Find information, and news about development progress in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As well, stories about me.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Other Iraq - 2

Oct. 6, 2007

The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is an English-language international daily newspaper published by Dow Jones & Company in New York City with Asian and European editions. It has a worldwide daily circulation of more than 2 million as of 2006, with 931,000 paying online subscribers.

It was the largest-circulation newspaper in the United States until November 2003, when it was surpassed by USA Today. Its main rival as a daily financial newspaper is the London-based Financial Times, which also publishes several international editions.

Taking the lead on Iraqi oil
By Nechirvan Barzani

This August, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq passed an oil and gas law to regulate the oil sector in our region. So far, we have signed eight production-sharing contracts with international oil and gas companies. We expect to sign another two in the near future.

We were deeply disappointed by the negative reaction of several officials in Baghdad to these contracts. In the last several months it has become clear to us that many in the Iraqi Oil Ministry are locked in a time warp dating back to the regime of Saddam Hussein, in which Baghdad holds tight control of all the resources of Iraq and uses these resources to create obeisance and loyalty to the centre.

The KRG production sharing contracts are fully consistent with the Iraqi Constitution, which gives the regions of Iraq substantial control over natural resources. The contracts are also fully consistent with the draft Iraqi oil law that was agreed to this March, but has yet to be passed by the Iraqi National Assembly. The Kurdistan region's oil law, passed in August by our parliament, is 100% faithful to the agreed draft of the Iraqi law, and includes provisions for the KRG to share its oil revenue with the rest of Iraq in the same 83%-17% ratio. If we had intended to "go it alone," why would we ever consider passing a law which requires us to give 83% of the revenues to the rest of Iraq? We waited five months for the Iraqi Assembly to pass the agreed draft - they have not acted, and there is no sign that they will act anytime soon. We decided to "lead from the front."

The Bush administration and Congress have been pressing the government in Baghdad to move ahead on a fair, transparent and efficient oil law. So have we. Neither of us have had any success. Thus, we have chosen to pass in our own assembly the very same law that was agreed to by all parties in March of this year.

We hope our friends and supporters in the US will understand that this is not an attempt to usurp the nation's oil resources, but rather our best effort to move the process forward, leading by example to make these valuable resources work for the people of Iraq. The resources that can ease the suffering of the people of Iraq lie beneath our feet.

The Kurdistan Region has achieved great things since the liberation of 2003. We are proud to be described as the model for the rest of Iraq: tolerant, democratic, peaceful and working toward economic prosperity. We have been given a chance to build a bright future after decades of oppression and violence. Our political system, our judicial system, our physical infrastructure and our educational system all are in great need of modernisation, but we will persevere with the help of our friends and by the fruits of our labour.

In 2003, we chose voluntarily and openly to remain part of Iraq, and we will continue to do so. But does this mean that we have to be held back by the chaos and bloodshed that dominate the rest of the country? Must we sit idly by, waiting for Iraqi politicians to waste months debating oil legislation that has already been agreed upon by the major parties?
We have tried our best to be a loyal ally of the US. We have supported nearly every major initiative and decision that the US has sought in Iraq - sometimes contrary to what we consider to be in our best interests. We will continue to do so because we believe that there is no alternative to maintaining the US presence in Iraq. We want the US to remain, and we need American help. In return for our loyalty we ask understanding. We are not a "rogue province" seeking an early escape from the chaos that has become Iraq. We are a people and a region that have seen nothing but death, destruction and deprivation from Baghdad over the decades. Does it surprise anyone that we harbour deep suspicions about becoming reliant on the capital that has brought us such misery for so many years?

In the past, oil in the Kurdistan Region has been more of a curse than a blessing. The people have never benefited from our natural resources. Successive governments in Iraq have deliberately left our oil in the ground in an effort to keep our people poor and to deny our aspirations for a better way of life. Now, after so much suffering, we have a chance to turn this curse into a blessing. And we are asked to wait while the Iraqi parliament takes its vacation, and then considers new ways to manage our resources.

The answer is found in the principles of the Iraqi Constitution, the US Constitution and many others around the world - federalism. This is not just a concept to us. Federalism means that we have the liberty to develop our resources under the umbrella, but not the central control, of Iraq. It means that as 17% of the population we will receive 17% of the wealth, and that we will accordingly share 83% of our wealth with the rest of the population.

We want peace and prosperity for the rest of Iraq as well. We will contribute our fair share and more to that goal. But we cannot be asked to sit by and postpone our aspirations for prosperity in pursuit of a vision of a centralised Iraq that long ago passed from reality. We are trying to lead by example in all that we do. Our oil law, and the contracts we have signed, are nothing more than that.

Mr. Barzani is the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

Sep. 20, 2007

The Associated Press

The Associated Press, or AP, is an American news agency, and is the world's largest such organization. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, who both contribute stories to it and use material written by its staffers. Many newspapers and broadcasters outside the United States are AP subscribers — that is, they pay a fee to use AP material but are not members of the cooperative.

As of 2005, AP's news is used by 1,700 newspapers, in addition to 5,000 television and radio outlets. Its photo library consists of more than 10 million images. The AP has 243 bureaus and serves 121 countries, with a diverse international staff drawing from all over the world.

Kurdistan capital sets example for Iraq
By Christopher Torchia

Christopher Torchia, AP Istanbul bureau chief

Erbil, Iraq — For anyone who has spent time in Baghdad, the most startling thing about a visit to Kurdistan's capital, Erbil, is that it resembles a city at peace, at least by Iraqi standards. The last bomb to hit Erbil was on May 9, when 14 people died in a suicide attack on a government building.

