به‌خێربێن به‌ڕێزان ماڵپه‌ڕی هیوا پێکهاته‌ی ڤیدیو کلیپ میوسیک فیلم پرۆگرام له‌خزمه‌ت به‌ڕێزتاندایه‌ سه‌ردان بکه‌ن رۆژانه‌ نوێ ده‌کرێته‌وه‌  


 

TRAVELLING IN THE KURDISTAN REGION-Iraq

 

· Necessary telephone numbers in Kurdistan

  
This advice refers only to the three Governorates under the administration of the Kurdistan
Regional Government (KRG), Duhok, Erbil and Suleimani.


THE KURDISTAN REGION IN IRAQ
A population of nearly 5 million, the three governorates of Duhok, Erbil and Suleimani cover
approximately 80,000 square kilometres, the same area as Switzerland or twice the size of the State of New
Jersey. The capital of the Region is Erbil and is often referred to as Hawler. The next largest cities are
Suleimani and Duhok.


Since the establishment of the no-fly zone in 1991, the Kurdistan region has undergone tremendous
development. Over 65% of the villages destroyed by Saddam Husseins regime have been rebuilt, two new
airports have been opened and new highways, schools and hospitals are being constructed.


Many of the Kurdish Diaspora have returned to live in the Region which enjoys a level of peace and
prosperity not seen in the rest of Iraq. Among the growing number of visitors are international press and
business people who realise the potential of the Kurdistan Region. Foreign visitors are warmly welcomed
and the Kurdistan Regional Government is encouraging the participation of foreign investors in the
development of the Region.


Kurdistan is progressive, pluralistic and is relatively open; however Middle Eastern etiquettes of business,
dress and behaviour are still adhered to.


SECURITY IN THE REGION
The security situation in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq is very different from the rest of Iraq. At present, there
are fewer than 1000 US soldiers stationed in Kurdistan and not a single coalition soldier has lost their life in
the Region since the start of the conflict. Kurdish Security forces (Peshmerga) are highly trained and
experienced in providing security for official visits.


In order to maintain the level of peace in Kurdistan, there are checkpoints on the borders and city perimeters.
Separate advice must be sought for travel outside of the Kurdistan Region. We also recommend that visitors
consult travel advice issued by their country of domicile.


With the opening of two new international airports in Erbil and Suleimani, travelling to the Kurdistan Region
in Iraq has never been easier. Most flights operating from Europe and the Middle East fly directly to
Kurdistan without going via Baghdad. Below are the latest schedules and contact numbers for operators
flying to Erbil International Airport (EIA) and Suleimani Airport.

OVER LAND ROUTE
The recommended overland route is through Turkey. Fly direct to Istanbul Attaturk Airport and take a
domestic flight to Diyarbakir. Flights from Istanbul to Diyarbakir are about 2 hours long. Also, you will need to
retrieve your baggage from the International Terminal and check it back in at the Domestic Terminal.

To enter Turkey you will need to obtain a visa at the airport before you can go through Passport Control. The
Visa, valid for 3 months, will cost £10 (Sterling), you can also pay in US dollars.

At Diyarbakir Airport you can hire a cab to the Iraqi border post, Ibrahim Khalil/Habur. Most of the drivers do
this journey at least once a day so they are familiar with the route. Settle the price before hand, a guide price
is USD 150, also check that the driver has the necessary paper work to take you over the border. It is
recommended that you begin your overland journey in the early morning, staying overnight in Diyarbakir if
necessary.

Once you have crossed the border at Ibrahim Khalil you can hire another taxi to take you to your destination
in Kurdistan. The journey to Dohuk takes 1 hour, Erbil takes 4 hours and Suleimani is 6 hours from the
border. There are alternative routes via Iran and Syria but these are less travelled.

VISAS
We advise that all travellers check with the Iraqi Embassy in their home country about the requirement for
visas. If there is time prior to travel, it is always best to obtain a visa. In emergencies, with the authority of the
Federal Government in Baghdad, visas can be issued for European and American passport holders at Erbil
International Airport. The cost of visas is USD 81. Please check the latest details with the Iraqi Embassy in
your country of domicile.

If you travel overland, a visa must be obtained from the Iraqi Embassy in your country of domicile as well as
visas for the countries through which you are travelling. Regarding customs and excise there are limits to
the amount of cash or jewellery that both Iraqi and foreign visitors can enter or leave with. Check the latest
details at
www.hawlerairport.org


TRANSPORT, DRIVER AND TRANSLATOR
A new, reliable local taxi service is operated by Hello Company, they can be contacted internationally via
(00964 750) 415000 / 416000, dropping the prefix when dialling locally. A journey within any of the cities
should cost between Iraq Dinar 3000-5000. Prices vary due to fluctuations in local petrol prices.

 
The following is a list of hotels of varying international standards. Please contact the hotels directly to make
reservations.

HOTELS IN ERBIL

Erbil Hotel (referred to locally as the Sheraton is the business networking hotel)
Local numbers: 2234460 / 2234465 / 2234470 Fax: 2234480 International number 00 964 66 22344 60 (- 70)
Online Reservations go to: www.erbilinthotel.com
Single Room: USD 200 / Double Room: USD 240
Junior Suite: USD 300 + 10% service charge / Executive Suite: USD 500 + 10% service charge
Breakfast included. Business Centre / Internet facilities available in room


Erbil Plaza Hotel
Local numbers: 2228890 / 2519740 / 2540050
International number: 00964 66 2228890
Single Room: USD 135 per night incl. Breakfast
Internet services available.


Kanzad Hotel
Telephone: + 964 66 2232 808/809
Email: info@khanzadresort.com
Address Salahaddin Road
www.khanzadresort.com

Single room: USD 143 / Double room: USD 276
Junior Suite: USD 187 / Executive Suite: USD 220
Breakfast included. Business Centre / Internet facilities available. The hotel is 25 minutes outside of Erbil on
the road to Salahaddin.

Chwar Chwra Hotel
Local number: 2231508
Address: Abdul Salam Al-Barzani Street
Double Room: USD 65 / Junior Suite: USD 80
Breakfast USD 6. Business Centre / Internet facilities: Available


Arbil Tawer Hotel
Local numbers: 2226600 / 2230094
Single Room: USD 38 / Double Room: USD 61 / Junior Suite: USD 76
Breakfast included. Internet facilities available.
Shereen Palace Hotel
Local numbers: 2226240 / 2220915
Junior Suite: USD 30
Executive Suite: USD 32
Breakfast included. Internet facilities available.

 

A good choice for tourist or anyone. The UN is always in this hotel.
Arbil Tawar Hotel  - Erbil Tower Hotel - Down from TELL or Fortress.

This is good, Shaman or something like this. Down from TELL or Fortress.
It is about 130-150 Kurdish Dinars per night.

Chwar Chra Hotel The fancy and expensive.
This is the most expensive and least cultural.
You are separated like a resort.

Hotel 30 Kurdish Dinar - About like Guatemala or Peru.
Both of these cheapies are next street or alley to the left of the Shanan Hotel

 

Both of these cheapies are next street or alley to the left of the Shanan Hotel
This is the Touristic Hotel 30 Dinars, Not great, but cheap.
Seems safe. Peter from Britain stayed here.

This is probably your last choice. Down the street father.

********************************************************

Hotel in Sulamania

HOTELS IN SULEIMANIA

Suleimani Palace
Local Numbers: 3134141 - 47
International Number: 0087 361586731
Single Room: USD 63 / Double Room: USD 92 / Executive Suite: USD 161
Breakfast included or extra cost (USD): Free
Business Center / Internet facilities available.

Ashti Hotel
Local numbers: Salim Street 3120435, 3127999, 3134248
International number: +44 7077507751
Single Room: USD 75 / Double Room: USD 112
Breakfast included or extra cost (USD): Free
Business Center / Internet facilities available.

cheap hotels

About 60 dollars a night

 

This is the Charakhan Hotel  120 Kurdish Dinars for 1 person.
If you walked out the hotel to the main street. Looked to your left. Up the hill is some more hotels.

Same Hotel (Mawlawi) But the card has 2 sides. 40-80 Dinars in Sulamania

Hotel Miwan Same card with 2 sides. Peter slept here too. 30 Dinars and up, but he stay in like an extra room.

 


HOTELS IN DOHUK

Slivan Hotel
14 Athar Street
International Tel: +44 7028600001 / Local Tel: 7225683 / International Fax: +47 24135225

Sulav Hotel
International Tel: +00 87 3761586729 / International Fax: +00 87 361586731
Local Tel: 7221956 or 7221955 or 7225003

Jiyan Hotel
International Tel: +44 7077507750 / International Fax: +44 7077507751
Local Tel: 7221701 or 7221702 or 7224924 or 722
Email:
jiyanhotel@yahoo.com

 

 

Slivan Hotel - (Center of Backpacker Universe)

 

Sulav Hotel

 

Jivayn Hotel

 

Babylon Tourist Hotel


EATING AND DRINKING
Much of the local produce remains organic. Do try some of the Kurdish delicacies available in the local
restaurants. The bazaars are a perfect place if you are searching for authentic food. Ask any local or taxi
driver for advice on where to eat. The prices of a three course meal in local restaurant will cost about USD 6
per person, however in hotels the price will be around USD 30. It is advisable not to drink the tap water.
If you wish to drink alcohol then it is available in most restaurants and can also be purchased in shops.

http://hansmast.com/images/erbil-duhok/th-IMG_8617.JPG
Schwarma!                                                                
photo Hans Mast

http://hansmast.com/images/duhok2/th-IMG_8933.jpg
Sipping tea                                   
photo Hans Mast


CURRENCY
The currency used in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq is the new Iraqi Dinar. Exchange rates as of 30 October
2006. For a more up-to date figures please visit www.oanda.com
1 US Dollar = 1,526 Iraqi Dinar
1 Euro = 1,945 Iraqi Dinar
1 British Pound = 2,897 Iraqi Dinar
Please be aware that there are currently no ATM machines or credit card facilities. Cash is the only method
of payment, ensure you take enough with you in dollars of dinars for your trip. Exchange facilities are
available at the airport, international hotels and exchange shops in the bazaars.


WEATHER
Summer months (May-September) are hot and dry, especially on the Erbil Plain, often reaching
temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius. However, it is cooler in the evenings and in the mountainous
regions around Dohuk and Suleimani. The winter months can be surprisingly cool with frequent snowfalls -
there are plans to build a ski resort!

http://hansmast.com/images/erbil-duhok/th-IMG_8525_Enhancer.jpg
Hanging out                                                             
photo Hans Mast


COMMUNICATION

MOBILES:
International mobiles do not currently work in Iraq. To remain contactable we advise the hire of a local phone
and number, this service is available at Erbil International Airport for USD15 per day. Top up vouchers are
available in the hotels and local shops for USD10, USD 20 and USD 50. It is now also possible to buy SIM
cards that fit some international mobiles.
For friends and colleagues wishing to contact you on a local number in Kurdistan i.e. 333 4444, they will
need to dial the prefix 0032 48 or 00 964 750.


