

Thanks for the post!

Posted by: Pat Patterson at March 19, 2007 03:25 PM

I applaud the Kurds' success and continue to support our efforts to help them out and am thankful for your reporting. Without being negative, I want to point out that probably the main reason for their success is that they are a unified people with very powerful motives to work together as well as keep the bad guys out. If Iraqi Kurdistan were a multicultural area, things would be as bad as they are elsewhere in Iraq.

It may be that American-style democracy can only work in relatively ethnically homogenous areas in the Old World.

Posted by: Mark at March 19, 2007 03:31 PM

Kurdistan, the one unquestionably good consequence of the Iraq invasion. For the moment.

That's an awful lot of optimism about the Turkey question. I'm, of course, not saying you're wrong, but i'd love to see some evidence of that "quietly improving" relationship with Turkey, not just the characterization. Last I heard, Turkey's Kurdish issue was on the up and so was Turkish militarism, not to mention actual Turkish border incursions.

Now that would be fantastic journalism - getting into Kurdish connections with the insurgency in Kurdish turkey.

This is definitely one area where U.S. pressure is hopefully helpful in keeping things in line.

Posted by: glasnost at March 19, 2007 03:57 PM

I'm glad to see more bloggers/journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan. Only one question: Is Michael Yon and Michael Totten the same person?

I will add a link to your new post on my website! Great pictures, I would love to visit Kurdistan now. And I agree with Totten, Mike, you don't know jackshit about Kurdistan, if you think Saddam was better for Kurds then Kurds themselves!! The situation is far from perfect, but when Europe was rebuild from scratch, after WWII, it also took a while and Kurdistan doesn't have marshal plans, political experiences (Being oppressed, killed, raped, etc), etc. Saddam destroyed Kurdistan's infrastructure, agriculture, etc. Kurds cannot fix these problems in a few years, this takes time. They also need to combat corruption, etc. There is a lot of corruption in surrounding countries too (For instance Iran/Turkey), but nobody talks about that apparantly.

And about information about Syrian Kurds/Iranian Kurds, use google or findarticles.com. I've also some articles and info about those Kurds in Iranian/Syrian Kurdistan.

Regards

Posted by: Vladimir van Wilgenburg at March 19, 2007 03:58 PM

It's nice to be on the optimist's side, for once, and say that my gut instinct is that Mike Totten's impression of Erbil is right, and "Mike"'s is baloney.

On the other hand, Khartoum, in Sudan is also currently experiencing an explosion of construction and material prosperity, I'm sad to say. Obviously, stability and construction are prevalent in both Khartoum and Erbil. However, I assume they have different political climates.

Mike - I encourage you to document this different climate as clearly as possible, as well as, of course, non-difference.

Posted by: glasnost at March 19, 2007 04:01 PM

Wow, a homogenous(sic) group of people (that'd be the Kurds) can live together in perfect harmony without trying to blow each other up. Add a burgeoning middle class funded (I assume) largely by oil revenues, yeah, I can see how that's a recipe for success.

Didn't seem so obvious and inevitable when the PUK and KDP were fighting each other between 1994 and 1996, though. They weren't always a "unified people."

Demographically, it's not so obviously homogeneous, either, though Sunni Kurds do form a definite majority. There are significant numbers of Kurdish Yazidis and Christians, along with Turkmen, Assyrians, and others. (Chaldeans, Armenians, and of course some Arabs.) Yet they do seem to be not killing each other right now.

Inevitable success? Venezuela has oil and little in the way of overt sectarian strife (though there are ethnic distinctions between whites and mestizos, if one wants to go that route), and yet has been no paradise for its history. There are plenty of other countries with relatively homogeneous populations and even money or oil, which have their own problems.

Sadly, the "recipe for success" in a country is much harder than it looks. There are plenty of ways to ruin a country.