Planes flying into Baghdad execute a rapid spiral toward the runway to reduce the chances of getting hit by any ground fire. U.S. and Iraqi military vehicles ply the highway leading into the city from the airport. Traffic crawls through heavily defended checkpoints.

But the biggest hassle for a visitor arriving by plane in Erbil is mundane, a long wait in line at immigration. "Do you have your DOD card?" an officer asked, mistaking an American civilian for a U.S. government employee affiliated with the Department of Defense.

The next cultural shock is the relative lack of guns on the streets of Erbil, an ancient city near the site of a battlefield victory of the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, over forces of the Persian empire. A little more than a decade ago, the city was the scene of fighting among Kurdish factions, one of them backed by Saddam Hussein's military.

Soldiers, some in uniforms of American-made desert camouflage, carry automatic weapons outside key government buildings. Some armed guards, visibly relaxed, stroll down avenues or lounge outside banks, fuel depots and other installations. They don't wear helmets or bulletproof vests.

Security is tighter around a compound in the Ainkawa neighborhood of Erbil where foreign contractors and US diplomatic staff live. Even here, though, the concrete blast walls are fewer, and lower, than those found at similar installations in Baghdad. Ainkawa is a Christian district in a Kurdish city, which is as safe as it gets for Westerners in Iraq.

Kurds are a non-Arab people distantly related to the Iranians and make up about 15 percent of Iraq's 27 million people. Neighboring Iran, Syria and Turkey also have Kurdish minorities that have come into conflict with governments seeking to curb their separatist movements.

Iraqi Kurds rebelled against Saddam after the Gulf War in 1991. U.S.-led forces created a safe haven for the Kurds, who eventually established a stable, self-governing territory that had little in common with the chaos elsewhere in Iraq.

They rejoined the central government after Saddam was ousted in 2003, though maintain a big say in their own affairs.

As US allies, the Kurds are targets of insurgents, and the area under their control lies close to troubled cities such as Mosul and Kirkuk. But bombings in the Kurds' semiautonomous zone are considered unusual, partly a result of rigorous policing that keeps attackers outside the so-called "Green Line" that divides Kurdistan from the rest of Iraq.

An official of the Kurdistan Regional Government invited an American journalist for ice cream and a walk through downtown late one night to show that Erbil was safe. Such an excursion in Baghdad, for a foreigner or an Iraqi, would be extremely unwise. And unlike the Iraqi capital, Erbil does not impose curfews.

Tea shops were packed and smoke billowed from a barbecue restaurant. Iskan Street, a shopping thoroughfare, was hopping, even though it was quieter than usual because Islam's holy month of Ramadan is under way. The official urged the journalist to walk around at night by himself.

Some foreign investors from neighboring Turkey and elsewhere have been attracted by Erbil's stable security and its income from oil reserves in the region. Half-built, high-rise apartments and office towers are rising from the dusty plains, but public services and infrastructure need to be upgraded.

In one Baghdad-style image in Erbil this week, half a dozen armored, sports utility vehicles carrying a U.S. congressional delegation barreled past the Citadel, a walled, crumbling enclave on the highest point in the city. The convoy was forced to stop on a crowded street as a driver, to the amusement of onlookers, tried to parallel park in front of it.

Sirens whooped, and the convoy sped on.

The U.S. military presence in Kurdistan is minimal. More than 1,000 South Korean troops in the area provide medical care at a hospital on their base and other humanitarian projects. It is easy to reach their compound entrance; just get waved through two lackluster, Kurdish checkpoints without a car or ID check. On a recent day, half a dozen South Korean soldiers without body armor crowded into a kiosk at the main gate to listen to an officer's instructions.

Private car owners in Erbil don't seem to have any qualms about driving around in big, white SUVs. Such vehicles are frequently attacked in Baghdad and other more dangerous parts of Iraq because they are favored by foreign contractors. In Kurdistan's capital, there are even a few Hummers, the civilian version of the American military Humvee.

The largely homogenous, civilian population in Kurdistan, eager to stay away from the sectarian and factional bloodshed among Sunni and Shiite Arabs farther south, keeps in close contact with their trusted security forces.

If a suspicious person loiters too long near a government building, someone will contact the authorities. If someone rents an apartment, the owner will likely demand proof of identity and clearance from security officials. Checkpoint guards want to know where travelers came from, where they're going, and whom they are going to see.

For all the security successes, Kurdistan's safety is fragile by international standards. Last month, Austrian Airlines suspended flights to Erbil because of security concerns, and Sweden has also suspended commercial flights to the region.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of Kurdistan's foreign relations department, said the Kurds had appealed in vain to American forces to provide surveillance cameras, equipment that detects explosives and other high-tech security gear. But he said he felt comfortable without bodyguards.

"I drive alone," Bakir said. "I go the market. I go to restaurants."

Sep. 18, 2007


Esquire is a men's magazine by the Hearst Corporation (is a privately-held American-based media conglomerate based in the Hearst Tower in New York City, USA). Founded in 1933, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.

Kurdistan, the Iraq worth fighting for
By Brian Mockenhaupt

Kurdistan is safe, orderly, and bustling with economic development. It's what we hoped Iraq would become. And it's time to make sure it stays that way.

