This morning I walked from ‘Ainkawa to the Citadel at Erbil City Center. (Erbil is shaped like a wheel with spokes, and the “city center” is very literally at the center.) This is what I saw along the way.
I’m told that in 2003, the stretch between Erbil and ‘Ainkawa was empty land. After Saddam’s fall, the Kurds gained equal citizenship in Iraq and the ability to hold passports and travel freely. Cultural, educational, and economic opportunities opened. The sectarian/civil war that enveloped Arab Iraq from 2006 onward never happened in Kurdistan.
Rawand, my host and guide for this visit, told me that the current economic boom is fueling a construction boom in this area, and you can see it here. To my right as I approached the city center was Abu Shahab City, one of a number of upscale communities springing up here. Another is Dream City, home to the famous White House replica which I saw but didn’t photograph.
These pictures were taken along the length of the street that runs in a radial line from the Qalat (Citadel) to ‘Ainkawa. Intersecting it is Gulan Street, which runs circumferentially around the core of Erbil. Along Gulan you can see block after block of housing and office buildings being put up. There’s also an American-style mall and restaurants, including Hardees, KFC, and one other well-known chain that just opened their first location here last week.
We are 30 miles from the front lines. In the darkest days of the Islamic State onslaught last August, the enemy was within 5 miles of Erbil Airport. Only US air strikes, Rawand told me, held them off.
“The Kurds are targeted by all the people who hate America,” he said.