In Iraqi Kurdistan: Part 2

Posted in 2012, Iraq, Kurdistan by on Apr 05, 2012

See Iraqi Kurdistan: Part 1

See On my return from the northern edges of Iraqi Kurdistan, I had originally intended to stay in Shaqlawa. It sounded appealing from the Lonely Planet guidebook to the Middle East:

“At 966 metres above sea level, the cool temperatures and lush green environment have long attracted wealthy Iraqi tourists from the hotter Arab regions of the country”.

On arrival, however, Shaklawa has degenerated into a caricature of a Malaysian hill resort. It was a large construction zone of oversized houses, shopping centres and bulldozers, dessicating the once beautiful area into something appearing as a city inside a strip mine. I decided to continue on to Erbil.

The following day I went to the “garage”, the collective taxi stand to go to Sulumaniya, the second largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan. I negotiated the fare and just as I was leaving, I tried to confirm thatthe route would go through Peshmerga controlled Koya and not through Kirkuk. The drivers said it was OK. “No problem, safety, safety, safety. Only near Kirkuk. No terrorism”.

While this contradicted the advice in the Lonely Planet guide (went to press in late 2008), and I had hired the taxi individually, previous advice received from major hotels had advised that taxis going from one place in Iraqi Kurdistan directly to another all went through safe areas. So we were on our way.

On the road to Dohuk, roads had been constructed that bypassed Mosul and stayed just inside Peshmerga controlled areas. There had been several checkpoints as we bypassed Mosul and my passport was checked several times.

As we left Erbil, there was a checkpoint where we were waved through. We drove at high speed along an excellent highway as the signposts counted down the kilometres to Kirkuk  …60,50,40,30, 20…

We passed a sign saying “Welcome to Kirkuk”, as we entered a semi-urban area. We approached another checkpost, this time with blue uniforms rather than green. We were in Arab Iraq. We were waved through.

Shortly after, there was a bypass with the sign for Sulaymaniya. The driver turned on it saying “This way central Kirkuk and Baghdad, this way Sulaymaniya”. Shortly after there was another Arab Iraq checkpoint, The Arab guard asked me in English without asking to see my passport, where I was from and where I was goings. He then said “Have a nice trip: and we were on our way. We stopped for tea at a road side stand for about 20 minutes, drove through another checkpost where we were waved through. Then another more formal checkpost with an Arab Iraqi flag on one side and  the Iraqi Kurdistan flag on the other.

This time the Peshmerga guard asked for my passport, reviewed it and gave it back to me. We were back in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Sulumaniya is a delightful city at over 800 metres above sea level with the Zagros mountains in the background.

There is a modern section along Salim avenue and a wonderful old bazaar and old quarter entered through a giant arched gate.

In the bazaar I met a shop-owner who spoke English and we agreed to meet that evening. He said he was from a town on the Iranian border and he was willing to have his cousin take me there, as well as Halabja and Ahmadawa, the two main sites outside Sulayamaniya. We went together and it was another great travel day.

His village was Tawela, a lovely village right on the edge (within two kilometres of the Iranian border) in a gorge surrounded by high mountains. Most of the actual frontier has been fenced by the Iranians. The border area is surrounded by impressive snow peaks.

As I come to the end of my time in Iraqi Kurdistan, I leave highly impressed by the what Iraqi Kurdistan has been able to accomplish in the last twenty years.The landscapes are gorgeous, and the place is fundamentally well organized and safe. It has been a privilege spending the last week here.