The first few weeks

30/05/2011 § Leave a comment

Looking out over Erbil

I have been in Erbil for nearly a month.

In this booming city, stretching its wide, taxi infested roads over the surrounding plain, gaudy buildings are popping up everywhere. Western style malls jostle for room with imposing omnipresent government buildings. Skeletal concrete shells of buildings, unfinished due to poor planning or corruption,  are scattered among them.

This all sprouts from the tangled knot of mud brick buildings and bazaars in the centre. Much more rooted to ancient Kurdish and Iraqi culture, this chaotic heart is all men in traditional Kurdish dress, sweet tea and dominoes. Rising from its middle is the citadel, its crumbling streets and heavy buildings now emptied of its residents to be renovated.

Erbil’s more permissive Christian neighbour to the north, Ainkawa, is being swallowed by the ever expanding city. Lining its gridlocked streets are churches, off-licences and verdant green (and heavily watered) beer gardens.

To the east of the city the rolling hills crumple into the rugged peaks and canyons that hide the PKK rebels.

The people are generous and friendly, sometimes overly so when food and tea is being forced down one’s throat. Few people speak any English, so I have to struggle through with a few words of Kurdish (the use of Arabic has dropped dramatically since the fall of Saddam) and gestures. Nepotism is a large part of this tribal society. Looking after your own – often at the expense of others – is not seen as a negative thing here.

I am working on the English desk for AKnews.com in somewhat infuriating circumstances. Not speaking Kurdish means we rely on local journalists to carry out many of the interviews and collect data, which can be patchy at best.

However, with lots of background research, badgering of people in the office and every once in a while getting out of the office to speak to people ourselves we manage to produce some great stuff and I believe were are now the best Iraqi English news service for the breadth and depth of coverage.

It has been a steep learning curve getting to grips with the labyrinthine political system with its many ministries, committees, subcommittees and so on. What an amazing time to be in the region though, there are protests for reform in Sulaimaniya (Kurdistan’s second city), the approach of the withdrawal of US troops, threats from the Sadrists to take up arms once more, a crack-down on journalistic freedom in Kurdistan, asylum seekers flown back by from Britain by the plane load, and much more.

This place is alive with news.

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