Since February, when the election campaign began, terrorists have murdered an estimated 400 Iraqis. But it's been several years since a spectacular act of terrorism has been carried out on Kurdish soil. How has this been achieved? For one, along Kurdistan's de facto border with the rest of Iraq are checkpoints where serious scrutiny is given to anyone heading north. Second, few Kurds would turn a blind eye to strangers who might have come here to murder their children. Third, the Kurds have their own well-respected intelligence service, the Asayesh. Fourth, Kurdistan has its own fighting force, the fabled Peshmerga - which translates as "those who face death."
Kurdistan is a developing nation. One says that about every third world country but usually it's a white lie, a way to avoid telling people that the policies their governments are implementing will only deepen poverty in years to come. Here, by contrast, foreign investors are welcomed, the private sector is encouraged and progress is obvious. Oil is being pumped, there are two new international airports, and new buildings are sprouting just about everywhere. There are new car dealerships -- everything from Skoda to Cadillac -- and stores overflow with local and imported goods, including even liquor and Western-style bridal gowns. The Kurdish government will spend $100 million a year to send promising students to universities abroad - an investment in the future, and just one component of the most ambitious educational reform effort anywhere in the Middle East.
Kurdistan is not without flaw or blemish. Corruption is a serious concern. On May 4th, Zardasht Osman, a young Kurdish journalist investigating corruption was abducted here in Erbil. Two days later his body was found 50 miles away in Mosul. "We have condemned this abhorrent crime," says Salih. "But condemning it is irrelevant unless there is a thorough investigation with a concrete outcome, unless we get to the bottom of it."
Finally, this should not go unmentioned: No Muslims in the world are warmer and more hospitable toward Americans than are Kurds. They can't repeat often enough how grateful they are for the sacrifices Americans made to liberate them from a dictator whose goal was their extermination - and who did slaughter tens of thousands of them. Poison gas was among the weapons Saddam used against innocent Kurdish men, women and children.
Even those most critical of the U.S. intervention in Iraq ought to consider: If that's how Saddam treated fellow Iraqis and fellow Muslims, what might he have done to Americans had he been given the chance?