The Other Iraq

Kurdish Flag

This week on War News Radio, we take a detailed, two-part look at Iraqi Kurdistan, a region that tends to stay off the front pages of newspapers.

In part one, we learn that Kurdistan has become an island of calm in the raging sea of Iraq – a place where vacationers relax and refugees find relief. Listen now to Elizabeth Threlkeld’s report.

Then, in the second part, we hear about the influx of business into Kurdistan and the governmental corruption that comes with it. Listen now to Eva Barboni’s report.

And, we hear an interesting approach to long-term peace in Iraq from strategic analyst Edward Luttwak. Listen now to this report.

Finally, two experts examine the escalating conflict between Israel and Lebanon and what it means for the war in Iraq. Listen now to Duncan Gromko’s report.

These stories, plus the week’s news, from War News Radio.

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Music intro

Marty Goldensohn: “From Swarthmore College, this is War News Radio.”

Eva Barboni: I’m Eva Barboni,

John Williams: And I’m John Williams.

Farhan Hakh:

There’s a very, very worrying and very escalating trend of violence.

Eva Barboni: In Iraq, it’s the worst of times. Civilian casualties are 75% higher than six months ago. But in one oasis up North, it’s the best of times. We found a man on vacation from Baghdad, out hunting – for gazelles.


No one can make us afraid. It is really different. But really, it is fantastic. You should try to see how it is nice.

Eva Barboni: This week on WNR, a tale of two Iraq’s.

John Williams: Plus, what’s driving Iraq off the front pages.


There are a lot of situations happened in Iraq, but nowadays we don’t concern it because everyone’s eyes see what happens in Lebanon.

John Williams: U.S. foreign policy caught in a maze of its own making.

Eva Barboni: But first, a roundup of this week’s news.

John Williams: According to the U.N., nearly 6,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the past two months. That’s an average of about 100 deaths per day, which means that at least 2 Iraqis will have died by the time we finish this broadcast. That figure is from a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released on Tuesday. It contains the most detailed civilian casualty count so far in this war.

Eva Barboni: Most of these deaths are attributed to bombings, drive-by shootings, clashes with security forces and police, and indiscriminate attacks on neighborhood markets and gas stations.

John Williams: In response to the findings, many officials, including the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq’s Special Representative in Iraq Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, have called on not only the Iraqi government, but the Iraqi people to put an end to the violence. We talked with Farhan Hakh, a spokesperson for the Secretary General of the United Nations, about the report.

Farhan Hakh:

The escalating trend of violence represents the greatest danger to Iraq, basically because it erodes the government’s authority to enforce security and the rule of law…. Mr. Qazi did call on the citizens of Iraq to cooperate with the authorities to deal with this better.

Eva Barboni: Also this week, the U.S. military announced that violence in Baghdad is up 40%. Hakh says that the situation in Baghdad is particularly dire.

Farhan Hakh:

If you look at the report there’s been a lot of violence in the city of Baghdad, and there’s been a real need to address that situation.

John Williams: U.N. officials aren’t the only ones calling for an end to the violence. This week, leading Shi’a cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani made his strongest public calls for peace in the past few months. Continuing sectarian violence, he said, is threatening Iraq’s ability to govern itself and will lead to a prolonged American presence.

Eva Barboni: On Thursday, the Iraqi government reported that more than 1,000 families have left their homes just this week, moving to tent communities in hopes of escaping the recent upsurge of violence in Baghdad. Since February 22nd, some 162,000 people have registered for relocation aid.

John Williams: Taking a step back from the problems plaguing his own country, this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki jumped into the fray and condemned Israel for its actions in Lebanon. Al-Maliki urged the world to, quote, “take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

Eva Barboni: Al-Maliki’s comments represent a sharp break with the U.S. government, leading some to wonder whether the conflict between Israel and Lebanon could strain relations between the U.S. and Iraq. In a press conference on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow downplayed the importance of the disagreement.