INTERNET CONNECTIONS:
Internet connections are available in the international hotels and private internet cafes are being established
in all the major cities. Not all connections are broadband. Ask your driver or concierge for directions.
Note: The voltage is 220v. Both UK three-pronged and European two-pronged plugs are in use, we advise
visitors take a universal adapter with them.
 

POSTAL SERVICE:
There is currently no postal service in Kurdistan do not expect to be able to post packages and letters
internally or internationally. Freight and cargo can be received at Erbil International Airport, details should be
agreed with the particular carrier.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS:
CNN International and BBC World broadcast in Kurdistan and are available in the hotel rooms of the higher
end international hotels. The Hewler Globe is a weekly English-language magazine covering a variety of
international, national and regional news


TRAVEL & DISTANCE BETWEEN CITIES
The Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Construction has prioritised improvement of roads and
highways between the main urban centres. The following time estimates are based on travelling before
improvements.
Kurdistans bus service only works within the urban centres and are predominantly for the locals. We advise
that you hire a dedicated car and driver, plus perhaps a guide/interpreter.

Erbil/Suleimani - 170 km approximately 2 and half hours by car
Erbil /Dohuk - 245 km approximately 3 hours by car
Dohuk/Suleimani - 340 km 5 hours by car


TIME DIFFERENCE
The Kurdistan Region is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Meantime (GMT).

http://hansmast.com/images/erbil-duhok/th-IMG_8382_Enhancer.jpg
A central square in Erbil                                                                   
photo Hans Mast


HOLIDAYS
21st of March - Newroz / Kurdish New Year falls celebrates the first day of spring and the beginning of a new
cycle. Visitors in Kurdistan during Newroz will experience the warmth and fun of a traditional Kurdish
celebration. Offices close for a week during this period.

September / October - Ramadan. Dates vary as Ramadan begins with the new moon and last one month
during which Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food and drink between dawn and sunset. Ramadan
ends with the three day celebration Eid. Offices are only open for half days during the fasting period and are
closed over Eid.

http://hansmast.com/images/erbil-duhok/th-IMG_8610_Enhancer.jpg

Duhok                          photo Hans Mast


BASIC KURDISH WORDS
There are two dialects of Kurdish spoken in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, Kurmanji, spoken mainly in Dohuk
region and Sorani, spoken in the Erbil and Suleimani regions.
English: Kurdish: phonetically


How are you?    
    Choni?
Good morning
        Bayane Bash
Good afternoon    
  Eware Bash
Good night
            Shaw Bash
Good day
                Roj Bash
Welcome
                Bakher Beyt
How much is this?
    Ava bye chanda?
Yes
    Bale
No
    Na
Please
    Bezahmet
Your welcome
    Shayane nea
Sir
    Kak
Miss
    Khan
With pleasure
    sar cava
Excuse me
    Ba yarmateet
Do you speak English
    Inglese Azani?
I don't speak Kurdish
    Kurdi nazanm
Tea without sugar!
    Chi be shakir

http://hansmast.com/images/duhok1/th-IMG_8648(auto).jpg
A shy maiden watching football and me-Kurdland                 
photo Hans Mast
 

SIGHTS OF INTEREST
ERBIL AND SURROUNDS:
Erbil Citadel dates back 6000 years BC and forms the original boundaries of the city. Due to the Citadel,
Erbil is considered to be one of the oldest continually habited cities in the world.

Sami Abdul Rahman Park is a large, municipal park built on the former site of one of Saddam's many
detention centres. It is a great place to escape for a stroll between business meetings.


Qaysari Bazaar in Erbil city centre is a fantastic place to buy souvenirs or simply watch the world go by.
Sheikh Chooli Minaret in the western district of Erbil was built by Sultan Mudhaffarudeen and dates back to
543-586 AD. The minaret is the focal point for the newly developed Minare Park which is predominantly for
families.


Khanzad Castle on the Erbil-Shaqlawa road dates back to the Soran Period when Princes ruled the Region.
Rabban Beyaq Monastery is a one-hour climb over mountain paths. There are two large highly engraved
chambers that date back to fourth century AD.

Shaqlawa Resort is 51 km north of Erbil and is a popular weekend and holiday destination with a great fresh
produce market.


Galy Ali Berg ravine and waterfall is 130km from Erbil, a popular place for recreational picnics. As more
tourists arrive so do more restaurants and amenities.

Bekhal Resort is another water resort 140km from Erbil and just a short drive from Galy Ali Berg.

http://hansmast.com/images/duhok2/th-IMG_8701_Enhancer.jpg
Overlooking Duhok with a flower in the foreground (taken with my Canon 60mm f/2.8 macro) 
photo Hans Mast


DOHUK AND SURROUNDS:
Saint Ith Llaha Church, just west of Duhok, is oldest church in the region and dates back to sixth century AD.

Amadiyah Town and Minaret 90km north east of Duhok is well worth a visit. The town dates back to the
Assyrian Period. The Minaret is 30 meters high with a spiral staircase leading to the top that offers fantastic
views. Amadiyah Citadel is located on the eastern side of Amadiyah city.

The stunning gateway is featured in Kurdistan: The Other Iraq adverts and documentary.

See www.theotheriraq.com


SULEIMANI AND SURROUNDS:

Suleimani Museum, l
ocated on Salim Street, houses local items that date back thousands of years. It is one
of the richest museums in the Region and is well worth a visit.

Dokan Lake is 70km west of Suleimani and a place of natural beauty that is experiencing a boom in hotels,
restaurants and holiday chalets. The area is a great example of the just how strong the tourism industry in
Kurdistan can become.


Darbandikhan Dam is 65km south east of Sulemani and is of interest to tourists and business travellers
alike as an example of modern dam engineering.


Chamchamal Valley and Zazri Cave - During the 1920's Professor Dorothy Kardo carried excavated these
caves and found flint tools, volcanic rock, stones and scrapers as well as animal bones all dating back to
ancient stone ages.

 

Looking for a commercial or institutional venture?

The tourism industry, in this fast emerging market, offers potentially lucrative returns. The Kurdistan Regional Government invites the worldwide business community to participate in developing Iraqi Kurdistan true potential. The private sector is also invited to contribute towards the development of tourism in the Region.


Want to escape to a place that is waiting to be explored?

Iraqi Kurdistan cities and surrounding areas offer cultural, entertainment and natural attractions with dancing, drinking and open-air restaurants beside mountain streams. Discover the magic in every town and city, the warmth of its people and the treasures that the region holds for you. Hotels offer great value for money in clean, friendly and inexpensive accomodation.


Looking for adventure?

For those looking for unspoilted, adventurous locations with outstanding natural beauty, Iraqi Kurdistan offers great outdoors pursuits. Iraqi Kurdistan offer the traveller a natural landscape overflowing with rivers and streams, hills and mountains which make it ideal for walkers, mountain climbers of all abilities.

Is there access to the Internet?

Since around 2001, the region has established access to the Internet. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has installed costly and thus, limited in quatity, satellite Internet systems in a number of government organisations and university colleges. The KRG replaced some outdated analog telephone exchanges with those incorporating modern digital technology. More recently, the KRG has establised an ISP (Internet Service Provider) in the city of Erbil that allows Internet access in any location with a telephone, including private homes, without restriction/censorship.

What type of banking system exist in the region?

Since 1992, The Kurdistan Regional Government has endeavoured to turn around the state controlled banking system into a loose network of financial institutions, engaging in normal banking activities; lending mostly to civil servants, taking deposits and paying out salaries on behalf of the Government. Saving accounts have been thriving since 1996. Currently, the Central Bank of Kurdistan doesn't set interest rates, which are left to market forces. Kurdish people in the diaspora send a significant propotion of foreign currency into the Central Bank of Kurdistan. These fluctuating levels of foreign currency influence the level of interest rates. Bank to bank business is increasingly being computarised. 

What are Iraqi Kurdistan main resources?

Iraqi Kurdistan is rich in natural resources. The rivers of Tigeris, Higher Zab, Lower Zab, Sirwan Zab, Khaboor, Khazir and tens of other smaller rivers rub along Kurdistan. This region has enormous sources of power, especially oil. Kurdistan also has ample reserves of iron, copper, zinc and other kinds of minerals. Agricultural lands are very fertile and Kurdistan produces about 50 percent of the amount of watch produced in Iraq; 40 percent of barley, 12 percent grain; 98 percent of tobacco; 30 percent of cotton and 50 percent of fruit.

How about social and cultural development?

Culture, media, sports and arts have been greatly enhanced trhough a policy of free press and media. Some 60 publications are issued monthly. Music, art exhibitions, theater and cinema have also advaced greatly.

How about municipal services?

The region is going through a succesful reconstruction programme to include: cleaning of major cities and towns, new drainage systems, water supplies, electricity generating resources, traffic signals, recreational parks, reforestation of burned out villages and areas, etc. The regeneration of the rural and semi-urban areas is subjected to a clear mission estalished by the region's Ministry of Reconstruction & Development -" a regeneration that is culturally compatible, economically productive, and which protects and enhances our environment.

How is the security situation in the region?

For a over a decade, the area has not suffered any of the bombings or shootings seen elsewhere. Though there have been internal armed confilcts that may well have become a feature of the past. Today, the two main political parties are increasingly communicating and cooperating with each other. Resources are increasingly shared, and there is more collaboration on matters pertaining the public interests.

Kurdish security forces and police have been reconfigured and trained by high level experts. Police stations have been rebuilt. Police and traffic police are being provided with distinct uniforms and new equipment. Stability, tranquillity and security based upon the rule of law is a distinct achievement of the Kurdish Regional Government.

Crime in the region is remarkably low. Further, the region has remained free of the twin modern scourges of drug abuse and HIV-AIDs infection. Families travel freely and safely throughout the region. There are virtually no travel restrictions and all roads have become open to explore and enjoy the region's great outdoors.

Does Iraqi Kurdistan region have an airport?

Erbil International Airport had its first commercial flight from London Heathrow in December 2003. Plans to open the airport are on the way. joy

What's the general opinion on the Region's business outlook?

"In my estimation, the business opportunity in Kurdistan is in many ways more attractive than China was in the early 1990s. What is needed are astute investors who can see an opportunity in its infancy and who can move quickly to take advantage of it before others do." Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Bullion of the USA 404th Civil Affairs battalion "Foreign companies need to spend more time and see more of Kurdistan to know what is available and to be well informed of investment opportunities." Business Representative - Shial Company, Erbil "The Kurds say they are undergoing an economic miracle…they are mounting a major public relations push to bring in big business from the outside world and show them the potential and - equally important - the security of the area which has not suffered any of the bombings or shootings seen elsewhere." Reuters TOP NEWS 7-12-2003

How is Iraqi Kurdistan governed?

