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Iraqi Kurdistan Without Blinders
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi & Phillip Smyth
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Ever since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, media reports have typically drawn a contrast between the relatively prosperous the areas of Iraq under the jurisdiction of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the rest of the country. For example, a recent piece in the Washington Post noted the construction boom in Irbil -- the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan -- as opposed to many parts of the nearby city of Mosul (outside KRG jurisdiction) that still remain derelict and in ruins after years of bomb attacks by al Qaeda, which even today extorts around $150 a month from most every business in the city. None of this comes as a surprise when one takes into account the fact that the KRG has a more liberalized market economy, whereas Baghdad still maintains a centralized command system inherited from the rule of Saddam Hussein. The Soviet-model bureaucracy remains a significant barrier to reconstruction, and it is unlikely to be dismantled anytime soon. Reliance on growing oil revenues allows Baghdad not to diversify the economy. However, in view of this economic contrast, it is often assumed that the KRG is distinguished by a policy of tolerance towards minorities. This assumption is apparent in a recent report by the New York Times entitled "Exodus from North Signals Iraqi Christians' Decline." Besides noting riots by Kurdish Islamists last year that resulted in damage to Christian and Yezidi property in the town of Zakho, the report rightly draws attention to ongoing threats from Islamist militants to Christians even in the KRG areas, which have seen much less insurgent activity than elsewhere in the country. Nonetheless, this article, as with many about the KRG, depicts minority dispersion as wholly the fault of militants. Overviews of the KRG's policies toward Christians -- especially internally displaced migrants from the central and southern parts of Iraq -- can only be described as a whitewash. Specifically, the Times report takes note of KRG claims that "the Kurdish government has offered land, free fuel and other assistance to Christians as they have arrived from Baghdad, and it has opened its universities to students from Mosul." What goes unmentioned is that the land and housing offered by the KRG to internally displaced Christian migrants are generally of poor quality and situated in very remote locations. According to Juliana Taimoorazy, president of the Iraqi Christian Relief organization, "Once in the north the Christians have to join the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) to be able to live modestly. However, many refuse to do so and are experiencing poverty [and] lack of education". In a similar vein, a 2007 report by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom pointed out:

KRG officials were also reported to have used public works projects to divert water and other vital resources from Chaldo-Assyrian to Kurdish communities

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and an adjunct fellow at the Middle East Forum. His website is Phillip Smyth is a journalist and researcher specializing in Middle Eastern affairs. He travels regularly to the region.

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