Tony Snow:

The Prime Minister Maliki is running a unity government and he’s going to express the opinions of that government. The President is conversant with those opinions, and he respects it, and he looks forward to talking with the Prime Minister about it when Prime Minister Al-Maliki comes to Washington next week. You know, it’s interesting because it is a democracy, and they are permitted to disagree with us. That happens, and we have a number of allies who have disagreed with us on other matters.

John Williams: Al-Maliki wasn’t the only Iraqi politician to criticize Israel’s actions. On Sunday, the 275 members of Iraq’s parliament unanimously denounced Israel’s attacks, stating that they displayed, quote, “criminal aggression.”

Eva Barboni: A report from the U.S. government accountability office points to excessive corruption in Iraq’s oil industry. U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker noted that as much as 10% of Iraq’s refined fuels and 30% of its imported fuels are being stolen. Much of the corruption is the result of Iraq’s subsidized gas price, which at 44 cents, is significantly lower than the average 90 cent regional price, giving an incentive to steal Iraq’s fuel and resell it elsewhere.

John Williams: Walker stated that Iraq’s oil production and distribution levels have dropped below pre-war levels as aging infrastructure and insurgent attacks hampered the industry. This is particularly detrimental due to the Iraqi government’s reliance on oil revenue for governing the nation and funding its reconstruction projects.

Eva Barboni: On Wednesday, Iraqi and Iranian officials signed a trade cooperation agreement to facilitate industrial relations between the two countries. The new protocol allows for Iran and Iraq to exchange trade delegations and take part in each other’s trade exhibitions. It will also be easier for Iraqi businessmen to obtain visas to visit Iran and vice versa. This move is seen by some as a step towards more bilateral ties between Iraq and Iran.

Music 05:38

Eva Barboni: This is WNR. I’m Eva Barboni.

John Williams: And I’m John Williams. As we reported earlier, the violence in Iraq is increasing – dramatically, up 75% since January, according to the U.N. How can it be stopped? The wisdom we hear from Washington: Suppress the violence with troops and police. Meanwhile, entice the insurgency into the government.

Eva Barboni: But one authority on strategic affairs says, “No.” Instead: “Let the civil war play itself out.”

Edward Luttwak:

Civil war has a purpose and the purpose of civil war is to bring peace by dividing the population, forcing different parts of the population to accept the status quo and stop trying to change it.

Eva Barboni: Edward Luttwak is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. What “status quo” will the civil war help the Iraqis to accept?

Edward Luttwak:

The Sunnis need to recognize that they’re twenty percent of the population, and they can’t pretend to rule the country. The Shi’a are very divided, and they have to resolve their differences. That’s the purpose of civil war. The Iraqi civil war is on the way; that’s why 6,000 people died. But it has not yet achieved its purpose, which is to bring peace. You know, we had the Civil War in the United States; if a foreign army had intervened on the grounds that the slaughter was terrible and so they would come in in the name of peace, there would still be a DMZ running them- the Mason Dixon line. And there would be two hostile republics, periodically attacking each other.

John Williams: In any case, argues Edward Luttwak, the civil war will go on, because we will fail to suppress the insurgency. How come? With all our firepower, we are not, in his view, quite cruel enough.

Edward Luttwak:

The insurgents terrorize the population. You cannot win unless you out-terrorize them. That involves doing things that the Americans cannot do. Historically, the only people who have defeated insurgencies were the ones who out-terrorized the insurgents. You will not cooperate with the insurgents; if you do, we will kill them all. Insurgents come and the villagers frighten them off because they know that if they don’t, if they allow them to do an ambush, they will all be killed. Now Israelis cannot do that in the West Bank or Gaza; Americans cannot do it in Iraq. Therefore, you cannot do counterinsurgency.

Eva Barboni: Edward Luttwak, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is on the editorial board of the Washington Quarterly. He has authored 19 books, including Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.

John Williams: Iraq is just one war zone in the Mid East this week. Israel and Hezbollah, the radical Shi’a fighters in southern Lebanon, continue to battle. Iraqis are well aware of the conflict.

Eva Barboni: To get at the connections between the crisis in Iraq and the recent developments in the rest of the region, Duncan Gromko contacted two experts to piece together a deeper understanding of this quickly tangling situation.