Posted by: John Thacker at March 19, 2007 04:16 PM

Michael J - c'mon, now...everyone at Colombia U and UC Berkeley and in San Fran and Manhattan Hollywood and Madison Wisconsin and Seattle and Paris and London and Cairo and Caracas and Portland and Dearbornistan ALL know w/o having to be told that all these photos are staged...staged you see.

the evil Bush monster and his warpigs put you up to this, right? I mean, c'mon. there can be NO progress anywhere in the country.

it has already been decreed by CNNABCCBSABCNPRBBC

michael moore told me that sean penn and tim robbins told them what bill maher said about cindy sheehan's comments the other day: that any signs of progress or peaceful non-violent days anywhere in Iraq are all the special FX work of the Bushitler spinworms.

wait. i think i see Karl and the Rovian death toads operating those construction cranes. obviously to build up more of the Bush crime family's war machine, yes???

Heh. keep up the great dispatches and solid honest reportage, and do not let the bastardos get the better of you or your new friends in Kurdistan and elsewhere in Iraq.

Posted by: mike d at March 19, 2007 05:01 PM

Turkey has more to gain from a Kurdish state, they just have not examined it yet and enough. That could be a very convienient location for a EU/Dollar law/brussels center with ties to lebanon thingey . Show the world what can come of GOOD from that part of the earth.

Kurdistan needs a Refinery and a Nuclear Power Plant.

The security mission in Iraq shall stand as it is.
The oil plan shall stand where approved.
Bless the Kurds.

Posted by: Jason Newcomb at March 19, 2007 05:02 PM

The Peshmerga has been recognized by the Iraqi Government as a local security force.

As to the Iraqi Army: Two-thirds of the three IA Bdes that were assigned to KRG are on a field trip to Baghdad:
- 1-2 Bde - Irbil (4 Bns) all in Baghdad
- 4-2 Bde - Dohuk (3 Bns) HQ and 2 Bns in Baghdad
- 3-4 Bde - Sulmaniyah (3 Bns) HQ and 1 Bn in Baghdad; forming a 4th Bn.

Between 30-40% of the ~140,000 Iraqi Army is former Peshmerga. Estimates vary from 30-45,000. The northern IA Divisions are ~70% Kurdish.

MJT: Estimates as to total size of Peshmerga vary widely.
- 60Minutes claimed 170,000.
- Other reports are in the 60-110,000 range.
Any info would be appreciated???

Posted by: DJ Elliott at March 19, 2007 05:29 PM

Chupa,
This is how an electricity grid works: either there is power for everybody on the grid or power is off for everybody. Advanced systems include cut-outs, so you can isolate some areas of the grid (for example where there is a power line down) without taking everybody down long term. Super-advanced systems (e.g. the kind you find in most of the U.S.) have automated cut-outs -- that way you only get a flicker in your lights when a line goes down somewhere else.

So the fact that there is only power 4 hours per day is related to the fact that they are still on the Iraq national grid, as Michael pointed out. Yes, it would be nice if they were already off it, so they could have power full time. But power grids are enormous, complex structures which cannot be created with a wave of the hand. Building one the size of Kurdistan in just a couple of years has to be accounted an impressive feat of civil engineering. It's hardly an indication of failure on the part of the government that it isn't done yet.

Posted by: wj at March 19, 2007 05:53 PM

Vladimir: "Only one question: Is Michael Yon and Michael Totten the same person?"

Nope, two different guys! :-)

Posted by: Renée C. at March 19, 2007 07:02 PM

"An average sized 200 square meter lot can cost as much as 150,000 dollars"

Are you sure that your math is right, and that you don't mean "a lot 200 meters square"?

An acre = a square ~208 feet, i.e, ~65 meters on a side. 65^2=4225 sq.m/acre, so your quoted price of $750/sq.m = over $3.1 million/acre.

That's Manhattan real estate, there. I don't buy it, even in the toniest part of downtown Erbil.