From Baghdad, I flew north on a Japanese air force C-130 to meet a Department of Defense task force charged with economic development in Iraq. I landed at Irbil airport, deep into the Kurdish autonomous zone, and stepped into a sort of Iraqi Bizarro world. I had been in Kurdistan at the beginning of the war, on that very spot, when the airport was just a landing strip surrounded by wheat fields. What had simply been a safe city before was now booming.

A couple dozen construction cranes poke into the skyline around the city. The outskirts are crowded with housing developments with names like Dream City and American Village, the most ambitious being the cluster of twelve high-rise buildings of upscale apartments - two-bed, two-bath, two thousand square feet, $150,000. In every way, this isn't Baghdad. New malls, car dealerships, and restaurants line the streets. The roads are clear, free of checkpoints and gun-laden convoys. The stoplights work. Traffic police marshal cars, and the drivers obey. Flowers adorn median strips and public parks. For the first time since I'd been in Iraq, I didn't wear body armor. I rode in an unarmored truck. I felt naked and giddy.

This is the Iraq of our prewar fantasies, the Iraq worth fighting for. Kept secure by a strictly enforced no-fly zone since the first Gulf war, Iraqi Kurdistan has become a country within a country, seemingly a million miles away from all the trouble not far from here.

Bob Love, a former Marine colonel who works for the task force, spun around in his seat and flashed me a showman's smile as we drove through town. "This is the other Iraq," he said. "This is the future."

The Kurds certainly see it this way, playing it up on their Web site, "Have you seen the Other Iraq? It's spectacular. It's peaceful. It's joyful....Arabs, Kurds, and Westerners all vacation together."

And lately, it's become an attractive locale for Al Qaeda as well, which has also decided that Kurdistan is worth fighting for. That morning, in an unsettling breech of normalcy, a truck bomb blew up outside the Ministry of the Interior in Irbil, killing fourteen. This week Love was hosting businessmen from America and the Middle East, encouraging them to invest in the region. The group had been eating breakfast at their hotel when the bomb detonated a half mile away. "The bomb meant nothing. I kept eating," Elie Ajaka said. He manages Quiznos shops across the Middle East. "It's something us Lebanese are accustomed to. But it's not a good thing for foreign investors. Why would an investor bring his money into something that might go up in flames at any moment?"

That's a good question, and one that America has largely ignored, giving good insight into how haphazardly economic development has been figured into the global war on terrorism

I saw how such efforts might be handled in the future from one of the most unlikely counterinsurgents in Iraq. Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, left a West Coast fiber-optic manufacturing company two years ago to

lead a massive effort overhauling the Pentagon's business processes. Dispatched to Iraq, he was approached by Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, then commander of American ground forces in Iraq. Chiarelli wanted him to visit a factory. Brinkley balked but went: "We saw an idle but viable factory, and we started asking questions. There's inventory here. Why isn't it going out?" The factory, in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad, employed three thousand people to build buses, tractors, and agricultural equipment until it was shuttered by the Americans in 2003. US forces in the area had since been catching IED triggermen who had once worked at the factory. They said they needed the money. Chiarelli wanted them put back to work.

Before the war, Iraq had 192 state-owned factories, which employed five hundred thousand people. Some were destroyed in the invasion, and the Coalition Provisional Authority closed the rest. Free markets emerge the fastest in countries that quit subsidized industry cold turkey, went the reasoning. It was an interesting theory, but Washington didn't follow with economic assistance, private investment never arrived, and high unemployment added to the chaos. "Imagine if you shut down all interstate commerce in the United States," Brinkley said. "How long would it take before people started to secede?" The one factory visit turned into a serious push by the DOD to restart the factories. Nine, including the tractor factory, are run-ning now. Brinkley hopes to have a couple dozen more running by year's end. "Every person who goes back to work is going to have more of a stake in social stability. That's just a universal truth about people," he said. "In the absence of economic and political development, you're not going to see stabilization."

Brinkley's work has drawn criticism from elsewhere in the Bush administration, with State Department officials in Baghdad calling him a Stalinist for championing state-owned factories. He said the philosophical agreements have since been settled. The effort has suffered recently from internal problems as well, with the Defense Department's inspector general starting an investigation into various task-force matters. As of late August, when Esquire went to press, the investigation was ongoing.

Brinkley has been traveling to Iraq every two weeks for the past year, but he didn't come to Kurdistan until December. During his first meeting with Kurdish officials, they told him they had been abandoned by the United States. Four years. Nothing. Brinkley responded by quoting Churchill. "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing," he said, "after they've tried everything else." The Kurds smiled. He and his team are now regulars in the area. They tour businesses, meet with governors, and play matchmaker for the executives.

Late last year, the government made its first big push to attract outside investors, when Brinkley's task force started bringing business executives to Iraq to tour the factories, hopefully moving them to place orders. Brink-ley's team would have been happy with commitments to build a few fast-food franchises; four and a half years after the invasion, the bar for success remained embarrassingly low. For a war sold in part on the notion that a free market would spring up allowing Iraq to take care of itself, remarkably little had been done to help the country on its way. Even now, Brinkley acknowledged progress across the country has been slower than he hoped.

On our last night in Kurdistan, we ate dinner with the governor of Suleimaniah, his aides, and a dozen local businessmen. We sat in an outdoor garden at a long table, twenty to a side, the air still holding the warmth of day. The servers brought us Bitburger beer and Johnnie Walker Black. The Blue Label would come out later. The table slowly filled with huge trays of whole fish, rice, chicken, and lamb. Bottles emptied and voices rose. This was a working dinner of sorts, with Iraqis and foreigners pairing off in quiet conversation to pitch each other business ventures. But as the night wore on, serious talk subsided. The beer and whisky ran out, giving way to vodka and loud toasts. This doesn't happen much in Baghdad.

