Kurds talk big when it comes to democracy, but old undemocratic ways are hard to shake, and Kurdistan is very very old. Corruption here isn't as bad as in, say, Baghdad, a city built on closed-door deals and dead Kurds. But it's still pretty obnoxious.Take the multi-million-dollar four-lane highway being built near Erbil that doesn't seem to connect any major population centers. It doesn't make much sense until you realize that the highway begins at the regional prime minister's house and ends at his office.Most corruption isn't so grand. At the Erbil airport, my co-camerman David burch got shook down for $80 by the customs guys despite having everything he needed to get into the country: a precious Iraqi visa courtesy of His Honor Ambassador of Iraq to the United Kingdom Dr. Salah Al-Shaikhly and an American passport. Fortunately, Kurdish bureaucrats are as inept as they are corrupt, and David simply smiled and hurried through the shakedown line without paying, and nobody noticed.Outside Erbil, at Kes Nazan, the Kurdish Regional Government is building a $50-million, 3,000-unit apartment complex with oil revenue provided by Baghdad. (How much of that revenue winds up in Kurdish ministers' pockets, I'd love to know.) The complex is intended for poor families being displaced from Erbil by new commercial construction, but sources tell me that many of the units have already been assigned to wealthy powerful Kurds using fake names.It's a shame, made all the more shameful by an accute historical irony. The land around Kes Nazan is flat and featureless, not because no one has ever lived here, but because it used to be populated by conservative rural Kurds until Saddam swept in, killed a bunch, rounded up the rest, put them in camps then bulldozed their homes. Their graves still dot the area. Some of these surviving displaced peoples are returning to the area, soon to find their land occupied by the local upper class -- a newer, more familiar oppressor, albeit a less cruel one than Saddam.-- David Axe
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