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

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Other Iraq

The Other Iraq

The Other Iraq is an advertising campaign created to promote commerce in the Kurdish region of Iraq. It is run by the Kurdistan Development Corporation to promote investment and trade.

Part of their promotions includes a series of advertisements thanking the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies for removing the regime of Saddam Hussein. The advertisements can be viewed from the promotional website (

Aug. 5, 2007


CBS Broadcasting, Inc. (CBS) is one of the largest radio and television networks in the United States. The name is derived from the initialism of Columbia Broadcasting System, its former legal name.

Kurdistan: The Other Iraq
Bob Simon On How The Kurds Are Reshaping Northeastern Iraq

This segment was originally broadcast on Feb. 18, 2007. It was updated on Aug. 3, 2007.

Try to imagine a peaceful and stable Iraq where business is booming and Americans are beloved. Now open your eyes because 60 Minutes is going to take you to a part of Iraq which fits that description: it's called Kurdistan.

Technically, it's inside Iraq but the Kurds who live there behave as if they already live in a separate state. As correspondent Bob Simon reports, they have their own prime minister, their own army, their own border patrol—even their own flag. And the overwhelming majority of Kurds will tell you they want nothing to do with Baghdad and the rest of Iraq.

And why would they after the brutal way Iraqis under Saddam treated them in the past? Why would they when they’re doing just fine on their own?

When visiting Kurdistan, one can see nation-building wherever one looks—Kurds are building their country day by day. There are more cranes here than minarets and there’s a run on cement. A new mall with 8,000 shops and stalls is going up. So is an apartment complex known as "Dream City," in which some of the units are selling for $1 million. A giant bowling alley is almost finished, and an opera house is not far behind. What’s behind the boom? Security.

Kurds are quick to remind you that they are not Arabs and there is a de facto border between Kurdistan, which is in the northeast corner of Iraq and the rest of Iraq. Arab insurgents who want to slip into Kurdistan must get past hundreds of Kurdish checkpoints. And distinct from much of Iraq, the security forces in Kurdistan are disciplined and loyal. And they’re all Kurds. There are no ethnic divisions here, so the violence stays on the other side of the border.

Asked how many American soldiers have been killed in the Kurdish-controlled area since the beginning of the war, Nechervan Barzani, the 40-year-old prime minister of what is officially called the Kurdistan Regional Government, tells Simon, "No one."

Major General Benjamin Mixon is the commanding officer for American forces in northern Iraq and Kurdistan, 20,000 in all.

Mixon tells Simon there are only 60 to 70 U.S. troops stationed in the Kurdish areas. "There’s no need for American forces up there because of the nature of the situation," he explains.

"I guess compared to being stationed in the rest of Iraq, it’s pretty good duty," Simon remarks.

"It’s good duty. I’ve been up there. I enjoy going up there," the major general tells Simon.

60 Minutes wanted to test the security situation, so one Saturday morning Simon and the team dropped by the main market in Erbil, the self-styled capital of Kurdistan, just 40 miles from the rest of Iraq. The only disagreements here were about prices.

Just how safe is it? Simon, an American, strolled through the market in his shirtsleeves, without wearing the flack jackets reporters often have to wear in other parts of Iraq.

In any other part of Iraq, walking down the street like this would be patently suicidal. But the point is as far as people here are concerned this is not another part of Iraq—it’s not Iraq at all. You may not be able to find it on a map but it is, Kurds will tell you, another country.

Asked if they were in Iraq right now, a student told Simon, "I think that I’m in Kurdistan, not in Iraq."

The feeling is widely shared. From students at Sulemaniya University to Ahmed Gilani, a Kurdish American Simon met in a café in Erbil. He came to Kurdistan recently from Texas.

"When we see the fighting going on in Baghdad here, it’s the same when I used to watch it on TV in, in the States. It feels like a totally separate country," Gilani says.

While Iraq is just 40 miles down the road, Simon acknowledges he feels perfectly safe in Erbil.

"There you go. Go to Baghdad. I don’t think you’d feel the same way," Gilani remarks.

The Kurds are acting as if the end of Iraq is near. In many schools, English, not Arabic, is being taught as the second language.

The Kurds are very big on the trappings of statehood. It’s as if they’re eager to prove that they exist. They have their own 175,000-man Army, the pesh merga, which means "those who face death." When you arrive in Erbil, immigration officers give your passport a Kurdish stamp. And if you want to see the Iraqi flag, don’t come to Kurdistan. It has been banned.

"Under that flag they destroyed our country, our people. So that’s why our approach is to change that flag and have a new one," Prime Minister Barzani explains.

The new Kurdish flag is literally everywhere; but it’s a flag without a country.

Like most Kurds, Dr. Ali Saed Mohammed, the president of Sulemaniya University, would like to change that, and soon.

"What would happen if tomorrow the prime minister of Kurdistan went before parliament and said I declare a state, an independent Kurdistan," Simon asks.

"This decision will be welcomed by 99.9 percent of the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan. We will say yes. We will back it," Dr. Mohammed says.

Dr. Mohammed wants the prime minister to take the step, preferably "tomorrow," he tells Simon.

But the Kurdish prime minister is not likely to push for complete independence. Not tomorrow. Not next year.

"Every Kurd we’ve spoken to since we’ve been here says, 'We’re a separate country. We’re Kurds. We don’t want to be with Iraq,'" Simon remarks. "You’re prime minister of this country."

"I think it’s a right for every Kurd to say that. Because, really, they are different. They are a different nation, different people. So, but we have to be realistic," Barzani tells Simon.

"Being realistic means that the Iranians and the Turks and the Syrians would not be happy if you were to declare nationhood. Is that what you are saying, Sir?" Simon asks.

"Yeah, exactly. Our neighbors, they will create more problems for us," the prime minister explains.

The Kurds have a saying: no friends but the mountains. There are 30 million Kurds in the world, the largest nation without a state. But only five million reside inside Iraq’s borders. The rest are in Iran, Syria and primarily Turkey. There are so many Kurds in Turkey that the Turks are afraid that an independent Kurdish state would lead to unrest; they are dead set against it.

So Kurdish leaders believe that, at least for the time being, the answer is federalism, a soft partition of Iraq into three parts. Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni state in the middle and a Shiite region to the south, with Baghdad as only a nominal capital.

While Barzani and Kurdistan may be paving the way for such a division, the American government doesn’t want partition of any kind, no matter what it’s called. The Bush administration and the U.S. military see Kurdistan not as a shining new nation but as a shining example to the rest of a united Iraq.

"I think if the Iraqis will simply look north and see what the possibilities are, and do not align themselves with the extremists they can see the great potential that this country has to be a prosperous nation," Maj. Gen. Mixon explains.

"But from the Kurdish point of view, they’ve got a going concern. Now they’re at peace. They’re making money. They’re looking towards the future. They look to the rest of Iraq and they see chaos. They see bloodshed. They see civil war. Why shouldn’t they try to remain separate?" Simon asks.

"I believe that to their long-term interest, it’s better to stay linked with Iraq and all the resources that are available throughout Iraq and it makes them stronger," Mixon says.

Many Kurds believe the Americans are missing the point. A separate Kurdistan, they say, would make for something extremely unusual: an American ally in the Middle East.

"The Kurds will be the best friends in the region," Dr. Mohammed says. "Even better than Israel, I am sure of that. We will be the best friends for the Americans in this region. We will be faithful."

Dr. Mohammed does not view the war as a U.S. invasion. "It is liberation. Americans liberated Iraqi people from dictatorship," he tells Simon.

It is a sentiment echoed in, of all places, a mosque. Like Iraqi Arabs, Kurds are Muslims. But this is surely the only Islamic part of the Middle East where you’ll hear kind words about America after Friday prayers.

"Can America think of Kurdistan as an ally, as a friend?" Simon asked a man.

"We were always with Americans. We even love America. But we are waiting for America to repay our love," the man replied.

The Kurds may have to wait a long time because for the U.S. military there is another overwhelming reason to keep the Kurds inside Iraq: oil.

One of Iraq’s largest oil fields sits just across Kurdistan’s de facto border in an ethnically mixed city called Kirkuk. It is crucial to the future economic health of Iraq. The trouble is the Kurds say Kirkuk historically belongs to them. And this year there will be a referendum asking Kirkuk’s citizens if they want to join Kurdistan.

Asked why Kirkuk is so important, Prime Minister Barzani says, "It’s Kurdistan. If you go back to history, any fight between Kurds and Baghdad is over Kirkuk."

If the Kurds win the referendum, and they are favored to do so, many fear Iraqi Arabs could turn Kirkuk into an inferno.

"They will not be happy of course. They will create problems by bombing at cars. And, the usual things which they do every day. They blow up mosques. Why not ordinary people?" Dr. Mohammed remarks.

The Kurds are all too familiar with violence, Iraqi style. They have a tradition of tragedy, none more brutal than the blow that came down in a matter of minutes one bloody Friday in 1988.

Some 5,000 Kurds were gassed by Saddam’s army at a place called Halabja; those images are remembered today on murals. Many Kurds say you’ll never understand Kurdish yearnings for the future if you haven’t seen the brutality of its past.

Ahmed Gilani, who returned to Kurdistan from Texas, knows first-hand: his father was executed. "By Saddam’s regime…till today they never told us what the reason was. Thankfully unlike some of the people, we got his body back," he tells Simon.

Gilani was six years old when his father was murdered. Two months after the execution, his family was told to come and pick up the body.

"Just like that. And they charge you for the bullets," he remembers.

It is memories like that which provide the motor for a giant security trench which the Kurds are building along their border.

"We don’t trust the Arabs. The same tragedies might happen again. And that’s why I say the Kurds should have their free state," explains Dr. Mohammed.

Free state? Not yet. Free market? Right here. While in the rest of Iraq they’re counting bodies, the Kurds are counting their money. Gleaming shopping centers are sprouting up from the sand. One sports an escalator, the first in Kurdistan.

There are plans for an American University, not surprising since there is a strong desire to have it the American way.

