This is certainly an interesting time to be in Iraq. If you have been following the news, you’re probably aware that Parts of Mosul and surrounding cities in the North fell to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which locally is referred to as Da’ash. The situation is serious for the future of Iraq, but I am currently safe in the Northern Kurdish region in the city of Erbil. The Iraq Access to Justice Program has a regional office in Erbil, and coincidentally I was travelling to Erbil to support some conferences and workshops taking place here at the time Da’ash took Mosul. Unfortunately due to the security situation, travel for most of the participants was not possible. So, these conferences had to be postponed. Instead I will be working with the Erbil office’s new legal advisor to meet with the Kurdish Bar Association, and various NGO’s providing legal aid in the Kurdish region while continuing research on my previous assignments. Much of the staff from the Baghdad officer are here working in Erbil as well. The Kurdish region is semiautonomous and very different from Baghdad. Everyone here speaks Kurdish; most individuals older than the age of thirty speak Arabic, but some of the youth do not speak a word. I am now trying to learn some Kurdish for basic communication! The security situation in Erbil is stable; I am free to move about without the security personnel that were required in Baghdad. I have enjoyed going to various restaurants and malls with the staff, especially after being confined to the compound in Baghdad.
On Thursday, I travelled to Koya to meet at the Koya University Law School. We are very excited about a new project that will include an NGO in Koya and the law school. The project will be completely funded by an oil company as a part of its community involvement campaign. This is a major breakthrough as it is a step towards sustainable funding. The USAID funding will not last indefinitely and bringing in private funding is a great opportunity to ensure these programs can continue at their current capacity. Students at Koya Law School will have opportunities to gain practical experience, while the vulnerable people of Iraq will receive the legal services they need. While in Koya I met representatives of the Kurdish Bar, and University officials. I also had an opportunity to visit the Christian village in Koya. There has been a Christian community in Koya since the time of Christ, and this community still inhabits the same area. The Kurdish government paid for a very nice monument surrounding an old church that is centuries old. On Sunday, I went to meet the President of the Kurdish Bar Association to introduce the new staff members and explain our conference cancellations. The KBA is interested in fostering pro bono work among lawyers and lending support to the legal clinics currently operating in the region. I am really enjoying the work we are doing and hope that the support this program is providing will help Iraq develop a sustainable legal aid system.