As a result of the de-facto separation from the rest of the country, elections were held in May 1992 and the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA), the regional parliament, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) were formed. Regional governmance has been based on a March 1970 autonomy agreement with the Iraqi government. The KNA has largely adopted the laws of Iraq. Four governorates (provinces) were established, each headed by a governor. A regional government headed by a prime minister with a cabinet of ministers was institued in the regional capital of Erbil.

Initially, with 5 to 105 parliamentary seats allocated to the minority Christian community, the two main regional political parties equally shared power, but this 50:50 arrangement proved unworkable. Today, Lesser Iraqi Kurdistan is governed in two parts, each by one of two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Unio of Kurdistan (PUK). On 4 October 2002, the KNA reconvened after a hiatus of more than five years. Successful efforts are currently underway to better inegrate the two regional administrations.

Is Kurdistan democratic?

In order to encourage pluralism, the democratic process and to bring about a solid civil society, the Kurdistan regional government allocates a significant amount of the region's budget to opposition parties, political organisations, social organisations and trade unions.

http://hansmast.com/images/duhok2/th-IMG_8806(auto).jpg
Younger Kurdish ladies tend to dress more liberally.
photo Hans Mast

Where is Kurdistan?

Kurdistan is the northern part of Iraq which was annexed to the state of Iraq in 1926. It is in itself a part of the country of the Kurds called the Kurdistan which is divided between Turkey, Iran and Syria (in addition to Iraq). The area of Iraqi Kurdistan is about 83,000 square kilometers. Its population is about five million therefore, Iraqi Kurdistan is bigger, in terms of area and number of population, than states like Israel and Ireland, and all Arab Gulf Emirates.

 

The Kurdistan Region's Airports

Erbil International Airport (currently
no website available)

Suleimaniah International Airport's
website:
www.sulairport.net

Checking in at Erbil International
Airport

It is advised that passengers arrive at
Erbil International Airport at least 2 and 1/2
hours before their departures, to allow
sufficient time to board the shuttle bus and go
through the security check point to the
departure terminal

Airlines operating flights to
Kurdistan


Please note that airline routes and schedules to
Kurdistan are expanding. Please confirm details
of flights directly with the operator as they
may be subject to change.

Frankfurt - Erbil

Operated by Zozik Air

Contact Irak Reisen in Germany

Tel.: +49 69 69 59 7370

+49 69 68 3073

Fax: +49 69 68 09 1767

+49 69 69 59 737 30

e-mail:

info@irak-reisen.com


Website:

www.irak-reisen.com



Vienna - Erbil

Regular, scheduled flights operated by Austrian
Airlines every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. From
1st July 2007, a fourth flight will be added
every Sunday.

If you are starting your journey outside
Austria, Austrian Airlines offers connecting
flights to Vienna from many cities around the
world, including Paris, London and many more.

Flight OS 830 to Vienna departs Erbil at
16.55. Please arrive at the airport at least 2
and 1/2 hours before the flight. Check-in opens
at 14.00 and closes at 15.30.

Information and booking:

www.austrian.com


Austrian Airlines sales office in Erbil:

Shaqlawa Street, Brayan Bldg

Tel.: + 964 66 224 5470 to 5473

Office hours: Open to the public Sunday to
Thursday, 10.00 to 15.00

Dubai - Erbil

Operated by Kurdistan Airlines

Contact Kurdistan Airlines in Dubai

Tel.: +971 426 22250

+971 431 66844

Fax: +971 426 60445

Zagros Air in Dubai

Tel.: +971 4 223 35 30

Fax: +971 4 221 26 61

Mobile: +971 507 101 456

e-mail:
zagros_air@yahoo.com

Contact Zagros Air in Erbil

Tel.: +964 662 245 475

Mobile: +964 750 449 5555


Istanbul - Erbil

Operated by Fly Air

Contact Fly Air in Turkey

Tel.: +90 212 465 4410

e-mail:

crestafunda@hotmail.com


Amman - Erbil

Operated by Royal Jordanian Airlines

See

www.rja.com.jo
for a full list of Royal
Jordanian Airlines' offices

Amman:

+962 6 566 6823

+962 6 566 3525

abd(at)rja.com.jo

Stockholm

+46 8 54 52 59 52

London

+44 20 7878 6300

Paris +33 1 42 65 99 80

Beirut - Erbil

Operated by Flying Carpet

Contact Flying Carpet in Beirut

Tel.: +961 3 682 255

+961 3 155 905

+961 1 312 566

Munich - Suleimaniah

Operated by Zozik Air

Contact Zozik Air in Germany

Tel.:+49 (0)911 96 53 320

+49 (0)911 96 53 32 22

Fax: +49 (0)911 96 53 32 10

To make a booking from Kurdistan:

Tel.:+964 730 102 4331

+964 770 217 7177

Website:

www.zozik-air.com



Istanbul - Suleimaniah

Operated by Azmar Air

Contact Azmar Air in Istanbul

Tel.: +90 212 6633 718

Fax: +90 212 6633 513

Dubai - Suleimaniah

Operated by Azmar Air

Contact Azmar Air in Dubai

Tel.: +971 4 266 8993

Fax: +971 4 266 8233

Mobile: +971 50 551 4161

Tehran - Suleimaniah

Operated by Azmar Air

Contact Azmar Air in Tehran

Tel.: +982 1 8880 4467

Fax: +982 1 8894 0361

Iraqi Airways

Iraqi Airways flies to Kurdistan from
Dubai and Amman.

Some services are direct to Suleimaniah or
Erbil, and others are via Baghdad.

Please contact Iraqi Airways for details of
direct and indirect routes.

Dubai:

+971 50 80 44 854

+971 50 87 55 458

Beirut

+ 961 1 747 413

Istanbul

+90 212 465 4087

+90 535 379 92 05

Baghdad

+964 1 537 2001 / 2002 / 2003

Travel agencies in Kurdistan

These travel agents based in Kurdistan offer
flight reservations.

Zagros Air

Erbil mobile:

+964 (0)750 449 5555

+964 (0)750 447 6399

+964 (0)750 446 8394

Laru Travel Services

Erbil mobile:

+964 (0)750 455 4411

+964 (0)750 446 8960

Cyprus tel.: +357 2581 4084

Amman tel.: +962 6 565 6561 and +962 6 568 9787

e-mail: lanaqassim(at)batelco.jo

Baban Tourism

For Royal Jordanian Airlines reservations

Erbil tel.: +964 66 220 0600

Erbil mobile: +964 (0)750 491 0973

e-mail: babantourism(at)yahoo.com

Azmar Air

For Azmar Air flights to Suleimaniah

e-mail: lazo(at)nokangroup.com

Suleimaniah mobile: +964 (0)7701 525 775

e-mail: deraw_it(at)yahoo.com

e-mail: deraw_it(at)hotmail.com

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Many outside Iraq who have had little or no relationship with the country have a hard time accepting that there is any part that is personally secure and politically stable. Yet, the Kurdistan Region has been personally secure and politically stable since long before hostilities began in 2003. 

 

While there have been innumerable articles since 2001 highlighting features of the Kurdistan Region that invite positive interest and support, too many people still have difficulty accepting the Region for what it is.   Below is a list of recommended sources.  Others???


 

CBS 60 Minutes. In February 2007, CBS 60 Minutes broadcasted an excellent segment Kurdistan: The Other Iraq that demonstrates the relatively high levels of personal security and political stability in the Kurdistan Region: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/16/60minutes/main2486679.shtml

National Geographic Magazine. The January 2006 National Geographic's cover article Iraqi Kurds, The Kurds in Control says it in black and white text and convincing color photographs. While the article is not fully available online, there are related features - photo gallery, maps, sights & sounds, video - available at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0601/feature1/index.html

If you collect NatGeos or have access to a NatGeo collection, look for the August 1992 article Struggle of the Kurds.  Ed Kashi, the photographer who took the photos for the 2006 issue also took these photos. The text was written by Christopher Hitchens.  See how far Kurdistan has come since those traumatic times. 

The NatGeo cover story in the January 1996 issue Neandertals mentions the Shanidar Cave, about a 2-hour drive from Erbil, where 50,000-year old skeletons were found buried with flowers, the earliest indication of human-like beings having feelings.

The March 1975 issue carried the article The Kurds of Iraq: "We Who Face Death" on the peshmerga is important because, though it was written much earlier, it was published the same month as the Algiers accords between Saddam and the Shah that lad to traumatic turmoil among the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

The Hamilton Road. First published in the 1940s, the recently republished (2005) Road Through Kurdistan by AM Hamilton is about what today is still called the Hamilton Road that runs from Erbil to Iraq's border with Iran. The road was built from 1928 to 1932 to shorten the distance between the British and Persian Empires - London to Tehran overland in 11 days. Written by the New Zealand (British) engineer who built it, this is an historical read about a great drive from Erbil through the deepest canyons in the Middle East up through the highest mountains in Iraq to the Iranian border (only 3 to 4 hours).    (So, where's the Interstate-class "American Way" from Zakho to Halabja - or Kirkuk?)

Vanity Fair - Christopher Hitchens. Below is the Christopher Hitchens' article from Vanity Fair on holidaying in Iraq (Kurdistan). As he mentions, if you have seen the film 'Alexander the Great', the Battle of Gaugamela where he defeated Persian King Darius took place just outside Erbil (Arbella). http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/04/hitchens200704

Portfolio magazine. Denis Johnson, 2007 winner of the National Book Award for his novel Tree of Smoke, wrote a long article, below, on the Kurdistan Region for this relatively new Conde Nast business magazine.  http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/international-news/portfolio/2008/02/19/US-Oil-Plans-in-Kurdistan

Foreign Affairs, November/December issue, had a special supplement on the Kurdistan Region: http://www.foreignaffairs.org/sponsored_sections/country_focus/kurdistan/

KRG publication The Kurdistan Region:  Invest in the Future with some data and good information is available at:  http://www.krg.org/uploads/documents/Invest_in_the_Future_2008.pdf


http://hansmast.com/images/duhok2/th-IMG_8879_Enhancer.jpg
Duhok                                                                         
photo Hans Mast

Vanity Fair

April 2007

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/04/hitchens200704

Letter from Kurdistan

Holiday in Iraq

Over Christmas break, the author took his son to northern Iraq, which the U.S. had made a no-fly zone in 1991, ending Saddam's chemical genocide. Now reborn, Iraqi Kurdistan is a heartrending glimpse of what might have been.

by Christopher Hitchens

Last summer, you may have been among the astonished viewers of American television who were treated to a series of commercials from a group calling itself "Kurdistan—The Other Iraq." These rather touching and artless little spots (theotheriraq.com) urged you to consider investing in business, and even made you ponder taking your vacation, in the country's three northern provinces. Mr. Jon Stewart, of The Daily Show, could hardly believe his luck. To lampoon the ads, and to say, in effect, "Yeah, right—holiday in Iraq," was probably to summarize the reaction of much of the audience. Sure, baby, come to sunny Mesopotamia, and bring the family, and get your ass blown off while religious wack jobs ululate gleefully over your remains.