Well, almost. During Simon's visit, what seemed ordinary was hailed as a momentous event: an Austrian Airlines flight arrived in Erbil, the first landing by a Western carrier in any part of Iraq since the start of the war.

"Can you imagine having an American airline flying directly from New York to Erbil?" Simon asks Barzani.

"Why not? Yeah, why not?" the prime minister replies.

Asked if he thinks this could happen in the near future, Barzani says, "I mean I don’t know near future. But, I’m sure it will happen."

And Kurds are starting to believe the same could be said for their hopes of an independent Kurdistan. History’s perennial losers could turn out to be the winners of this war.

"Do you ever feel like you’re dreaming?" Simon asks Dr. Mohammed.

"Well, sometimes dreams come true," he replies. "I hope my dream will come true. Will be a reality. Why not?"

Kurdistan, however, is not completely immune from the violence that has rocked the rest of Iraq. In May, a car bomb killed 19 people in Erbil. It was the first attack inside Kurdistan in two years.

Jul. 2, 2007


Agence France-Presse (AFP) is the oldest news agency in the world, and one of the three largest with Associated Press and Reuters. It is also the largest French news agency.
AFP is based in Paris, with regional centres in Washington, Hong Kong, Nicosia, and Montevideo and bureaus in 110 countries. It transmits news in French, English, Arabic, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Russian.

Kurds woo investors as Iraq knocks at the door
by Mathieu Gorse

Northern Iraq's relatively stable Kurdish region is trying to attract oil prospectors and investors instead of insurgents in an ambitious bid to rival commercial hotspots like Dubai.

The streets of the regional capital of Erbil are throbbing, not with the shock waves of car bombs but the roaring of bulldozers, as builders throw up a new generation of high-rise hotels and opulent shopping malls.

"Kurdistan is going to be an alternative to Dubai," boasted Hoshyar Nuri Abbas, an official with the Turkish-Canadian oil company, TTopco, a joint venture between Genel Enerji of Turkey and Addax Petroleum of Canada.

While Iraq's fragile central government has struggled to staunch the daily bloodshed in the war-torn Arab central and south, Kurdistan's once-feuding political parties have agreed to fire off brochures instead of bullets.

Erbil airport welcomes jets from Vienna, Dubai and Istanbul and the region's airline plans to offer flights to London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin.

"It's not an easy task (to attract investors) because we are part of a country that everyone says is a war zone," said Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of international relations in the Kurdistan administration.

Bakir works in an office adorned with pictures of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government, leaders he credits with bringing stability to the area.

A year ago, as Baghdad spiralled into war between Arab sectarian and political factions, the two former rival guerrilla leaders set differences aside and merged their self-controlled regions into a single administration.

Soon afterwards the regional parliament passed a key investment law opening the door to foreign direct investment, and at present more than 600 foreign companies, mostly Turkish, are registered in the region.

In addition to providing a 10-year tax holiday to new investors, the liberal law allows foreign firms to own 100 percent of local subsidiaries and to repatriate all their profits.

"There is no safer place in the world ... the growth is impressive and we don't pay taxes. We would like to grow here," says Mohammed Tahir Brifkany, a Kurd employed by the Turkish group BTP Nursoy to oversee real estate projects.

Nursoy has constructed a residential complex of 700 modern apartments, complete with a swimming pool and tennis courts, in Erbil. The company's Iraqi operations employ around 1,200 people, more than its Turkish projects do.

The project is aimed at high-end clients, a new market for a region long accustomed to state-centred economic policies put in place by former dictator Saddam Hussein's totalitarian Baath Party.

But most Kurds have not yet reaped the rewards. The average salary in Erbil is around 400 dollars (300 euros) a month, forcing many to work more than one job to afford basic goods, which are becoming more expensive.

"Saddam's Iraq was a socialist economy. Now it is adopting a free market route," said Aziz Ibrahim Abdo, director general of the local trade ministry.

"In such a transition phase you can see negative effects but life is better for the people than before."

Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, the governor of Erbil, is optimistic that the Kurdish region will be a "copy of economies like the United Arab Emirates and be a good successful example for the new Iraq."

Iraq's Kurdish region has enjoyed de facto autonomy since 1991, when the United States extended a no-fly zone over the region following the first Gulf War, essentially cutting it off from Baghdad.

The Kurds, who strongly supported the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, maintained their autonomy after US forces rolled into Baghdad.

It would help if, like the Gulf countries, Kurdistan could jump-start its growth by exploiting large hydrocarbon reserves. But while Iraq as a whole is flush with oil, the region's reserves are modest.

Proven oil reserves account for 2.9 percent of Iraq's total reserves, but experts say the region's potential remains untapped.

"That (2.9 percent) is an estimate. We don't really know. It's a virgin area here," said Kemal Afaraci, an official with TTopco overseeing the company's site in the Kurdish region of Taq Taq.

The company is currently drilling its fourth oil well since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 and hopes to drill two more by end of the year.

The three oil wells which TTopco has already drilled would produce 75,000 barrels a day, compared to the two million barrels produced in the rest of the country, mainly in the south.

Norway's DNO, Turkish group Petoil and the Canadian company Western Oil Sands have signed production-sharing contracts with the regional government.

But it is unclear how those contracts will fare if Baghdad passes a draft hydrocarbon law -- currently awaiting a parliamentary vote -- that would put the country's oil wealth under the control of a federal governing body.

In May, Iraq's oil minister Hussein Shahristani said that any contract signed before the adoption of law, aimed at equitably distributing Iraq's oil among all its 18 provinces, would be cancelled.

Kurdish officials nevertheless say they will honour the contracts, and the Kurdish Regional Government claims to have reached an agreement with Baghdad whereby it will receive 17 percent of the country's oil revenues.

"These contracts adopt international standards and are in line with the draft law," Bakir said.

Another concern is the region's oil infrastructure, which has repeatedly come under attack by insurgents south of the regional boundary.

The main oil pipeline, extending from the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, is almost always shut off, a reminder that even in Kurdistan the war is never that far off.

June 27, 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.

Pointing to Stability, Kurds in Iraq Lure Investors

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

Life in the “Other Iraq,” a Kurdish advertising slogan, can be quite ordinary. Teenagers visit a new bowling alley and food court in Sulaimaniya.

ERBIL, Iraq — It is a measure of soaring Kurdish optimism that government officials here talk seriously about one day challenging Dubai as the Middle East’s main transportation and business hub.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is betting that it can, investing $325 million in a modern terminal at the Erbil International Airport to handle, officials hope, millions of passengers a year, and a three-mile runway that will be big enough for the new double-decker Airbus A380.

“We’re not saying Kurdistan is heaven,” said Herish Muharam, chairman of the Kurdish government’s Board of Investment. “But we’re telling investors that Kurdistan can be that heaven.”

As the rest of Iraq has plunged into a downward spiral, Kurdistan has enjoyed relative political stability and suffered limited violence, in part owing to a sectarian and political homogeneity lacking elsewhere in the country. The Kurdish region has enjoyed de facto autonomy since 1991, when the American military established a no-flight zone there, a status formalized by the new Iraqi Constitution. Although many Kurds would prefer to secede, Kurdistan , with a population of about 4.2 million, has its own army and virtually total control of its territory.

Kurdistan ’s rising fortunes have been nowhere more apparent than in the wave of building and investment that has swept the region in the past four years. Iraqis and foreigners alike have poured in billions of dollars, defiantly wagering that the region will remain relatively peaceful, even as the rest of Iraq slips deeper into civil war.

Where explosions and bomb-scarred buildings have been a defining symbol elsewhere in Iraq , construction cranes are now a common feature on the Kurdish landscape, tugging hotels, shopping centers and office and housing complexes from the ground.

While public infrastructure is still suffering from chronic underinvestment, the regional government has approved more than $4 billion worth of mostly private development projects since August, when the Board of Investment was created. Billions of dollars worth of other projects were already under way.

Much of the money is coming from overseas, including the United States , Europe, the Persian Gulf countries, Iran and Turkey , officials say.

The Kurdistan government has placed special emphasis on attracting investors from the United States and Britain, unleashing a slick advertising campaign in English called “The Other Iraq,” which includes television commercials featuring romantic shots of Kurdistan’s mountains and waving, cherubic children. “It’s spectacular, it’s joyful,” intones a narrator in one 30-second spot. “It’s not a dream. It’s the other Iraq .”

The government has also hired lobbyists in Washington to help promote its development agenda, urging the State Department to change its travel warning for Iraq to distinguish Kurdistan from the rest of the country. Iraqi officials regard the travel warning as an impediment to investment and tourism.

Even with the negative travel advisory, development has been booming. Contractors have been clearing savanna and brush here in the capital of Kurdistan to build suburban residential complexes that go by names like English Village Five.

One development — Dream City, advertised as “the most elegant square kilometer in Iraq” — will include about 1,200 houses priced $180,000 to $700,000, as well as three schools, a supermarket, a restaurant, recreation areas, a casino and a mosque, according to Amer Ibrahim, the project’s manager and architect.

The principal partner in the Dream City project is also building an American-style megamall and four office towers downtown. It is a few blocks away from the ancient citadel, one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world.

Several luxury hotels are under construction, including one by the Kempinski hotel chain. A joint venture by Austrian, Turkish and Kurdish investors is developing a 500-bed hospital.

There is even talk of a Burger King franchise and a ski resort.

Asked about the most compelling ideas circulating in the investor community here, Mr. Ibrahim responded, “Everything, everything, everything.” He went on: “There’s a big lack of everything. There are no services, no infrastructure.”

For all the shiny new construction in Kurdistan , there are glaring deficiencies in the public sector. Kurdistan ’s residents who rely on the public system receive at most about three hours of electricity a day, although many businesses and affluent people have their own generators. Not all areas of the region have access to clean drinking water, and the health care and education sectors are anemic. There are no wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems are inadequate: even a moderate rainfall turns the streets into foul rivers.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 American invasion, Kurdistan ’s officials were so desperate for any kind of investment that they signed off on numerous projects with only limited concern for the essential needs of the population. “The government built like mad,” said Douglas Layton, director of the Erbil office of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, a public-private partnership promoting investment in the region. “There was no master plan.”

