Return to Iraqi Kurdistan
When it climbs up into the sky, the desert opens itself up to a new dawn, a new day.It is a new day for me, too. I am here. Back in Iraq. After six long months, I returned to the land which I once adored.
Previously my work here had been steady. As a journalist, a philanthropist, and a human rights advocate, I did good work. I helped children who suffered from disease and disadvantageousconditions as a result of the Saddam Hussein regime. I birthed babies. I loved Iraqis. I slept on dirt floors. And I wrote about it all. But now I am back and things feel different. Iraq is changing, and so am I.
This time I was sent to write, report and absorb some of the conflict. It is my job to be a voyeur, poke my nose around and stayout of too much trouble. But trouble is everywhere.
Following in the footsteps of its neighbors, Iraq is part of what I like to call the Egyptian Monsoon. Like a tidal wave of equal rights, cities across the Middle East are eagerly aligning themselves to one political party: the Opposition. Regardless of previous political involvement, the people of Iraq are saying “enough.” They want the current government gone, and the opposition party to take control.
When I first heard the Kurdish were protesting, in the areas of Northern Iraq, part of me found it quite absurd. Here is a place that is of course corrupt (most of the world is), but since Saddam Hussein was removed from power in 2003, the region has maintained a stable level of security, empowered democratically elected leaders and opened itself up to global investments.
One example of this is the newly refurbished airport in the northern city of Erbil. As the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil is known for its freedom from religiosity (an unmarried couple can rent a hotel room, for example) and for its stable working class and shopping malls (yes, shopping malls!). The airport holds the record for the fifthlargest runway in the world, and greets Western entrepreneurs daily.
Yet, beneath the surface of this democratic, free Iraq there are obscurities that are killing the country and its people; from the inside out. You might even call it suicide. A country rich in oil, that can provide funds to send young people to university for free (actually, university students in Iraq are paid to attend college), corruption and the desire for more power distract the leaders and result in a lack of simple amenities such as clean water and electricity.
Also at play are the Islamic laws and cultural normalities, that tend to keep conservatives conservative for appearance sake only. Inside, the people are lusting after a more open lifestyle. During the daily demonstrations here, women in the streets hold signs that read: Freedom. Justice. Peace. Now. I wonder if they will ever know true freedom, real justice.
As a Western woman, I feel comfortable walking the streets of Iraq. I walk to the bazaar to buy bread, and I take taxis through armed guarded checkpoints to villages far out into the dusty dunes, where I visit friends and colleagues chasing stories. The women I meet along the way are progressing into society. Some attend universities, go to cafes and get jobs. Half of the time I am in Iraq is spent convincing myself that yes, this country is making progress, things are changing for the better and will be OK in the future.
But then I linger. Perhaps too long. Maybe I ask too many questions, but then again that is my job.
I talk to a woman who is my age, 22 years old, who said she is a victim of Female Genital Mutilation. She hates men and hopes to never marry because she knows she will never have pleasure.
I talk to a woman who said she was beaten by her husband, until she left him and moved back into her parents’ home with her newborn son. It’s rare that a woman in her position would even leave her husband.
I talk to men who say that they want nothing to do with corruption or a malfunctioning government, yet they have no choice but to become a part of the scams if they want to stay safe and provide for their
Iraq is a place where one minute you can dine at the finest four star restaurant and then the next minute, step outside to see bullet holes and beggars in the streets.
It’s a place of ironies, devastation, and yes, danger. But is it too far gone for change to come? Am I a naive American for thinking I can be a part of a better Iraq, a better Kurdistan? I’d like to think not.