A view of Dohuk, the summer resort town by the Zagros Mountains in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq.

By Faleh Kheiber/Reuters/Landov.

[Actually, this is a view of Dokan, not Duhok.]

Well, as it happens, I decided to check this out, and did spend most of the Christmas holiday in Iraqi Kurdistan, bringing my son along with me, and had a perfectly swell time. We didn't make any investments, though I would say that the hotel and tourism and oil sectors are wide open for enterprise, but we did visit the ancient citadel in Erbil, where Alexander the Great defeated the Persians—my son is a Greek-speaking classicist—and we did sample the lovely mountains and lakes and rivers that used to make this region the resort area for all Iraqis. Air and road travel were easy (you can now fly direct from several airports in Europe to one of two efficient airports in Iraqi Kurdistan), and walking anywhere at night in any Kurdish town is safer than it is in many American cities. The police and soldiers are all friendly locals, there isn't a coalition soldier to be seen, and there hasn't been a suicide attack since May of 2005.

It wasn't my first trip. That took place in 1991, in the closing stages of the Gulf War. With a guerrilla escort, I crossed illegally into Iraq from Turkey and toured the shattered and burned and poisoned landscape on which Saddam Hussein had imprinted himself. In the town of Halabja, which has now earned its gruesome place in history, I met people whose hideous wounds from chemical bombardment were still suppurating. The city of Qala Diza had been thoroughly dynamited and bulldozed, and looked like an irretrievable wreck. Much of the area's lavish tree cover had been deforested: the bare plains were dotted with forbidding concrete barracks into which Kurds had been forcibly "relocated" or (a more accurate word) "concentrated." Nearly 200,000 people had been slaughtered, and millions more deported: huddling in ruins or packed into fetid camps on the Turkish and Iranian frontiers. To turn a spade was to risk uncovering a mass grave. All of Iraq suffered terribly during those years, but its Kurdish provinces were among the worst places in the entire world—a howling emptiness of misery where I could catch, for the first time in my life, the actual scent of evil as a real force on earth.

Thus, I confess to a slight lump in the throat at revisiting the area and seeing thriving, humming towns with multiplying construction sites, billboards for overseas companies, Internet cafés, and a choice of newspapers. It's even reassuring to see the knockoff "MaDonal," with pseudo–golden arches, in the eastern city of Sulaimaniya, soon to be the site of the American University of Iraq, which will be offering not only an M.B.A. course but also, in the words of Azzam Alwash, one of its directors, "the ideas of Locke, the ideas and writings of Paine and Madison." Everybody knows how to snigger when you mention Jeffersonian democracy and Iraq in the same breath; try sniggering when you meet someone who is trying to express these ideas in an atmosphere that only a few years ago was heavy with miasmic decay and the reek of poison gas.

While I am confessing, I may as well make a clean breast of it. Thanks to the reluctant decision of the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, those fresh princes of "realism," the United States and Britain placed an aerial umbrella over Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 and detached it from the death grip of Saddam Hussein. Under the protective canopy of the no-fly zone—actually it was also called the "you-fly-you-die zone"—an embryonic free Iraq had a chance to grow. I was among those who thought and believed and argued that this example could, and should, be extended to the rest of the country; the cause became a consuming thing in my life. To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening. Yet Kurdistan continues to demonstrate how things could have been different, and it isn't a place from which the West can simply walk away.

In my hometown of Washington, D.C., it's too easy to hear some expert hold forth about the essential character of any stricken or strategic country. (Larry McMurtry, in his novel Cadillac Jack, has a lovely pastiche of Joseph Alsop doing this very act about Yemen.) I had lived here for years and suffered through many Georgetown post-dinner orations until someone supplied me with the unfailing antidote to such punditry. It comes from Stephen Potter, the author of Lifemanship, One-upmanship, and other classics. Wait until the old bore has finished his exposition, advised Potter, then pounce forward and say in a plonking register, "Yes, but not in the South?" You will seldom if ever be wrong, and you will make the expert perspire. Different as matters certainly are in the South of Iraq, the thing to stress is how different, how very different, they are in the North.

In Kurdistan, to take a few salient examples, there is a memorial of gratitude being built for fallen American soldiers. "We are planning," said the region's prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, in his smart new office in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, "to invite their relatives to the unveiling." Speaking of unveiling, you see women with headscarfs on the streets and in offices (and on the judicial bench and in Parliament, which reserves a quarter of the seats for women by law), but you never see a face or body enveloped in a burka. The majority of Kurds are Sunni, and the minority are Shiite, with large groups belonging to other sects and confessions, but there is no intercommunal mayhem. Liquor stores and bars are easy to find, sometimes operated by members of the large and unmolested Christian community. On the university campuses, you may easily meet Arab Iraqis who have gladly fled Baghdad and Basra for this safe haven. I know of more than one intrepid Western reporter who has done the same. The approaches from the south are patrolled by very effective and battle-hardened Kurdish militiamen, who still carry the proud title of their guerrilla days: the peshmerga, or, translated from the Kurdish language, "those who face death." These men have a very brusque way with al-Qaeda and its local supporters, and have not just kept them at a distance but subjected them to very hot pursuit. (It was Kurdish intelligence that first exposed the direct link between the psychopathic Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden.) Of the few divisions of the Iraqi Army that are considered even remotely reliable, the bulk are made up of tough Kurdish volunteers.

Pause over that latter point for a second. Within recent memory, the Kurdish population of Iraq was being subjected to genocidal cleansing. Given the chance to leave the failed state altogether, why would they not take it? Yet today, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd: a former guerrilla leader so genial and humane that he personally opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein. Of the very few successful or effective ministries in Baghdad, such as the Foreign Ministry, it is usually true that a Kurd, such as Hoshyar Zebari, is at the head of it. The much-respected deputy prime minister (and moving spirit of the American University in Sulaimaniya), Dr. Barham Salih, is a Kurd. He put it to me very movingly when I flew down to Baghdad to talk to him: "We are willing to fight and sacrifice for a democratic Iraq. And we were the ones to suffer the most from the opposite case. If Iraq fails, it will not be our fault."

President Talabani might only be the "president of the Green Zone," as his friends sometimes teasingly say, but he disdains to live in that notorious enclave. He is now 73 years of age and has a rather Falstaffian appearance—everyone refers to him as "Mam Jalal" or "Uncle Jalal"—but this is nonetheless quite a presidential look, and he has spent much of his life on the run, or in exile, or in the mountains, and survived more dangerous times than these. You may choose to call today's suicide murderers and video beheaders and power-drill torturers by the name "insurgents," but he has the greater claim to have led an actual armed Resistance that did not befoul itself by making war on civilians. In Baghdad, he invited me to an impressively heavy lunch in the house once occupied by Saddam Hussein's detested, late half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, where I shared the table with grizzled Kurdish tribal leaders, and as the car bombs thumped across the city I realized how he could afford to look so assured and confident, and to flourish a Churchill-size postprandial cigar. To be chosen by the Iraqi parliament as the country's first-ever elected president might be one thing, and perhaps a dubious blessing. But to be the first Kurd to be the head of an Arab state was quite another. When he was elected, spontaneous celebrations by Kurds in Iran and Syria broke out at once, and often had to be forcibly repressed by their respective dictators. To put it pungently, the Kurds have now stepped onto the stage of Middle Eastern history, and it will not be easy to push them off it again. You may easily murder a child, as the parties of god prove every single day, but you cannot make a living child grow smaller.

Peshmerga soldiers hold Kurdish (left) and Iraqi (right) flags as they participate in a graduation ceremony at a stadium in the town of Sulaimaniya, October 25, 2005. By Azad Lashkari/Reuters/Landov.

I got a whiff of this intoxicating "birth of a nation" emotion when I flew back with Talabani from Baghdad to his Kurdish home base of Sulaimaniya. Here, as in the other Kurdish center, in Erbil, the airport gives the impression of belonging to an independent state. There are protocol officers, official limousines, and all the appurtenances of autonomy. Iraq's constitution specifies that Kurdistan is entitled to its own regional administration, and the inhabitants never miss a chance to underline what they have achieved. (The Iraqi flag, for example, is not much flown in these latitudes. Instead, the golden Kurdish sunburst emblem sits at the center of a banner of red, white, and green.) Most inspiring of all, perhaps, is Kurdish Airlines, which can take a pilgrim to the hajj or fly home a returning refugee without landing at another Iraqi airport. Who would have believed, viewing the moonscape of Kurdistan in 1991, that these ground-down people would soon have their own airline?

The Kurds are the largest nationality in the world without a state of their own. The King of Bahrain has, in effect, his own seat at the United Nations, but the 25 million or so Kurds do not. This is partly because they are cursed by geography, with their ancestral lands located at the point where the frontiers of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria converge. It would be hard to imagine a less promising neighborhood for a political experiment. In Iraq, the more than four million Kurds make up just under a quarter of the population. The proportion in Turkey is more like 20 percent, in Iran 10 percent, and in Syria perhaps nine. For centuries, this people's existence was folkloric and marginal, and confined to what one anthropologist called "the Lands of Insolence": the inaccessible mountain ranges and high valleys that bred warriors and rebels. A fierce tribe named the Karduchoi makes an appearance in Xenophon's history of the events of 400 B.C. Then there is mainly silence until a brilliant Kurdish commander named Salah al-Din (Saladin to most) emerges in the 12th century to unite the Muslim world against the Crusaders. He was born in Tikrit, later the hometown of Saddam Hussein. This is apt, because Saddam actually was the real father of Kurdish nationhood. By subjecting the Kurds to genocide he gave them a solidarity they had not known before, and compelled them to create a fierce and stubborn Resistance, with its own discipline and army. By laying waste to their ancient villages and farms, furthermore, he forced them into urban slums and refugee centers where they became more integrated, close-knit, and socialized: historically always the most revolutionary point in the emergence of any nationalism.

