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Vigil on the Northern Front

Avi Friedman

Hizbullah has no desire to collect garbage or provide electricity for the Lebanese, but it can disrupt civilian life at a whim. Although it’s rare for a Jew to visit either Lebanon or Iraq these days, political analyst Jonathan Spyer has spent time in both countries — safety notwithstanding — and gives his take on why Hizbullah remains a fringe terrorist network rather than enforcing a political takeover.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Landing at Erbil International Airport in early November, Jonathan Spyer couldn’t believe he’d actually arrived in Iraq. In contrast to the Western media reports of turmoil in war-torn Baghdad; in Erbil, some 200 miles to the north, things couldn’t have been any calmer.

“I got off the plane from Amman at eleven in the morning — the flight’s only an hour, but Royal Jordanian’s got a monopoly on the route, so you’ve got no choice but to pay the $600 asking price,” said Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “My host took me straight into town. We had no security guards, there was no tension in the air, and we walked the streets speaking English like it was the most natural thing in the world. I was astonished, because it would never happen in Baghdad. I’ve never been there, but my colleagues who have say that you get off the plane, you meet your security guards, go to a security briefing, and as a Westerner you’d better keep a pretty low profile.” 

Spyer said the flight to Erbil was filled with independent contractors looking for business deals. His strongest impression of the city was the rash of construction projects that seem to be sprouting from every spare corner of the city. 

Spyer’s experience is consistent with other reports that Iraq’s Kurdish north has created a successful model of self-governance, a flourishing economy, and a cohesive national identity following the autonomy granted to them after the 2003 US–led invasion that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

It is also a world apart from Lebanon, another hard-to- enter country Spyer last visited in 2008. During that visit to the Land of the Cedars, Spyer noted how south Lebanon’s infrastructure had been largely rebuilt after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. He said he’d love to take another research visit to Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and to south Lebanon, but his vast network of contacts around the country strongly discouraged the move, implying they could not totally ensure his safety.


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