To make matters worse, government graft went unchecked. “The corruption was happening because of the rushing we were doing in nearly everything in a limited amount of time,” Mr. Muharam, of the Board of Investment, said in an interview here in May. “It caused misuse, lack of transparency.”

Many projects foundered for lack of capital. Erbil , for instance, is dotted with half-finished buildings, roadways and overpasses.

The government is now implementing a more transparent contracting system and is trying to rectify the imbalance between public and private sector development. Mr. Muharam said the government was also trying to strengthen the banking system and insurance laws to provide a more attractive environment for investors.

The government passed an investment law last year that offers generous incentives to outside investors, including the right of full ownership of property, tax and customs duty exemptions, repatriation of earnings and partnerships. The government has also been providing free land to developers to stimulate construction.

Officials and investors argue that Kurdistan offers the opportunity for businesses to establish a foothold with an eye toward a more peaceful future when development in the rest of Iraq will be possible.

“You can do business here today and as the situation stabilizes down south — and I hope it will; it’s not looking too good right now — you can move down south,” Mr. Layton said.

Last December, Austrian Airlines began twice-weekly flights between Vienna and Erbil, becoming the first European commercial airline to fly into Iraq since 2003. Taher Horami, the airport’s director general, said he is in discussion with other major international airlines on opening routes into Kurdistan .

But hovering above the development boom is a dark question: if the situation in the rest of Iraq continues to worsen, will Kurdistan ’s relative tranquillity hold? And if not, will all this investment be lost?

Two truck-bomb attacks by Sunni Arab insurgents in May against Kurdish government targets, including one in the center of Erbil, severely unnerved residents and the elected leadership, not only because they were so deadly — at least 69 people were killed — but because the last major suicide attack in the region happened two years ago.

Harry J. Schute Jr., an American security adviser to the Kurdistan government, said the attacks may have been intended to punish the government for sending its pesh merga militia to help with the Baghdad security plan. In addition, he said, insurgent groups have repeatedly criticized the Kurdish authorities for their secularism and cooperation with the West.

The Kurds are anticipating an increase in insurgent activity as the country approaches a referendum on the question of whether Kurdistan can annex oil-rich Kirkuk and a swath of disputed territory in northern Iraq , a move opposed by many Sunni Arabs and Shiites. The Constitution calls for a vote by the end of the year, but no date has been set yet.

As jarring as the latest attacks may have been, they did not appear to derail any development projects, according to several government officials and private investors.

Kurdistan ’s boosters point to the region’s homogeneity, as well as a strong military and a well-developed intelligence network as effective buttresses against rampant violence. “It’s relatively secure,” said Mr. Layton, an American who has worked for many years in Kurdistan . “It’s not perfect, but I’d much rather walk down the streets of Erbil than walk down the streets of Detroit , New York , Washington and Chicago .”

Still, he is not taking any chances. As he spoke, bodyguards were posted outside his office. And behind his desk chair, next to an umbrella, a Kalashnikov leaned against the wall.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

An ancient cemetery in the center of Erbil, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, will soon be encircled by an enormous shopping mall. The relative calm of the Kurdish region, which has enjoyed de facto independence since 1991, has sparked a building boom.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

The Kurdistan Regional Government is investing $325 million in the expansion of the Erbil International Airport, which they hope will help them to challenge the position of Dubai as a transportation and business hub for the Middle East.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

For all the shiny new construction in Kurdistan, there are glaring deficiencies in the public sector. Kurdistan's residents who rely on the public system, rather than private generators, receive at most about three hours of electricity a day.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

Open sewer lines can still be found in older neighborhoods of Erbil. In the immediate aftermath of the American invasion in 2003, as investment in the region took off, government graft went unchecked and many projects foundered for lack of capital.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

New houses are being built at the English Village, a 410 unit residential housing complex partly financed by British investors.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

In a recently completed part of an American-style megamall, Kurdish children recently enjoyed their first ever ride on an escalator.

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

A recently opened bowling alley in Sulamaniya is a symbol of what the Kurdish government's advertising campaign, geared toward foreign investors, calls "the other Iraq."

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

Although many Kurds would prefer to formally secede from Iraq, the region has enjoyed de facto autonomy since 1991, so most teenagers cannot recall a time when Kurdistan was ruled from Baghdad.

Jun. 27, 2007

USA Today

USA Today is a national American daily newspaper published by the Gannett Company. It was founded by Allen 'Al' Neuharth. The paper has the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States (averaging over 2.25 million copies every weekday), and among English-language broadsheets, it comes second world-wide, behind only the 2.6 million daily paid copies of The Times of India.

Kurds bank on friendship with U.S. in Iraq
By Matt Kelley

WASHINGTON — From a modest office a few blocks from the White House, Qubad Talabany directs a multimillion-dollar campaign to convince American citizens and leaders that Kurds are their best friends in Iraq.

Talabany, the son of Iraq's president, is lobbying Congress and the Bush administration not to withdraw U.S. forces. He says that it's a matter of survival for Iraq's 5 million ethnic Kurds, most of whom live in the northern provinces that make up the semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government.

"In the Middle East, we're seen as being allied with the United States," says Talabany, the Kurdish government's top representative in the USA. "That makes us unpopular in the Arab world, but we're proud of it. We hope that alliance, that friendship, will be reciprocated."

The Kurds are the most aggressive of the Iraqi religious and ethnic factions jockeying for influence over U.S. policy. The Iraqi Embassy represents the Shiite Muslim-dominated government. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a major Shiite party, also has a Washington representative, Karim al-Musawi. The largest political party representing minority Sunni Muslims, the coalition al-Tawafuq, has two lobbyists — Muthanna al-Hanooti and Mohammed Alomari, both of suburban Detroit.

The Kurds have spent nearly $3 million on lobbying and public relations efforts here since 2003, including paying powerhouse Republican lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers nearly $1.7 million, according to Justice Department records. The Kurds' top lobbyist there is Ed Rogers, a former White House aide to former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

According to Justice Department records, the Iraqi lobbying activities in Washington included:

•Barbour Griffith lobbyists met with Bush administration officials on the Kurds' behalf a dozen times between December 2005 and November 2006. They met with Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and President Bush's deputy national security adviser for Iraq, Meghan O'Sullivan. Among other issues, the Kurds want U.S. support for their continued semi-autonomous status and their drive to make the oil-rich city of Kirkuk part of their territory.

•Consultants from three firms, led by Theros & Theros LLP, arranged media interviews and meetings with lawmakers for Ayad Allawi during the time he headed the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003 and 2004. Allawi, who later was named interim prime minister before elections in 2005, was trying to build support among lawmakers and think-tank experts.

•White & Case lawyers advised the Iraqi government what action to take against those responsible for the corruption in the Oil-for-Food Program under Saddam Hussein.

•Al-Hanooti, president of Focus on Advocacy and Advancement of International Relations, met with a half-dozen U.S. officials, including O'Sullivan, on behalf of al-Tawafuq. The party's goals include implementing a military draft to increase Sunni representation in Iraq's security forces and prosecuting militias responsible for sectarian killings. Al-Hanooti's registration with the Justice Department also says the Sunni party supports U.S. negotiations with Sunni insurgents, which the document refers to as "the Iraqi Armed Resistance." Al-Hanooti declined to comment.

Talabany, an affable former Maserati mechanic married to a former U.S. State Department official, became head of the Kurds' Washington office in December. He says he wants to raise Americans' awareness of his people.

In an office adorned with a photo of his father with President Bush, Talabany explains that the Kurds want to be viewed by Americans as savvy business partners and loyal allies "fighting shoulder to shoulder in the war on terrorism." The Kurds' efforts have included advertisements on Fox News Channel and in the Wall Street Journal touting their region as "the other Iraq."

"We want to develop an unbreakable friendship with the American people," Talabany says.

Talabany's biggest concern is a U.S. pullout, which he says would leave the Kurds vulnerable to Iran or to extremists aligned with al-Qaeda. A U.S.-enforced no-fly zone from 1992 to 2003 has spared the region much of the violence and neglect the rest of Iraq has suffered in the past two decades.

"If our commitment to a federal democracy in Iraq is not backed up with a sense of support from the United States," he said, "our future is going to be very hard."

Leaders in trying to win friends and influence policy

The five Iraqi clients who have spent the most on lobbying since 2003.

Firm/representative: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
Client: Iraqi Finance Ministry
Term: July 14, 2004 Present
Paid: $10,088,844
Subject: Renegotiating Iraqi foreign debt

Firm/representative: White & Case LLP
Client: Iraqi government
Term: May 21, 2004 July 15, 2006
Paid: $3,332,070
Subject: Auditing and overseeing Oil-for-Food Program

Firm/representative: Barbour Griffith & Rogers LLC
Client: Kurdish regional government
Term: June 3, 2004 Present
Paid: $1,660,138
Subject: Promoting Kurdish interests

Firm/representative: Nijyar Shemdin
Client: Kurdish regional government
Term: July 22, 1997 Oct. 31, 2006
Paid: $1,019,001 (2003-06)
Subject: Promoting Kurdish interests

Firm/representative: Theros & Theros LLP
Client: Former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi
Term: Oct. 24, 2003 April 20, 2004
Paid: $360,053
Subject: Gaining U.S. support for Allawi's policies

Source: U.S. Justice Department

Jun. 16, 2007

The Guardian

The Guardian is a British newspaper owned by the Guardian Media Group. It is published Monday to Saturday in the Berliner format. Until 1959 it was called The Manchester Guardian, which reflected its origins; the paper is rarely still referred to by this name – except in North America, where the old name is sometimes used (to distinguish it from other newspapers with similar names). The newspaper's main offices and printing centres are located in London and Manchester.

The Guardian Weekly, which circulates worldwide, provides a compact digest of four newspapers. It contains articles from The Guardian and its Sunday paper, The Observer, as well as reports, features and book reviews from The Washington Post and articles translated from France's Le Monde.

