In January, 2014, three years after the US withdrawal from Iraq, al-Qaeda raised its flag over Fallujah. The new wave of violence displaced more than 100,000 Iraqis, further destabilizing the country and adding to dire predictions about the future of Iraq. But in the autonomous Kurdish north, where tens of thousands of those displaced would seek refuge, the violence highlighted their success. Al-Qaeda in Fallujah was more evidence that, unlike the rest of the country, Iraqi Kurdistan is safe. As always, Kurdish officials were eager to make the comparison — a lot hinges on that safety.
A young, oil-rich Kurdistan courts foreign investment and tourism, each new skyscraper a monument to the Kurdish dream of independence. Mounting optimism lies in the hands of a Western-friendly, business-oriented government, and the democratic elections that gave it power. Marketing and good press convey that optimism to the world. Twenty-five years after near-annihilation under Saddam and ten years after the US invasion, Iraqi Kurdistan is eager to show what it is not: war torn. But what exactly is "the other Iraq"?
Will a widening income gap foment civil unrest? What is the environmental impact of oil extraction and development? Is democracy crumbling into autocracy? Can Kurds forgive past oppression and help their Arab neighbors? What happens when tradition collides with progress, and progress is moving at warp speed?
Over the course of a year, journalists Jenna Krajeski and Sebastian Meyer are reporting from the region, asking the question: Can "the other Iraq" become Kurdistan?