The “Other” Iraq

What do you think of when someone says “Iraq”? The media usually shows foreign troops, political unrest, violent incidents, torn down buildings, ancient rubble, vast, empty stretches of desert, and poverty. While this reality may exist in certain areas, it is very isolated. I would like to introduce you to the “other” Iraq – one you probably haven’t heard of. Most of what the media shows characterized the past and continues to exist in specific areas and cities. The rest of the country is living a normal life, probably much closer to your own than you would expect.

Northern Iraq, sometimes referred to as Kurdistan, for example, was separated from Southern Iraq by the United Nations during the rule of Saddam Hussein. While the North continues to be part of the same country, it functions independently. It has a separate government, a separate military, a separate visa and immigration policy, and its own consulates. As a result, Northern Iraq has been stable for years and has been steadily developing. Business and investment is booming.

Erbil, the city we now live in, is representative of the reality across Northern Iraq. While Iraq is definitely a desert country, vast plains of sand have been transformed into modern cities. You see the latest car models, regular shopping malls, western restaurant chains, one-stop shopping centers, and modern homes – fully equipped with A/C, internet and satellite television.




Are you looking for Oreos, Vicks Vapor Rub, or Häagen Dazs? A Mother-Care baby bouncer, Isomil 1 or Gerbers? Do you like A1 sauce, Nestle’s chocolate chips, and Starbucks coffee? Do you sometimes have a hankering for Pizza Hut, Chili’s or KFC? Would you like Adidas shoes, Eddie Bauer clothes and Italian leather? All of these things and more are readily available.

That being said, a visit to Northern Iraq will definitely introduce you to a unique and rich culture as well. All of the modern amenities and facilities are located side by side with local corner shops and family run restaurants, fresh fruit markets, fresh Arab bakeries and historical sites that date back as far as 5000 BC. In future posts, I hope to acquaint you more with Iraq’s culture, history and legacy. In the meantime, I hope this post, though brief, has served to dispel some of the doubts about Iraq, distinguish between the northern and southern regions of the country, and give a glimpse into the normality of life in most cities, including Erbil.

7 thoughts on “The “Other” Iraq

  1. Ellen,Thank you for introducing another Iraq,what a difference than the picture I have had in my mind.Although I thought I had heard that there was also shooting going on in Northern Iraq and it isn’t as safe as what one is lead to believe.
    Wishing you all the best.
    And looking forward to reading more about where you are now living.
    God Bless.

    • The shooting they’re talking about is in Mosul, which is in the center of Iraq and is disputed territory. No one knows yet whether it will end up with the North, the South, or as a different region. Currently it isn’t governed by either.

  2. Hi Ellen, we have just moved to Erbil and I would love to post this article onto my facebook page to help give people a more accurate description of “The other Iraq”. I doesn’t seem to be working? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also, where do we find Starbucks, Chillis, Pizza hut and KFC? :)

    • Hi, and welcome to the area! If you copy/paste this URL, it should work.

      If you’re in Ankawa, there’s an American Burger, a Texas Chicken and a Barista Coffee, in addition to foreign cuisine restaurants (German, Lebanese, Chinese and, of course, Iraqi) right in the neighborhood. If you’re out in Erbil, there’s a Fat Burger in Majidi Mall. There’s a Roberts Coffee (Starbucks equivalent) in Family Mall – both malls would also be where you find brand things for clothing, sports, etc. (there’s a Mike Sports, Addidas, Mango, etc.). There’s a Chilis on the main road from Ankawa toward the center of Erbil, and if you find the areas where the “nice” hotels are and the “Empire Building”, you’ll find a Burger Queen (Dairy Queen, Burger King Combination), Costa Ricas Coffee, and some other western restaurants… There’s a Papa Johns somewhere too – I know because I’ve seen people with it, but have never actually asked where they got it… Anyway, enjoy getting to know the area and discover everything that’s here!

  3. Thank you. That’s great info. Had PJ’s pizza tonight!! Delicious. :) It’s actually next to Burger Queen. We’re looking forward to exploring more of Erbil. (If only the driving was safer, I’d be out a lot more!) Take care and please keep blogging.

  4. Hey Ellen, I’m half Iraqi and half Lebanese and have been living in Lebanon for over 20 yrs and have heard of the wonderful changes that’s been taking place in Erbil, and they keep comparing it to “The New Dubai”. Is the city cosmopolitan? and by how far and is it as diverse as Dubai? thank you.

    • It is in no way as diverse as Dubai, but it’s on it’s way. There’s a lot of investment going on and many advancements. It’s probably about where Dubai was 15-20 years ago… a lot of potential, a lot of activity going on, rapidly growing economy, influx of foreign investors (began several years ago, continuing to grow…)…

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