Posted by: James M. at March 19, 2007 07:51 PM

Countries in the early stages of development are often run by a Mafia.

South Korea and Taiwan come to mind.

The question is: are they authoritarian ( seeking security and development) or totolitarian (seeking total control.

Posted by: M. Simon at March 19, 2007 08:13 PM

Actually, M. Simon, the applicable question is what grounds you have for characterizing the current governmental power structure in Iraqi Kurdistan as a "Mafia".

As far as I can tell, they're not extorting protection money from the general populace, running drug, prostitution, and gambling rackets, etc., engaging in grand theft at shipping locations, and so on. Admittedly, they may very well be engaging in outrageous lending practices, but by that standard practically no government has clean hands anymore.

As ignorant as I realize that I am, the corrected characterization "Plutocracy" on your part I will accept myself, and leave to the truly informed such as Our Host to intelligently dispute further, if needed.

Posted by: Acksiom at March 19, 2007 09:26 PM

Hi Michael. A few years ago I bought a few million new Iraqi dinars. If the Kurds decide to break away and form their own country, do you think they'll stick with the IQD or create their own currency? If they do go with a new currency, will they have a time period to exchange it on a 1:1 basis?

Posted by: Brian at March 19, 2007 09:35 PM

It may seem indelicate, but I'd really like to know about sewage.

Building an electric infrastructure is a big job. Building a sewage system is many, many times larger -- transmission towers are above ground and fairly far apart; sewer lines must go underground, requiring a ditch, often a deep ditch, that goes all the way from point A to point Z and all the letters between.

At the same time, properly sanitary waste disposal has saved more lives over the centuries than all the doctors and all the wonder drugs combined. The dirty guy with the tall rubber boots and the City pickup is a health worker, and a damned important one.

Are sewer systems, water treatment plants, and the like under way or planned?

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at March 19, 2007 09:57 PM

Ric, when I was in Dohuk last year with Michael (MJT) we were given a tour of new construction by a finance student at the university who's father is a big developer. In his very clean (very new) Montero, grey suit, and aviator shades this young man admitted that "sometimes it comes back up". They are all still on "septic systems". It is the one big obstacle to their dream of a Starbucks (Erbil may be ahead of them). -S

Posted by: sean at March 19, 2007 11:28 PM

Vladimir: Michael Yon and Michael Totten are two different people. Michael Totten wears leather jackets and Michael Yon wears Nomex jumpsuits, just so you can tell them apart.

James M.: Part of this is a new capitol real estate bubble. Part of it is that Manhattan real estate is measurably less secure. Security is worth a lot in Iraq, and you don't need a new passport and special visa's to live in Erbil if you are an Iraqi.

John W.: See my post here: http://www.moderaterisk.net/2007/03/quick_photo_gallery_of_iraq_1.php I saw an Iraqi Army convoy transiting through Kurdistan using refurbished US Army vehicles. I explain it a bit more here: http://www.moderaterisk.net/2007/03/freedoms_sanctuary_in_iraq.php

John Thacker: Good post. It may appear that the region is homogenous because everybody understands that sectarianism invites death. Talking with diverse locals shows that they are proud of their culture and committed to the KRG democracy.

"Mike": The uprisings are just around the corner!

You know, I was wondering where the dope from Iran was going. Now I know who has been getting it all.

Send me an email with your Korek number so we can establish phone contact and schedule a time when you want to explain your views in the middle of the Souk. I'll provide amplification and a translator.

There is an uprising. It is down south. Go and join it. The price of uprising is poverty, destruction, and blood, the return on investment is almost universally tyranny. The Kurds have figured this out.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 19, 2007 11:55 PM

James M: "Your quoted price of $750/sq.m = over $3.1 million/acre. That's Manhattan real estate, there."

Phew. Manhattan real estate sounds pretty cheap!
By comparison, land in London costs $11 million per acre.

As someone once said, "I dont buy it".

