Cover Story

Cities of refuge

"Cities of refuge" Continued...

Issue: "Safe haven," Sept. 15, 2007

"We know the terrorism element is in place already. Its sympathizers are here. We have the potential for interference from neighboring countries, and as in past struggles the Kurds can be caught in a power struggle, particularly given their alignment with the United States," said Schute.

One trigger for militants is a referendum to extend Kurdish regional autonomy that is supposed to be held by the end of this year. Officials say the vote may not happen on schedule but they believe it will happen. Some fear that with a fragmented central government a credible vote cannot take place. But more than 80 percent of the country supported the referendum proviso in the constitution, and if it passes it will extend Kurdish regional government (known as the KRG) to Kirkuk and Mosul.

Currently the KRG is led by Kurds but is made up of 10 parties, including Islamic parties and an Assyrian Christian party. Clearly the lead Kurdish parties are in control, headed by entrenched regional prime minister Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president. Leading tribal families control development and business in the region with what could be described as a pre-capitalistic economy that is more controlled than transparent.

But the region is becoming a model for political and religious freedom, according to Nimrude Youkhana, the region's minister of tourism and a member of the Assyrian Patriotic Party. Further, he said, "the Kurds are now the main player, the balance point in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites and between order and chaos."

By day everyone here knows that balance is precarious, but by night there remains the prospect of ice cream under the moonlight.


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