13 March 2007

PlaneAs part of Sky News' week Inside Iraq, we have invited Kurdish university worker Dalia Kaikhasraw to blog for us.

Dalia, 29, survived Saddam Hussein's gas attack on the town of Halabja in 1988, which killed 5,000 people. Here she talks about how travel has become easier for Iraqi Kurds since Saddam's fall.

If the small talk of English people starts with talking about weather, here in Kurdistan our small talk nowadays starts with talking about flights because we were so isolated over the past years.

When we can fly from here to EU or elsewhere, we really enjoy talking about it.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to pick up a friend of mine at the Erbil International Airport in Hawler, capital city of Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She came from London. The whole trip took her only about six hours to arrive here. I was amazed at the speed and quality of the flight she was talking about.

I just wanted to talk about a flight experience, but I was not lucky enough to tell a pleasant story.

At the end of 2003, I was one of the 25 first Fulbright scholars who left to the US after 14 year of programme disruption. I went to get my masters' degree in International Development Policy. After spending one year and five months in the US, I heard the news of the sudden death of my father. To come back from Durham, North Carolina to Halabja was thousands of miles and it was not an easy thing back then.

I had to fly to Amman, Jordan then fly to Erbil International Airport then use a taxi from Hawler to Halabja which is about 5 hours. Things were not as easy as they are now. The only flights running between Amman-Hawler were seized for government officials or members of international organisations. So an ordinary citizen like me could not get a ticket, unless I was supported by an organisation.

I spent nine days in Jordan, looking for support from international organisations or government officials who could help, but unfortunately no one could help. Spending nine days in the hotels of Amman in such difficult times, in which I have lost my father and even his funeral, was unbearable. Also, the way people perceived me in the hotels was also very humiliating. In most of the countries of the Middle East, if you are single women staying in the hotel you will be perceived rather low.

Therefore, I decided to look for land transportation means. I visited more than 11 transportation companies who provide GMS between Jordan and Iraq, but again I did not have any luck. Their argument was they will put their own life in danger if they drive a young, Kurdish, single woman having an American visa on her passport. I have offered double and triple fees, still they rejected.

I decided to take a taxi to Syria then take another taxi to the Iraqi border. I was not sure if I will be successful in that too, but I had to move since this was the only remaining option.

In a very early morning of May 9, 2005 I shared a taxi with two other passengers to Damascus. When the taxi stopped for border control point between Jordan and Syria, the driver told me they might not let me in and if so he will put my luggage on the street and leave me since he is in a hurry and needs to get to Damascus as soon as possible.

When I went inside the border control office, after questioning me for about 30 minutes, they told me that it is against Syrian law to let through a single woman without "Mahram" - a first degree male companion which is father, brother, or husband.

I paused for a moment and remembered that I do not have any in deed. I have no brother, I am not married, and my father just passed away. I went back outside and the taxi driver was waiting impatiently. He told me because of you I have lost very important business.

I apologised to the driver; even it was not my fault, and asked him to unload my luggage since I had to go back to Amman. They were not letting me in Syria.

Suddenly an Italian gentleman responded in the front seat and said: "I am a head of and NGO working in Iraq, I can tell them you are having your internship with us in Hilla". That was the nicest thing that I have heard in days. Then, I managed to cross to Syria.

The same night I hired a taxi to the Iraqi border called Rabiae. There I was caught in fighting between the insurgents and the US/Iraqi Army. There was no transportation and I did not ask my family to send a car to the border since it was too dangerous and did not want to risk their lives too.

I waited for about eight hours and moved from the shade of one truck to the shade of another, running from the strong sun of an Iraqi desert. I did not have a chance to eat for the past 24 hours. I was starving to the point that I ate an "MRE", which was a military food ration as if I was eating apple pie.

Finally, after approaching several cars, I was able to get transportation back home.

My trip back home took 11 days - my friends' took only 6 hours.

Such a improvement in only two years.

Written by Eyewitness, 13 March 2007


It's funny how it states it is easier for Iraqi Kurds to travel since Saddam's fall, But there is never any mention about the minority of Christian Assyrians still suffering at the hands of Kurds, Or Assyrian Churches being bombed on a daily basis!

It is great to read that the improvement in something so simple as travel, can have such a major change on people's lives. Kurdistan is like visiting anouther country and is very different from the rest of Iraq. The 2 main Kurdish parties were sworn enemies before the war, but they put their differences aside and now have a great peace. The ShiĆ­tes and Sunnis can learn alot from the Kurds.

I feel your pain about traveling through Syria. My brother and I were jailed for 13 hours by the Syrians I can not figure it out to this date why that happened. Flying home is much easier now.

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