Posted by: commenter at March 20, 2007 02:52 AM

A wonderful, inspiring story. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: Damian P. at March 20, 2007 05:20 AM

YouTube it, baby! We'll all post it.

Dig this.

Posted by: K T Cat at March 20, 2007 06:17 AM

Something good from the ME. Gotta love it. It's George Bush's fault, ya know.

PS Mike... ouch.

Posted by: AG in Houston at March 20, 2007 06:29 AM

Sean, is there any hint they're thinking about it? Where does their water come from? Straight from the river via tank truck?

Our systems went in so long ago that most of us rarely think about them except to be a little contemptuous at the people who take such dirty jobs, but clean water and good sewage disposal are absolutely central to public health. Beautiful new buildings and wide smooth roads are visible to everybody, and reliable electricity and telephone systems are definitely important, but if a large fraction of the population is down with dysentery at any given time any apparent prosperity is icing with no cake.

If you, MJT, and Patrick have ears available to you I would urge you to put some bugs in them. The foundation of national strength is population, and to get population above a certain minimal level requires public health measures. Getting enough people together to accomplish big things is useless if they all promptly get sick.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at March 20, 2007 06:38 AM

Ric,

You are right about sanitation. I can say that water flow is augmented by rooftop tanks everywhere. I expect that when power goes down, so does water supplies, but although power has been spotty water has been constant.

Even in good hotels, cooking is done by canister supplied propane. I'll post pictures of the canisters after my wife stops giving me grief for standing next to unexploded ordnance on Saturday. There's only so many things I can explain in one week...

I am not seeing sewage backups, which probably means it's being dumped somewhere well out of town. I do know that the town is growing like wildfire and massive sanitation is needed. The thing is, power outages are more of a 'poke you in the eye' problem than sewage.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 20, 2007 08:13 AM

Hey,

Unfortunately, I have to agree with some things mentioned by mike. Of course not that the kurds are worse off than when the Baathist were in power – that is not true and stupid.
However, there is a lot of criticism towards the two major parties KDP and PUK by the majority. (See the “kurds cry out for change” editions on www.kurdishmedia.com)

I agree with Vladimir (who I would like to thank for his time and support for kurds) – the kurds have too many problems to solve!! It will take a long time to do this and even more patience by the people. There are social, economical and political problems that can not be solved by tomorrow. But like many Middle Eastern cultures, the Kurds are very impatient. The biggest problem that needs to be tackled is corruption. But again, corruption exists in US and Europe too!

Those “Dream city” and “American Village” (oh my God, couldn’t you find a better name…lol) projects are just waste of money! The millions could have been spent on better things. Personally, I hope that Erbil will not be the next Dubai which is a city without any cultural sightseeing.

Bye

Posted by: X-Dream at March 20, 2007 08:41 AM

Good post. If you or Patrick have any information on the funding of infrastructure construction, it be great to hear it.

You mentioned many of the characteristics of Kurdistan that appear to make it basically a state on it's own, nominally a part of Iraq. I'm curious if they issue their own debt, and/or if project loans and other forms of development funding from the World Bank, IMF, and others goes directly to them or is it routed via the Iraqi central government. Just curious, thanks!

Posted by: cb at March 20, 2007 09:36 AM

X-dream,
You said, "The millions could have been spent on better things."
Like what? These are infrastructure projects so people can have shelter.

You also wrote, "Personally, I hope that Erbil will not be the next Dubai which is a city without any cultural sightseeing." What is culture in your view? People that have been to Dubai say it is the best place to go in the Middle East. I understand your personal preference but a segment of any population wants a cosmopolitan life. I say good for them.

Posted by: Keith at March 20, 2007 09:51 AM

Great! I hope to stay in that Hilton in five years.