"War is easy. Anyone can shoot. Anyone can have a gun," Hewa Jaff, the province's foreign and public-relations director told me the next morning as we toured the site of a new luxury hotel. "But this is difficult. This takes a brain. This takes thinking. This takes planning."

Sep. 10, 2007

The New York Times

The New York Times is a daily newspaper published in New York City and distributed internationally. It is owned by The New York Times Company, which publishes 15 other newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune and The Boston Globe. It is the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States. Nicknamed the "Gray Lady" for its staid appearance and style, it is often regarded as a national newspaper of record, meaning that it is frequently relied upon as the official and authoritative reference for modern events. Founded in 1851, the newspaper has won 95 Pulitzer Prizes, far more than any other newspaper.

What’s missing in Baghdad
By Thomas L. Friedman

Erbil, Iraq - One of the most troubling lessons of the Iraq invasion is just how empty the Arab dictatorships are. Once you break the palace, by ousting the dictator, the elevator goes straight to the mosque. There is nothing in between — no civil society, no real labor unions, no real human rights groups, no real parliaments or press. So it is not surprising to see the sort of clerical leadership that has emerged in both the Sunni and Shiite areas of Iraq.

But this is not true in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan. Though not a full-fledged democracy, Kurdistan is developing the key elements of a civil society. I met in Erbil with 20 such Kurdish groups — unions, human rights and political watchdogs, editors and women’s associations. It is worth studying what went right in Kurdistan to understand what we still can and can’t do to promote democratization in the rest of Iraq and the Arab world.

The United States played a critical role in Kurdistan. In 1998, we helped to resolve the Kurdish civil war — the power struggle between two rival clans — which created the possibility of a stable, power-sharing election in 2005. And by removing Saddam, we triggered a flood of foreign investment here.

But that is all we did. Today, there are almost no U.S. soldiers or diplomats in Kurdistan. Yet politics here is flourishing, as is the economy, because the Kurds want it that way. Down south, we’ve spent billions trying to democratize the Sunni and Shiite zones and have little to show for it.

Three lessons: 1) Until the power struggle between Sunnis and Shiites is resolved, you can’t establish any stable politics in southern Iraq. 2) When people want to move down a progressive path, there is no stopping them. When they don’t, there is no helping them. 3) Culture matters. The Kurdish Islam is a moderate, tolerant strain, explained Salam Barwari, head of Kurdistan’s Democracy and Human Rights Research Center. “We have a culture of pluralism,” he said. “We have 2,000 years of living together with people living around us.” Actually, there are still plenty of Arab-Kurdish disputes, but there is an ethos of tolerance here you don’t find elsewhere in Iraq.

While visiting Kurdistan, I read a timely new book, “Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government,” by my friend Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign affairs expert at Johns Hopkins University. It is highly relevant to America’s democracy project in Iraq and beyond.

Mr. Mandelbaum argues that democracy is made up of two elements: liberty and popular sovereignty. “Liberty involves what governments do” — the rule of law, the protection of people from abuses of state power and the regulations by which government institutions operate, he explains. Popular sovereignty involves how the people determine who governs them — through free elections.

What Baghdad exemplifies, Mr. Mandelbaum says, is what happens when you have elections without liberty. You end up with a tyranny of the majority, or what Fareed Zakaria has labeled “illiberal democracy.” Kurdistan, by contrast, has a chance to build a balanced democracy, because it is nurturing the institutions of liberty, not just holding elections.

What the Kurdistan-Baghdad contrast also illustrates, notes Mr. Mandelbaum, is that “we can help create the conditions for democracy to take root, but people have to develop the skills and values that make it work themselves.”

In the southern part of Iraq “you have people who are undemocratic who have a democratic government,” said Hemin Malazada, who heads a Kurdish journalists’ association. “In Kurdistan, you have a democratic government for a democratic people.”

One way a country develops the software of liberty, Mr. Mandelbaum says, is by nurturing a free market. Kurdistan has one. The economy in the rest of Iraq remains a mess. “A market economy,” he argues, “gives people a stake in peace, as well as a constructive way of dealing with people who are strangers. Free markets teach the basic democratic practices of compromise and trust.”

Democracy can fail because of religious intolerance, the curse of oil, a legacy of colonialism and military dictatorship, or an aversion to Western values — the wellspring of democracy. The Middle East, notes Mr. Mandelbaum, is the one region afflicted by all of these maladies. That doesn’t mean democratization is impossible here, as the Kurds demonstrate. But it does mean it’s really hard. Above all, Iraq teaches us that democracy is possible only when people want both pillars of it — liberty and self-government — and build both themselves. We’re miles away from that in Baghdad.

Sep. 4, 2007

The Daily Star (Lebanon)
The Daily Star is a pan-Middle East English language newspaper edited in Beirut and published alongside the International Herald Tribune. It was founded in 1952 by Kamel Mrowa, the publisher of the Arabic daily Al-Hayat to serve the growing number of expatriates brought by the oil industry. First circulating in Lebanon, and then expanding throughout the region, it not only relayed news about foreign workers' home countries, but also served to keep them informed about the region. By the 1960s it was the leading English language newspaper in the Middle East.

Lebanese partners plan first plush hotel in Iraqi Kurdistan
By Mirvat Ammouri

Beirut - A Lebanese group unveiled plans Monday to build the first five-star hotel in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Malia Group and Rotana Hotels announced the signing of a partnership agreement for the construction of a $55 million hotel in the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan at a news conference in the Rotana Hotel in Hamra.

