After spending 5 days in California, I leave with renewed enthusiasm and motivation. When I think of California, I think of entertainment, agriculture, natural parks, beaches, mountains and innovation. Minus the beaches, I see the potential for all of the above in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
I also left feeling a little better about the resolve of Americans to remain committed to their friends and allies around the world, and that includes Kurdistan. Speaking at the World Affairs Council’s of Riverside (just outside LA), and San Francisco, I felt a reassuring sense of support from Californians to the cause of democracy outside of Americans borders, and why it’s important for the United States to remain invested in Kurdistan’s emerging democracy.
I say emerging, because it is just that, as we all admit we still have a ways to go. It is precisely because our democracy is in its infancy that continued U.S. support for and commitment to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq remains critical. This support need not come in the form of continued deployment of the United States armed forces. Rather it can come through increased diplomatic relations, and as importantly, economic relations.
I am confidant that 99.99% of Kurds, in Iraq, and elsewhere want a long term strategic relationship with the United States. But it is becoming clearer to us that solidifying this relationship means broadening our outreach beyond the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. – hence the importance of California.
Not only could we greatly benefit from California’s experience in prioritizing its agricultural sector, but like California, we can energize the entrepreneurial spirit of Kurdistan through further developing our IT sector. While I enjoyed giving my remarks at the WAC’s, the highlight of my trip came when I visited the headquarters of IT giants Google, and the social media sensation Twitter. In locations I felt innovation, creativity and drive like never before.
To see how Google, through its many departments is impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people, in the U.S. and abroad by encouraging and at times improving peoples access to the Internet, and how Twitter, with so few, but so enormously talented and driven staff is changing the way the world communicates and shares information gives me hope that we in Kurdistan can jump on this technology boom bandwagon. With Kurdistan’s young society, and our people’s interest in new technology, we are in a prime position to utilize such technologies, channel the entrepreneurial spirit of our young workforce and further develop our fledgling IT sector.
I was beaming with pride to hear Google Executives who visited Kurdistan a few weeks ago talk of the potential they saw there. I felt that I didn’t need to do much convincing to the Twitter folks to entice them to visit Kurdistan, to see the potential first hand, and partner with us as we channel this potential. I am confident that with our developing IT private sector, along with our government’s dynamic director of the Department of IT – Botan Osman, any company visiting and working in Kurdistan will be in good hands.
Once revenues start streaming in from Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region’s oil and gas sector, we would be wise to reinvest those resources into strengthening our IT, and Agricultural sectors. These two sectors, if strengthened will ensure we don’t become another lazy oil dependent economic; rather it would position us at the forefront of innovation and human resource development. Nothing would be a greater reward for our citizens than to transform the once decimated Balisan Valley*, into our very own Silicon Valley.
* The Balisan Valley in Iraqi Kurdistan, close to the resort town of Shaqlawa just north east of the capital Erbil, was severely decimated by Saddam Hussein’s regime during the notorious Anfal Genocide of the Kurds in 1987-88. During that campaign, chemical and biological weapons where used extensively against civilian targets, throughout Kurdistan, but specifically in Balisan Valley. The Anfal, meaning ‘the spoils’, has been thoroughly documented by renowned international human rights organization Human Rights Watch.