Resilience in Kurdistan

Stephen DeAngelis

May 11, 2007

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that Kurdistan’s relative peace has permitted it to achieve a level of prosperity and economic growth that is the envy of the rest of Iraq. That peace was momentarily shattered yesterday when a truck bomb exploded in Irbil [“Suicide Bombing in Peaceful Kurdish City,” Associated Press, New York Times, 9 May 2007]. Here is how the AP reported the bombing:

“A suicide truck bomber devastated the security headquarters of one of Iraq’s most peaceful cities Wednesday, killing at least 15 people, wounding more than 100 and showing that no corner of Iraq is immune from violence. It was the first major attack in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-governing region, in more than three years. The victims were among 72 people killed or found dead nationwide.”

I really didn’t need to read a newspaper account to know what happened. The bomb went off about 1.5 miles from our hotel at the Ministry of Interior’s offices where I am staying. The bomber targeted the Special Police and Ministry of Interior and not Americans. This seems to have been an isolated incident by a small insurgency group from western Iraq. When the bomb went off my colleagues and I were having breakfast in the hotel. We all heard a loud boom and felt shock waves from the concussion of the bomb. The hotel shook for a few seconds — the windows rattled loudly and bowed. Everyone all looked at each other – knowing what had just happened — and looked to see what had occurred. From our hotel we could see a large mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke rising hundreds of feet from the area of the blast. Our U.S. military and Peshmerga (Kurd military) guards secured the building and us. We were never in danger from this event. The AP described the damage this way:

“The explosion in Irbil, a mountainous city of 1.5 million people about 215 miles north of Baghdad, blew out all the windows of the three-story Interior Ministry building and left piles of rubble and twisted metal beams. Police said a truck loaded with a ton of explosives under detergent and shampoo containers exploded while it was between two buildings.”

One of the bright points that occurred during the dark moments following the attack at the Ministry of Interior was the reaction of some of our Civilian Affairs detachment. Along with two contractors who were driving to our hotel and were in the area of the blast, they immediately went to the scene and began to help rescue some of the people injured by the explosion. It was a great show of bravery and compassion and they deserve a lot of credit for their actions.

 

Authorities in Kurdistan are vigilant because they know terrorist cells are planning such attacks. Last week they captured a cell in the town of Sulaimaniyah. The terrorists confessed that they have been training to strike against Kurdistan because it is a safe and prosperous region. Those conditions threaten to undermine what insurgents are trying to accomplish in the rest of Iraq. As I noted yesterday, conditions in Kurdistan offer hope when hope is such a dear commodity. People should look to Kurdistan for hope. For decades (and more) they have been persecuted and killed, even recovering from devastating and deadly chemical attacks on some of their villages in 1989 (over 12,000 people were killed in a single day). Yesterday I was told by a local minister that 200,000 people that went missing during Saddam Hussein’s rule are still unaccounted for. Their Resiliency, however, is more than amazing.

 

Think back to days following the end of Desert Storm when Saddam Hussein forced many Kurds to flee to the mountains and live in caves without food or shelter. He was angered at the support they offered coalition forces during that brief war. Kurd cities were destroyed and booby trapped, but as soon as the international coalition made it safe for them to return they did — with a vengeance. They not only rebuilt, they prospered. They have not yet achieved “tiger” status, but if they can continue to maintain the peace and if the Iraqi government can implement a fair oil revenue sharing program they easily could attain that status. Needless to say, I have been impressed with the progress they have made and with their unquenchable spirit.

 

This is not just my opinion. It is widely shared. Earlier this year, Jason A. Atkinson, writing in the World Net Daily, talked about the foothold democracy has gained in Kurdistan [“The Middle East’s forgotten democracy,” 15 February 2007]. Atkinson writes:

“Despite the endless bad news we’ve heard from central Iraq, there’s a quiet revolution going on to the north. Thanks to years of military protection, the Kurds have succeeded in creating the one thing President Bush seeks in the Arab world: a beachhead of democracy. Don’t expect to hear about this in the media, but the Kurdistan Regional Government is a genuine U.S. success in the war on terror – if we can keep it. … Although it’s hard for us to imagine Kurdish hardships of the past (or the true joys of their newfound freedom), we must try to understand and fully appreciate this current historic moment – for their sake, and also for our own. The Iraqi Kurds are too good an ally to lose. … This foothold of freedom did not happen overnight but by dint of hard work and sacrifice. Once the Kurds were given the opportunity – starting with the no-fly zone in 1991 – they chose democracy and never looked back. They worked to build a stable government, protecting human and religious differences in much the same way Americans did after the Declaration of Independence, and based on essentially the same moral and social contracts found in the U.S. Constitution. They created their own police force, their own judiciary, their own parliament and executives.”

Last fall, here in Irbil, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani opened the city’s largest shopping center – the New City Mall. It not only created new market opportunities for the citizens of Erbil, it created nearly 250 quality jobs. The Kurdistan Regional Government reported the Prime Minister’s remarks on that occasion [“PM opens Erbil’s largest shopping mall, urges business and investors to drive economy,” 12 October 2006].

“The Prime Minister praised the investors and operators of the New City Mall for their vision and confidence and said, ‘The private sector must be the engine for job creation in our region. Government has an important role in providing stability, security and a constitutional structure, but the private sector – both local and foreign investors – will drive the future economic growth of the Kurdistan Region, just as it does elsewhere in the world.’ The Prime Minister issued a new call for private businesses to join with the government to look for new ways to invigorate the agriculture and food processing industries, and to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude when it comes to investing in Kurdistan. ‘We are slowly seeing the emergence of products manufactured in our region, but there is much, much more to be done. The KRG is providing new laws and guidelines for investment and is further developing a legal and constitutional structure which will promote and protect private sector development. But we need business to do more to develop badly needed industries. We are a patient but strong-willed people, and I know that the partnership between private industry and government can bring new benefits and a bright new future to the people of the Kurdistan Region.'”

I have found that the Prime Minister’s call for a ‘can do’ attitude is reflected in more than his words. I see it in the streets and hear it during every meeting I attend. During the last week in Kurdistan and Mozul, I have found the local business people craving to work with people from America and other developed countries to make a better life for themselves. On two separate occasions the U.S. Department of Defense, coordinating with local chamber of commerce and business leaders, held events for our team with local business leaders. On Tuesday evening we participated in a business networking meeting with about 50 business people from Irbil. They were eager to do business with our team. Yesterday we went to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon that easily had more than 100 business people and local government leaders in attendance. They all wanted to establish business relations with our group. I cannot stress enough how impressed I have been with the professionalism, dedication and competence of the DOD Business Transformation Agency folks who arranged this trip to Kurdistan and Mozul. Paul Brinkley and his group along with the military civilian affairs staff deserve an incredible amount of credit for executing it flawlessly.

I’m excited to be here implementing Enterra’s Development-in-a-Box™ solution for post-conflict reconstruction and development. I hope to play a role in helping build a bright and prosperous future for the people of this region.