Saturday, January 20, 2007

From an interview with Christopher Hitchens, on the "other Iraq":


CH: Well, I went mainly to the north, to Kurdistan, where I encourage everyone to go, by the way. You can take your holiday there. I took my son. A wonderful, open society, there hasn’t been a bomb there since 2004, no coalition soldier has ever even been shot at in the northern provinces, no fighting between Kurds and other minorities, a remarkable achievement. I mean, it is the single greatest achievement of the liberation. I was mainly writing about that, and encouraging people to pay a visit. And if you Google a thing called the Other Iraq, by the way, you can look up how to get there. It’s easy to get, and you can fly direct from Europe now.
HH: Where do you fly into?


CH: Erbil, which is the capitol, it’s where the Kurdish regional government has its headquarters, or Sulaimaniyah, the town of President Talabani, who’s now president of Iraq. You can fly from Austria, direct without going through Baghdad, you can fly from Stockholm, from Amsterdam, a number of other places. It’s really well worth doing.
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CH: I’ve been several times, and compared to what it was like when I first saw it in ’91, when the place had just been gassed and bombed and subjected to genocide by Saddam, it’s a night and day difference.


HH: ... My question is, can you compare it to anyplace that would be in the frame of reference of most of our listeners?

CH: No, it’s unique, because what’s happening under the auspices of the coalition, and it’s been happening for a while, because they got out of Saddam’s Iraq in ’91, if you’ll remember, when we put the no-fly zone protective umbrella over Kurdistan. They had a 12 year start on everyone else, and they didn’t have to live with the terrible combination of sanctions plus Saddam that we allowed to go on for far too long for the rest of the country. And of course, they’re ethnically different. They’re not Arabs. They don’t speak Arabic. They’re not Turks, they’re not Persians. They’re a unique national group. They’re the largest national group, actually, in the world who don’t have a state of their own. There are about 24 million of them. They live in the rather unpromising neighborhood where Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq meet. It’s not the place you would want to pitch your tent, perhaps, if you wanted a state of their own, but that’s where they’ve lived for thousands of years. So what’s happening is a new nation is being born. They’re not going to proclaim independence, but it looks and feels much more like an autonomous country, if not yet a state, when you’re there.

HH: In your comment with them, and your conversations with them, are they optimists about the rest of Iraq?

CH: Well, no one is exactly an optimist, but I mean if you talk even to the most skeptical, hostile journalists and experts, they’ll tell you that of the few effective ministers in the Iraqi government, for example, a number, probably the greater number, are Kurdish. I mean, Hoshyar Zubari is universally admitted to be a very effective and decent foreign minister. There’s a very good minister of water resources, whose name I’ve just for the moment forgotten, Lotfi I think is his name, is also Kurdish. And of course, there’s President Jalal Talabani, who was elected by the whole of Iraq’s parliament to be the first elected president, who’s the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. What they tell me is look, if Iraq fails, it won’t be our fault. I mean, these are people who remember, were being gassed by the Iraqi government not very long ago.

Sigh. If America cuts and runs, what will happen to the Kurds?

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