War-Weary Arabs Flock to Kurdish Resorts

Mountain holiday centres provide sanctuary for Arabs desperate to escape, albeit briefly, insurgent violence.

War-Weary Arabs Flock to Kurdish Resorts

Mountain holiday centres provide sanctuary for Arabs desperate to escape, albeit briefly, insurgent violence.

Tuesday, 18 July, 2006
In the garden of their holiday cabin in the mountainous Dukan tourist resort, Sa’ad Jabar’s large extended family relaxes and prepares a barbecue.

“I feel like Kurdistan is a paradise,” said Sa’ad, who like many Iraqi Arabs have come to regard the summer holiday centres dotting the Kurdish countryside as a sanctuary from the bloody violence that daily disrupts their lives in the south.

It’s Sa’ad’s second trip so far this year and he says his family - on this occasion he’s brought along 19 of them - would come more often if it wasn’t so expensive.

Arabs began turning up at the Kurdish tourist resorts after the overthrow of the Saddam, and their numbers have been steadily increasing.

The influx of Arabs has been a boon for the region, but some local Kurds complain their arrival has driven up prices.

Three years ago, one night in a Dukan holiday cabin cost 20-25 US dollars. It’s now more than double that. And the price of a small bottle of spring water can treble to 45 cents in the summer months.

The tourist companies, however, say they’ve rarely had it so good.

“Arabs are the best source of income for us,” said Kamal Hameed, chief executive of Daban Cabins on lake Dukan. Before the fall of the regime, he had 20 chalets and now has four times as many, increasing his monthly profits from 5000 to 30,000 dollars.

Many of the resorts were built and developed by the Kurdish authorities, but increasingly attempts are being made to attract foreign investors.

Shno Sheikh Latif, head of the Sulaimaniyah Tourism Commission, said, “ Kurdistan has a lot of touristy places, but it needs investment and it can only be provided by the private sector.”

She said the commission was trying to attract overseas tourist companies to develop the local holiday sector, and had recently signed a contract with a Lebanese firm to develop the Sarchnar summer resort near Sulaimaniyah.

As the female members of his family barbecue meat, Sa’ad Jabar talks enthusiastically about Dukan, saying that he would visit the resort once a month if the cabin rents were not so high.

With Baghdad in turmoil, residents of the capital and other towns afflicted by the insurgency head for the Kurdish mountains to get some much-needed relief.

“Dukan is like Baghdad - I find many of my friends and acquaintances here,” said Sa’ad. “I have spent 600 dollars in just one week, but I feel as though I haven’t spent anything because I’m not afraid of being killed.”

Local Kurds for the most part are welcoming; many of the resort staff speak Arabic. And though the southern visitors are stopped and searched at Kurdish checkpoints - sometimes interrogated for hours - they understand that such precautions are necessary.

“It’s very important they check [everything],” said Sameer al-Hashmi, from Basra, who says he never gets upset when he’s held up at checkpoints.

The growing number of Arab tourists has squeezed out some of the resorts’ traditional customers. Faraidoon Muhammed, a Sulaimaniyah resident, said he’s been trying for more than two weeks to rent a cabin, but is always told there’s no room.

“The resort managers should take the Kurds into consideration. Since the Arab visitors came, they usually tell us the cabins are occupied. They neglect the Kurds because the Arabs pay more.”

Amanj Khalil is an IWPR trainee journalist.
Iraqi Kurdistan
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