All the fun of the fair - it must be Iraq

Regional chiefs hope new resort will help kick-start holiday industry

Michael Howard in Rowanduz

It is Friday afternoon, and the queue for the downhill toboggan run is getting longer. Sirwan Mohammed catches his breath as he hops off the luge with his grandfather in tow and joins the back of the line for another go. "It's great fun no matter how old you are," he enthuses. "Who says you can't have fun in Iraq?"

Welcome to the Pank resort, a multi-million-pound leisure complex that would be unremarkable in most parts of the world. But in a country riven by war the sight of alpine-style chalets, manicured lawns and a roller-coaster sledge ride comes as a shock. It is easy to forget that this is Iraq. Even more so when you take in the stunning backdrop of some of Kurdistan's highest peaks.

"Simply strap yourself in and let gravity do the rest," an attendant tells a pair of thrill-seekers as he gives the cart a gentle shove. "There's no need for any steering," he tells them as they slide forward, "you do have a brake handle."

Once complete the site will boast a five-star hotel, restaurants, swimming pools, saunas, tennis courts, helipads and mini golf. A cable car will be also constructed across the spectacular gorge where only eagles dare.

"It is the first such tourist investment in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein," says its proud owner, Hazem Kurda, a former refugee from the Ba'athist regime, who made his fortune importing raw brown rice into the EU from his new home in Sweden. Like thousands in the Kurdish diaspora who left under Saddam he returned home after the "liberation" in 2003.

"I saw an opportunity. People may say I am crazy. But building a proper responsible tourist industry in Kurdistan could benefit Iraq as a whole," he says. "Tourism could help wean us from our reliance on oil."

The site near the town of Rowanduz is situated 1,000 metres up, on a narrow tongue of rock that slopes down from Korek mountain between the deep canyons of two rivers, then narrows and ends in a small plateau. It is on this plateau that Mr Kurda chose to develop the resort. But first he had to remove the mines left behind by Saddam's army.

The new complex is just part of broader plans to develop the tourist sector elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan. Mr Kurda is just the kind of risk-taker the authorities are looking for.

"We would like to see more investors like him," says Nimrud Beito, the tourism minister, in the new tourism ministry in the regional capital, Irbil. The Kurdish regional government has introduced tax breaks for anyone who wants to take the plunge, he says.

An Assyrian from the northern city of Dohuk, Mr Beito says the region has much to offer: "ancient archaeological sites, cultural and religious locations, and splendid natural scenery."

He foresees a growth in activity tourism, rock climbing, white water rafting, and bird watching.

The tourism infrastructure is rudimentary at best. The few decent hotels are over-priced and are often full of visiting businessmen. There are no tour guides or information packs. Few taxi drivers speak a foreign language. And if you venture on to the roads by yourself, the Saddam-era maps will soon get you lost.

Frustrated with the image of Iraq in the outside world, the Kurdish authorities are trying to present another face. "The focus is on building a future rather than on simply trying to stay alive," says Mr Beito.

Much is made of the Kurds' friendliness to foreigners and the fact that not a single American soldier has been killed in the region since 2003.

The British Foreign Office also recently altered its travel advisory to northern Iraq to reflect its relative stability. Despite the proximity to strife-torn cities such as Mosul and Kirkuk, and with the Turkish army camped on the northern borders, Iraqi Kurdistan remains remarkably calm.

The first British package tour to Kurdistan has just returned home. Geoff Hahn of Hinterland Travel, who has been organising Iraq tours for the best part of 30 years, took a group to Rowanduz, Yezidi villages, Irbil's ancient citadel - reputedly the world's oldest continuously inhabited place, and the site of the legendary battle of Arbella between Alexander the Great and the Persians. "We are an adventure travel firm and it was an adventure," he says. "But it was a good one and we already have plenty of interest for another tour in September."

For Mr Kurda the resort is the fulfilment of a childhood dream. As a 12-year-old he would slip past the Iraqi guard posts keeping a watchful eye on his hometown and perch on the edge of the gorge to study his schoolbooks. "I made a promise to myself that if I worked hard enough one day that land, this magical place where I grew up, would no longer be a place of oppression but one of joy," he says. "I wanted to hear the sound of laughter in a land which has seen much suffering."
Part of the project will reflect how different the Kurds are from the Arabs, he says. "Not better, just different, with our own history and culture. We Kurds have been here as long as the mountains themselves."

The Kurdish hope for a tourism influx may yet be disappointed. A bomb attack against the interior ministry in Irbil in May, which killed a number of civilians, was a reminder of the terrorist threat. But with two international airports built since 2003 the once isolated region is now more accessible.

Last December Austrian Airlines became the first international scheduled airline to fly into Iraq. Occupancy is running at 80%, and the route is one of the best performing on the Austrian network, according to Peter Katzlberger, the country director in Iraq.

Jun. 1, 2007

The Washington Times

The Washington Times is a daily broadsheet newspaper published in Washington, D.C., United States. As of March 31, 2007, the Times had an average daily circulation of 102,351, about one-seventh that of its chief competitor, The Washington Post.

Kurdish resort an oasis of peace in Iraq
By Jason Motlagh

Rawanduz, Iraq - If the sight of jagged peaks towering above red-roofed chalets fails to conjure up the Swiss Alps, the screams of children riding the imported alpine toboggan make the comparison hard to avoid.

But armed guards at the gate betray what visitors would like to forget: The newly opened Pank Resort is located in Iraq, a country fractured by war.

Owner Hazem Kurda, a Kurd who fled to Sweden during the Saddam Hussein-era and opened a successful rice-processing plant, knows he took a huge risk when he decided to invest tens of millions of dollars of his own money to build a sprawling modern complex nestled high in the northeast of Iraqi Kurdistan.

"To speak of [Iraq] and tourism in the same breath may sound crazy to many people," Mr. Kurda said. "But I made up my mind to do something unique in my country. I thought somebody should take the initiative, and others will follow."

Coming attractions include a cable car across the limestone gorge that plunges from the edge of his property, an 18-hole mini-golf course and a camping site for those on tighter budgets. If all goes well, he thinks Hilton or Sheraton might one day lend its name.

Today, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a growing number of bold entrepreneurs are going to great lengths to promote the north as "the other Iraq," a haven of relative calm where Iraqi Kurds, Arabs and foreigners alike are free to do business, retreat to nature or just live normally for a few days.

This peace was shattered May 9 when a suicide truck bomb struck the Interior Ministry in Irbil, a rare attack in the regional capital that killed 19 persons and proved that no part of Iraq is immune to violence.

However, KRG officials are proud of the fact that no coalition forces have been killed and no foreigners kidnapped in the autonomous region since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. They attribute this record to a vigilant security apparatus comprising some 100,000 peshmerga troops and police, supported by a public which treasures stability and development as the groundwork for an independent state.

'The other Iraq'
A promotional hook on the KRG Web site reads: "Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan. Where democracy has been practiced for over a decade. It's not a dream. It's the other Iraq."

"Stability here is not understood in the world yet," said Nimrud Baito, minister of tourism in the KRG. "We need a media revolution to let people know that the Kurdistan region is something different from Iraq, especially as far as security goes. We think [conditions] here are only going to get better and better."

Faith in the future has attracted massive investment from one unlikely source, neighboring Turkey. Hundreds of diesel trucks rumble across the northern border each day with steel, concrete and other raw materials to feed a construction boom, despite heated rhetoric between Turkish and Kurdish officials over the Kurds' unspoken bid for independence. Of nearly 600 foreign companies registered in the region, some 350 of them are Turkish.

Investment Chairman Herish Muhamad says the government expects rapid growth, thanks to a business-friendly climate that gives "maximum" rights to investors.

Perks include a minimum of state interference or bureaucratic red tape; the freedom to repatriate capital abroad or shut down anytime, or import manpower from anywhere in the world; a 10-year tax exemption and no customs duties for five years on imported materials.

"Interested companies ask, 'Where is your infrastructure so we can come,' " Mr. Muhamad said. "My reply to them is: 'Come and make this absence of infrastructure an opportunity for investment.' " New homes priced between $100,000 and $500,000 are selling out before they are finished, he added, "like in Dubai."

Visitors also have the option of flying in business class. The Kurdish region already has international airports in Sulaymaniyah, the second-largest city, and Irbil, from which Austrian Airlines opened a direct line to Europe last year, providing a symbolic victory after years of isolation.

Niche tourism
This month, Britain-based Hinterland Travel is escorting its first batch of package-deal tourists, with more in the pipeline.

Founder Geoff Hahn is a longtime Iraq hand who has operated in the country on and off for 30 years and says he wants to resume tours to the rest of Iraq "ASAP." For now he's leading a dozen travelers on a 21-day "pilot exploratory trip" through northern Iraq, eastern Turkey and Iran. Total cost: a hefty $3,760 plus visa fees and insurance.

Still, interest has grown steadily, he says, and a second trip planned for September is filling up.

"We are the only people operating to Iraqi Kurdistan, for the moment anyway," Mr. Hahn said. "I shall keep enlarging the schedule as we get more insight into what is relatively unexplored tourist territory."

Arab Iraqis, for their part, are already coming north in droves. The Ministry of Tourism says it needs at least 10 times the amount of hotel rooms available at present to keep apace with rising demand.

But analysts warn that the Kurdish region is now in danger on two fronts.

Archrival Turkey has threatened a unilateral military incursion into northern Iraq to oust separatist Kurdistan Workers Party guerrillas known to stage cross-border attacks, while tensions mount over the fate of Kirkuk, an oil-rich, ethnically mixed city less than two hours drive from Irbil that the Kurds want to annex in a referendum this year.

Several recent attacks have targeted the Kurdish majority there, and Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi's Army militia has vowed to resist any Kurdish attempt to take control of the city.

"If the referendum is held later this year over the objections of other communities, the civil war is very likely to spread to Kirkuk and the Kurdish region," said an April report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Back at Mr. Kurda's Pank Resort, such forecasts seemed as distant as the cloudless horizon. A group of well-heeled Arabs from Baghdad were sipping Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky in the restaurant, in front of a framed picture of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.