"The state of Iraq is not sacred," remarked Dr. Mohammad Sadik as we drove through Erbil to his office at Salahaddin University, of which he is president. "It was not created by god. It was created by Winston Churchill." Cobbled together out of the post-1918 wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq as a state was always crippled by the fact that it contained a minority population that owed it little if any loyalty. And now this state has broken down, and is breaking up. The long but unstable and unjust post-Ottoman compromise has been irretrievably smashed by the American-led invasion. Of the three contending parties in Iraq, only the Kurds now have a serious Plan B. They had a head start, by escaping 12 years early from Saddam's festering prison state. They have done their utmost to be friendly brokers between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs, but if the country implodes, they can withdraw to their oil-rich enclave and muster under their own flag. There is no need to romanticize the Kurds: they have their own history of clan violence and cruelty. But this flag at present represents the closest approximation to democracy and secularism that the neighborhood can boast.

Americans have more responsibility here than most of us are aware of. It was President Woodrow Wilson, after the First World War, who inscribed the idea of self-determination for the Kurds in the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, a document that all Kurds can readily cite. Later machinations by Britain and France and Turkey, all of them greedy for the oil in the Kurdish provinces, cheated the Kurds of their birthright and shoehorned them into Iraq. More recently, the Ford-Kissinger administration encouraged the Kurds to rebel against Baghdad, offering blandishments of greater autonomy, and then cynically abandoned them in 1975, provoking yet another refugee crisis and a terrible campaign of reprisal by Saddam Hussein. In 1991, George Bush Sr. went to war partly in the name of Kurdish rights and then chose to forget his own high-toned rhetoric. This, too, is a story that every Kurd can tell you. However the fate of Iraq is to be decided, we cannot permit another chapter in this record of betrayal. Meanwhile, you should certainly go and see it for yourself, and also shed a tear for what might have been.

Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.


 Portfolio Magazine

March 2008 Issue

http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/international-news/portfolio/2008/02/19/US-Oil-Plans-in-Kurdistan

Boomtown, Iraq

by Denis Johnson

 

Imagine a country where Americans are beloved, mini-mansions are springing up, and oil bubbles forth unaided. Denis Johnson reports from the new wheeler-dealer capital of the Middle East and asks, Is this the future of Iraq or just a desert mirage?

 

When Ward VanLerberg left Kansas and headed off to the Middle Eastern city of Erbil to build 50 schools, he was careful to tell his family that he was going to the capital of “Kurdistan,” and all was well until his daughter googled his destination and announced to the family that Kurdistan is in Iraq. His wife wept, bidding him goodbye, and commenced waiting for him to return home in a coffin.

Three days following Mrs. Van’s last farewell, I run into Ward on the elevator at the International Hotel in Erbil, and he asks me if I’d care to join him at the buffet, and what I say is no. Did I fly 7,000 miles from Chicago to talk to a guy from Kansas City? I’m here to get a look at the 1,000-kilometer oil pipeline running from Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, to Ceyhan, Turkey, and this friendly construction contractor is not a pipeline. But then I feel sorry and ask if I can join him after all, and I tell him that when I left home, I bet my wife cried more than his.

Map showing Kurdistan and neighbors

This morning, the two deceased husbands sit in the Atrium Coffee Shop at the Erbil International Hotel (known locally as the Sheraton though it isn’t one), a 10-story establishment with three additional restaurants, a nightclub, and a buffet to rival any on earth. We eat cornflakes with yogurt and omelets to order. Fresh-squeezed O.J. on request. “My family just didn’t get it,” Ward says. “This place is happening. There’s no war here in Kurdistan. No war whatsoever.”

To be sure, security at the “Sheraton” is tight—first a baggage search at the checkpoint before the gated parking lot, next a metal detector and pat-down at the lobby’s entrance, where patrons absolutely have to check their weapons. Since a number of private security contractors stop in for the buffet or take meetings here or even live here in posh quarters—with 24-hour room service and a view, perhaps, of the excavation site from which will rise the future Nishtiman Shopping Mall, one of the largest in the Middle East, or of the American or Italian Villages (little-box, lawnless developments for future foreign residents) or a distant view of the yet-unnamed airport’s colossal terminal, also under construction—at any given time the desk drawer at the security station rattles with loaded handguns, and here and there in the lobby bulky, physically formidable young Euros sport empty holsters on their hips.

  Bloody insurgency and sectarian strife tear at the country of Iraq, but Iraqi Kurdistan—three northern “governorates’’ under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government, with its own language, flag, and national anthem, its own Parliament and its own army—prospers relatively free of violence. The Kurdistan region is open for business. With the buzz of dealmaking and the ringing cell phones and the smell of oil literally in the air, you get a sense, sitting in the Atrium, of being caught up in this planet’s biggest game, of touching the skirts of power and intrigue and life-changing wealth. (
Read more about what lies beyond the Iraqi oil boom.)

The Kurdistan region is Paul Wolfowitz’s wet dream: maybe not a beacon of democracy, but certainly a red-hot ember—peaceful, orderly, secular, democratic, wildly capitalist, and sentimentally pro-American—afloat on an ocean of oil.

Very well: We tend to overlook good news because it’s generally followed by bad news, and another month from my happy breakfast with Ward VanLerberg, Turkish bombers will run forays in this region’s empty northeast corner against the P.K.K., fugitive Kurd rebels who are at war with neighboring Turkey—little damage, but much booming. And before it gets better, the news will get even worse: by the end of January, the northern Iraqi city of Mosul will see plenty of violence, and U.S. commanders will declare it “Al Qaeda’s last urban stronghold.” Good news, bad news.

They call it “The Other Iraq,” and all of them—the Kurdish representative Qubad Talabany in Washington; Kurdish Regional Government president Masoud Barzani and his nephew, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani; head of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir; oil minister Ashti Hawrami; the man in a shop who won’t accept money from Americans in exchange for a kilo of apricots—want the news out: This is what Cheney-Bush wanted. That’s the news from here. This is free enterprise blooming—not “booming,” our driver Hameed insists carefully—in the mountains and desert of northern Iraq.

Hameed is a mustachioed Kurd with a bandit’s face who presents himself each morning in well-pressed sports apparel and drives us around in his Land Cruiser, listening to Persian pop tunes on his tape deck. His business card identifies him as a freelance “fixer,’’ but he may also get a paycheck from the Ministry of Foreign Relations and may have some connection with Intelligence. Or maybe not. Susan Meiselas thinks he does. Susan is my photographer on this assignment. Usually I’m half-broke and deliriously off-course from the first day of these journalistic ventures, but this time I get an expense account and a world-class “shooter’’—that’s what I get to call her. I requested Susan specifically. My impression was that she’d seen a bit of Kurdistan and might know a few folks who could point us to a pipeline.

Our purpose in engaging fixer Hameed is to get us out to look at oil operations of one kind or another. Whichever way we go, we’ll find them.

  And that’s what we do every other day or so, passing first through the relentless checkpoints manned by camo-garbed recruits and then along nicely paved highways among a lot of vehicles going as fast as their drivers can push them, which varies from 30 k.p.h. to, let’s guess, 150 or maybe more. This calls for some fancy maneuvering on the part of Hameed, who keeps us well in the higher end of that range, leaving behind Erbil, believed by some historians to be the longest continuously inhabited city on earth, then entering the massive plain irrigated from the Tigris River and known as “Iraq’s Breadbasket,” the very farmland where, archaeologists believe, mankind first practiced agriculture.

On off days we get around Erbil meeting friendly folks and shooting them, and Susan asks about the “situation on the ground” and “future prospects” and shoots the whole city, while I take notes and wonder what happened to the war.

“It’s safe here, you can go anywhere”—by which they mean wherever you find yourself in this region the size of Maryland, you’ll be safe. But whether you can actually get through the checkpoints without papers from the Ministry of Security, that’s quite another matter. With its zealous and largely successful antiterrorist measures and its capitalist fever and as-yet-incomplete system of laws, the country serves up a blend of Orwellian, penitentiary-style security and Wild West laissez-faire: no speed limits, no driver’s insurance, no D.U.I. traps—there’s very little drinking and apparently zero drug abuse—loose regulations for firearms, and homesteaders’ rights to rural land; also—at least while the parliament wrestles with the question of government revenue—no taxes. Of any kind. But to board a plane leaving Erbil, passengers must pass two vehicle checkpoints, four electronic screenings and pat-downs, and a final bag-and-body search planeside. Among the ads on the airport terminal’s walls:

Khanzad American Village
“Welcome to Luxury”
American Village
The Most Exclusive Villas in Kurdistan


You can go anywhere if you have the right credentials. Stafford Clarry, a dapper American from Hawaii, formerly a United Nations worker and now the humanitarian-affairs adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government, spends his every free moment exploring the countryside in his Land Cruiser, sometimes with his 30-year-old son, Arjun. “In Kurdistan, the American effort is a success,” he says, then adds, “All right, yes, at least 50,000 have died in central Iraq. Yes, untold destruction, unbelievable mistakes, yes, all of that is true. But what you see around you in Kurdistan is also true. It doesn’t justify the destruction, but it has to be recognized as a fact.”

And the Kurds love Americans. Love, love. Investors swarm in from all over the globe, and foreigners are common in Erbil, but if you mention tentatively and apologetically that you’re American, a shopkeeper or café owner is likely to take you aside and grip your arm and address you with the passionate sincerity of a drunken uncle: “I speak not just for me but all of Kurdish people. Please bring your United States Army here forever. You are welcome, welcome. No, I will not accept your money today, please take these goods as my gift to America.”

On Monday, we talk to business folks and some of the government’s innumerable ministers. (Actually, the ministers number 43, and five of them are women.) The Kurdish Regional Government is secular, and neither the Kurdish Democratic Party nor its counterpart, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, pledge formal allegiance to Islam. The Kurds themselves are overwhelmingly Muslim, however. Younger Kurdish women dress like Europeans, but in smaller towns they retain their scarves, often only covering their shoulders, but also handy for ducking under when a bare head might seem disrespectful to the Prophet. At Erbil’s public recreation center, women use the pool at separate hours from men, and unmarried females have nowhere to go to amuse themselves, but that’s only until a private 90,000-square-foot women’s center that’s now under construction opens with its steam bath, Turkish bath, aerobics room, yoga room, workout room, and internet center.

At Zagros TV, one of Erbil’s five television stations, a news producer tells us that he’s free to be critical, but only of the government. “If we stray too far politically, we get a phone call. If we decided to criticize the Prophet Muhammad, we’d get a rocket through the roof.”

The Board of Investment offers free lots to investors who are ready to build for their businesses. Get it while you can. “I offer it now,’’ says Herish Muhamad, the board chairman, “but in a while, no more.’’

Twenty miles from town stands a power plant that’s expected to be sending 500 megawatts to Erbil by early spring. The project’s assistant director, Dliwer Arif, stands atop a 4.5-million-liter diesel tank, 55 feet in the air, and looks over the generators and turbines. A year ago, this was empty desert. Dliwer smiles with one tooth missing and says, “Yes. Because we are in a hurry. All of Kurdistan is in a hurry.’’ The diesel tank is being tested for leaks, the whole thing trembling. Susan points her camera over the 20 acres of buildings and men and machines, I embrace the railing, and Dliwer tests his cell phone. He’s very impressed with the reception this high up.