Posted by: Selkie at March 20, 2007 11:00 AM

Patrick, thanks for your observations. Yeah, power is sexy, all those fancy towers, and of course if you can't charge your cell phone... still, I do hope they start getting a handle on sanitation and sewage, which is mostly out of sight unless it stinks, and causes huge tie-ups when it's being built. It hardly shows until you start wondering why the kids keep getting sick and everybody's too lazy to work hard.

Rooftop tanks are common almost anywhere water supplies are slow or undependable. You see them in Mexico, for instance. The tank fills when there is water, and domestic usage is from the tank. I'm more thinking of where the water comes originally -- straight from the river, perfunctory treatment, good treatment?

I'll probably have to go now -- time to start getting ready for the flight to Mexico City tonight. But I'll be checking from the hotel tomorrow, so if you care to answer I'll be grateful.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at March 20, 2007 11:17 AM

they’re hired to do menial jobs the Kurds no longer want. Sunni Arabs were once the oppressors of Kurds. Now they are reduced to the same low status as migrant Mexican workers in the United States.

This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen...if not soon then wait a 100 years.

Posted by: Dude at March 20, 2007 11:32 AM

i just hope that the kurds, in general, do not support terror, even if it is of the 'nationalistic' type that the PKK took part in. abdullah ocalan doesn't deserve to be kicking back in a jail cell for all that he did. hopefully that is all in the past.

Posted by: abu yussif at March 20, 2007 11:38 AM

MJT:

Some time ago I read about a region, I think it was a large valley in the south-west of Iraqi Kurdistan, where there would be a majority of Christians (partly because they have been living there for ages, partly because they have fled there from Baghdad in recent years). Apparently some Christian leaders in that region were thinking of creating a semi-autonomous Christian state there. Not all Christians were agreed on this however. Have you heard anything about this in Erbil?

Posted by: Outsider at March 20, 2007 12:52 PM

The millions could have been spent on better things.
-X-dream

Like what? These are infrastructure projects so people can have shelter.
-Keith

...and jobs.

That looks to be a freakin' huge mall being built. Many many people are/were employed building it, and many people will work inside it once it's finished.

ps: re this-

James M.: Part of this is a new capitol real estate bubble. Part of it is that Manhattan real estate is measurably less secure. Security is worth a lot in Iraq, and you don't need a new passport and special visa's to live in Erbil if you are an Iraqi.

Manhattan real estate isn't less secure- the difference is that you can't see the security perimiter from the property because it's many miles out at sea.

In Iraq, the security permiter tends to be the edge of the property.

With that said, I can't think of anywhere in Manhattan where an acre of real estate could be had for 3 million USD. Someone's math is off.

Posted by: rosignol at March 20, 2007 05:15 PM

Anyway, despite the corruption, people find ways to prosperate when there is money running somewhere. Those fancy buildings which supposed to be a waste of money will require hundreds of workers for their construction. when finished, they will require some other hundres of people for maintenance or service.
Of course, that "wasted money" could serve better in a non-corrupted-fancy-project, but don't be pessimistic. The now prosperous Europe and US started this way.

Greetings from Peru

Posted by: Guille at March 20, 2007 08:30 PM

Regrettably, Michael and I have not been invited to the meetings where millions of dollars of capital are invested. That may have something to do with our complete lack of experience and interest in international banking as a lifestyle. We went to a meeting with a siginificant political player the other night and I was wearing combat boots, not typical banking attire.

I suspect that there is significant capital flight away from the remainder of insecure Iraq as well as a fair amount of money from people who do not want to talk to tax officials. Last night we went to the International Hotel for drinks and saw a lot of people in suits doing business late into the night. There is probably some shady money coming in, but also a fair amount of investment from people who are served by confiscatory governments. If you had the money would you build a new luxury hotel in Egypt, Russia, or Uzebekistan just now?

As for the American Village, that is being built with US money to house the internationals in a gated community. It is a fine name the people here like a lot. It is also a savvy investment serving a need for secure living in the region.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 20, 2007 11:02 PM

For context on the "American village." American refers to the style of houses. There is, I later found out, also an English village and a Canadian village. I have no idea how the Canadian village will differ from the American village.

