Kurdistan and Iran: Iraq’s Trade-Offs
When I eventually do my trip to the Muslim world, I hope to then be a more reliable and legitimate voice on foreign affairs. Until then, in addition to the piece I did about Iran being emboldened by the Iraq war, I thought it prudent to present who the war has benefited (and, no, it’s not Halliburton):
Since the fall of Hussein’s government, Kurdistan has seized its own destiny. Landing at the international airport in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, one is immediately struck by the high level of economic activity that pervades all parts of the city. New highways, high-rises, and construction cranes punctuate the city’s skyline, which now includes modern office towers and the frame of a Kempinski luxury hotel. Traffic fills the streets, which bustle with pedestrians shopping for new cell phones and imported designer clothing. The city has a large amusement park, replete with roller coasters, bumper cars, and a large Ferris wheel. A nearby go-kart racing facility—recently built by an American fromGalveston, Texas—attracts a steady stream of young adventure-seekers, while the bookish crowd can take refuge in a brand-new, multi-level public library. Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk, respectively the second and third largest cities in Kurdistan, have seen a similar flurry of economic development.
In 2008, the Kurdish region was still on edge from Turkey’s incursion into the mountains of northern Iraq to combat the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group. A little more than a year later, however, the volatile situation between Turkey and Kurdistan had improved markedly: reams of merchandise streamed across the Turkish border and Turkish investors flew in daily from Istanbul. At his inauguration last summer, the Kurdish president openly praised recent developments with Turkey. And a Turkish flag literally flies over the main hotel in town, which Turkish delegations now regularly and openly visit.
As important as a favorable investment climate is, the key to this Kurdish renaissance has been military security. After the Gulf War, the United States imposed no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, which allowed the Kurds to begin to develop their cities with less fear of interference from Hussein’s security forces. Much of the development in northern Iraq, in fact, predates the fall of Hussein’s regime in 2003. But since then, because the region has managed to remain largely insulated from the violence that roiled the rest of the country, development in Kurdistan has far outpaced that of other parts of Iraq. Indeed, foreigners can travel around Kurdistan without personal security, for the most part safe from the suicide bombings and kidnappings that still occur in much of Iraq. Kurdish security forces—still called Peshmerga—patrol the region and have largely sealed off the border between themselves and the rest of the country, thereby minimizing the violence that seeps into their territory.
Pro-American sentiment is pervasive throughout Kurdistan. Hussein had brutalized the Kurdish people, kidnapping and torturing the family members of Peshmerga, orchestrating mass killings of fighting-aged Kurds, and infamously ordering a chemical attack on Halabja in 1988. As a result, Kurds unambiguously consider the toppling of Hussein a liberation. In one political rally just days before last summer’s Kurdish election, the son of President Massoud Barzani delivered a message of thanks to the United States and its fighting forces for their sacrifices on behalf of freedom in Iraq. It stood in marked contrast to the animosity toward U.S. efforts that other Iraqi political parties expressed around the same time.
The economist Thomas Sowell once said, “There are no solutions. Only trade-offs.” On Iraq, this is certainly the case.