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.