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

Kurds Go Back to the Future

Life in Iraqi Kurdistan is returning to normal, with prices falling and students going back to school.
By Ali Sindi

Nearly three weeks from the liberation of Iraq, and the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan is very stable. Security and safety have never been better. In marked contrast with the rest of Iraq, students are back to schools and universities after missing a total of 21 days. The prices of food and fuel are coming down.


Yesterday I was talking to an American soldier in a shop in Erbil. "How safe do you feel here in Iraqi Kurdistan?" I asked. "Safer than in many places in the United States!" he replied. It is very normal to see one or two American soldiers, men or women, walking or driving inside or between Kurdish cities and towns.


The duties of the Kurdish administration have increased. Until this war, nearly a third of the total Kurdish area was under the control of the previous Iraqi government. The Arabization policies followed by Saddam's regime resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kurds from villages, towns and cities like Mosul and Kirkuk. Most have not yet been allowed to return to their homes. The Americans, remembering similar ethnic issues from Kosovo and other places, are obviously afraid of acts of revenge, or even chaos, resulting from a mass return.


The leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan have asked Jay Garner, America's Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator in Iraq, to set up committees representing all ethnic groups to work on the return process for the displaced, and so far he has been very positive. Garner, whom the Kurds know from the last Iraq war, has been received as a liberator in Iraqi Kurdistan. Young students and families and relatives of the victims of the Anfal - Saddam's genocidal campaign that killed more than 100,000 Kurds - threw flowers on his convoy as it passed through the streets of their towns.


At a time when Kurds are accused by nearly all the Arab satellite television stations of supporting the Americans in the process of toppling Saddam, every one of the three universities and every one of the 25 hospitals in Iraqi Kurdistan are sending materials and teams from their teaching and medical staff to the center and south of the country - with no regard for the shortages already existing in the Kurdish region. They are offering help and support to the currently non-functional hospitals and schools in Baghdad and other Arab areas of Iraq.


Contrary to the propaganda put out by the countries that border us, the Kurds are acting as a national, and normalizing, factor in Iraq. One of the very few . . .


The looting that happened in Baghdad and other Arab cities immediately after liberation came as no surprise. It is a direct result of the way Saddam ruled Iraq and its people. His oppression of the Iraqi people over several decades created a big gap between ordinary citizens and whatever belongs to, or represents, the government. Here in Iraq people have grown up hating the government - and assuming that the government hates them too. What is rightly called public property in democratic countries was not genuine public property in Iraq. Gangsters and thieves, who proliferated because of the poverty in which Saddam kept the Iraqi people, seized what they saw as an unmissable opportunity.


I felt sorry for all the chaos. But with the removal of Saddam, the Kurds feel as they are going to have golden times and golden days after tens and hundreds of years.


Ali Sindi, a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, is a Kurdish surgeon and former deputy minister of health in the Kurdish government.