Erbil, Iraq -- Iraq has improved immeasurably since the dark days of 2006 when hundreds were being killed every day by al Qaeda bombs and Sadrist death squads in Baghdad. But terrorist bombs continue to go off intermittently, and lingering instability and ineptitude still block economic development. Indeed, the political situation has recently taken a turn for the worse, with Iraq’s political parties at a stalemate in their quest to form a new government more than two months after parliamentary elections were held.
Driving down Baghdad’s dingy streets, as I did recently as part of a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, one is sometimes tempted to despair. What chance is there, the visitor may reasonably wonder, that the capital of this oil-rich country will ever be truly peaceful, not to mention as luxurious as Doha, Dubai, or other boomtowns to the south on the Persian Gulf?
A short trip north to the Kurdish region, where 4.5 million of Iraq’s 30 million people live, offers a different, more hopeful perspective. Known as the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, this area feels as safe as it gets in the Middle East. Terrorist attacks aren’t a concern. Americans can wander around without body armor or bodyguards—even if they’re in uniform. Don’t try it in Baghdad.
Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.
The above article is published in weeklystandard.com as of today and will be published in The Weekly Standard, issue dated May 24th, 2010.