On Tuesday, we head southeast to the town of Taq Taq to watch men grinding and welding 10-meter-deep tanks for Topco, a Turkish oil company, at a field from which they expect to pump 70,000 barrels a day. Afterward, we drive three miles to the site of a future refining facility owned by the Kurdish government and a British oil concern: a stretch of ground leveled and graded in the midst of a vast natural expanse, with a handful of guards who live in trailers and keep it safe and who don’t know who the hell these Land Cruising visitors are supposed to be.

  The commissioner in charge of the outpost makes it his business to pin down the source of our authority. We tell him the mayor is behind us. He flips his cell phone open, and a round of calls consumes the next hour or so. Between every two calls, the commissioner takes time to address his squad of 13 men, his eyes on fire. Susan prods Hameed to eavesdrop and translate: We’ve wandered into some kind of political drama here among the mayor, the police chief, and the local head of security, and its climax has arrived. Its climax, in fact, is us.

The commissioner grows so wildly exasperated that he can ultimately find no expression for his disgust other than to gather up his squad and their equipment, and they resign en masse, quitting their windswept, lonely, pointless outpost—nothing’s built here yet anyway—and trudging together toward the town around 15 kilometers across the desert, their faces toward the wind.

We watch them shrink into the distance, and I think, Yes, the magazine will want plenty of that, or a couple of paragraphs anyway, the entertaining Kurds with their fiery eyes—and they’re very entertaining—but I don’t think I like it. I think I’ve stumbled onto some news, not entertainment. The war in Iraq is an hour’s drive away, and for four years these comical Kurds have actually managed to keep it from coming any closer. Isn’t that news?

While Turks and Europeans hopped up on petroleum roll into Erbil to build a new city and become rich, the American Village waits to be filled with teachers, executives, and engineers. The U.S. is waiting for the word from somebody that it’s safe, maybe from the same people who told us Saddam Hussein was dangerous. There are Americans around but “fewer than 200 U.S. troops,” according to a K.R.G. fact sheet, and if that number is a fact, their whereabouts are only a guess. A few in Mosul, a few in Erbil. Not a one in sight.

Most Americans in Erbil work for the U.S. government, and most governments keep their people here under Baghdad-level security, behind high walls and concertina wire. The U.N. compound looks like a prison, as does both the Blackwater compound on Sabhat Street and the tiny enclosure, not many blocks away, where workers from the U.S. Agency for International Development live. The British diplomats hole up at the high-security Khanzad Hotel with a fleet of armored S.U.V.’s, and all these people venture out only under guard.

Even Ross Milosevic, an Australian, one of this city’s ample population of high-paid bodyguards, has to sign an insurance waiver just to get out of his hotel and sneak over to the Deutscher Hof Barbecue, which serves really terrible food but also imported beer, for dinner with a friend in the same line. Ross works for Tacforce International, a private outfit, and looks like an ad for bodyguards, clean-cut and earnest, while his friend runs security for the prime minister of Kurdistan and looks like a homeless Rambo with stringy hair to his shoulders but the same sleeve-busting musculature, and he’s American—17 years in the Green Berets, a stint training SWAT teams in New Jersey, and a résumé that grows vague as it approaches the present and from which he himself sort of disappears for a while before materializing at the right hand of the prime minister of Kurdistan with 500 troops to do his bidding. At the public level, he prefers to use an alias and doesn’t mind at all if it’s Rambo. He’s here on an open-ended contract with the K.R.G. to train the prime minister’s bodyguards.

  This evening, Rambo orders beef Stroganoff, therefore so do I, to my considerable regret, and he sips a German beer I should get the name of, but I’m more interested in clocking his consumption, because I wonder if it’s possible for this specimen to chug down the calories and still look capable of pinning an elephant in four moves at the age of 47. He drinks only two of them while he and Ross—just one beer for Ross—discuss the world situation. “According to my contacts,” Rambo says, “the Israelis have six nuclear-tipped missiles raised from the silos and pointed at Iran and Syria. They launch before Bush leaves office.” Who are his contacts? “My brother-in-law.”

Ross and Rambo check out a table full of similar-looking men across the candlelit room. “Special ops team,” Rambo guesses. “They sound like Yanks, and their hair is short.” Ross isn’t so sure. You get the feeling that these guys are in their own movie and will suddenly challenge you to some humiliating physical contest. In his spare time, Rambo has been working to track down a young American girl kidnapped six years ago from a cruise liner off the coast of Venezuela. He’s trying to get Ross involved. Ross has spent time in Venezuela, and his wife is Venezuelan, but he says he can’t go back there because he’s been accused—falsely, he says—of working for the C.I.A.

Rambo himself seems just the sort to have some connection to the paratrooper-ninja wing of that very organization. “If a guy like me still worked for the U.S., like, for the C.I.A., he’d only be doing a little kite work now and then,” he says.

Kite work? “That’s where they can cut the string, and you float away and disappear.”

Rambo loves his job. He loves the Kurds as much as the Kurds love Americans, and he feels at home among them in what he calls the Wild West of the Middle East, but he thinks they’re pushing too hard to get rich while letting the basics—agriculture, infrastructure, education—fall behind. Here in Erbil, even the head of the prime minister’s bodyguards gets electric power from the city only four hours out of 24, and Rambo is missing his daily allotment while he eliminates every morsel from his plate. The rationing should end when the new power plant comes on line, but he still thinks the country’s leaping ahead with both feet in the air and no feet on the ground. The shopping center downtown represents three times the investment in the power plant. With their labor force heavily subsidized by make-work government jobs and their agricultural base and infrastructure wiped away by years of Saddam, the Kurds have plenty to do if they want a truly self-sufficient nation.

It’s a land definitely on its way, but to what? “Basically,’’ Rambo says, “the model is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates: oil-rich, almost entirely dependent on imported expertise, imported goods, imported workers. I wish I had a hand clicker to count the number of times each day I heard someone mention that place. That’s all you hear about. Dubai, Dubai, Dubai.’’

  Today, mainly security and government workers constitute the American presence in Erbil, but the others will get here. Hunt Oil of Dallas now conducts seismic tests around Kurdistan, and it won’t be long before other U.S. oil interests turn up. The oil is here, and we’ve known it for a long time. Britain knew it in the 1920s, when they drew boundaries on a map that created a British-administered Iraq, making sure it included this region and its petroleum. Kurdistan had actually been promised independence, but no way. “Oil,” a Kurdish saying runs, “made Kurdistan Iraqi.”

How much oil? Depending on who’s counting, Iraq as a whole has anywhere from 115 billion barrels of “proven” reserves down to half that much, which would indicate nothing’s really proven. A fifth of that or more lies in the Kurdish region. That puts Kurdistan’s reserves well ahead of the U.S.’s total reserves and equal to all of Asia’s. George Yacu, a Chaldean Christian Kurd who served as a technical adviser for Iraq’s national oil company for nearly 30 years, seems to find the question “how much” technically interesting but scientifically unanswerable, beyond his saying, “But nobody knows until they drill.”

On Wednesday, Susan and I have dinner with George. Since his retirement, he has run his own corporation, Sumer Petroleum Services. His family lives in Chicago these days, and he’s applying for U.S. citizenship. They all lived in Baghdad until life there became impossible, and he still has a house in the city, with a library of rare books and manuscripts, “if it still exists.” When things calm down, he’ll move the collection to his childhood village of Fishkabour, which is here in Kurdistan, just across the Tigris River from Syria.

It’s hard to imagine George as some kind of villager. He’s in his seventies now, tall and well-dressed, with a large, sad, historic face; formal and gracious in his manner, generous in his conversation, not to say voluble; and with a true kindness emanating from his depths. In 1975, Saddam gave the largely Christian population of George’s village 12 hours to clear out and then let his pilots use it “for bombing practice,” George says.

Who are these people? Who goes through this madness and comes out—not exactly laughing; George is certainly no rib-poking joker—but kindly, open, unafraid? And I actually ask him the question, but he only shrugs as if the answer’s obvious, or so utterly beyond the experience of anyone who has to ask that he wouldn’t even try to respond. His village has been rebuilt, and George keeps a new home there now, but he speaks of its former days as of a paradise: the orchards and the vineyards and the Tigris River going by, all of it gone now but the river and the ruins and the new buildings, and it’s hard, without risking rudeness, to steer him back to the subject of petroleum, which is, after all, what makes Kurdistan interesting to America.

  We’ve been involved in the Middle East since 1945, exclusively because it’s where the oil is. Although the rhetoric, starting with Truman’s in 1946 down to Bush’s in today’s paper, has been rendered in apocalyptic terms—war between good and evil, the clash of civilizations—if the oil were to move miraculously someday to another point on the globe, so would our involvement. But the oil’s under Iraq, and according to George Yacu, 38 percent of it lies in the Kurdish region in natural reservoirs less than 3,000 meters below the surface, some as shallow as 600 meters down—easy to get to and easy to refine, compared with, say, the recent strike off the Brazilian coastline, which is under a mile of ocean and another mile of rock, or most of Canada’s reserves, which are mixed with sand.

The Norwegian company DNO recently started three rigs drilling in its new fields near the Turkish border and has been pumping out great gobs of the stuff. DNO and Adox/Genel (a one-rig consortium of Swedes, Turks, and Canadians) have been the first to draw petroleum from Kurdish ground. Plenty of others expect to follow. When I arrived on Sunday, the K.R.G. had so far signed seven foreign companies, Hunt Oil included, to exploration contracts. By the middle of the week, another five had signed on, and by the end of the month, the total was up to 20.

Whatever they’ve found or expect to find, they’re not telling. Before DNO’s drill shafts went down, the company listed a public relations person on its website; by November the name had disappeared, and Magne Normann, DNO’s vice president, made it clear they weren’t entertaining visitors without a lot of vetting first.

So how much oil? For 17 years under Saddam and through one uprising and war after another, Iraq has pumped out only a quarter of its proven petroleum capacity while Saudi Arabia, at full capacity, is now suspected to have peaked and entered the declining phase of its oil-producing history. In any case, commentators as disparate as leftist Noam Chomsky and defense-and-resource expert Michael Klare have called what’s under the ground in the Middle East—including Kurdistan—the biggest material prize in human history.

On Thursday, we pay four bucks a gallon for gasoline. Although service stations in recent months started pumping again, the streetside vendors still sell gas and pink diesel from 20-liter jugs stacked by the highways in barricades they can scarcely see over. Hameed prefers to fill his Land Cruiser’s tank from a legitimate pump. Whoever you buy it from, it’s cash only. The Kurds accept Iraqi money, but they deeply cherish those U.S. Ben Franklin hundreds.

