The Other Iraq
Trip Start Jan 04, 2011
23Trip End Ongoing
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I admit that I had some reservations about visiting a country with such a negative image. However, Kurdistan has not seen the level of violence the rest of the country experienced since Saddam was ousted by American forces in 2003. Although the region officially is considered part of Iraq it generally has full autonomy over its own affairs including maintaining a separate army, the Peshmerga, and elected government.
When crossing the border I wasn't sure what difficulties to expect but the whole process was rather easy and trouble free
The following morning I spent walking around downtown Dohuk. There was not much to see regarding sites but the walk was pleasant and when I spoke with people they were quite friendly and helpful. I had heard that the police would often stop people asking for identification but the only time any police men spoke with me on the street it was simply to say hello out of curiosity and welcome me to Kurdistan.
My style of travel is often to reach a new city and then explore it by becoming hopelessly lost. My first full day in Dohuk was no different. Somehow I ended up on the new side of town trying to find my way back to the hotel as the sun began to set. It was then that I came upon something called the Azadi or Freedom Panorama. It offered a wonderful view of Dohuk and something more. As I explored the monument I began to think about the US war in Iraq, the distortion that was used to justify it and the thousands of lives that were lost and are still being lost during the operation and its aftermath
After leaving Dohuk I rode in a shared taxi to Erbil, Hawler in Kurdish, passing close but thankfully not into Mosul. There were many things I loved about Iraqi Kurdistan during my time here but one thing I did not was the weather. Normally this area is dry and hot but while I was here it rained nearly the entire time. I discovered that my boots are great when it is dry out but seem to turn into ice skates on wet pavement. On more than one occasion I found my self lying on my back with my feet up in the air. The most interesting thing to see in Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan, is the citadel. It is one of the sites claimed to be the oldest continually occupied places in the world with a history going back at least 8,000 years.
My final destination in Kurdistan was the university town of Sulaymaniyah in the far south-east. This town has a remarkably different vibe than the rest of Kurdistan. It is certainly the most Americanized as attested by the numerous fast food joints and large amount of graffiti written in English that I spotted while walking around the city. Besides the enjoyable bazaar I visited the much more somber museum called Amna Suraka, Red Security
During the last full day I had in Iraq I visited Halabja with some others I met at the hotel. Halabja is a Kurdish town very close to the Iranian border and was the site of Saddam's chemical weapons attack on the Kurds in the waning days of the Iran-Iraq war. There was a small museum there with graphic pictures and a video from the genocide.
On the day I left Iraq the weather finally cleared I realized how beautiful the scenery in Kurdistan was as I headed back towards the Turkish border. Rolling green hills spread out into the distance and far off stood towering mountains which were previously obscured by heavy fog. Travel to Iraqi Kurdistan was an eye-opening experience and I hope to return again someday to "The Other Iraq".