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March 19, 2007

Plymouth, Kurdistan

An old friend from the Fray days used to justify the Iraq War -- then only a pipe dream of "The Madmen" directing our foreign policy -- by calling it Plymouth, Iraq. An example for the rest of the world to follow, it was hoped, showing the Muslim world that there's more to life than death.

Four years on, that seems to have been wildly, naively optimistic.

Except.

Except for Kurdistan, which is indeed part of Iraq, the part of Iraq no one ever talks about much, for the same reason no one ever talks about Canada much. It's peaceful, it's prosperous, it's clean, it's safe. It's boring. And of course such boring lives, lacking the excitement of war, murder, and mayhem, are what most of the world dreams of (at least, that part of the world that isn't actually dreaming of war, murder, and mayhem).

A whole new town called “American Village” is under construction next to the luxurious Khan Zad hotel on the road between Erbil and the resort town of Salahadin. Foreigners and locals alike are snapping up the properties well in advance.

Iraqi Kurdistan is still a Third World country in many ways – there is no sewer system, for instance, and the electricity fails every day. Unemployment is high. But it’s a Third World country with hope, and it is rapidly moving upscale. New houses cost more in and around Erbil than they do in some parts of the United States. An average sized 200 square meter lot can cost as much as 150,000 dollars – and that’s before a house is built on it. There are literally thousands of brand new houses here in this city, and the population is still just a little bit shy of one million.

Arabs are moving up here from the center and south – when they can, and as long as they are cleared by internal security – and they’re hired to do menial jobs the Kurds no longer want. Sunni Arabs were once the oppressors of Kurds. Now they are reduced to the same low status as migrant Mexican workers in the United States.

Ahem.

The ancient old city walls next to downtown are an impressive sight, but inside the walls is a vast slum. Well, it was a vast slum until recently. A few months ago the residents were moved out so the city government can fix it up and restore it.

Erbil isn’t pretty, as Paris and Vienna are pretty. Some of it is aesthetically brutal, and much of it is still rough around the edges. But it’s stimulating and interesting all the same. The go-go-go and build-build-build attitude is infectious. Every time I come here it looks cleaner, and richer, and more like a normal place.

...

I have never seen so much construction going up so quickly anywhere. (There is more in Dubai, but I have never been there.)

The Hilton hotel chain is building a massive full-service tourist resort that will take five years to construct. It may seem dumb to build a tourist resort in Iraq of all places, but this is Erbil Province, not Anbar Province – there is no war, no insurgency, and no terrorism here whatsoever. The Middle East is a funny place. One part of a country may be consumed by blood, fire, and mayhem, but that rarely means the whole country is dangerous -- even when that country is Iraq.

Maybe the best propaganda we can inject into Iraq are daily reports from Kurdistan.


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posted by Ace at 05:49 PM

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