Duncan Gromko: Robert Blecher is an editor of the Middle East Report and a fellow at the Center for Human Rights at the University of Iowa. He says Lebanon is only the first step in Hezbollah’s larger plan.

Robert Blecher:

Hezbollah with its abduction of soldiers has kicked off a process where Palestine could be linked to the south of Lebanon which could be linked to Syria which could be linked to Iraq which could be linked to Iran. You have a situation, where, different countries in which people have very different concerns, all these groups are linked in a struggle against Israel, and one might also assume that the United States might be drawn into that.

Duncan Gromko: Blecher thinks Israel might also have a larger plan: a step by step offensive.

Robert Blecher:

The Israeli army might be thinking that at some point in the next several years they are gonna have to confront Iran. When Israel eventually confronts Iran, it will face a second front that is its front with Lebanon because Hezbollah is an ally of Iran, so therefore when that fighting eventually comes, Israel will be subject to attack from Hezbollah from the same missiles that Israel is being attacked by now and is trying to destroy now. They could be thinking that this is a useful way for Israel to fight one of those fights now. They’re going to fight the fight in the North now; they’re going to get rid of Hezbollah as a strategic threat.

Duncan Gromko: But, says Blecher, if Israel attempted to bomb or invade Iran, they would need the United States’ approval and support. However, this time around, says Richard Bulliet, a professor of Middle Eastern History at Columbia University, it’s not so easy for the United States to distinguish between friend and foe.

Richard Bulliet:

You can’t separate the two because we have announced that along the lines that the Israelis have proposed the primary culprit in the Lebanon crisis is Hezbollah and we sympathize with Israel in trying to suppress or eliminate Hezbollah. But Hezbollah is virtually identical ideologically to the two parties that we are counting on to run a democratic government in Iraq: the SCIRI [Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq] party and the Da’wah party. So we have a problem, for example, if we were to send in a military force to back up Israel in disarming Hezbollah, we then make enemies in Iraq of the people whom we are counting on to run a democratic government. On the other hand, for us to turn around and become tolerant of Hezbollah then we back down on the commitments we’ve made to support Israel. That’s a real dilemma.

Duncan Gromko: It seems no matter which side the United States shoots from, they’re going shoot themselves in the foot. What would the consequences be if the U.S. sides with Israel, its usual policy? Again, Robert Blecher.

Robert Blecher:

You would be looking at a regional war, in which the situation in Iraq would become much more heated because Iran has a lot of influence with the opposition in Iraq; they would use their influence in order to increase American losses. This would put more pressure on the American army there. The US army is already stretched thin all over the place, but especially in Iraq. The war is costing a whole lot of money that the US doesn’t have.

Duncan Gromko: And with the midterm elections coming up, more heat in places like Iraq and Iran may make it a cold November for Hawks in Washington. Also bad weather for Arab regimes that have stayed neutral on Israel.

Richard Bulliet:

The longer the attacks go on in Lebanon, the weaker the Arab governments, who are sitting back and saying it’s okay, the more vulnerable those governments become. So one of the possibilities is if this drags on, for not just weeks, but for months, you begin to have a revolutionary situation possibly in places like Egypt.

Duncan Gromko: If that were to happen it would be – according to Blecher – an example of David defeating Goliath: strategy over force.

Robert Blecher:

It’s a way that Hezbollah and Iran together can turn a certain weakness into a strength, regionally. If you consider their weakness being that they are on the receiving end of a disproportionate use of force, if you think about the fact that that disproportionate use of force might land the country or countries who are employing that force in a difficult and maybe even an unsustainable political and military situation, then Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran have turned a weakness to their advantage.

Duncan Gromko: However, Prof. Bulliet has a strategy to end the conflict: douse the spark that ignited the fire; lean on the weaker party, Hamas, to give up its Israeli captives in exchange for financial survival. Hezbollah will follow.

Richard Bulliet:

Potentially, they could be separated from each other. If Hamas gave up its captive Israeli soldier, then Hezbollah would be under great pressure to do the same. They only took the soldiers in support of the Hamas position and Hezbollah in Iran have always said for years that whatever the Palestinians agree to, they will accept. So I think that we should be talking about how to make the Israeli situation with Hamas work.

