Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kurds Cast Wary Eye Southward

They watch the violence elsewhere in Iraq and debate its impact on their lives.
By Sarhang Hama

The people of Kurdistan daily watch the burning vehicles, clouds of smoke and attendant violence in Iraq as would people in Manchester or New York - via television screens.


While Kut is under siege by radical cleric Muqtada Sadr's militia and Fallujah descends into a hellish battle zone, the residents of Sulaimaniyah flock by the thousands to grassy green mountain slopes to picnic and dance among spring wild flowers.


Along crowded city streets internet cafes are packed, while families cruise glittering new supermarkets and stop off afterward at McDonald’s for pizza.


Students clad in blue jeans hang out and smoke cigarettes between classes on university campuses just like students anywhere else in the world.


Free from Baathist loyalists and radical Shia clerics, this region’s mostly pro-US Sunni Muslim Kurds watch events play out in central and southern Iraq as passive observers.


Though distant onlookers, Kurds worry about the implications of the violence for them and for their compatriots.


"Although we are Kurds, we are also Iraqis," said Hemin Mustafa, 24, a policeman on the Sulaimaniyah University campus. "A deteriorating security situation impacts every Iraqi."


A student on campus agrees. "I would like to see the same security throughout the rest of Iraq as we have in Kurdistan," said Azad Shukri, 23. "The worse the security situation, the longer it will take the country to stabilise."


Some people would rather see the Kurds keep at arm’s length from Arab Iraq. "Linking ourselves to the rest of Iraq will be bad for us," said another student, Dashne Shamal, 24.


But others know they are unavoidably connected to the rest of the country.


Businessmen, who often rely on obtaining products from outside of Kurdistan, are concerned about the possible implications for their businesses.


"As long as the security situation is bad in Iraq, the economy will be affected negatively," said a cigarette seller who purchases his products in Baghdad. He worries that he will not be able to continue buying from the capital if conditions do not improve.


Some recognise the closer affinity between the Kurds and the US than the Kurds and the rest of Iraq.


"The Kurds feel a stronger alliance with the United States than with the Arabs of Iraq," said lecturer Soran Fawzi, 36.


Civil servant, Amanj Kareem, 26, agrees and goes a step further, "Every time an American gets killed, I say I wish it was an Iraqi."


But Fawzi worries that the alliance with the US and the growing opposition to the American presence could create resentment among Iraqi Arabs toward the Kurds.


"The peaceful situation of Kurdistan could anger the Arabs in the central and south," Fawzi said.


Sulaimanians either fear or hope the violence will prompt the US to leave Iraq altogether.


Most think the American military is needed until the situation stabilises.


"A bad security situation could change the American plans for Iraq, if things get out of control," observed Chunur Mohammed, 27, a worker at a publishing house, who wants the US to stay until the country stabilises.


But a minority want the occupation to end and the Americans to go.


"The current situation is positive," said teacher Jamal Marouf, 30. "Because it shows us the reality and how much Iraqis are against American occupation."


Seemingly aware of his unpopular position, he hastens to add that he is not siding with the Islamists, but just opposes any foreign military presence in the country.


Sarhang Hama Ali is the editor-in-chief of the youth-oriented newspaper, Liberal Education, in Sulaimaniyah.


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