Michael's Dispatches

The Myth of Kurdistan

Published: 18 March 2009

The Myth of Kurdistan
Iraq's northern enclave used to be called a model for the rest of the country. Not anymore, say Kurds.

Lennox Samuels
March 23, 2009

Until the old man is out of the way, everyone else who hungers for power in Iraqi Kurdistan is on hold. It could be a long wait. Despite his chronic bad knee and a Mayo Clinic heart operation last August, 75-year-old Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, is a survivor. At present, he and his longtime rival, Massoud Barzani (together with their families and their respective political machines), still control the largest part of what's worth controlling in the three northern Iraqi provinces that make up the autonomous region. Government ranks are filled with their relatives. Barzani himself is president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, while his nephew Nechirvan is its prime minister and his son Masrour is in charge of intelligence. Talabani's son Qubad is the Kurds' man in Washington, while a nephew heads counterintelligence. Backers once touted Kurdistan as the model for a democratic Iraq—perhaps even for a total makeover of the Middle East. But if anything, the place seems more and more like a stagnant, feudal principality.

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