Celebration of Nawroz in Erbil. KRG website photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Although the Kurdistan region is on high alert, with battles raging against ISIS just kilometers from the capital, many locals feel secure enough behind the frontlines to speculate on the future.
A trip to the iconic Qaysari Bazaar last week showed Kurdish national sentiment running high, with posters of Peshmerga plastered all over the market hailing the fighters as the “Lions of Kurdistan.”
“We feel safe. We don’t have any concern regarding security issues. We have our Peshmergas on the frontline against IS, and they will not be able to enter Erbil,” said 35-year-old Mohamed Ali.
The sense of stability is so strong, some Erbil residents like Ali found time to focus on more mundane complaints, namely the crippling impact of low oil prices and an ongoing entho-sectarian shift in the area
Ali has four children and rents a small modest house. He is frustrated with the Iraqi government for freezing the Kurdistan region’s share of the annual budget, which has delayed civil servant salaries. Ali has not been paid for the past three months, forcing him drive a taxi driver to cover expenses.
“There will be inevitable changes in the dynamics of war,” said Azad Kak Rash, adding the Kurds should be prepared for unforeseen changes on the battlefield.
With Newruz just around the corner, Kak Rash, 26, said appreciate the sacrifices of Peshmerga forces.
“People have a heavy heart because of those killed on the battlefield. Newruz is not how it used to be,” he said.
At Machko’s Tea-Shop, opposite the bazaar, former Peshmerga Rashid Sabir Shexa, 63, expressed concern over Iranian influence in Iraq, and alleged intentions to form a neighbouring “Shiite state.”
“Iran wants to turn Iraq into a Shiite state,” said Shexa, who participated in the uprising against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, as he sipped his tea in his blue Kurdish traditional garment.
He continued: “Turkey faces many problems in terms of its influence in Iraq. The Iranian government has more influence primarily because of its Shiite affiliation, something that Turkey lacks.”
Shexa believes Kurdish leaders should keep a balance between the various coalition forces aiding Peshmerga forces in the fight against ISIS through military equipment and air power.
“There seems to be a competition amongst allied forces. Nonetheless, I think Kurds should be united to fight IS, and should not take sides, but keep a balance,” Shexa said.
Despite the decline in business and lack of jobs patriotism and pride were still on display as Newroz approaches on Saturday.
Just ask Luqman Rasul, 45, who sells Kurdish flags, nationalist CDs, key-rings and pins.
“Kurdistan is secure. Nothing can threaten Erbil,” he said.