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Posted by on Sep 3, 2007 in At TMV | 11 comments

Kurdistan – Paradise

Thomas Friedman writes for the New York Times:

Iraq today is a land of contrasts — mostly black and blacker. Traveling around the central Baghdad area the past few days, I saw little that really gave me hope that the different Iraqi sects can forge a social contract to live together. The only sliver of optimism I find here is in the one region where Iraqis don’t live together: Kurdistan.

After that he goes on to describe the situation in Kurdistan, he does so in quite a brilliant manner:

Imagine for a moment if one outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been the creation of an American University of Iraq. Imagine if we had triggered a flood of new investment into Iraq that had gone into new hotels, a big new convention center, office buildings, Internet cafes, two new international airports and Iraqi malls. Imagine if we had paved the way for an explosion of newspapers, even a local Human Rights Watch chapter, and new schools. Imagine if we had created an island of decency in Iraq, with public parks, where women could walk unveiled and not a single American soldier was ever killed — where Americans in fact were popular — and where Islam was practiced in its most tolerant and open manner. Imagine …

Well, stop imagining. It’s all happening in Kurdistan, the northern Iraqi region, home to four million Kurds. I saw all of the above in Kurdistan’s two biggest towns, Erbil and Sulaimaniya. The Bush team just never told anybody.

According to Friedman, Kurdistan is not fully Democratic yet, but it most certainly on the right path. For now, there is too much corruption and the politics in the region are too much like those in the “Sopranos” than in “West Wing,” but “it is democratizing, gradually nurturing the civil society and middle class needed for a real democracy.” In other words, Kurdistan might become what the Bush administration hoped Iraq would be like.

More, not only is Kurdistan a big success, it is also a success “in the best way: we created the opening and the Kurds did the rest.”

It seems that the Kurds living in Northern Iraq never truly tried to develop their region because they were afraid of Saddam Hussein. Once Saddam was removed from power, however, Kurds understood that they were safe and they started to invest bigtime in businesses, cards, hotels, etc. Even those with little to no money decided that the time for financial action had come.

Friedman wonders why it is that the Bush administration has kept the success of Kurdistan a secret, or at least why it does not proclaim Kurdistan’s success from the roof of the White House. He gives the answer to these questions as well: “the Bush team is afraid the Kurds will break away.”

Quite an understandable fear but, according to Friedman, unfounded nonetheless. According to the NYT columnist, “the Kurds have no interest in splitting from Iraq now. Iraq’s borders protect them from Turkey, Iran and Syria.”

Although Friedman might be right about this – I have never visited Kurdistan, nor do I have any contact with Kurds living in Northern Iraq – I also understand why Bush et al are not so sure about this as Friedman is. The PKK has found a safe haven in Iraq, and it is no secret that the goal of the PKK is to create an independent Kurdish state. More, Barzani – the leader of the Kurds – has basically said in the recent past that the Kurds might indeed pursue independence and that they are ready for it. Whether he said this things just to satisfy the PKK or whether he actually believes in it, the result is that Turkey and America are both a bit suspicious, to say the least.

All of this does not mean, however, that the US cannot exploit Kurdistan’s success. The lives of Kurds have greatly improved since the US went to war against Iraq; Kurdistan has progressed tremendously; this is a major accomplishment and, although many things have gone wrong in this war, this part of the war has gone mostly right.

There is, however, one ‘but’ not mentioned by Friedman: the PKK might jeopardize the peace and progress made in Kurdistan. Because of the PKK, Turkey and Iran are more than willing to invade Kurdistan, or at least to bomb some villages. In the end, Kurdistan can only truly prosper when the PKK decides to lay down its arms.