The Erbil hotel should open in October 2009 and will be owned by Malia subsidiary Hotel Line and managed by Rotana, said Malia Group president Jacques Sarraf and Rotana Hotels president and CEO Selim al-Zyr.

The 205-room hotel will feature five-star amenities such as a pool, ballroom, restaurants, conference halls and other recreational facilities. It will be built on 20,000 square meters and will cater to both businesspeople and regional and international tourists.

The workforce will consist of both Lebanese and Kurds. Trained experts in different fields of the hospitality sector will transfer to Erbil to begin construction and oversee operations, while at the same time Kurds will be trained and hired, each in his or her respective field. Therefore, the project will help create jobs for Kurds and expand the job prospects for a few Lebanese citizens looking to extend their efforts in the Middle East.

The primary investor in the project is Malia Holding. "Potential investors, however ... are still welcome," said Sarraf.

The aim of the alliance is to add the tourism sector to Malia's interests in the Middle East by capitalizing on the brand equity that Rotana has created over the years in the region.

Both companies said their objective was to expand their operations and influence inside the Middle East. The presidents of both companies explained their vision of a successful venture in Iraq, specifically Erbil, which has been considered recently by many business men to be the gateway to Iraq.

"There is great synergy from the Malia-Rotana team" Sarraf told journalists.
The alliance hopes to combine Malia's experience in Iraq since 1997 and in Erbil since 2003, with the experience Rotana has in the hospitality industry to create a venture that, according to both presidents, will be the first of many in Iraq.

Growth forecasts of the Kurdistan region, coupled with stability and government support for investors through tax relief and other incentives, triggered interest in the area.

Iraqi Kurdish officials are keen to have tourism play a more important part in the region's economy. The opening of a new international airport in Erbil, and increasingly well developed and regulated banking and financing sectors are expected to facilitate the hotel venture's future operations.

Mostly free from the violence that affects many parts of Iraq, Kurdistan has been relatively peaceful in the wake of the US-led invasion in 2003.

Malia Group, first founded in 1935, is a leading Lebanese organization, consolidating subsidiary companies dealing in the production of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, tobacco, food and other consumer products, marketing and distribution, and recently in tourism.

Rotana Hotels, founded in 1992, is a Middle East-born hospitality firm operating in many Arab countries, including Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Jordan, and Sudan, and currently has 29 more hotels under construction, which will make it the largest hotel operator in the region.

Sep. 3, 2007

The New York Times

The New York Times is a daily newspaper published in New York City and distributed internationally. It is owned by The New York Times Company, which publishes 15 other newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune and The Boston Globe. It is the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States. Nicknamed the "Gray Lady" for its staid appearance and style, it is often regarded as a national newspaper of record, meaning that it is frequently relied upon as the official and authoritative reference for modern events. Founded in 1851, the newspaper has won 95 Pulitzer Prizes, far more than any other newspaper.

American University reflects normality of life in Kurdish corner of Iraq
By Dexter Filkins

Suleimaniah, Iraq — In this corner of Iraq largely untouched by war, people are able to focus on the more normal attributes of building a nation — like starting a new university.

In a ceremony here this week, Iraqi leaders gathered to mark the groundbreaking for the American University of Iraq, a private institution they hope will one day grow to mirror the more well-known American universities in Beirut and Cairo. The first classes, which will be conducted in English, are set to begin in a donated office this fall.

In the shorter term, supporters hope that the new university will stand as a symbol for the sort of positive change that is possible — if not in all of Iraq, then at least in its Kurdish north.

“This shows what Iraq could be like,” Barham Salih, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, told the gathering here, which included the American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, and the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. “This is a dream that has to come true.”

They got a pretty good down payment on the dream this week. After a sumptuous lunch for local businessmen here, Mr. Salih secured promises for $10 million in donations. That, along with the other pledges secured so far — including one for $10.5 million from the United States Congress — brought the total promised so far to $40 million. In meetings with Americans and Iraqis, Mr. Salih was pleading for as much as he could get. “Your moral support is good, but your financial support is even better,” Mr. Salih said to Mr. Crocker.

The construction of the university here is another measure of the growing distance between the predominantly Kurdish northern territories and the rest of Iraq. The three majority Kurdish provinces, which constitute about 15 percent of Iraq’s population, have experienced relative stability since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and are developing rapidly on their own. While a university like this might naturally be found in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, the violence there makes such a project inconceivable at this point.

Pro-American sentiment still runs high among the Kurds, too. The Kurds bore the brunt of Saddam Hussein’s furies and benefited from more than a decade of American protection after the Persian Gulf war in 1991. That protection allowed the Kurds to set up the near-independent state that they have today. In much of the rest of Iraq, four years of war have left America unpopular among many Iraqis.

The money raised for the project so far is enough to begin construction of the campus, on about 400 acres near the airport. The land was donated by the Kurdish regional government, which operates in virtual autonomy from the central government in Baghdad. The university’s backers are hoping to raise an additional $90 million to complete the construction of the first phase, which is planned to include classrooms, dormitories and a museum.

So far, the university’s board of trustees has hired an American chancellor, Owen Cargol, and a staff of 23. The first undergraduate classes are set to begin in October and the graduate-level courses in November. University officials are planning a curriculum heavily tilted toward business skills, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas like information technology and management. Degrees in the liberal arts, and in petroleum engineering and other areas, are planned for later.