The local people do think it's a great name and concept, silly as it may sound to others. This place is staunchly and sometimes even embarrassingly pro-American.

Supposedly an Italian village is coming soon.

Local people as well as international people are buying the properties at these places. I have no idea, really, how so many people have all this money. There are no mortgages. Houses are paid for in cash, and there are thousands of new ones all over the place.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 20, 2007 11:17 PM

Just a little pedantry on the real estate measurements ... an acre is 43,560 square feet. That means that if an acre was perfectly square it would measure 208.7 by 208.7 feet. If you want to approximate, say 70 yards by 70 yards. How many North American suburban detached houses would that be? Well, um, that's not so straightforward, it depends on the suburb ... but the very approximate number would be five or six.

Posted by: CJ at March 21, 2007 02:32 AM

I'm pretty sure the Canadian village will have an ice rink and a Tim Horton's, but the little Quebec part will want to its own sovereignty.

Posted by: dizzy at March 21, 2007 06:10 AM

Hopefully the Canadian village will have The Beer Store so the underage kids from the American village can stock up.

Michael and Patrick, you might not have any interest in international banking but what about simpler real estate transactions? I bet if you met with developers, got lists of new properties and then set up some kind of website to sell them, it could be lucrative. If I found a reasonably priced property in a smaller town, I would consider buying. I think it would be a good long-term investment; I just don't know the areas or how to do business there.

Posted by: Keith at March 21, 2007 06:50 AM

#1

Posted by: mark at March 21, 2007 06:50 AM

Thanks for yet another amazing article I love the way u describe the things with passion and optimism. Kurdistan now is for real booming and lets hope it continues :) Hope to hear more from u!
By the way the canadian Village is beeing built in east Hawler (kurdish name for Erbil), and will consist of 1400 estates including 32, 11 storey buildings.. Maybe the word village isnt that describing hehe!

Posted by: Rsb at March 21, 2007 11:20 AM

Hello Mike, first, I'd like to say Happy Newroz, Kurdish New Year of 2708! And I'd say that, I'm a Kurdish journalist, being in and out of Kurdistan many times in the past a few years, but have never been able to do the job and "research" that you have done!

Although it is my first time to see your work, I admire what you’re doing down there. And let me give you a free and friendly advice; never give up your excellent work for the sake of anti-Kurdish or anti-Americans. You know, unfortunately, Kurds have few friends, but many foes.

I thank you for the excellent job and promise to add your homepage to my favorite and to my Newspaper website. Best regards, Aram Azez, Canada

Posted by: Aram Azez at March 21, 2007 11:37 AM

Great reporting, Michael!

I sent you a contribution.

Best,

Jamie Irons

Posted by: Jamie Irons at March 21, 2007 12:07 PM

I have no idea how the Canadian village will differ from the American village

Way colder. Plus, as said above, Timmy's.

Also, it will act just like the American Village, but it will prattle on endlessly about how much better it is than that warlike American Village. Eventually it will get bad socialized healthcare but it will be enormously proud of this achievement, despite the fact that the Swedish Village got it first and does it better and cheaper.

Posted by: holdfast at March 21, 2007 03:59 PM

You seem to forget one thing: Iaqi Kurdistan is surrounded by hostile powers (Iran, Turkey, Syria and Sunni Iraq). How will the Kurds export their oil and import the weapons they need in case of Kurdish independance? As long as tensions run high in the region, there will never be an effectively independant Kurdistan.

Posted by: Enough BS at March 21, 2007 05:32 PM

You seem to forget one thing: Iaqi Kurdistan is surrounded by hostile powers (Iran, Turkey, Syria and Sunni Iraq).

Yeah, being landlocked has a way of compelling a country to prioritize being on good terms with the neighbors.

