'The Other Iraq' Has Its Own Problems Tour groups refer to the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan as "the other Iraq." There, the economy is booming, people are using iPhones and violence is down. But some say the Kurdish success story is a myth.
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'The Other Iraq' Has Its Own Problems

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'The Other Iraq' Has Its Own Problems

'The Other Iraq' Has Its Own Problems

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: the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. There, the economy is booming, people are using iPhones, and violence is down. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports that this new prosperity comes with a price.

KELLY MCEVERS: Wassim Sh'eir is one of these recent arrivals. He's Lebanese-American.

WASSIM SH: I came here through a construction company, and they want to open a franchise here.

MCEVERS: Wassim says Erbil was tough to take at first, with its shoddy construction and intermittent electricity. But compared to the rest of Iraq?

SH: Heaven, you know, heaven. Erbil is heaven compared to the rest of Iraq.

MCEVERS: Even though he eventually wants to invest in the rest of Iraq, Wassim says Erbil is fine for now.

SH: They say Erbil is the gateway to the rest of Iraq.

MCEVERS: Two main Kurdish parties, led by two charismatic men, claim credit for this victory. But many Kurds say these men are now no better than dictators themselves, that much of Kurdistan's newfound wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a few.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD PROTESTING)

MCEVERS: In recent protests that were part of a larger wave of demonstrations around Iraq and the region, intellectuals like Farouk Rafiq said the Kurdish success story is a myth.

FAROUK RAFIQ: This is a myth that there is economical opportunity. Do you know why? Because political parties, they captured the market. They have their own companies for themselves, for politicians, for those who are on the top.

MCEVERS: In exchange for this support, the federal government in Baghdad recently agreed to let Kurdistan proceed with agreements to pump and sell its own oil. Now, says analyst Jutiar Adel, the Kurdish leaders see economic growth as a way to continue asserting their autonomy.

JUTIAR ADEL: (Through translation) The economical presence, the economical strength is very important, and they want to guarantee that there is an economical power for Kurdistan.

MCEVERS: Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).

MCEVERS: Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language).

ALI HUSSEIN ASSAF: It has been seven years for us with this conditions, and we don't know what's going to be our fate, but we're not going to give up Kirkuk.

MCEVERS: Mahmoud Othman is a Kurdish member of Iraq's Parliament. He says issues like Kirkuk and ending corruption are emotional ones for the Kurds.

MAHMOUD OTHMAN, Host:

You can't get rid of it. It's something which you are a hostage to it, you know. That's why economy is very important, maybe quite important. But it's not - it couldn't be a substitute for that.

MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News.

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