Currently dispatching from Iraqi Kurdistan

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Iraq – Minus the War

There isn't a war up here in Iraqi Kurdistan, even though Sulaimaniyah is just 160 miles northeast of Baghdad. Still, you have to adjust to the fact that there isn't a whole lot of electricity: It's about two hours per day now in Kurdistan. That's the big issue in the north: electricity. It's the main topic of conversation among disgruntled Iraqi Kurds, who say if they're going to have a functional society and economy in the "modern" world, they need the lights turned on.

Rain is plentiful here, but there isn't always a whole lot of water coming out of the pipes. It's fed to residents about once every two days, which makes water a secondary problem to electricity – unless maybe you're outside of the main cities. In many areas the infrastructure is so poor that people must buy water just to wash and nurture their bodies every day. And then there's the fuel shortage, which is always fun in a place where the number of car owners is growing and only gas stoves are available. Without electricity, kerosene is also essential to run the private generators that roar late into the night and to heat up stoves to stay warm in winter.

Ah, Iraqi Kurdistan. Foreigners who visit the northern region frequently describe it as "peaceful" and "flourishing." At least they get part of the story right.

To be fair, most are coming up from Baghdad and are overjoyed to be in a place where they can go out on the street and not be shot or kidnapped; they can actually work here. Same goes for the Arab Iraqis who have fled here. And frankly, so am I.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Take Two

SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ: I made a (very) last-minute decision to return on my own to Iraqi Kurdistan, a place I found completely intolerable just a few months ago. I lived in Sulaimaniyah in northeastern Iraq -- a difficult and often dull place -- for nearly a year. By the time I left I was exhausted and completely uninspired. I sat on the couch with my computer for several months in the States but couldn't manage to actually write anything, including emails.

Iraq can do that to you, no matter where you are. Iraqis from all corners of this country are tired of life here. But I'm sure that despite the devastation, leaving the war-torn areas of Iraq (I'm not in one) isn't easy – not for the foreigners, and certainly not for the millions (that's right, millions) of Iraqis who have fled their country in the past two-plus years. Most of them are in Jordan and Syria, and most are unable to work. Watching their country disintegrate must be heartbreaking.

I managed to find the energy and inspiration to come back. Despite the fact that I have been in many conflict areas, I'm not a war-zone junkie. But I do like to feel alive, and sometimes that's difficult to do in an often mundane American life. What makes it worse is that most Americans don't seem interested in even discussing international issues – even, sadly, Iraq, where the dialogue often begins and ends with, "Should we pull out?"

I also suppose I felt that my experience in Iraqi Kurdistan was somehow incomplete; that I needed to write about what I felt, saw and experienced. (Like, for example, that the lights are dimming right now because our private generator isn't providing enough power. We'll turn off the water boiler for the shower to see with proper light.)

I plan to blog not only from Iraqi Kurdistan but from Colorado when I return "home." (It's a relative term when you move every year.) I hope that you find the dispatches informative and thought-provoking – and that you comment often.