We go north and approach the city of Mosul under a linty-looking haze from its cement plants and brick factories, but we drive around it. “Too many Arabs there,” Hameed explains. “They kill you just for fun.” We’re making excellent time. Susan’s a little irked that we didn’t give Mosul an even wider berth. “We were told not to go through the Mosul checkpoint,” she says.

  “No,” Hameed answers, “in the morning it’s safe.”

“But we agreed we’d take the other one. Why did you take this one?”

“Susan, don’t you trust me? I’m never going to endanger you, because I’m never going to endanger myself.”

“But, Hameed, when we discuss these things, let’s stick to the plan.”

“Susan, please, I’m sticking to the plan. The plan is to get you to the pipeline.” Their delivery is very amiable.

Today, we’ll actually reach the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. There’s a metering station in the northwest corner of Kurdish territory, near the Turkish and Syrian borders and also near DNO’s new drilling site.

On Friday, a gallon of gas is down 40 cents from the day before. Hameed is philosophical: good news, bad news. Tomorrow could see a rise.

In our two days up near the Turkish border, we hear only two explosions. A Kurdish army recruit says it’s just Americans blowing up dud ordnance from previous campaigns. He hasn’t actually seen any U.S. soldiers; he’s only heard they’re around somewhere.

At this metering facility two miles from the Turkish border and three miles from Syria, engineers keep track of the oil flowing north through the 1,000-kilometer Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. In my uninformed imagination, I’d conjured one monstrous, mythic steel artery dominating the desert and shrinking in its journey toward the horizon, but this is all that’s visible: a chain-link-fenced enclosure no more colossal than your average Texaco service station, and inside it a 40-inch pipe and a second one 46 inches in diameter, coming up from underground for a distance of 80 feet at a height of maybe six inches, and then diving back under the dirt. There’s a checkpoint, a barracks for the guards, and a distant view of Turkish mountains.

Two hundred yards from the facility, DNO supervises two 4.5-million-liter tanks, to which it pumps oil from its strike a few kilometers east. A half-million barrels a day coming from farther south, outside the Kurdish region, pass through the pipelines just a shout across the road, but DNO is forced to send its oil into Turkey on tanker trucks. The pipeline is administered by the central Iraqi government, and they’re not ready to recognize the legitimacy of DNO’s Kurdish-sanctioned operation. Its pipes are off-limits to DNO and all Kurdish oil. A DNO electrical engineer who won’t give his name, a young Frenchman here to look after the big tanks, says the bickering parties will work it all out; the parties always do when there’s money to be made. He speaks about the richness of the strike as if it’s something to inspire worship; there’s that kind of tone in his voice: “I’ve been around, and I’ve only seen one bigger.” He can’t let us visit the drilling site. “You want to see Kurdish oil? Just go a few kilometers to the village of Tawke. You’ll see oil.”

  Safar Mohammed Omer, son of the former mayor and cousin of the current mayor of Tawke, takes us to a region of dun-colored crags and flats to show us black petroleum seeping out of the rocks and trickling down the hillside, and even a small creek that bubbles out of a black spring, two feet across at its widest, but it amounts to an actual slowly trickling black creek of oil. He points to another, and another, and those over there—for a thousand years, Safar says, villagers have been using this oil to start their fires.

He shows us a hand-dug well—a pond, really—about a dozen feet across, bubbling in a desultory fashion. When he was a boy, the villagers had a small distillery set up here and manufactured their own diesel. Thirteen such hand-dug wells, he says, surround the neighborhood, going between 12 and 40 meters into the earth, and on hot summer days an aqua-blue smoke rises from these reservoirs. This morning, the breeze carries a stench like that of an urban roofing operation.

Safar Mohammed dresses in the traditional style known as Kurmancî, in a loose oversuit, turban, and wide sash, exactly as he might have if he’d lived hundreds of years ago. The village in which his family is prominent consists of a few dirt streets and concrete buildings, skinny chickens wandering around. Sewage trickling along hand-gouged gutters. Oil bubbling up 100 yards from the place.

What does Safar see coming from all this? Is he going to live in a mansion with his chickens and mess with the heads of all the cultured folks, like the Clampetts on The Beverly Hillbillies?

Hameed seems to have trouble translating the question. “These villagers,” Hameed says, “they don’t think like that. He just thinks about today.”

But come on, this man is the Jed Clampett of Kurdistan. How does he think the DNO oil strike will change his future?

“It won’t.”

Safar may be the Jed Clampett of Kurdistan, but the fortunes of the village don’t quite compare. Safar says that the farmers hereabouts agreed to rent their land to DNO for roughly $300 an acre annually, but the tenant is casual about payment, and when all is said and done, the locals get about $13 a month. This oil may buy a mansion, but somebody else will live in it.

On the way back to Erbil, we pass the Harir Flats and the runway built for Saddam’s air force—the first runway used by the coalition forces in the latest war. Money from the new Kurdish construction projects has found its way out into the desert: Already the heights overlooking the old runway bristle with the castles of the newly rich, the tender beginnings of a Middle Eastern Beverly Hills.

  Susan has kept it something of a secret, but here in Kurdistan she’s famous, thanks to her book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, a compendium of documents and photos weighing in at five pounds, and we’ve been invited to rendezvous with some of her admiring friends. We’re going to be “guested,” is the term Susan uses, and I detect a kind of apology in the way she says it, and a tiny hint of hopelessness I don’t understand any more than a child understands when the nurse says it’s time for “a little hypodermic.”

In the town of Zakhu, on the Turkish border, at a compound of impressive stone buildings called K.D.P. location No. 8, the Kurdish Democratic Party is giving away 80 red-and-black wheelchairs manufactured in Port Washington, New York, brand-new and shining in the afternoon sun. These gifts from Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish president, are conveyed one at a time by the president’s second cousin Karwan Barzani, who sits in the courtyard in an easy chair behind a big desk, among a number of officials seated on couches. A man with a microphone calls out names, and through the course of the afternoon recipients with every manner of paralysis, incompleteness, or demobilizing disfiguration of their frames come forward with great ceremony: little children and old ladies and legless war veterans, each carried by two or three relatives toward the shiny new conveyances and each putting an ink thumbprint on a registry page and another on a large certificate, which is theirs to keep as proof of ownership.

Zakhu is a Turkish border crossing. Beside its main highway, cargo trucks wait in a line four kilometers long to pass back empty into Turkey, having unloaded everything from chicken feed, fresh produce, and canned goods to appliances, construction materials, and machines—almost everything, in fact, that the Kurds spend their money on. With $5 billion a year in goods and construction contracts coming south into Kurdistan, nobody’s worried that the Turkish army massed on the other side will actually invade this country and put a glitch in all that commerce just to spank a few rebels. Even when the bombing raids against the P.K.K. begin, the pilots steer clear of the highways and the pipeline.

After the ceremony, we adjourn with a couple dozen of Karwan Barzani’s friends and relatives to a big hall, where we sit in chairs against the walls and sip chai, a double shot glass of tea with an inch of sugar at the bottom, and I’m introduced to the smooth young Karwan and his jolly uncle Dara, both of them great friends of Susan’s and now, I gather, great friends of mine too. We have the tea and some fruit and some talk, and mainly we talk about dinner, where it’s going to be, what are the alternatives—these guys are Barzanis, members of the family currently in power, and dinner can be whatever we want wherever in Kurdistan we want it—and that takes a while, and no decision is made, but we’re all starving, so let’s go, man, and we and an entourage of a dozen or more people form our vehicles into a convoy, and we go.

  These, I repeat, are Barzanis, family to the legendary leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani, who fought for Kurdish independence for decades against the British and then against Saddam and whose portrait hangs on the wall of every Kurdish government office. These are the cousins of the current Kurdish president, Masoud Barzani, who in 1991 held off a division of Saddam’s troops, helicopters, and tanks in the Kore Valley with just 150 of his bodyguards, known as peshmerga (“those who face death”). Three days ago, Rambo, the prime minister’s security man, asked me, “Have you ever dealt with the Barzanis?” and did not expect an answer. In the 1980s, in order to deal with these Barzanis once and for all, Saddam Hussein began construction of a power dam intended to flood the entire Barzan Valley and all its villages, submerging and erasing, in a biblical style of retribution, the very origins of his enemies.

We are dealing with the Barzanis, which right now means traveling at homicidal speed behind their big, black Hummer (pronounced “Hammer” hereabouts) from Zakhu to the mountain city of Dahuk, still discussing the dinner possibilities by cell phone. I can hear Karwan’s stereo through Susan’s earpiece playing something with a lot of bass. “The Hammer will never lose me,” Hameed promises, and in his voice I hear the tribal Kurd beneath the city Kurd, and I know he means not even death, not all our bloody deaths, will separate him from the Hummer.

We have dinner at the Shandakha Hotel in Dahuk, in a private room with a 23-inch TV playing. As we enter, we find the owner and entire staff lined up to greet us. The place has an opulent five-star atmosphere. The johns have automatic-sensor towel dispensers.

I’m too busy with dinner to take notes, chomping resolutely, anxious to make a good showing in what feels more than a little like a pie-eating contest because I’m sitting next to portly, ravenous Uncle Dara, who preaches gluttony: more of these olives, more hummus and baba ghanoush, one more hubcap-size piece of the best flat bread in all of Kurdistan, and now some beef kebab—never pork—and turkey and chicken in a large bowl of broth with an equally large bowl of rice. Dara cries, “Free-range turkey! And the chicken is free-range!” I’ve seen chickens ranging free in some alarmingly squalid corners the past few days, but this is delicious. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of discussion about what to watch on the satellite TV. Hameed wants Tom and Jerry cartoons, but he’s only a fixer, so we watch the news in Arabic. For these Kurds, the news is good. The times are good.

Today’s a lucky day, and these Kurds know what to do with it. We go to Dream City, once the site of a military barracks under Saddam, now a 25-acre amusement park with all the usual attractions: the Crazy Disco tilt-a-whirl and the bumper cars and the Ferris wheel, but also billiards and bowling, a swimming pool, an arcade, and a “4-D” movie theater. That means a 3-D establishment with extra effects, a floor that tilts and lurches and a wind that blows past as the film rushes you along tracks through a spooky labyrinth called The Tomb of the Mummy and a mist that wets your face as you come out beside a cataract, never actually moving except as the platform shifts the seats. Our hosts and their friends and bodyguards, in their expensive suits, with their holstered sidearms and yellow 3-D glasses, can’t get enough of this one. Karwan buys everyone tickets to a second show, The Death Mine of Solomon.

