The north of Iraq is everything the rest of the country is not: safe, prosperous and tolerant—and it could be independent within a decade
Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital—“a brash, sprawling metropolis that aspires to be a ‘second Dubai’” © Jane Sweeney
On the eve of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, in March, a fireworks display crackled over the city of Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq. Tens of thousands of Kurds had packed into Salim Street, the city’s broad central boulevard, to celebrate the festival. Kurdish musicians performed on stages. Men wearing traditional baggy-trousered Kurdish costumes, and women in sequinned dresses, danced and promenaded. Parents bought kebabs, spiced broad beans and roasted sunflower seeds for themselves, and ice cream or candy floss for their offspring. The mood was carefree, exuberant.
I had been to Iraq many times before, but usually to Baghdad or Anbar province to report on the brutal sectarian conflict that erupted after the US invasion of 2003. I always went with flak jacket and helmet, and relied on armed bodyguards or the US military