Guests have already been coming for months to unwind, among them former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, but this day was the official grand opening, and there were still bricks to be laid and walls without paint.

Taking a break outside, Mr. Kurda mused: "Nobody is sure how long we have been in these mountains, but one thing is sure: We Kurds belong in these mountains. And everyone else should come and see for themselves. Just look at this beauty around us."

Apr. 23, 2007

The Washington Post

The Washington Post is the largest newspaper in Washington, D.C.. It is also one of the city's oldest papers, having been founded in 1877.

Kurds Cultivating Their Own Bonds With U.S.
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer

The 30-second television commercial features stirring scenes of a young Iraqi boy high-fiving a U.S. soldier, a Westerner dining alfresco, and men and women dancing together. "Have you seen the other Iraq?" the narrator asks. "It's spectacular. It's joyful."

"Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan!" the narrator continues. "It's not a dream. It's the other Iraq."

With Sunni and Shiite Arabs locked in a bloody sectarian war, Iraq's Kurds are promoting their interests through an influence-buying campaign in the United States that includes airing nationwide television advertisements, hiring powerful Washington lobbyists and playing parts of the U.S. government against each other. A former car mechanic who happens to be the son of Iraq's president is at the center of Kurdish efforts to cultivate support for their semi-independent enclave, but the cast of Kurdish proponents also includes evangelical Christians, Israeli operatives and Republican political consultants.

In the past year, the Kurds have spent more than $3 million to retain lobbyists and set up a diplomatic office in Washington. They are cultivating grass-roots advocates among supporters of President Bush's war policy and evangelicals who believe that many key figures in the Bible lived in Kurdistan. And they are seeking to build an emotional bond with ordinary Americans, like those forged by Israel and Taiwan, by running commercials on national cable news channels to assert that even as Iraq teeters toward a full-blown civil war, one corner of the country, at least, has fulfilled the Bush administration's ambition of a peaceful, democratic, pro-Western beachhead in the Middle East.

But elements of the Kurds' campaign run counter to the policy of a unified Iraq espoused by the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Some senior U.S. officials contend that yielding to Kurdish demands for increased autonomy could break up Iraq and destabilize Turkey, a NATO ally that is fighting a guerrilla war with Kurdish separatists -- some of whom have taken sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdish leaders cast their self-promotion initiative as a bulwark against attempts to restrict their federal rights. With only 40,000 or so Kurds living in the United States, Kurdish officials insist they have no choice but to pursue the dual strategy of wooing non-Kurdish constituencies and lobbying in Washington.

"We have to use all the tools at our disposal to help ourselves," said Qubad Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, sent here as the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative in Washington.

Kurds want the sort of "strategic and institutional relationship" that Israel and Taiwan have with the United States, Talabani, 29, said. "It doesn't matter which party is in power in Washington -- the U.S. government isn't going to abandon either of those countries," he added. "We are seeking the same protection."

Talabani, a former Maserati repairman, was raised by his grandparents in Britain and moved to Washington in 2000 knowing nothing about power politics. He soon began dating -- and later married -- a State Department staffer working on Iraq policy. He wears French-cuff shirts and Windsor-knotted ties with pinstripe suits. He lunches at the Bombay Club and works two blocks from the White House.

He has more clout than any other Iraqi in Washington because of his ability to call his father directly and because he represents the collective view of an influential minority -- one that holds enough seats in Iraq's parliament to wield effective veto power over a proposed law to distribute national oil revenue to Iraqis, as well as other legislation sought by the United States. By contrast, Baghdad's ambassador to Washington is a secular Sunni Arab who has limited sway with his Shiite-dominated government.

Talabani is in regular contact with senior officials in the White House. He drops in on members of Congress, and he has met with four of the presidential candidates: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).

"We've been on the fringes for too long," Talabani said.

Lobbying for Support

Making friends in the United States is crucial for Iraq's 5 million ethnic Kurds, most of whom live in three mountainous northern provinces that are administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government, effectively a state within a state. The regional government has the power to pass its own laws, maintain its own internal security force and even bar the entry of the Iraqi army. Iraq's national flag is nonexistent in Kurdistan -- every government building is adorned with the red, white and green Kurdish flag -- and foreign visitors who fly into Irbil, the regional capital, receive a visa to Kurdistan, not Iraq.

Although the regional government was enshrined by Iraq's constitution in 2005, it remains a point of tension with Arab Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiite, who live to the south. Sunni Arabs have argued that national reconciliation is impossible without revoking many of the concessions given to the Kurds, particularly a promise to hold a referendum this year on whether the oil-rich city of Kirkuk -- home to Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds -- will become part of Kurdistan.

The three nations that border Iraqi Kurdistan -- Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of which have significant populations of ethnic Kurds -- also remain deeply vexed by Kurdish autonomy in Iraq.

Most worrisome to Kurdish leaders, however, is their relationship with Washington. The Kurds believe they should be recognized as a certifiable success story in a war that has lasted more than four years: They're largely secular, no U.S. military personnel have been killed in Kurdistan since the March 2003 invasion, and business is booming in Irbil and other Kurdish cities because Kurdish militias, known as peshmerga, have managed to keep out Sunni Arab insurgents.

But Kurdish officials contend that the U.S. government has done little to reward these achievements. The State Department acknowledges spending 3 percent of its reconstruction funds on the Kurds since 2003, even though they make up about 20 percent of Iraq's population. Kurdish leaders also argue that U.S. diplomats have been pushing them to make concessions that would weaken the regional government in an attempt to placate Sunni Arabs.

"If they think that the Kurds are going to roll over like lame puppies, and have the power that they have earned taken away from them and given to those who have done nothing but kill Americans, then they have a shocking surprise awaiting them," Talabani said over a gin and tonic at the Hay-Adams Hotel bar. "We exist on the map, whether they like it or not."

The Kurds' lobbying activities in the post-Saddam Hussein era began with a quest for $4 billion.

Kurdish leaders believed they were owed at least that much from the United Nations' corruption-tainted oil-for-food program, which regulated the sale of Iraqi oil from 1995 to 2003. Because the money was transferred to a trust fund controlled by the United States shortly after the invasion, the Kurds set their sights on Washington.

Back then, the two principal Kurdish political organizations -- Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- had separate representatives in Washington. Talabani's man was Barham Salih, who now is Iraq's deputy prime minister and who became Qubad Talabani's mentor.

The task of chasing down the money, however, fell to Barzani's representative, Farhad Barzani.

Seeking help to navigate Washington, Farhad Barzani turned to Danny Yatom, a former director of Israel's spy service, the Mossad, according to senior Kurdish officials and former U.S. government officials familiar with the Kurds' efforts. Yatom's business partner, Shlomi Michaels, who was looking for investments in Kurdistan, agreed to help the Kurds find a lobbyist, the officials said. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Michaels initially sought out Jack Abramoff, then a powerful Republican-connected lobbyist, the officials said. But Abramoff, who was later convicted of bribery and is now in prison, asked for more than the Kurds wanted to pay, the officials said. One American lobbyist said Abramoff wanted the Kurds to pay him $65,000 a month. Michaels did not respond to several phone messages.

Russell Wilson, a former Republican congressional staff member whom Michaels asked for advice, eventually suggested that the Kurds contact Ed Rogers, a GOP political operative and former White House official who runs one of Washington's most influential lobbying firms. On June 3, 2004, Barbour Griffith & Rogers agreed to represent the Kurdistan Democratic Party for $29,000 a month.

Qubad Talabani said the firm lobbied the White House for the $4 billion.

Twenty days later, on June 23, the U.S. occupation administration in Iraq gave the Kurds $1.4 billion in cash. The U.S. military flew the money -- brand-new $100 bills in shrink-wrapped bricks -- to Irbil on three helicopters.

Although officials with the occupation authority maintained that the payout was the Kurds' share of Iraq's 2004 capital budget and was unconnected to lobbying, Kurdish leaders insist otherwise.

Barbour, Griffith & Rogers's business with the Kurds has since steadily expanded. The Kurdistan Regional Government paid the firm $869,333 for work performed in the first 11 months of last year, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Justice Department.

The firm's lobbying was "very helpful in getting us the oil-for-food money," said Talabani, who now represents both Kurdish parties. "It was a tangible victory for the Kurds."

A Friend in Commerce

Next up was an even bigger prize: the $18.4 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds flowing into Iraq. As with the oil-for-food money, Kurdish leaders believed they deserved at least 20 percent -- their perceived fair share based on Kurds' proportion of Iraq's population.

The State Department had a different view. Kurdistan had been protected from Hussein's army since 1991 by U.S. warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone, and had enjoyed far greater development in the intervening years than Arab-dominated parts of Iraq. Despite Kurdish pleas and vigorous lobbying, the department decided that the vast majority of the reconstruction funds would go elsewhere.

By 2005, Kurdish leaders decided to shift their strategy. Kurdistan was becoming an increasingly popular destination for businessmen who deemed Baghdad too dangerous for visiting or for investment. Rather than argue about aid, the Kurds proposed that the U.S. government encourage American investment in Kurdistan.

Talabani and Ayal Frank, a former congressional staffer and legislative analyst for the Israeli Embassy who was hired as a lobbyist by the Kurdistan Regional Government, sidestepped the State Department in favor of the Commerce Department, which they considered more receptive. "If a door shuts on you," Talabani said, "you go in through the window." After several meetings with Commerce's Iraq task force, Talabani added, "common sense prevailed."

"In some quarters at State, there's this zero-sum view: that helping the Kurds means you're hurting the Arabs," he said. "People at Commerce had a different view. They started to realize that developing safer parts of the country is not detrimental to the rest of the country."

Multiple meetings, phone calls and e-mails paid off on Feb. 20 of this year, when Franklin L. Lavin, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, traveled to Irbil to promote Kurdistan as a "gateway" for U.S. business in Iraq. Lavin said his visit was designed "to encourage companies that are looking at Iraq . . . to think about particular locales that might be more fruitful environments for starting a business."