Duncan Gromko: Is the White House listening to such creative suggestions?

Richard Bulliet:

I think there is a lack of imagination on display once again in the Bush White House. And I’m not sure we can get out of this without making our situation worse in virtually every part of the region.

Duncan Gromko: Columbia University Middle East expert Richard Bulliet. For War News Radio, I’m Duncan Gromko.

Music 14:05

John Williams: [station break 1] You’re listening to WNR. Find us online at war news radio [dot] org.

Eva Barboni: This is WNR. I’m Eva Barboni. Day after day, the news from Iraq is grim. Violence tears at the lives of all Iraqis, leaving the economy in shambles, or so it seems. But in the north of Iraq, there is security and growing prosperity. But no peace is without problems. Elizabeth Threlkeld and I explored the complex calm of Iraqi Kurdistan. First, here’s Elizabeth’s report.

Kurdistan Ad:

Have you seen the other Iraq? It’s spectacular. It’s joyful. It has an experienced security force; fewer than 200 coalition troops are stationed here. Arabs, Kurds, and Westerners all vacation together. Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan. It has been practicing democracy for over a decade. It’s not a dream, it’s the other Iraq.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: Yes. There’s an advertising campaign for Kurdistan, funded by the regional government. It’s “the other Iraq,” because Kurdistan is the un- Baghdad. Located in the north of the country, the mountainous region has plentiful water and cooler temperatures. And it’s a safe oasis. Douglas Layton of the Kurdistan Development Corporation:

Douglas Layton:

In terms of security there’s absolutely no comparison between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. I feel much safer here than I would on the streets of New York or Washington or Detroit or Chicago or London or anywhere else.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: It’s not all Public Relations. Iraqi journalist Ayub Nouri, agrees. Kurdistan has become safe and well secured.

Ayub Nouri:

They have a local police force, local security force, local army. There is full rule of law in the street. You see traffic police in the streets twenty-four hours. You can go out anytime during the day or during the night.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: With the deteriorating security situation in central and southern Iraq, more and more Iraqis are looking to escape to the North for a few days. Sulaymaniyah resident Ahmed a-Fadhil has noticed that for travelers, the biggest tourist attraction in Iraqi Kurdistan is: ordinary life.

Ahmed a-Fadhil:

You will not see the Empire State or such buildings there. One of my friends came here and the first thing he noticed was the security in Sulaymaniyah. We spend our time until 1 AM and that is not available in Baghdad. You cannot walk the streets even after 8 PM these days in Baghdad. He noticed the traffic of the cars. Also he noticed the electricity is much better than in Baghdad.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: A vacationer from Baghdad knows this contrast well. Fed up with the stress and danger of his life in the capital, Anas came to Kurdistan for a little R & R.


I try to change my mood so I go to north of Iraq to make a vacation and try to be happy. We really make fun and that place is very interesting and very beautiful, fantastic, no bombs. No conditions like Baghdad.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: But Anas wanted more than rest and relaxation – he wanted adventure! He and a few of his friends decided a hunting trip would be the best way to blow off some steam. But hunting in Iraq is illegal, so they had to go in secret. They weren’t after just any target. Anas and his friends had their sites set on something special – a gazelle.


The next day we find a gazelle; we hunt one. It is small but really it is fantastic. I can’t describe it. You should see it to understand how we get a fun from that. Really, it is different; it is indescribable by words.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: Anas returned to his family and job in Baghdad after the weekend of hunting was over.
But Ahmad a-Fadhil has noticed that increasingly, certain Iraqis are choosing to stay in the safety of Kurdistan.

Ahmad a-Fadhil:

Many Christian people in Baghdad and in Mosul have been threatened by the killers to leave their homes. In Irbil there’s a town called Ein-tawa. It’s for Christian Kurdish. It’s a really, really nice place.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: It’s not just minorities relocating, though. Shi’a families who don’t have ties to southern Iraq are seeking refuge in the North. Most Sunnis, on the other hand, choose to leave Iraq altogether, moving to Syria. Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against the Kurds have not been forgotten. For those people who do come to Kurdistan, the process isn’t easy. Ahmed a-Fadhil says a friend of his tried to move his family from Baghdad to Sulaymaniyah and ran into some red tape.