This is not necessarily a bad thing... depends on the neighbors.

Posted by: rosignol at March 21, 2007 05:59 PM

hi michael, yet another great article, the author never cease to amaze. i hope kurdish people continue on pursuing their dreams and building their country. after saddam"s genocidial campaigns it is good to see kurdish nation is not leaving in the past but building its future. i hope this beacon of democracy -human rigts-free market flourish and spread to our kurdistan which is turkish kurdistan.

Posted by: kirkuk-is-kurdistan at March 21, 2007 06:39 PM

Interesting article. Reading about the Kurds and there success, only makes me hope for the same kind of happening for the rest of Iraq. God bless that country.

Posted by: Steve Wawruck at March 21, 2007 09:23 PM

Great article, Michael. Did you know that you've been picked up by the KRG website?

Posted by: Amos at March 21, 2007 09:23 PM

"Just a little pedantry on the real estate measurements ... an acre is 43,560 square feet. That means that if an acre was perfectly square it would measure 208.7 by 208.7 feet. If you want to approximate, say 70 yards by 70 yards."

For all that is holy and sacred, when will Americans drop this 'bushels per fortnight' insanity? It makes me feel an urge to join some sort metrical-decimal insurgency.

Personally, I blame Dick Cheney. I'm sure Halliburton is making money off it somehow.

Posted by: Bruno Mota at March 21, 2007 09:53 PM

Hello, I'm Abraham, and I'm a braying jack-ass.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 22, 2007 02:21 AM

i have this new kool blog,,,please everyone visit it...www.slickblog.wordpress.com
please please please comment on any articles im trying to get it up and running

Posted by: heyhey at March 22, 2007 11:07 AM

So the American Village will have "American-style" properties, hmm?

Please don't tell me they're building McMansions... :D

(My propblem with large-scale tract suburban housing is not its size but its lack of aesthetics and functionality. IOW, they're ugly and they don't work.)

Posted by: B. Durbin at March 22, 2007 09:01 PM

Miss You.

Posted by: Gaius at March 22, 2007 09:16 PM

Informative post, well written, well thought out, fun to read. Now, I don't know if it has been mentioned earlier but compare the Kurds economic success and their desire to live in peace with their former enemies(I know they can fight too, I,ve traveled in Turkey) with the violence from the Palestinian Hamas, Fatah, and Hizbollah. No doubt, this is a great post. One question though, how do the Kurds feel about Christian churches in their area? Allowing Christian churches to be built in Muslim areas is the litmus test for democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by: James Just at March 23, 2007 02:55 AM

Thank you, Michael, for this article. It gives me hope every time that I see more about Iraqi Kurdistan. Of course, your average American doesn't hardly know it even exists...it's a shame that politics here have reduced us to squabbling like children instead of looking at the big picture. Stay safe! (though it sounds like you are)

Posted by: Chris at March 23, 2007 06:43 AM

Mike, I didn't really buy this:

That relastionship is bad but improving despite the Turkish military’s well-publicized threats to invade Northern Iraq to eject the (Turkish) Kurdistan Worker’s Party, the PKK, from using Iraqi soil to launch attacks against military and civilian targets in Turkey.

This article provides an example of why an informed viewer might be skeptical:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/turkey/story/0,,2040626,00.html

Care to rebut?

Perhaps you might give a try at talking to the Kurdish leader mentioned in the article.

Posted by: glasnost at March 23, 2007 01:33 PM

james just, look on this website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdish_Christians

here you can find past and present information on kurdish christains and the growing number of them in Erbil and surrounding areas.

there are also kurdish jews in kurdistan but most of them live in Israel who number 150,000 to 200,000. There is religious tolerance in kurdistan, more than one would expect in a middle east country like iraq.

I myself will be planning to visit kurdistan this summer after college has finished ( Im a student in UK). I find your passion very interesting and very moving. I plan to visit the ancient citadel of Erbil, it is an amazing structure.

