Postcard From Iraqi Kurdistan

March 28, 2003, Erbil, Iraq

Friday 28 March 2003, by Susan HARVIE

At the end of the first week of this war, a trickle of people have returned to their homes in Erbil and Duhok, a smaller Iraqi Kurdish city just over the border from Mosul. However, bombing to the north and heavy bombing around the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul as well as several incidents on the Iraq/Kurdistan border have convinced at least half of the population that the rural countryside continues to offer greater safety. All schools and universities and at least 50% of offices, businesses and shops in Erbil and Duhok remain closed.

As virtually every resident of Iraqi Kurdistan watched the most powerful military force ever assembled on the planet spend more than 4 days trying to secure the small town of Um Qasr with a population of 4,000, their suspicions that this would be a long war were more than confirmed. What would happen in Baghdad with a population 1,000 times greater than Um Qasr and with far stronger and more determined defenders? On the one hand, fears for family and friends in Baghdad have increased. On the other hand, as one man put it: "We want the Baghdad regime to lose this war but, we do not want it to be easy. We do not want the Americans to think that they can easily occupy our country and take our oil. We want them to know that we will fight for our sovereignty and our resources." Nobody is surprised that the American and British forces are not being welcomed with dancing in the streets of Iraqi cities.

On Wednesday, the Kurdish Democratic Party announced that, in return for $8 billion from the Americans, the Turkish had agreed not to invade Iraqi Kurdistan. Although the announcement was welcomed, few people are prepared to put their faith in anything promised by Turkey. There is also a great deal of mistrust of announcements from American and British spokespeople. Nobody believed that there was ever any uprising in Basra nor do they expect uprisings anytime soon. As one person put it: "We are caught between two liars, Saddam Hussein and George Bush."

Yesterday, the first big contingent of American troops arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan, apparently to fight the guerrilla group accused by Washington of links to Al Qaida. The Iraqi Kurdish people assume that they are also there to open a second front from the north. They wonder whether the Turkish army will be allowed into Iraqi Kurdistan to support this second front. If so, will they take advantage of the opportunity to try to occupy Iraqi Kurdistan?

So, after one week of war, the Iraqi Kurdish people continue to look over their shoulders, just as they have for years, wondering whether the Iraqi army will attack them from the south or the Turkish army from the north. Even more, they wonder whether the end of this war will be nothing more than the signal for another fight, the struggle for Iraqi sovereignty and for control of Iraq’s resources.

Susan Harvie has been in Northern Iraq over the past several weeks, working with local NGOs - principally women’s groups that are active in the camps - to set up the International Development NGO Alternatives’ emergency relief program for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

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