University officials are not expecting many students this fall; probably, they said, no more than 50. The plan is to accommodate about 1,000 students by 2009, the target date for completion of the first phase of construction. The American University of Iraq is being modeled after the successful and influential English-language institutions in Beirut and Cairo, which are known for their high academic standards and competitive admission policies. Those universities have a big head start: the American University in Beirut was founded in 1866 by American missionaries; the American University in Cairo was established in 1919.

At the American University of Iraq, entering students will be expected to be fluent in English and to have scored in the top 20 percent on their college entrance exams. Tuition is being set at $10,000 per academic year, an extraordinary sum in Iraq, where higher education at public institutions is free. The university’s leaders are planning to make scholarships of varying amounts available to every student.

The university’s leaders are hoping that an institution with an American name and American standards will prove attractive here. Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern studies program at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Iraqi university’s board of trustees, put it this way: “America’s greatest exports are Hollywood and higher education.”

Sep. 2, 2007

The New York Times

The New York Times is a daily newspaper published in New York City and distributed internationally. It is owned by The New York Times Company, which publishes 15 other newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune and The Boston Globe. It is the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States. Nicknamed the "Gray Lady" for its staid appearance and style, it is often regarded as a national newspaper of record, meaning that it is frequently relied upon as the official and authoritative reference for modern events. Founded in 1851, the newspaper has won 95 Pulitzer Prizes, far more than any other newspaper.

The Kurdish secret
By Thomas L. Friedman

Erbil, Iraq - Iraq today is a land of contrasts - mostly black and blacker. Travelling 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.

Imagine for a moment if one outcome of the US 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.

No, Kurdistan is not a democracy. It has real Parliamentary elections, but the region's executive branch is still more "Sopranos" than "West Wing," more Singapore than Switzerland - dominated by two rival clans, the Talibanis and the Barzanis. It has a vibrant free press, as long as you don't insult the leadership, and way too much crony-corruption. But it is democratizing, gradually nurturing the civil society and middle class needed for a real democracy.

On Oct. 17, the new American University of Iraq will open classes in Sulaimaniya. "The board wanted three campuses, one in Kurdistan, one in Baghdad and one in Basra, but this is the only part of the country where an American University can open and function safely," said Owen Cargol, the school's chancellor.

Iraq is a disaster in so many ways, but at least America's invasion midwifed something really impressive in Kurdistan. And in the best way: we created the opening and the Kurds did the rest. But while the Kurds liberated their region from Saddam's army in the 1990s - with U.S. air cover - their current renaissance was only possible, they say, thanks to the overthrow of Saddam, their mortal enemy.

"Saddam's eyes were always on this region," said Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government. Once he was toppled, "it gave us psychological hope for the future. Those who had even a limited amount of money started to invest, start small businesses or buy a car, because they thought they could see the future. The uncertainty was removed. ... We have to thank the American people and government. But we are a lover from only one side. We love America, but nothing in response. They don't want to give the perception that they are helping us."

Added Hoshyar Omar, a 23-year-old student-translator: "My father was buried alive [by Saddam's men] when I was 3. I want to thank Mr. George Bush personally. ... He may have made some bad decisions, but freeing Iraq was the best decision he has ever made. ... We had nothing and we built this Kurdistan that you see." Why is Kurdistan America's best-kept secret success? Because the Bush team is afraid the Kurds will break away. But the Kurds have no interest in splitting from Iraq now. Iraq's borders protect them from Turkey, Iran and Syria.

The Kurdish autonomous zone should be our model for Iraq. Does George Bush or Condi Rice have a better idea? Do they have any idea? Right now, we're surging aimlessly. Iraq's only hope is radical federalism - with Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds each running their own affairs, and Baghdad serving as an A.T.M., dispensing cash for all three. Let's get that on the table - now.

Months after Saddam's capture, a story made the rounds that he was asked, "If you were set free, could you stabilize Iraq again?" He supposedly said it would take him only "one hour and 10 minutes - one hour to go home and shower and 10 minutes to reunify Iraq." Maybe an iron-fisted dictator could do that. America can't.

"No one here accepts to be ruled ever again by the other," Kosrat Ali, Kurdistan's vice president, told me. "If you get all the American forces to occupy all of the towns and the cities of Iraq, you might be able to centralize Iraq again. That is the only way." Otherwise, "centralized rule is finished in Iraq."

Aug 24, 2007


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Iraq's Kurdish region struggles with power shortages
By Brian Padden

Erbil, Iraq - The electricity shortage in Iraq continues to plague the country. Power blackouts have become a telling symbol of the difficulties Iraq's government and the United States are having in improving life for ordinary Iraqis. But power plants being built in the Kurdish region could end the local electrical shortage and send power to the rest of the county. VOA's Brian Padden reports from Erbil in the heart of the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Erbil currently provides residents, free of charge, only about eight hours of electric power a day.

And when the power goes out, it is the job of Mohammad Qatar and other private generator operators to turn the lights back on.

Qatar runs a diesel generator that provides electricity for about 300 homes. An average household pays $60 a months for this service. Qatar says he expects to be in business for a long time to come.

He says if the government starts supporting the city full time, he will change jobs, but he does not see it happening anytime soon.

Qatar has reason to feel confident. In all of Iraq electricity output has been actually slightly lower this summer than last year.

Until recently, the energy needs of the Kurdish region have been ignored. Officials say during his reign, Saddam Hussein tried to control the region by making it dependent on Baghdad for power.

