ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) made a surprising move into northeastern Iraq in June, seizing control of Mosul and sending over half a million civilians running. Many of these refugees headed for the nearby autonomous Kurdish territories. The Kurdish controlled areas are known to be safe but because of the ISIL threat Kurdish border security became even tighter. Kurds and Christians, or Arab Moslems with a sponsor in the Kurdish area passed border control quickly. But non-Christian Arabs, especially Sunnis and Turkomen (Turkic Moslems), had to wait a lot longer. After a while the Kurds set up temporary transit camps on the Iraqi side of the border because so many people were trying to get in that the screeners could not keep up. Arabs and some refugee NGOs complained but anyone who has paid attention over the last decade knows that what the Kurds are doing works, even if it takes longer. Sunni Islamic terrorists are not happy with this tight security because it has made the Kurdish areas largely immune to Islamic terrorist attacks. ISIL was particularly determined to attack the Kurds where they lived and Kurdish security officials believed ISIL would try to slip terrorists in with the flood of refugees. That did not happen. This was no accident.
Since 2003 nearly all the violence you heard about in Iraq was in Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq and the Shia areas where the Sunni Islamic terrorists would make so many of their bombing attacks against civilians of all sorts (pilgrims, women, children) as long as they were Shia. Meanwhile the north has always been so peaceful that Western journalists, and just about anyone else, could move about freely, without fear of attack. How could this be?
Well, for one thing, the Kurds have tight controls on their borders and any Arabs entering are checked carefully. Arab Iraqis are welcome to visit, and many do, for vacations from the violence in the south or to do business (sometimes to meet with foreigners uneasy about coming to Baghdad). When asked, Kurds attribute their peaceful neighborhood to the fact that Kurds are not Arabs. But this is not the main reason, for the Kurds have, in the past, been as factious and violent as the Iraqi Arabs are now. It was during the 1990s, when the U.S. and Britain agreed to keep Saddam's forces out of the north (to prevent another large scale massacre of Kurds), that the Kurds sensed a rare opportunity and sorted out their differences and learned the benefits of cooperation, rule of law and civil order. In effect, the Kurds had a ten year head start on the rest of Iraq in the "how to create peace and democracy" department. The Iraqi Arabs, Sunni and Shia, who come north on business, or for a vacation, note this. The Arabs believe they are superior to the Kurds ("a bunch of hillbillies," to most Arabs), and find it irritating that the Kurds have made things work, while down south, especially in central Iraq, things are still a mess. Given time the Iraqi Arabs will probably catch up. But this is not a popular solution to the "Iraq problem," and no career-conscious journalist is going to talk about what the Kurds have done and why the Arab’s haven’t.