IRAQI KURDISTAN: Life goes on under a shadow

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CPTnet
15 September 2014

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Life goes on under a shadow

by
Peggy Faw Gish

[Note: The following has been adapted for CPTnet from a piece on Gish’s blog.]

 
  Neighbors line up at bakery to buy bread

In
the hot afternoon sun, two children dart into the small grocery store near our
house and come out smiling with popsicles.  A woman responds to my greeting of “choni bashi?” as she
fills up a bag of plums.  As the
sun starts to drop closer to the horizon, clusters of boys are out on our street
playing football (soccer).  Even
though Kurdish and international forces are fighting the Islamic State (IS) two
and a half hours away, life, in Iraqi Kurdistan, goes on.

A
shadow, however, looms over the people in the Kurdish region of Iraq.  They feel it when they hear that the
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have taken back towns on the edge of Mosul from the
self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS and DAASH) fighters.  But they also remember early August,
when the Peshmerga had been protecting the city of Shangal (Sinjar) and the
surrounding areas, but then withdrew from the area—claiming they had run out of
ammunition.  The withdrawal allowed
IS soldiers to come in and terrorize the Yazidi people.

Even
though IS had been collaborating over the past years with some Sunni
populations in Iraq, in their opposition to the oppressive actions of the
al-Maliki government, it was the IS takeover of Mosul in June that made the
world take notice.  Yet, it seemed
that IS was moving toward Baghdad afterwards and not the northern Kurdish
region, so the Kurds drew a deep breath.  Then, on 3 August, the front got a little closer when IS
captured the Mosul Dam and the city of Sinjar.  Peshmerga forces responded with attempts to retake some
captured towns on the edge of the Kurdish region.  But it came as a surprise, when, on 6 August, IS seized four
strategic towns on a key highway and advanced to positions just minutes from
Erbil, the capitol of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Many
airlines canceled flights in and out of the Erbil Airport.  International companies and
organizations began to evacuate personnel.  Memories resurfaced of Saddam’s regime’s genocide against the
Kurds in the late 1980s and of other times in their past when their families
fled violence by going to Iran or Turkey. 
Now, on TV, features show photos of Kurdish families fleeing during the
uprising against Saddam’s regime in 1991, next to almost identical photos of
people fleeing IS today.  For them,
history seems to repeat itself every few decades.

The
Kurds of Suleimani have some comfort knowing that Peshmerga soldiers, along
with international troops, are pushing IS forces farther away.  And since the closest IS controlled area
now is a two hour drive away, people would see IS forces approaching before
they reached their doorstep.

This
underlying danger, however, is not the only way the threat from the IS has
impacted Kurdish society.  In
addition to the more than 200,000 Syrian refugees currently in the Kurdish
region, an estimated 850,000 displaced persons
from embroiled areas of Iraq have come into the Kurdish region in the past
three months, putting a strain on government revenues and services.  For some of the population, latent
resentments toward Arabs come to the surface.  Housing has become tighter and rents have almost doubled in
many residential areas.  In Duhok
Province alone, more than 600 schools are still being used for housing
displaced people.  While work has
started to build more displacement camps to house them, schools there and in
some other areas, will be late in opening this fall.

This January,
Baghdad stopped sending the Kurdish
Region’s allotted 17% of the country’s oil revenues to the KRG, in protest against the Kurds
independently exporting oil to Turkey.  Because of this, Kurdish
government employees and civil servants (including teachers) have had wages
delayed, month after month.  Increased
prices of gasoline and some other commodities have set off a wave of public
protests around the region.  And
now, an increasing number of families worry for their husband or sons who have
joined the Peshmerga fighting IS on the frontlines.

Yet, in spite of these stresses normal daily life does
go on.  Here in our neighborhood,
school opened this morning, so masses of children were walking along the
streets and gathering excitedly in front of the school across the street from
our house.  Men and women still go
to work, ride the buses, walk the streets going to the corner grocery shop or
bakery, and go on picnics at beautiful waterfalls in the mountains.  Each day they help their neighbors, and
love their families.  With friends,
they still sit around on mats on the floor, enjoying Kurdish traditional
foods.  They also donate material
goods for those fleeing their homes, remembering that not so long ago, their
families were among those terrorized and seeking refuge. 

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