Posted by: Rosh at March 23, 2007 07:07 PM

And don't forget-- this is all Bush's fault!!

/sarcasm

Posted by: Lloyd at March 23, 2007 10:59 PM

Its hard to imagine any place having more construction going on than Dubai. I lived about an 1-1/4 hour drive away in Al-Ain and even when I would go there from week to week I would be amazed at the new activity.

Posted by: Marcus Aurelius at March 25, 2007 08:41 PM

Kurds Love Life and are a very peaceful people. Have you ever heard of Kurds blowing up places in Tehrann Bagdad or Damascus? No. We only fight in self defence.Kurdistan will be Independent. Sooner or later. Bye bye Iraq.

Posted by: Hozan Kapri at March 26, 2007 09:53 AM

Great work Micheal, the pictures say quite alot.

One thing I hope I could tell everyone who looks at Kurdistan from the safety and stability point of view compared to the rest of Iraq.

IT is NOT a credit to the KRG security and policies, it NEVER is a credit to PUK and KDP, it IS credit to ordinary Kurdish people who want to live their peaceful lives and ARE hospitable. We traditionaly have the OBLIGATION to welcome strangers [naive Kurds have taken this extreme] and as Hozan says we never have records of explosion amongst civilians even in our fight for freedom.

so if our street has no teenagers, no vandalism, no terrorists and safe for you to visit one of our houses, IT IS NOT a credit to the authorities AT ALL!

just to make that point.

Posted by: Hiwa at March 26, 2007 02:44 PM

Michael another great piece from Kurdistan. We all need to get this out as far as wide as possible as most of the MSM (baring Fox) seem to be able to find Kurdish Iraq. They never seem to be able to report on anything positive going on there or the fact its peaceful. Methinks it might poke holes in their anti-war stance and prejudices.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge at March 29, 2007 03:10 AM

Dear Mr.Michael Totten's,
first I would like to thank u for your support for Kurds. And one thing for sure Arbil will be the next Dubai.And I don't undrstand why som people like M.Simon is so negatief about the kurds!!! Democracy is more than just allowing the christian to build cherches, if this is a measure for democracy, I say to those people go and see it for your self.We as kurds will accept a corrupt kurdish goverment rather than the arabization,genocide, and and and and....
I am a kurdish law student in Netherland, many other kurds are also following an education. So I would say; we will get there!!!!!We have just started. Almost evry other nations have had a 100 years ahead, how many years ahead the kurds have had?????? I just LOVE Mr.president of the U.S.A. And have many respect for al Americans mothers who lost sons, brothers,husband and fathers. Again my thanks to you Mr Totten's.
Sincerly/Yadgar

Posted by: Yadgar at April 22, 2007 04:09 AM

I’m somewhat conflicted by your article and what it means. Unlike some who have posted here, I don’t necessarily think that you are being overly positive or one sided. As you suggest several times, this is one isolated area of Iraq, and even while it seems to be showing significant signs of progress it has its share of problems. I do think that some of the pictures and stories you offer are impressive, and it is tempting to see them in a very positive light. After all, the prospect of being able to create a city virtually from the ground up always sounds exciting. There’s the opportunity, for instance, to create new and impressive architecture, such as that you highlight here, and to fashion an urban area that utilizes all we have learned about how to properly run a city. At the same time, as I think has been suggested in some of the comments, one has to maintain a healthy sense of skepticism about it all – most of what is being accomplished is happening due to a massive influx of foreign investment, and though the practical results may be new infrastructure and impressive buildings, doesn’t this ultimately mean that Iraqis are fast losing control (at least economically) of their own country?

Posted by: luggage at July 5, 2007 05:44 AM

Thank you Michael J. Totten for your report and your importance for erbil, i am from erbil i hope success to you and continuation the construction in our country.

Posted by: Halmat R. M. at July 15, 2007 01:54 AM
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