Talabani said he considers Lavin's trip a "big success" because it involved a Cabinet agency "reassessing the way it views doing business in Iraq."

But for Talabani and other Kurdish officials, a major barrier to U.S. investment remains: the State Department's travel warning for Iraq, which cautions that the country is "very dangerous," without distinguishing one region from another.

Talabani has urged the department to change the warning, which he said "tells the potential businessman that all of Iraq is unsafe, and that's not true." Although foreign investment is pouring into Kurdistan, very little is from large U.S. corporations, he added.

Lavin declined to comment on the matter, but Kurdish officials said he has also pressed the State Department to amend the warning.

In an April 3 letter to Talabani, Maura Harty, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, said the warning "accurately reflects the current situation" in Iraq.

Talabani said he plans to urge members of Congress and business executives to petition the State Department.

"We're going to keep up the pressure," he said.

The Minister and the TV Crew

As the Washington campaign unfolded, the other component of the Kurds' influence-building strategy was taking shape three blocks from the beach in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Bill Garaway, an evangelical Christian minister, realized that the Kurds had a public-relations problem when he told his neighbors in the seaside town that he was performing missionary work in Kurdistan.

"They said, 'Who are the Kurds?' " recalled Garaway. "I said, 'There is nobody like them in the Middle East. They're Muslim, but they hate fundamentalist Islam. They love America.' "

On a trip to Iraq in late 2004, he pitched the idea of airing commercials touting Kurdistan in the United States. The Kurds were intrigued. They told Garaway to produce a few spots.

He began filming in early 2005, with a camera crew that captured children waving flags, shoppers strolling through a new mall and peshmerga soldiers saluting. By the end of the summer, he had created three 30-second commercials.

The first, in which a succession of Kurds look into the camera and thank the United States, aired last summer on cable news stations. It generated immediate buzz.

"Seeing Iraqis say 'thank you' was very powerful," Garaway said. "It's not something most Americans had heard before."

Garaway, a rangy 62-year-old with receding silver hair, became enamored with the Kurds more than a decade ago, after concluding that many key events described in the Bible occurred in Kurdistan, including the stories of Noah's ark and Queen Esther. He believes not only that the Kurds are descendants of the ancient Medes people, but also that the three wise men who the Bible says visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem came from Kurdistan.

For Garaway, championing the Kurdish cause has been the latest twist in a life filled with unexpected turns. As he tells it, he protested the Vietnam War as a college student, burning his draft card at a UCLA rally in 1967. He subsequently lived in a commune with 140 others in the hills above Palo Alto, Calif., where he ran a food cooperative, taught yoga, befriended members of the Grateful Dead and hosted poet Allen Ginsberg in his treehouse. One day, a group of friends who had left the commune returned and invited Garaway to join their church. He did, and soon after, he said, "God revealed himself to me."

He and his wife settled in Santa Cruz in the early 1970s, where they opened a church, started to surf and began to raise a family. They had six children, all of whom were home-schooled. Four have become professional surfers.

Garaway, who has served as the president of a Christian aid organization operating in northern Iraq, said the Kurds should have an independent homeland -- a view that goes well beyond the stated positions of Qubad Talabani and other Kurdish leaders.

"There's more of the best American values in Kurdistan than anywhere else in the Islamic world," he said. "We should be encouraging them, not standing in their way."

Garaway enlisted Russo Marsh & Rogers, a Republican-oriented political consulting firm in Sacramento, to place the commercials. The firm is closely affiliated with Move America Forward, a conservative advocacy group that has organized rallies in support of continuing military operations in Iraq. Last year, the group invited the director of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, which coordinated payment for the commercials, to speak at a luncheon in San Francisco featuring parents of military personnel who had died in Iraq.

Move America Forward also organized a trip for the parents to visit Kurdistan, where they met with Massoud Barzani and other prominent Kurds. Garaway said he and Salvatore Russo, the chief strategist of Russo Marsh & Rogers, arranged to be there at the same time.

The parents are now "some of the strongest supporters of the Kurds," Russo said. "For them, it's a validation that their child didn't die in vain."

After the trip, Move America Forward and the parents issued a report calling for "developing and maintaining a major U.S. military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan" -- a key goal of Kurdish leaders.

Now Garaway hopes to take his national campaign on behalf of Kurdistan to "the next level" with an influential Washington partner: the mechanic-turned-lobbyist Qubad Talabani. Garaway has encouraged Talabani and other Kurdish leaders to spend several million dollars this year to run all three commercials on prime-time network television. "If more of the American public sees these spots, we can have a more rational approach to dealing with the war," he said.

Getting Americans "to understand our story," Talabani agreed, is essential for the Kurds.

"We have a real story of the resilience of the underdog, that shares the values of America, that is succeeding," he added. "It's not unlike the American dream."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Apr. 12, 2007


Time (whose trademark is capitalized TIME) is a weekly American newsmagazine, similar to Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. A European edition (Time Europe, formerly known as Time Atlantic) is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition (Time Asia) is based in Hong Kong. Time publishes simultaneously in Canada, with separate advertising. The South Pacific edition, covering Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In some advertising campaigns, the magazine has suggested that through a backronym the letters TIME stand for "The International Magazine of Events."

Cover of this issue - Apr. 23, 2007

Where Iraq Works (Kurdistan: Iraq's Next Battleground?)
By Andrew Lee Butters/ Arbil

Like residents of Berlin during the airlift, inhabitants of Arbil--capital of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq--get a little flutter in their hearts when they see a plane coming in to land. Built after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Arbil's international airport is a symbol to Kurds that their years of isolation as an oppressed ethnic minority are over and that the Kurdish region, unlike the rest of Iraq, is open for business. Passengers flying into Baghdad have to endure a corkscrew landing to avoid possible surface-to-air missiles. But a trip to Arbil is so safe that on my flight I was the only passenger packing body armor. When I arrived, my biggest problem was the $50 fare charged for a 10-minute cab ride by the drivers of Hello Taxi--and finding a room at one of the city's packed hotels.

Such is life in Iraqi Kurdistan, the last beacon of stability amid the wreckage of the U.S. enterprise in Iraq. Of course, stability is a relative term. True, the airport is putting in a runway long enough to accommodate jumbo jets, but for now it will be used mainly for U.S. military flights. That's because only one Western carrier--Austrian Airlines--is brave enough to land there. Other flights are run by off-brand charters with names like Flying Carpet and Middle Eastern carriers like Iraqi Airways. And even those are unreliable. Many of the officials at Iraqi Airways are former Baathists who deliberately try to delay flights. Flights from Turkey often get canceled when there's a public dispute between Kurdish and Turkish politicians. And all flights in and out of Kurdish Iraq still have to receive clearance from both the civil-aviation authority in Baghdad and the American air base in Qatar.

Iraqi Kurds have been in control of their region since 1991, when, with the help of the U.S.-enforced no-fly zone, they drove Saddam's forces out of northern Iraq. But now, four years after the liberation of the rest of the country, Kurdish Iraq is undergoing an identity crisis. On the one hand, it is a rare success story in the Middle East: a stable territory run by a secular leadership committed to economic and political reform and sitting on a huge pool of oil. On the other hand, it is tiny and landlocked, uncomfortably attached to a war-ravaged nation and surrounded by unfriendly neighbors. Despite the region's outward signs of tranquillity, the fate of Kurdistan--whether it will continue as an inspiring example of what the rest of Iraq could look like or become engulfed by the country's violence--remains unresolved, dependent as much on what happens to the barely functioning Iraqi state as on the Kurds.

For the Bush Administration, the central question is how long the Kurds can be persuaded to remain part of a united Iraq. The overwhelming majority of Kurds would like to break free of Iraq and form an independent nation. So far, Kurdish leaders have been a constructive force in holding Iraq together, helping to write and adopt a national constitution that, although it gave great powers to the regions, has kept Iraq intact as a federal state. Kurds are serving at the highest levels of the Iraqi government, including as President, Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

But it's doubtful that spirit of cooperation will last. The further that Iraq slides into civil war, the more the Kurds will want to insulate themselves from it, by carving out more political and economic autonomy. Even if they stop short of outright secession, the Kurds could still unleash new conflicts in Iraq if their impatience with the fecklessness of the Baghdad government prompts them to take action on their own. The most explosive flashpoint is Kirkuk, the disputed oil-rich city that the Kurds lay claim to. As Iraq's Kurdish President, Massoud Barzani, said on March 22 during the farewell visit of departing U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, "Our patience is not unlimited." So what happens to Iraq when it runs out?

WHEN I FIRST TRAVELED TO THE KURDISH north in August 2004 to escape the heat and violence of Baghdad, the so-called Switzerland of Iraq was disappointing in one respect: summers on the high plains of Arbil are almost as scorching. Otherwise, Kurdistan was a refuge. In Baghdad, journalists had begun hiring security entourages and erecting guarded compounds. To the north in Arbil, as a visiting American, I was practically given the keys to the city. I did my reporting by foot or hailed taxis from the street, spent my evenings in beer gardens or pizza parlors, and slept on the roof of the house, with the sound of crickets rather than Kalashnikovs in the cooling night air.

Since then the differences between Kurdistan and Iraq proper have become even more dramatic. The plains around Arbil--once a glaring semidesert wasteland--are exploding with luxury housing developments. They have names like British Village, which resembles a gated California suburb, and Dream City, which supposedly will have its own conference center, supermarket and American-style school. The Turkish developers of Naz City, a high-rise condominium complex, are trying to sell house-proud Kurds on modern apartment living. An American company wants to build Iraq's first ski resort in the mountains near the Turkish and Iranian borders. While citizens in Baghdad struggle to survive, a sign in Arbil declares that the city is "striving for perfection."

The Kurds' most important achievement has been to keep their region free of Iraq's insurgency and sectarian warfare, thanks to their army of 70,000 peshmerga soldiers. Not a single American soldier has been killed in Kurdistan since the start of the war in Iraq, and there hasn't been a major terrorist attack in Arbil since June 2005.

