In all the reporting on the Iraq war it is too seldom noted that one region of the country can tentatively be called a success story. The northern portion of the country dominated by Kurds, Muslims who are neither Persian nor Arabic but a separate ethnicity with a long history, is generally calm and beginning to show signs of economic development.
Although most Kurds are grateful to the United States for deposing Saddam Hussein, their success is due more to the Kurds themselves. Saddam tried to eradicate the Kurds in the late 1980s but failed and eventually reached an accommodation that gave the Kurdish region semiautonomous status. Aided by that agreement, and the no-fly zone over Kurdish areas, the Kurds developed their own reasonably democratic political institutions and an increasingly viable civil society.
On Monday, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, chairperson of the Kurdistan Development Corp. and representative of the Kurdistan regional government to the United Kingdom, talked with reporters about the prospects for further economic and political development in the Kurdish region of Iraq. One of her missions was to thank the United States for helping Iraqi Kurds; the other was to introduce American investors to the opportunities available in Kurdistan.
The Kurdish Regional Government is committed to a free-market system and recently passed a law to encourage foreign investment. It exempts investors from most taxes and duties for five years and permits 100 percent repatriation of profits. Kurds hope foreign investors will help the region revitalize agriculture — Kurdistan has in the past exported wheat and barley before much agriculture was destroyed under Saddam — and build facilities like food processing and refrigerated storage plants.
Olives and tomatoes also look promising.
Abdul Rahman did not conceal her dream, shared by most Kurds, of an independent Kurdistan one day. But she stressed that the most prudent course for Iraqi Kurds now is to support a federal, democratic, unified Iraq with the guarantees for regional semi-autonomy contained in Iraq’s current constitution. There are many Kurds in Turkey and Iran as well as in Iraq, and even though Turkey is currently the largest foreign investor in Iraqi Kurdistan, both Iran and Turkey might become alarmed if a Kurdistan fully independent of Iraq were created.
The Kurds are probably the most pro-American people in the region, and they began using democratic governing procedures before the shaky experiment in Iraq as a whole began under American occupation.
The Kurdish regions, therefore, might be the most effective model for democracy with a chance to influence the rest of the Middle East. If American investors can help to hasten economic development and make some money for themselves at the same time, that could provide the kind of mutually beneficial arrangement that others in the region could be tempted to emulate.