Hoshyar Siwaily, the minister of electricity for the region, says the new Iraqi government has been unable to meet its needs.

"Unfortunately, for the past few years or the last three years, our budget, this ministry's budget was part of the federal ministry of electricity's budget," he said. "They did not construct and build one single important project in the region."

The Kurdish regional government is now acting independently to increase electrical energy output through foreign assistance and private investment projects.

The U.S. government has financed the building of four electrical substations that can transmit significantly more power to both the Kurdish region and the Iraqi national grid. Each substation cost between $4 million to $5 million.

A company called Mass Jordon is building a $390 million power plant outside the city of Erbil. This facility is expected to start producing electricity later this year. Three other privately-owned power plants in the Kurdish region are also in various stages of a construction.

The Kurdish regional government will initially pay for the electricity produced with oil revenue, but says over time residents will have to start paying for this electricity. Minister Siwaily says eventually the region also expects to send power to the rest of Iraq.

"That's our aim," he said. "In fact to give electricity to the other parts of Iraq."

Minister Siwaily expects that by 2009 the region will produce enough energy to keep the lights on 24 hours a day.

Aug. 13, 2007


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Ancient Kurdish city seeks to become tourist, business mecca
By Michael Luongo

(Bloomberg) - The broad streets of Erbil, the dusty capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, are lined with billboards announcing opulent building projects such as a 20-story glass- and-steel office complex and a gated residential community with cream brick houses.

This must be what Las Vegas looked like right before the slot machines arrived. But this is Erbil, one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back at least 8,000 years to a massive citadel built as protection from invaders.

From the office of Falah Mustafa Bakir, the regional government's minister of foreign relations, you can see construction workers sweltering in 110-degree heat as they hoist the steel-beam frame of a new five-star hotel aimed at business travelers.

The site is next to the city's new convention center, the only completed building in a dusty field of construction pits that soon will soon sprout into hotels, offices and luxury homes. It's all part of a building boom in Erbil, where $4 billion worth of private development projects have been approved in the past year.

"If you just look out your window, you see millions in investments," says Bakir's spokesman, Rawand Abdulkadir Darwesh. "Things are changing for the better."

Kurdistan, the autonomous northern region of Iraq that Saddam Hussein tried to wipe out during an ethnic purge in the late 1980s, is now thriving while the rest of the country is embroiled in civil war.

"We are focusing on construction and building rather than destruction and revenge," Bakir says as we sit in his spacious office drinking tea from tiny hourglass-shaped cups. "Kurdistan can serve as a model for the rest of Iraq, where Kurds and Sunnis and Shias can work together."

The Citadel

Georg Gensler, Researchers, Inc., 1973 photo

The Kurds, long an oppressed minority in Iraq, are thriving under a regional government that is a model of stability compared with the rest of Iraq. While Erbil is no tourist center, it has become a refuge for Iraqis fleeing from the chaos and violence in Baghdad and other cities to the south.

The breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I led to a brief flowering of Kurdish culture, a time when a section of the Citadel was developed with grand mansions that have since fallen into disrepair. Two of the buildings are now carpet and antique stores, and another houses the Centre Arthur Rimbaud, a French cultural organization created by the widow of former French President Francois Mitterand.

French Centre

The center's director, Matthieu Saint-Dizier, took me on a tour of the old mansions, including one with a collapsed roof and cardboard debris strewn on the floor.

"They want this to be Dubai and they forget about these places," Saint-Dizier shouted, waving his arms in exasperation. "Imagine a cafe here; you could sit in chairs and talk all night."

Passing through doors whose glass panes had long ago disappeared, we enter another formerly grand room where the cobalt blue plasterwork is falling from the ceiling. We step onto a balcony, where I can see a minaret piercing the mud brick warren of low-rise buildings below.

It's a view an ancient sultan might cherish, but the blare of traffic horns and the blinding white modernity of the Homeland Mall pull me back to the 21st century. I'm sure this is the view Kurdistan's new sultans of commerce want me to remember.

Expats bar

At the Edge, a dreary suburban bar for expats, I meet a 37- year-old Californian named Jeff who provided a more sober view of Erbil. A small statue of George W. Bush stood behind the bar as Americans, Brits, Australians and other foreigners crowded around plastic tables drinking beer.

Jeff - he declines to give his full name - says he's an armed guard who has worked in many war zones. Though there is little violence in Erbil, he doesn't feel very safe. Jeff says the city's loose security could make it an inviting target for religious hard-liners.

"I never go anywhere without a gun," he tells me.

The previous night, I felt perfectly safe strolling on Iscan Street, which is lined with parks and open-air teahouses. I was joined by John Ferguson - who heads American Voices, an organization that brings U.S. musicians to developing countries - and Michael Parks, a black American dancer.

There aren't many black people in Erbil, so dozens of people stopped Parks and asked to be photographed with him. The locals chatted in broken English, with the conversations lit by a rainbow of neon glittering from a nearby Ferris wheel.

Water pipe

The light wasn't so good during my interview with Mohammed Ali Uzere, the media director for the Kurdish Tourism Ministry. While we were talking, the building suffered one of the city's frequent power outages.

We finished the conversation at the new Cafe Today, a glitzy three-story restaurant with a shimmering blue-glass facade and a water-pipe bar. We saw young women from nearby Salahaddin University in the restaurant, but the top level of the bar - where smoking is allowed - was filled entirely with men. Smoking in public is still considered inappropriate behavior for women.