Take a walk, however, in any of this city's safe and prosperous neighborhoods, and you will quickly see that the other Iraq isn't so far away. Some 150,000 displaced Iraqi Arabs have taken refuge in Kurdistan from the conflict in the central and southern parts of the country.
Kurdish officials require Iraqi Arabs trying to enter Kurdistan to have a Kurdish resident vouch for their character. As a result, the Arab refugee population is largely middle class, with a preponderance of doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

But as the number of newcomers swells, tensions are rising. Not many Kurds have forgotten the years of repression by Iraq's Arab majority, and many now blame Arabs for rising home prices. While I was waiting to speak to the president of Salahaddin University in Arbil, which has added some 200 Arab professors to its faculty, a visiting Kurdish archaeologist offered his expert opinion on the subject. "From Muhammad until now, Arabs are rotten to the bone," he said, "even when they are being friendly to you." Non-Kurdish Iraqis, for their part, resent being treated as second-class citizens in Kurdish Iraq. "Why do I need permission to live in my own country?" said Walaa Matti, an Assyrian Christian who fled his home in Mosul and works in the business center of a hotel in Arbil. "I'm Iraqi, and this is my country, but I feel like a stranger."

The Kurds' tenuous relationship with Arab Iraq is even more combustible some 47 miles south, in Kirkuk. The city is less than a two-hour drive from Arbil, but the road trip into the other Iraq is a spooky one. To the left, there's a chain of forts left over from the Iran-Iraq war, crumbling masonry monsters that look as if they were built to World War I specifications. The Hamreen Mountains to the right are practically deserted save for a series of sentry posts silhouetted along the ridge line. And waiting straight ahead at the gates of Kirkuk is a natural-gas flare, an eternal flame that the locals call Babagurgur, which is the symbol of this oil-rich city.

Kirkuk, with its mixed population of Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans, has long had the potential to be a sectarian powder keg. Under Saddam's Baathist regime, the Iraqi government forced out a large number of the city's majority Kurdish population and resettled the city with Arabs from the south. Now ethnic tensions are erupting as Kurds demand the return of Kirkuk to their control. The day I visited in March, a series of two car bombs and three roadside bombs killed 18 people. On April 1, at least 15 people, including eight schoolchildren, died in a suicide truck bombing.

The violence in this city of about 1 million people hasn't reached a level comparable to that in Baghdad. Infrastructure and services in the city are functional by Iraqi standards despite the central government, which delays projects by sheer inertia, say U.S. and Kurdish officials. Such neglect may soon reach a crisis point in Kirkuk. The Iraqi constitution calls for the city to hold a referendum by year's end on whether it should remain under the control of the central Iraqi government in Baghdad or become part of Iraqi Kurdistan.

A growing number of voices outside Iraq--including the Baker-Hamilton commission--have called for the contentious issue to be shelved. But Kurdish leaders say further delay only increases the chance that the political process for settling the Kirkuk issue will turn into an ethnic struggle. Kirkuk is a major staging ground for Arab insurgents trying to infiltrate Kurdistan, and Kurds say they could do a better job than the Iraqi government of maintaining security there. "If we had control of Kirkuk, we could clean it out in two months," said Abdullah Ali Muhammad, head of Kurdish security forces in Arbil. Other Kurdish officials warn that if the referendum is delayed, Kurds forced out of Kirkuk by the old regime's ethnic-cleansing program would try to return on their own. If that happens and if the Iraqi government hasn't moved out the "new" Arabs transplanted there under Saddam, "there will be civil war," according to Kamal Kirkuki, vice president of the Kurdistan Parliament and head of a committee overseeing territorial disputes. Delay would give insurgents that much longer to set off car bombs and push the city closer to Baghdad-style sectarian revenge killings.

And that's just the beginning. U.S. officials and Kurdish leaders know that unilateral moves by Kurds--to take Kirkuk on their own or drop out of the Iraqi government--would not only provoke the ire of Iraq's Arab majority but also risk intervention by Iraq's neighbors, such as Turkey, Iran and Syria, which all have restive Kurdish minorities of their own. Turkey, for instance, would likely shut the borders with Kurdistan and stop all flights coming in from over its airspace. Of all the problems that would follow, the most ironic could be that a newly independent oil-rich Kurdistan, without any refineries or pipelines, would run out of gas. Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdish government's office of foreign relations, told me that declaring independence would be "political suicide."

But even that worst-case scenario might not be enough to dissuade the popular clamor inside Kurdistan for more assertive action. Just four years since the fall of Saddam, most Kurds may be willing to remain a part of Iraq for now, but few want their destinies to remain tied to a poor, failing state beset by sectarian carnage. Over time, the push for a free and independent Kurdistan may become irresistible. In a bid to manage expectations, the Kurdish leadership is putting out a new party line, echoed in mosques and newspaper editorials: "Be grateful." But as Americans have learned in Iraq, gratitude is a wasting asset.,9171,1609787-1,00.html

Apr. 9, 2007

The Politico

The Politico is a Washington, D.C.-based political journalism organization that distributes its content via television, the internet, newspaper, and radio.

A Holiday in Sunny Kurdistan: 'The Other Iraq'
By Ryan Grim

There's sun, there's sand and there's adventure. So why not plan your next vacation in beautiful Iraq? OK. We know what you're thinking: The rented minivan might get blown to pieces by an insurgent-placed IED or shot up by nervous soldiers at a checkpoint.

Qubad Jalal Talabany -- the son of Iraqi President and revolutionary leader Jalal Talabani (yes, they spell their names differently) -- doesn't doubt that those are possible ends for a family vacationing in Baghdad.

But there's more to Iraq than the Sunni triangle, he wants you to know. Come check out northern Iraq, known as Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region that's considered a haven compared with the rest of Iraq.

Talabany, born in exile in the United Kingdom, is the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative here in the U.S. -- and the region's tourism booster.

"We're trying to get people in America to understand that Kurdistan is not like Iraq; it's not dangerous like Iraq," he said recently in his D.C. office, sitting with a wall-sized map of Iraq behind him.

The KRG has even adopted the type of slogan that major American cities pay consultants millions of dollars for: "The Other Iraq." (Check out And don't laugh; it's not as bad as Baltimore's "Get In on It.")

The Other Iraq has plenty to offer the Western tourist. "It's a photographer's dream. The landscape is absolutely stunning," said Talabany. "Each season has its own different view. In the winter, it's snowcapped mountains. In the spring, it's lush green. In the summer, it's deep blue skies with a golden soil. In the fall, you've got a mix of the colors."

Talabany also sees a future for filmmaking in the region. "If Hollywood found out about Kurdistan, it could be a major attraction for Hollywood," he said.

Nashville, Tenn., has already found out about Kurdistan; it's the city with the largest Kurdish diaspora in the U.S. There's even a blog, the Nashville Kurds Daily, which scolds website visitors who think Kurdistan is northern Iraq: "It is southern Kurdistan. Please update your brain."

Before having too much fun at Kurdistan's expense, it's only fair to point out that Talabany does have a point. The Kurdish region was protected by the U.N.'s "no-fly zone" from 1991 until the U.S. invasion in 2003. Since then, it has been generally peaceful and free of the strife that engulfs the rest of the nation.

But it's still Iraq, and that makes it a tough sell. "I always see raised eyebrows when I say 'Iraq' and 'tourism' in the same sentence. They think I mean terrorism," said Talabany.

The U.S. State Department, noted Talabany, isn't helping matters, either, by not distinguishing in its travel advisory between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. As of March 28, it "continues to strongly warn U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq, which remains very dangerous. Remnants of the former Baath regime, transnational terrorists, criminal elements and numerous insurgent groups remain active."

Several hair-raising paragraphs about random killings and attempts to down civilian aircraft follow.

Britain, he pointed out, has a more nuanced view of Iraq, giving tourists information on specific provinces. "The general security situation in the Kurdistan Regional Government-administered area is relatively benign, compared with the rest of Iraq," advises the website of the British Embassy in Baghdad, adding that "23 civilians have been killed in attacks over the last 18 months."

Eighteen months? That's equivalent to one afternoon in Baghdad.

But that's not all Kurdistan has to offer: Talabany adds that it doesn't need fake snow, like some ski resorts in Europe -- although he concedes that Kurdistan's last ski resort closed in the 1940s. Regardless, at least there are now flights into the
Kurdish region, into either Erbil or Sulaymaniyah.

"Who'd have thought five years ago you could be collecting air miles flying to Kurdistan? It's mind-boggling," he said. "Five years ago, we'd have had to smuggle you in." (Those are United miles he's talking about, via Austrian Airlines.)

Talabany's efforts to boost travel to Kurdistan follow those by a public relations house hired by the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- which has now merged with its rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led for nearly half a century by Talabany's father.

The California-based Russo Marsh & Rogers, for its $30,000 contract, came up with the website and the slogan "The Other Iraq."

Firm president Sal Russo called the place a "sportman's paradise" and said he was working on including Kurdistan in some companies' tour packages. "Northern Iraq is heavily in the Bible," said Russo. "There is probably a Christian tour potential."

Politico correspondent Aoife McCarthy also contributed to this report.

Jul. 26, 2006

The Washington Post

The Washington Post is the largest newspaper in Washington, D.C.. It is also one of the city's oldest papers, having been founded in 1877.

The Iraq We Haven't Seen
By Al Kamen

The Kurdistan regional government is rolling out a national media blitz this week: "Kurdistan: The Other Iraq," complete with cable television ads, print ads and a national tour by the head of its development office to attract investment and tourism to its northern Iraq region.

"The Other Iraq" -- despite echoes of the pork industry's "the other white meat" ads -- was specifically chosen to counter "the public perception of Iraq as a violent and dangerous place" plunging into civil war with the "peaceful and prosperous" Kurdish region, according to the campaign.

So we see pictures of smiling kids, dancing people, a booming economy. And the campaign emphasizes that "not one American or coalition soldier has been . . . killed in the Iraqi Kurdistan region since" the war began.

Okay, so there was a car bomb on Sunday that killed 22 in Kirkuk -- the flash point that could well see serious fighting as the Kurds take it over and push out the Arabs settled there by Saddam Hussein . That critical oil center, claimed as historically Kurdish until Hussein pushed many of them out, is marked for now just outside the boundaries of "The Other Iraq."