  Followed by billiards, followed by bowling. The billiards don’t quite amuse: The balls won’t go in the holes. It turns out we’re mainly here for the bowling anyway; it’s catching on all over the Kurdish region, and in this early phase, if you care to, you can witness its practitioners using familiar equipment in the development of an entirely new sport, keeping no score, nobody caring whose turn it is, whirling and grabbing the very next ball on the server—no need to wait for your own, any ball will do—and then an approach best called “the charge of the Kurds” and a kind of almost baseball-mound-worthy windup and a delivery somewhere between that of discus and shot put, the evident objective being to keep the ball airborne for as far as possible in its journey, its lonely flight, downlane.

And then to the Dream City “supermarket,” the first department store in Kurdistan, erected in 2003, about half the size of a Wal-Mart and offering a little of everything. The two escalators are running tonight, both the up and the down. In the daytime they’re switched off, to save power. The Barzanis and friends move around the place languidly, handling and discussing every item for sale and buying presents for everyone they’ve ever known. Then we all gather out front for the loading of the many purchases and for a small conference. They’ve had us now for about 10 hours, but the discussion seems to center on our plans for tomorrow, the people we must meet, the beautiful mountains we must visit, our breakfast, our lunch, our dinner.

And I’m thinking, Yes, this is the climax of the piece right here, affluent Kurds clowning around, the magazine’s going to love this entertaining stuff, so why does that make me feel like a pimp in a burgundy velvet suit? Who are these people who keep Al Qaeda from infiltrating their homeland while the U.S. Army scratches its head and watches the rest of Iraq fall to pieces? And why haven’t the New York Times and CNN taken notice? Here’s a guess, just one possibility: because journalists are pimps for war, my friends, in burgundy velvet suits. And that’s the news from here.

We all stay at the Dilshad Palace Hotel, the most wonderful hotel in Dahuk, surely five-star, with plastic trees out front covered with plastic blossoms; newly built, and open tonight for the first time in history. We sit together in the lobby for chai and chai and animated small talk and chai before I resolve to commit the rudeness of saying good night. Good night takes a while. You have to circle in slowly on the concept—about 30 minutes.

The bellboy assures me that we’re the first customers of the Dilshad Palace. I have to teach him how to operate my door’s card lock. The next day, Dara tells me that after I left, I missed some fun: An elevator jammed and caught him between floors. “I was just about to fire my pistol a few times when it started to move again. They have to work these things out!” He seems disappointed, but I can’t tell whether it’s because the hotel’s equipment failed him or because he didn’t get to fire his gun in an elevator.


 Please don't miss the photos, including slide show, on the website of the article below.

 

The writer has taken some liberties with reality, but overall the picture is correct.

 

Despite references to Dubai as a model for the future, the Kurdistan Region's real treasure lies in thousands of heritage sites within some of the most moving scenery in the world - the mountains known as friends.  Unlike other mountainous places, no matter what road/track is taken it is impossible to avoid people from the smallest communities who couldn't be more courteous and hospitable. 

 

There are hundreds of rural communities, and many more could be reconstructed and resettled.    There is great scope of culturally sensitive community planning and development to preserve and promote local culture, and to protect the environment.

 

About hotels and restaurants in Erbil, there are now many, and more and more are appearing as we wink.  Try the Chwar Chra, especially the renovated tent-like restaurant on Thursday nights, within walking distance of the "Sheraton".  For just coffee and pastries, try 2B2 in the university area.  Just sandwiches:  Laffa or Bakery & More.  Sweets?  None other than Abu Afif.


 

The New York Times

October 26, 2008

Next Stop

http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/travel/26next.html?scp=1&sq=Kurdistan&st=cse

 

On War’s Outer Edge in Kurdish Iraq

 

By LIONEL BEEHNER

THE roses were in full bloom as throngs of women in flowery head scarves swooped in to claim their spots in Sami Rahman Park, a triangular slice of greenery on the outskirts of Erbil in northern Iraq. Older men clutched Muslim prayer beads. Children scurried about the playground. And couples lazily strolled along a pond. Except for the noise from a luxury hotel under construction, the park was an oasis of calm.

But these grounds were not always so peaceful. The well-manicured park sits on a former detention center run by Saddam Hussein’s regime where hundreds of Kurds were rounded up, detained and executed in the 1980s. So it might seem strange that the park is now being promoted as a tourist attraction.

While much of Iraq remains mired in war, the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq has enjoyed relative safety and prosperity, thanks to a no-fly-zone imposed by the United States in 1991 after the first gulf war. So instead of repairing oil fields and burying their dead, Iraqi Kurds have been erecting shiny hotels, opening amusement parks and trying to figure out how to lure tourists.

There is even a Ministry of Tourism, with a staff of more than 400 and a bare-bones Web site (www.tourismkurdistan.com) with color pictures and links to the region’s thin infrastructure. And to show that it means business, it has broadcast a series of television commercials in the United States called “The Other Iraq” that depicts high-tech factories and happy children greeting American soldiers as liberators.

But nothing promotes Iraqi Kurdistan better as a tourist destination than its remarkable history and rugged landscape. Even though most of Iraq’s cultural treasures lie to the south, where it’s too dangerous to visit, the Kurdish region does not disappoint.

History buffs will appreciate a landscape roughly the size of Maryland, dotted with the ruins of Christian monasteries and Ottoman mosques. In the center of Erbil, the bustling capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, are the mud-caked walls of a citadel thought to be 6,000 years old and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Adventure seekers will also find plenty to do: The roaring waterfall at Gali Ali Bag, immortalized on the 5,000 dinar note, is a sight to behold. Amadiya, an ancient hilltop fortress, offers glimpses of a millenniums-old Christian and Jewish settlement. And the snowcapped peaks of the majestic Zagros Mountains offer hikers amazing views of Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

Not without reason do guidebooks charitably call Iraqi Kurdistan the “Switzerland of the Middle East.”

But Iraqi Kurds have another model in mind: Dubai. Fueled by petrodollars, a forest of construction cranes has sprouted in Erbil, seeking to transform this Middle Eastern city of 2.8 million into a premier shopping and entertainment hub.

On a clear blue day last fall, the dusty and chaotic streets of Erbil were filled with chain-smoking men picking over rickshaws [???] stuffed with secondhand clothes and knockoff Birkenstocks at an outdoor market. At times, the pace of development bordered on the surreal. At the foot of the ancient citadel stood the $1 billion Nishtiman Shopping Mall, a gleaming white complex with 6,000 planned shops that could not look more out of place next to the ramshackle souks and mud-brick houses.

To accommodate the region’s newly wealthy, New Urbanist-style gated communities have been built with aspirational names like Dream City, English Village and American Village. Add to that 18-hole golf resorts, mountainside roller coasters and a $300 million airport terminal, set to open in 2009 to allow more international flights, and the Kurds’ ambition to create a “mini Dubai” may not seem so far-fetched.

There’s only one problem. This is still Iraq.

According to tourism officials, only a trickle of Westerners has vacationed in Iraqi Kurdistan — perhaps as few as several hundred since 2003. But that hasn’t stopped several travel agencies from sensing an opportunity.

Terre Entière, a Paris-based agency, began organizing trips to the region this year. The response surpassed expectations. Almost all of its 25 slots to its coming Christmas tour, which cost about 2,150 euros ($2,946 at $1.37 to the euro), were sold out in a week, and there is a lot of interest in trips in 2009.

Interestingly, many in the tour group are not stubble-faced backpackers but graying retirees. Janet Moore, who runs Distant Horizons, a California-based travel agency that organizes tours of northern Iraq, said that she turned away a 96-year-old American woman last June. “You don’t have to be in incredible shape, but there are a lot of steps to walk up at most of the sites,” she said.

The larger issue, of course, is the continuing violence. As recently as last March, a bomb went off in Sulaimaniya, the second-biggest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a security guard. A truck bomb in May 2007 outside a government office in Erbil left over a dozen dead and several more wounded. And earlier this month, the long-simmering tensions between Turkey and Kurdish separatist rebels erupted again when Turkish warplanes entered northern Iraq and bombed remote rebel bases, killing at least 15 Kurds.

Not surprisingly, the State Department still advises Americans against visiting the country, saying that terrorists and kidnappers “remain active throughout Iraq.” Many European countries, including Britain and France, however, have relaxed their travel warnings and differentiate the Kurdish region from the rest of Iraq (Washington does not.).

While Erbil is a far cry from Baghdad, signs of the war are impossible to avoid. Hotels are fenced off by concertina wire [???, which hotel?], vehicles are inspected by Kalashnikov-toting guards, and checkpoints are abundant. On a lesser note, tourists accustomed to high-end comforts may also find Kurdistan frustrating. Electricity is spotty, few locals speak English and latrines, even in some hotels, consist of a hole in the floor.

But the friendliness, and pro-American sentiment, of many Kurds might make up for the poor infrastructure. Mention in a restaurant that you are from the United States and your meal may be gratis. And it is not uncommon for Kurds to invite Westerners to share home-cooked meals, even in inhospitable places.

On a cool Monday night last fall, at a traffic-clogged border crossing into Turkey, a dozen Kurdish men stepped out of their cars and began passing around pita and tulip-shaped cups of tea to a pair of young, bleach-blond Swedes who were road-tripping across the Middle East in a beat-up sedan.

“Kurds really take pride in their way of life,” Michael Flower, a carpenter from Stockholm, said between bites of pita as he showed off an oversize satellite phone to his appreciative hosts. “Where else can you find people who picnic by the side of a highway?”

HOW TO GET THERE

Getting to Ebril is surprisingly easy. Austrian Airlines (www.aua.com) flies into Erbil International Airport from Vienna, with round-trip flights originating from Kennedy Airport for as low as $2,000 for travel next month. Tourist visas, required for American citizens, are issued at the airport.

Two tour companies that offer guided trips to Kurdistan:

Distant Horizons, based in Long Beach, Calif. (800-333-1240; www.distant-horizons.com), offers 12-day cultural tours to Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk starting at around $5,860 a person. The next departure dates are March 22 and Oct. 4, 2009.

Paris-based Terre Entière (33-1-44-39-03-03; www.terreentiere.com) offers eight-day “spiritual” and “cultural” tours of Kurdistan. A Christmas trip starts at 2,150 euros. Tours for 2009, start at 2,250 euros, about $2,945 at $1.37 to the euro.

WHERE TO STAY

Erbil International Hotel (30 Meter Street; 964-66-2234460; www.erbilinthotel.com), a former Sheraton, has 167 luxurious rooms starting at 240,000 Iraqi dinars (about $197 at 1,220 dinar to the dollar).

Just north of the capital, the Oz-like Khanzad Hotel & Resort (964-66-224-5273; www.khanzadresort.com) has 80 rooms and suites that offer sweeping views of the countryside. Rooms start at 208,000 Iraqi dinars

 

 
 

HIIWA  2007