Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Return To Kurdistan

by Aaron Glantz

to series on Kurdistan and Iraq election

(IPS) ARBIL -- My journey back to Iraq began, as most trips to the north of the country do, at the airport in Diyarbakkir, the largest Kurdish majority city in Turkey.

From there it's a four-hour taxi ride to the border, provided you don't get stopped by the Turkish army, whose war with Kurdish separatists was reignited last year when the rebels called off their five-year ceasefire and resumed attacks in Turkish cities.

On the plane from Istanbul, I had met a 45-year-old Kurd named Khass. A civil engineer living in London, he had left his home in Sulaiymania in northern Iraq to study in Britain in 1978, the year Saddam Hussein came to power.

"I didn't return home for more than twenty years," he told me, "because as soon as I finished school Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. If I had returned home I would have had to fight in a war I didn't believe in."

He married a British woman and brought up two children. Now he was returning to Kurdistan to work for an American company called U.I. that is building a hospital in the city of his birth.

We hailed a taxi together and traveled uneventfully towards Turkey's Habur border crossing, arriving at 2PM. Traffic was light. A month ago, the Turkish truck drivers who bring non-perishable goods and refined petrol into Iraqi Kurdistan went on strike. As tensions in Iraq have increased, the truckers have become easy targets for the armed resistance. More than 80 have been killed; some of them were beheaded.

But on the Iraqi side of the border there was little indication that I was entering a war-zone, and very little sign that I was entering Iraq. A signpost on the side of the road read 'Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan.' The green, white, and red pan-national flag of the Kurds flew overhead, a yellow sun at its center.

In the customs office, pictures of Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani were displayed prominently. As we rested, the Kurdish border guards served us tea and even offered us a ride to the northern Iraqi city Zakho.

There some of the problems of Kurdistan began to show themselves. Because of violence in the northern city Mosul, it was no longer advisable for me to take a direct route from Zakho to the Kurdistan regional capital, Arbil. A circuitous route through the country's northern mountains was required, and because of the Turkish truckers strike, the black market price of gasoline in Iraq has skyrocketed. The cost of a taxi had risen considerably as a result.

Luckily, an elderly Turkomen arrived in Zakho and I was able, again, to share a taxi. His name was Adil and he had fled Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War when the first president George Bush had urged the Iraqi people to rise against Saddam Hussein -- and then withdrawn U.S. support when Hussein began massacring his opponents.

After three years in Ankara, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees had settled him in Vancouver in Canada where he moved with his family. Improbably, he said he was returning to his native Kirkuk on advice from his Canadian doctor, who had advized him to move to a warmer climate to ease the pain of his aching joints.

"Surely there must have been warmer places that aren't so dangerous?" I asked incredulously, mentioning that many observers fear bloodshed in the multi-ethnic, oil-rich city if Kurds sweep to power in elections slated for the end of this month.

"Kirkuk is fine," he told me. "I have my brother there and two of my cousins and they are still working and their children are still going to school. Maybe the Kurds will make some problems there during the elections, but anyway no one will bother me. No one would harm an 80-year-old man."

At 9PM I finally arrived in Arbil. It was rainy, cold and dark. Electricity is available in Arbil for only four hours a day. I moved into a cheap hotel, where I'll be living with another independent journalist.

The next morning, I woke up and made my first trip to the Asayeesh, Kurdish for the state security police. After some back and forth a heavy man with a thick moustache gave me a purple sheet of paper granting me permission to work for two weeks in sections of northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

If I travel to Suleymania or Hallabja where the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is in control, I will need to register with their state security police.

"Welcome to Kurdistan," the police officer said, handing me the paper.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor January 19, 2005 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.