The ad campaign is the brainchild of veteran Republican public relations firm Russo, Marsh and Rogers, last seen in July 2005 doing PR for the "Truth Tour," a week-long trip to Iraq by conservative radio talk-show folks.

The idea then, we are told, was "to report the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you're not hearing from the old-line news media . . . including the positive developments and successes they are achieving." (Seems so long ago.)

The campaign is the first of three segments this year, an RM&R spokesman said yesterday. It's part of a "pretty open-ended" deal with the Kurdish government that RM&R expects to be "in the millions of dollars over a couple of years."

Kurdistan, with its 100,000-strong pesh merga militia -- not a bunch you want to tangle with -- has been effectively independent since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As former diplomat and keen observer Peter W. Galbraith noted yesterday in a New York Times op-ed, "The Iraqi army is barred from the region, the Iraqi flag [is] prohibited and central government ministries are not present."

A nonbinding 2005 referendum in Kurdistan showed a nearly unanimous vote for independence. Loop Fans will not be shocked when the region splits off.

But for now, the beautiful mountainous area -- snow-capped peaks, even -- looks to be just about the safest place in the whole region. They even like Americans there.

Of course there are other duties, such as handling press advance, working out logistics for the traveling press, helping to prepare briefing papers and so on.

The job has been filled by Jamie Hennigan , a dedicated and super-competent reelection campaign aide.

Hennigan will need courage as well. For example: "Sir, the Canton Repository reports you told Larry King on June 1, 2005, that the Iraqi insurgency was in its 'last throes.' The actual date is May 30. Should I demand a correction?"

Aug. 23, 2005

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.

Under the Old Neighborhood: In Iraq, an Archaeologist's Paradise

Correction Appended

ERBIL, Iraq - If a neighborhood is defined as a place where human beings move in and never leave, then the world's oldest could be here at the Citadel, an ancient and teeming city within a city girded by stone walls.

In Erbil, Iraq, the Citadel is a layer cake of civilizations that may go back 100 centuries. Now, to begin digging without displacing those on top. - Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times

Resting on a layer cake of civilizations that have come and gone for an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 years, the Citadel looms over the apartment blocks of this otherwise rather gray metropolis in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The settlement rivals Jericho and a handful of other famous towns for the title of the oldest continuously inhabited site in the world. The difference is that few people have heard of the Citadel outside Iraq. And political turmoil has prevented a full study of its archaeological treasures.

While there may be confirmed traces of more ancient settlements in Iraq, said McGuire Gibson, a Mesopotamian archaeologist at the University of Chicago, the people have all vanished from those places.

"The thing about Erbil is that it is, in fact, a living town," Dr. Gibson said. "It goes back at least to 5,000 B.C.," he said. "It might go back further."

Among the peoples that have lived in this neighborhood are the Hassuna, Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Parthians and Abbasids.

In 1964, when Kanaan Rashad Mufti and his prominent family were part of the neighborhood, a floor in his father's house, near the mosque, collapsed during some renovations.

Underneath was a whole series of rooms from some previous civilization, possibly the Abbasids, said Mr. Mufti, who is now director of antiquities in western Kurdistan. There is nothing that Iraqi archaeologists would like more than to begin systematic digs through those layers, said Donny George, director of the Baghdad Museum.

"I have so much in mind," Dr. George said, expressing scientific eagerness "to make such kinds of excavations to see what we might find."

For now, what sets the Citadel visibly apart are the contrasting rituals of an ancient neighborhood that is caught between war and peace. Although the Kurdish north of Iraq has remained comparatively calm, Erbil has had its share of insurgent violence lately, and before that Saddam Hussein's campaigns to uproot and exterminate the Kurds left their mark everywhere here.

The Citadel is no exception. Living in brick hovels amid the ruins of palatial houses are about 1,000 families displaced from Kurdish villages that Mr. Hussein destroyed in an infamous pogrom called Anfal. In a routine that resembles a fire drill, the families scramble to siphon water from sinuous pipes running through the Citadel that function for about 30 minutes, once a day.

But in one of the intact great houses, a Frenchman with impeccably moussed hair has just opened a cultural institute that is displaying paintings of wildly misshapen human and bestial figures in a genre he calls postabstract. The institute, the Center Arthur Rimbaud, plans to sponsor a contest that will send a Kurd to France to study piano.

Right next door is a financially desperate textile museum founded by Lolan Mustefa, a Kurdish native of Erbil who studied anthropology in St. Cloud, Minn., and is trying to preserve the brilliantly colored carpets woven by the old nomadic tribes of the Kurdish mountains. A trickle of tourists has even begun, along with the sense that all this could be the first hint of a Kurdish SoHo or Greenwich Village.

"If they give them the means, it could become a place like Sacré Coeur in Paris," said Suayip Adlig, a Kurdish filmmaker who was long exiled in France, referring to another historical and romantic district on a hill as he toured an old mosque next to an 18th-century bath.

The people who actually live here, not surprisingly, take a more practical stance. Kadim Mustafa - a 39-year-old mother of three, whose brick and concrete shanty includes fragments of the grand home that was here before - stood on a fancy balcony overlooking Erbil and dismissed pretensions like Mr. Adlig's.

"We have a nice place with a view, but not the facilities of life," Mrs. Mustafa said. "As soon as we start having lunch, the electricity will go off."

The direct evidence for what lies beneath Mrs. Mustafa's house is scanty: Assyrian pottery that tumbled out of the side of the Citadel in a renovation of its walls, a dig that Mr. Mufti said he participated in around 1980, an electromagnetic probe that provided intriguing hints about the layered structure.

What seems clear, said John Malcolm Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art, is that with its location in a rain-fed plain near the confluence of two rivers and the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, Erbil "could have been the site of one of the earliest villages in the world." The first hunter-gatherer settlement could have started as early as 9300 B.C., followed by early pottery makers, the proto-Hassuna, by 7000 B.C.

And unlike the arid regions to the south, the rain remained relatively steady in Erbil over the millennia, so there was no compelling reason to abandon a settlement. By 1400 B.C., as cultures came and went, Erbil became one of the most important cities of the Assyrian Empire, said Dr. Russell, who is an authority on the period.

The Assyrian Empire collapsed after a siege in 612 B.C. The Persians took over and were defeated in turn by Alexander the Great at Gaugemala, west of Erbil, in 331 B.C. About a millennium later, the Ottomans swept through after sacking the Abbasids, a Sunni Muslim dynasty centered in Baghdad. And in 1918, as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling, the British Army entered the city without resistance, and finally the modern nation of Iraq was born, with all the consequences that the world is now facing.

Crouching on top of all those layers of history around 10 a.m. on a recent day, Muhamad Amin, 31 and a member of the Kurdish Khoshnaw tribe, had more immediate things on his mind. The water was gurgling briefly through one of the pipes snaking along a path between the close-packed houses, and he was rushing to connect a translucent yellow hose to the pipe.

As other families scampered around him hooking up their own hoses and turning on clattering little pumps, Mr. Amin intently wrapped black electrical tape around his own connection to keep it from leaking. "Those people who are near to the pipe are much better off than the ones who are far away," said Mr. Amin, who came here in 1993, when his village was destroyed by Mr. Hussein's troops.

The half-hour of water did double duty as a social event, and children swarmed everywhere until the water stopped running at 10:35. Indeed, existence at the Citadel is not uniformly bleak. Many inhabitants here have at least laboring jobs in the city: there is a thriving watermelon stand with a wisecracking owner, an outdoor poultry shop where men cut the heads off chickens on the spot, and cars protected with striped cloth covers parked along the sole paved road.

There is not much connection between the refugees and the Center Arthur Rimbaud, but the Frenchman with the moussed hair and black attire, Matthieu Saint-Dizier, said he did a little experiment to be sure he would be welcome after the center opened a few weeks ago. He opened an exhibition of modern paintings in an ancient bath next to the mosque. The paintings showed transvestites and men with multiple genitals.

"I want to make a test," he said. "The imam of the mosque come to this exhibition and he don't make any problems. He said to me, 'I don't understand very well, but' " - and Mr. Saint-Dizier exhaled in a peculiarly French sound, approximately phhhhht.

Mr. Mustefa, the Kurdish owner of the carpet museum, rolled his eyes and said that Mr. Saint-Dizier had no idea how much the exhibition had appalled the locals, who nevertheless wanted to be polite to a Westerner. As far as genuine interest in art goes, said Mr. Mustefa, Kurdistan has been so consumed with political turmoil that he has had a hard time drumming up local interest even in his own offerings.

Still, visitors do trickle in. Mr. Mustefa said that after spending virtually his entire savings on the museum contents he was now having serious trouble paying for operating costs and upkeep. But he does have an interesting building, with ornate old pillars and an unroofed central court, right next to the cultural center. When the municipality granted him the building for his museum, "it was a dream for me," Mr. Mustefa said.

"And I knew the Kurds wouldn't appreciate this," he said with a long-suffering look. "Especially the intellectuals. They think this is a backward art."

So it goes at the Citadel. Mr. Mufti, the antiquities director, is also a member of the board that is supervising preliminary studies, financed by Unesco, for renovating the Citadel. The initial project, according to the Unesco Web site, "aims at identifying a building in the Citadel and at providing it with necessary supplies and equipment to serve as focal point for the rehabilitation of the Citadel at large."

Mr. Mufti is trying, so far without success, to secure financing for a new archaeological dig. But as uncertain as all of those plans are, Mr. Mufti said, there is one thing they all assume.

The neighborhood will remain.

An article and a chart in Science Times on Aug. 23 about the Citadel in Erbil, Iraq, one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited sites, misidentified the group that seized power in what is now northern Iraq in the 13th century A.D. It was the Mongols, not the Ottomans (as the article said) or the Moguls (as the chart said). The article also misstated the timing of the takeover; it was about 1,600 years after Alexander the Great defeated the Persians on the plain west of Erbil, not about a millennium afterward.


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