Luke Harding writes: The news from Iraq has been grim of late. Sectarian killings, political feuding and the flamboyant rise of Islamist fanaticism. Last month, Isis – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, one of a series of radical Sunni groups – carried out a stunning military advance. Its fighters captured Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace. They now control most of Sunni Iraq. Their goal is Baghdad and the overthrow of Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.
Meanwhile, Isis’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has declared a new Islamic state, spanning Syria and Iraq. He has proclaimed himself caliph. The international community has expressed support for Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has vowed to crush Isis. But with the army in retreat – many divisions ran away last month – he has taken other measures. They include turning off the electricity to Isis-controlled areas and bombing from the sky. Critics say Maliki’s divisive sectarian policies have brought Iraq to disaster.
One part of Iraq, however, has largely escaped the mayhem engulfing the rest of the country. It is Kurdistan, the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Its capital, Irbil, is a haven of religious tolerance and relative safety. The suburb of Ainkawa, for example, is home to a large Christian community: nuns and a Chaldean church. There’s also a pleasant beer garden where crowds gathered over the weekend to drink Efes and to watch the World Cup final on a giant screen.
Beneath Irbil’s ancient citadel are cafes where those who are not fasting during Ramadan can eat lunch – shielded by a tactful white cloth. The city is predominantly Kurdish, but also home to Arabs who escaped from Baghdad as security deteriorated, and a recent wave of refugees who fled Mosul as Isis arrived. If there is a success story in Iraq, it’s here. [Continue reading…]