Ahmed a-Fadhil:

If any family wants to stay in Sulaymaniyah, they have to get permission from the security forces. If any family wants to rent a house, the person who will rent the house for them, they ask them for that security permission.

Elizabeth Threlkeld: It seems that the relative safety of Kurdistan is well worth the hassle. And not just for families, but for businesses too. Eva Barboni has that part of the story when War News Radio continues, after this brief break. For War News Radio, I’m Elizabeth Threlkeld.

Music 19:55

John Williams: This is War News Radio. I’m John Williams. This week, we learned from a U.N. report that Iraq is even more dangerous than we thought: 6,000 dead in 2 months. But, as we’ve been hearing, that’s not the whole story. There’s Kurdistan, northern Iraq. My co-host Eva Barboni tells us, not just people, but businesses are fleeing North.

Eva Barboni: According to Douglas Layton of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, companies based in southern Iraq are relocating to Kurdistan, at least temporarily…

Douglas Layton:

Kurdistan is regarded basically as the gateway to the rest of Iraq. It’s a place where you can do business today, you don’t have to wait until security is established, because we have that already. So, a number of companies are starting to understand that it behooves them to begin to do operations here and then move to the South as the security situation improves.

Eva Barboni: And, says Brendan O’Leary, who has been an advisor to Kurdistan’s leaders, the Kurdish government is taking steps to ensure that this trend of money flowing into the region continues.

Brendan O’Leary:

They recently passed an investment law. One which will encourage foreign companies to come in knowing that they will have a clear, and straightforward and transparent tax regime, and not be liable to predatory behavior or corrupt behavior by officials.

Eva Barboni: According to Layton, such incentives are starting to pay off.

Douglas Layton:

Directly after the war, we had roughly 60 Turkish companies in that market. And since that time, we’ve started to overcome the psychological barriers and of course people watch the media and all they see are bombings, but now people are beginning to realize that this is a different situation and we’re starting to see German companies, British companies, and American companies come in.

Eva Barboni: This wave of people and businesses has breathed new life into the Kurdish economy, but Ahmed al-Fadil warns that it has brought with it some unwelcome consequences for longtime residents.

Ahmed Al-Fadil:

We have relatives in Baghdad and they called my father to ask him to find a house for them because they wanted to leave Baghdad because of the security situation and my father went to search for a house for rent, but one house, 200 sq meters without furniture, is 500 US dollars per month. It’s too much. Before the invasion in Sulaymaniyah, my father rented a 400 meter house for 100 or 200 US dollars per month.

Eva Barboni: According to Layton, though, it’s worth the investment if you have the cash. Kurdistan is a region on the rise.

Douglas Layton:

If you visit Irbil and travel around the city, you will see construction projects going on all over the city. Where our government and Prime Minister sees Kurdistan in 5 years and that is ultimately to emerge as a very modern and sophisticated society and they are working as hard as they can to achieve those goals. I wouldn’t doubt that one day Irbil would look like a Dubai.

Eva Barboni: And a little like Tammany hall. Ayub Nuri, a reporter from Sulaimaniyah, claims that the Kurdish regional government has been taking advantage of development opportunities for personal profit.

Ayub Nuri:

The Kurdish officials, most of them, or lets say all of them, are somehow a businessman and they have their own companies. Or sometimes to avoid responsibility or publicity, they register their company under the name of a cousin or their nephew or somebody. This has been going on for the past 15 years.

Eva Barboni: And, the recent flood of foreign investment, brought on by the end of the embargo, has largely benefited these same Kurdish businessmen, according to Nuri.

Ayub Nuri:

The problem is the minute they come in here to sign a contract it is a joint contract with a Kurdish official- a Kurdish minister or a Kurdish police chief.

Eva Barboni: But Douglass Layton of the Kurdish Development Corporation denies that Kurdish politicians are systematically using new development policies and initiatives to benefit their own companies. It’s all to benefit the country, he says.

