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Building a dream

While the main question about Iraq and Syria is how to defeat the Islamic State, a miracle is being built in North Iraq, in the territories controlled by the Kurdish militia, the so called Peshmerga ("the men facing death"). The Kurds have slowly been pushing the jihadists away with arms from the US and EU, and taking control of the abandoned and ruined Suni Arab towns and villages.

The Kurds are now offering refuge to almost 2 million Syrian refugees, many of them Christians. The region of Iraqi Kurdistan has been out of effective control from Baghdad since 1991, and only the generation over 40 years of age still speak Arab.

On a referendum in 2005, 99% of the voters decided that Kurdistan should secede from Iraq. Now more than a decade later, the Kurdish authorities are saying they would need a second referendum to justify their independence, but they still haven't specified a date for the new vote. The Kurdish nation itself has been split up into four parts by state borders, and deliberately so. The large regional powers Iran and Turkey are financing their own factions, the West isn't helping directly, and US armament and training of the Kurds simply ignores the regional specifics and local intricacies of these groups. Masoud Barzani, the current president of Iraqi Kurdistan, mostly supports Turkey's policy, while the Kurdish groups in Syria follow Iran's orders.

These divisions could be seen in the larger Kurdish towns. In the shopping malls in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, one could mostly see goods imported from Turkey. In those in Suleymaniya in Syria, mostly from Iran. Turkey and Iran are training, arming and directing their separate proxy Kurdish militia. This division makes the Kurds easier to manipulate and control.

So you can imagine why they are not convinced anyone would ever allow them to have a sovereign state of their own, or even an autonomy. They tried to gain independence twice in the past, in 1922 and 1946, and each time they were crushed within months by the larger regional powers. Still, their dream of independence remains alive – and now they are trying to build it in Erbil, the capital. It is a 2 million megapolis, a city that is gradually beginning to look like a Western world – with all the infrastructure that this includes. Something that could be rarely seen in the Middle East.

It is one of the most ancient towns in the world, thousands of years old. An old fortress is the main landmark in the city centre, and nowadays it is encircled by modern skyscrapers, residential blocks and shopping malls. It is also a very liberal city, compared to the rest of the Middle East. It has hundreds of pubs and restaurants, alcohol stores, night clubs and cinemas. The international airport of Erbil was fully rebuilt in 2010, and has been one of the busiest hubs in the Middle East ever since.

The local authorities manage to attract substantial international investment. In 2013 a real estate company from Dubai invested 3 billion dollars in the city infrastructure.

But Iraqi Kurdistan still has serious problems. The foreign debt is 20 billion dollars. Many projects have been halted. The salaries of the state employees have dropped by 3/4. Consistently low oil prices have contributed to this, not war. Despite all this, though, the dream of the Kurds remains strong, and they are hoping that once the final victory over the Islamic State comes, the world would be able to focus on the next step, and allow them to create a sovereign nation of their own. Something they have been denied throughout their entire millennia-long history.

Source: Talk politics.

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