A waiter named Khairoullah set up my water pipe, placing lumps of smoky charcoal over an orange through which the steam would flow. Khairoullah is a lanky 29-year-old from Nasiriya, a city about 225 miles southeast of Baghdad. He came to Erbil to find work.

"I looked for months" in Nasariya, he says, "but there were no jobs."

All the restaurant employees were young Iraqi men with similar stories. They were Sunnis, Christians and Shias, but they insisted that in Erbil, these divisions meant nothing.

Khairoullah left me alone to puff away. As I stared out at the construction cranes through the blue glass windows, I realized that Cafe Today could be the Iraq of tomorrow, a place where people bury their hatred and fulfill their desert dreams.

Aug. 8, 2007


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Tourists and investors to Iraq? Why not, say Kurds
By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent

Erbil, Iraq (Reuters) - The Ministry of Tourism has 417 employees and big plans: "We need three or four times as many hotels as we have now," says Nimrud Youkhana, the minister, "and we need to get more airlines to fly here."

Tourism in Iraq? More hotels in a country whose name evokes images of truck bombs and mayhem, kidnappings and beheaded foreigners?

This is what an advertising campaign in the United States called The Other Iraq, the three northern provinces that blossomed into a quasi-independent state in the 16 years since the U.S. placed a protective umbrella - the 'no-fly zone' - over the region to stop a genocidal anti-Kurdish campaign waged by Saddam Hussein.

Administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the provinces have largely escaped the violence that has been tearing apart the rest of Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, toppled Saddam and uncorked long-suppressed sectarian hostility.

"We have some way to go still," said Youkhana, "but we plan to eventually hold annual folklore events like the Jerash festival," a reference to the Jordanian city which brings together performers from all over the world each summer.

Customers the ministry wants to attract are Arabs from the Gulf who appreciate mountain resorts in an Alpine setting (and a relaxed attitude towards alcohol) and Europeans in search of exotic destinations and archaeological remains dating back thousands of years.

Youkhana's plans, and the mere existence of a Tourism Ministry, highlight a bullish view of Kurdistan's future which is also evident in building projects on a grand scale, from a 6,000-shop mall to a string of U.S.-style gated communities with names such as Dream City, Empire Villas and American Village.

Near the airport, Naz City, a new complex of 14 high-rise apartment towers, is cabled for high-speed Internet access. New hotels under construction include one by the German luxury chain Kempinski.
And rising in the shadow of Arbil's citadel, near where Alexander the Great defeated King Darius of Persia, the huge Nishtiman mall features Kurdistan's first escalator - a magnet for children who ride it up and down in wide-eyed wonder.

There are no detailed figures on how much money has been invested in Kurdistan since 2003, when the rest of Iraq slipped into violence and the north remained stable. The Board of Investment, a government agency set up last summer, has approved more than $3.5 billion in development projects.

The Kurds' main argument to persuade foreigners to visit and invest is security: there is no other place in Iraq where a foreigner can shop in local markets or walk the streets without fear of being killed or kidnapped.

"I feel safer in Erbil or Suleimaniah than in Camden, New Jersey," said Harry Schute, a retired US army colonel who served in Iraq and is now a security adviser to KRG president Masoud Barzani.

"But people hear 'Iraq' and they think violence. There's a lack of understanding that Baghdad and Arbil are different worlds."

Own flag, army, border patrol
So different that the KRG has all the trappings of an independent state -- its own flag, its own army, its own border patrol, its own national anthem, its own education system, even its own stamp inked into the passports of visitors.

Turkey, Iran and Syria - all of which have sizeable Kurdish minorities they do not want to become autonomous - are viewing the KRG's progress with considerable concern. They fear full independence for Iraqi Kurdistan would set off a chain reaction in the region.

The Iraqi Kurds' sense of tranquillity was shattered by two bombs in May - a truck bomb outside the regional government's Interior Ministry killed 15 people and wounded more than 100 and three days later, a car bomb in the office of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) left 30 dead and injured 50.

The government responded by stepping up security, already tight, and virtually sealing the roads into KRG-controlled territory to non-Kurds. Travellers from outside the region are not allowed to pass unless a Kurdish resident meets them in person and "guarantees" their stay.

Despite the May bombs, Austrian Airlines, the only European carrier with a regular service to Erbil, added a flight to its schedule in July to bring Vienna-Arbil connections to four a week. The flights are usually packed.
"The bomb attacks did not dent business interest," said Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the London-based head of the Kurdish Development Corporation (KDC). "In fact, inquiries picked up after a few days."

They did not dent a booming business in luxury cars, either. "Things are looking good," said Lezan Shafeea, a sales manager at the sprawling Mercedes dealership in Erbil. "We are selling more top-end models, at $138,500 apiece, than mid-size cars."

These are cash-only transactions - Kurdistan's embryonic financial system has no provision for consumer credit.

Obstacles to opening up Kurdistan to the world, Kurdish officials say, include the travel advisories governments issue to their citizens. The US State Department, for example, makes no distinction between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq and "continues to strongly warn" against travel there.

But other countries have taken Kurdistan off their list of life-threatening destinations, according to Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of the KRG's Foreign Relations Department -- the region's de facto foreign minister.
"Denmark, Japan, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands have all changed their advisories," he said.

Not even the rosiest optimist predicts a travel boom soon to Kurdistan but a British company, Hinterland Travel, led a group of adventurous tourists in their 50s and 60s on a package tour through the three provinces administered by the KRG in May. Another is scheduled for September.

"This is for people interested in archaeology and history," said the company's owner, Geoff Hann, "and who are not faint of heart."

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