Douglas Layton:

Our government here wants to see foreign companies come into Kurdistan because they realize that they can do a much better job in many of the sectors that are being developed. They do want these foreign companies to impart technology, to transfer technology, and so on so that over a period of time, Kurdish companies will be competitive in terms of quality

Eva Barboni: However, Layton admits there has been a tendency toward monopoly and protectionism, that is, resistance to the influx of foreign competitors in the region.

Douglas Layton:

Nobody wants to see significant new competition coming into the market – you know if you have a corner on the market, you want to keep the corner of the market – but this is not a government policy.

Eva Barboni: In fact, Layton claims that the Kurdish government would actually rather be out of the business sector all together.

Douglas Layton:

They really want to be out of business, they want to be involved in the business of governing their people.

Eva Barboni: Not so, says Ayub Nuri. He alleges that the Kurdish government has not only benefited from its own policies, but has engaged in corrupt business activity. Companies owned by Kurdish politicians have been awarded contracts for reconstruction work and have left the projects unfinished.

Ayub Nuri:

We have highways to be made. We have buildings to be built. And after 6 months of work or one month of work, people find out that they have been left and there are not laborers working there because the companies have escaped. And why did the government not say anything? Because they were partners.

Eva Barboni: If these corrupt practices are in fact taking place, and reporters like Nuri know about them, why haven’t they been covered in the media?

Ayub Nuri:

[Laugh] There are a lot of things that haven’t been covered in Kurdistan.

Eva Barboni: Nuri explains that the downside to the security situation in Kurdistan is the amount of government control it entails. And the government has used that power to crack down on journalists.

Ayub Nuri:

Especially in the past two years, because people have started criticizing the local Kurdish government a lot. A lot –tens- of journalists have been kicked in the street, they have been arrested, they have been thrown into jail and they have been punished, they have been beaten by police. I am not happy about this at all.

Eva Barboni: Western journalists have occasionally covered such restrictions on press freedom, but the situation has remained largely out of public view. For Nuri, this is not surprising.

Ayub Nuri:

American authorities want to show a very beautiful or a very good image of Iraq. So once there is one percent of safety achieved in any part of Iraq, they will shout throughout the world that Iraq is safe, and these other problems get hidden behind the curtain.

Eva Barboni: Whether or not the evidence supports Nuri’s claims of government corruption, the rumors of sweetheart deals for politicians seem to be widespread on the ground. Ahmed from Sulaimaniyah echoed Nuri’s concerns about corruption in Kurdistan, but added that he is still glad to be living in the North.
Given the daily violence facing the rest of the country, that sentiment appears to be fairly common among the Kurds. However, Ayub Nuri is quick to point out that even though the Kurdish region of Iraq may seem like a different country – or even a different world- they know their fates and fortunes are intertwined with the rest of Iraq.

Ayub Nuri:

Most of the time I live with the same fears, with the same sadness, and with the same problems that my friends or other people have in other parts of Iraq. I call them and I email them and I ask about their lives, their situations, almost every day. And I am worried about them.

John Williams: That’s the first part of our look into the Kurdish region of Iraq. In future programs, we’ll talk about Kurdistan’s history and the contentious future of its oil resources.

Music 28:07

Eva Barboni: That’s our show for this week.

John Williams: WNR is a production of Swarthmore College.

Eva Barboni: Find us online at war news radio [dot] org. There you’ll also find instructions on how to subscribe to our podcast to get War News Radio on your computer every week.

John Williams: Special thanks this week to Julie Clapp, Paul Fisher, David Gelber, Marge Murphy, and CBS News.

Eva Barboni: Our behind-the-scenes crew includes Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Adam Clapp, Reuben Heyman-Kantor, Janice Im, Laura Pacifici, Nelson Pavlosky, Karen Rustad, Shelley Salant, Aaron Schwartz, Sarah Whites-Koditschek, Hansi Lo Wang, Wren Elhai, and Marty Goldensohn. I’m Eva Barboni.

John Williams: And I’m John Williams. Until next time, thanks for listening.


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