Iraqi Kurdistan: Observing the Struggle of Traditional Progress
Chelsea Jaccard ’03 double majored in politics and art at Converse. She was a three-year award-winning member of the Converse Model Arab League program and during her undergraduate years studied Arabic at the Arabic Language Institute of Fez in Morocco and through independent correspondence study at Converse. She continued her Arabic study during her masters degree program in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a Middle East emphasis at American University in Washington, DC.
I recently returned from six months in Iraq, but not the Iraq one normally hears about on the news or reads about in the papers. I lived in the “other Iraq”, known as Iraqi Kurdistan. For most of the estimated 28 million Kurds around the world, the largest ethnic community that has never had their own political state, Kurdistan is a myth, a legend, something their grandparents fought for, their parents imagined, but to most it is not a reality. However, the reality exists in the three northern-most provinces of Iraq, where after the Gulf War and a 1991 UN resolution, the “Northern No Fly Zone” was created. This protective envelop ended Saddam Hussein’s postwar effort to destroy the Kurds through the use of poison gas attacks, village razing, assassinations, and other indiscriminate forms of murder. Since that time, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has undergone power struggles and a civil war to emerge as a transitional post conflict society posed for economic and political progress. I was able to work within this system at some of the highest levels of their government.
As the country director for a small consulting firm with two small but high-level projects, I lived in Erbil, the regional capital, and I had access to ministers, members of Parliament, foreign advisors, and many other constituencies in this dynamic situation. It was quite an experience for a 27-year-old woman immediately out of her master’s program at American University. Respect was not something automatically granted within these circles; it had to be earned through ones work and the reputation established. Although my company had gained a certain amount of prestige in the region, as the new country director I had to prove myself in an environment where connections are quite personal. The first few weeks were a dizzying schedule of lunches, dinner parties, and meetings to introduce me to all the people that I needed to know.