At the Erbil Ministry of Culture's media hall, the Iraqi-Kurdistan Symphony Orchestra has just struck the final chord of the Kurdish national anthem, and the audience -- Kurdish Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Turkomens, maybe even an Iraqi Jew or two, all in black ties and gowns -- bursts into loud applause, foot-stomping and cheers. It's Christmas Eve in the oldest city in the world, and the city's million-and-some residents are in a pretty good mood. Maybe it's the successful election they had just two weeks ago. Maybe it's the Christmas cheer of the city's sizeable Christian minority rubbing off on everyone else. Or maybe it's just that Kurdistanis love being Kurdistanis.Sure, Iraqi Kurdistan's got troubles. Corruption hamstrings the economy. Intense security limits civil rights. A dearth of natural resources has ministers begging for foreign investment. But despite all this, and against the backdrop of a country descending into an Arab civil war, Kurdistan is prospering. People are making money, raising their kids, going to school, travelling abroad, making plans, dreaming and enjoying life.This is it folks, this is what a peaceful, democratic, multi-ethnic and religiously-tolerant Iraq looks like. The Western media's myopic focus on Baghdad and Arab Iraq means it's missed a quarter of the story, the northern quarter, where five million people are building the Middle East's first indigenous democracy from scratch. Every day Kurds thank me, believing I represent all Americans. They thank me for freeing them from a murderous tyrant. They thank me for saving their lives and their families' lives. They tell me that they understand we went to war for many reasons, some quite bad. Still, they say, no American has died in vain here, for even if there were no weapons of mass destruction, even if Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11, there is at least one good reason to fight and die in Iraq.In fact, there are five million.Merry Christmas, America. Merry Christmas, Iraq.--David Axe
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