The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan feels empty compared with 2013, but things are picking up as the Kurds strive for financial independence.
How things have changed in Erbil. Last time I visited back in 2013 a bog standard hotel room cost me $500 a night. The place was heaving, full of people trying to make a quick oil deal. This time I got away with just $180 a night – same room, same hotel.
There are plenty of people following the oil situation in the region. The Kurds recently started bypassing Baghdad to sell their oil independently – despite Baghdad maintaining that this is illegal. And they are also cranking up their shot at financial independence with a plan to sell bonds to finance infrastructure.
But the low oil price and the proximity of ISIS are making things difficult for the Kurds. It’s just after Ramadan, so I was expecting everyone to be out trying to pick up business after a month off. Not so. The Citadel is empty and it’s easy to hail a cab – I got one in the street after supper one night without a problem. Two years ago I’d have had to get the restaurant to book me one.
At least it means there’s plenty of smoked fish, which is very good, and you don’t get jostled in the bars when you’re trying to have a quiet beer.
I’m not sure how long the quiet life will last, though, as there are some signs that things are picking up. I got a flight out with Fly Dubai, they were the first airline to resume service after a 10-month or so hiatus thanks to the security situation. There’s still money to be made and the world has pretty well accepted that the Kurds will carry on exporting oil through Turkey despite the protests from Baghdad.
It’s a shame that just when it seemed the situation in the region could become normalised, outside factors are threatening the prospects of this fledging nation.
Here’s to a return journey before 2017.