Optimistic Pessimistic Views Of

Optimistic, Pessimistic Views of Kurdistan

A friend of mine in northern Iraq sent me the following recently, which I reprint with permission. It is more upbeat than the news from the Sunni Arab triangle.

“I have now seen more of northern Iraq than I ever dreamed possible — from Dohuk and Zahko through Irbil to Sulaymaniah. Though the threat level remains high, we have had relative freedom of movement throughout the region. Perhaps what has struck me the most is the difference between areas within the former Kurdish Autonomous Zone and the areas previously controlled by the Iraqi regime. Driving across the Greater Zab river and the former Green Line, the change is shocking . . . The Kurds have had a decade to adjust to a relatively free market system and were free to operate as they saw fit outside of Saddam’s control, so the differences are understandable. There is also a certain comfort to moving about the Kurdish areas. We feel welcomed and much more safe here than we do when we venture into Mosul. Even Kirkuk has recently become a much more dangerous place than it was just weeks ago. Various Coaltion locations there come under attack nearly daily, making what was once routine operations a bit more dicey and requiring increased focus on force protection operations.

In Mosul, it is a mix of stability and sporadic violence. Children wave as we pass by (despite our attempts at staying inconspicuous, even the kids can spot us blocks away), but the looks from most adults on the streets is less than comforting. Much of my perception, I know is tainted by fear, but we do try to gain an honest assessment of the feelings on the street.

I don’t know if it is making the news at home, but Mosul is becoming quite an experiment in military-civil relationships. The commanding general of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division has placed a priority on working with the population of the city to develop mechanisms to create stability, self-governance, and economic development. Soldiers are still manning checkpoints and standing guard, but they are also out in the city helping leaders to develop city councils, building/repairing schools, and assisting in seasonal agricultural sales and distribution. While some may dis miss these efforts as ‘hearts and minds’ fluff, it truly is targeted toward getting a region back on its feet. Certainly the city still has a long way to go before we can start to claim mission success, but at least the road has been staked out toward completion.”

On the other hand, another friend of mine spoke recently to some mid-level Iraqi Kurds:

“They talked a lot about Iraq’s future and said nothing. Only grudgingly [do] they accept the idea of being iraqis again, as

you know.. . . [With regard to the prospect of Turkish troops being posted ot Iraq] they . . . pointed out, that they would have a hard time to hold back their own peshmergas and to prevent them from attacking the Turks. To me, they seemed seriously critical of US foreign policy. A Turkish aim is to crush what has remained of [the leftist revolutionary] PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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