The Hawraman district of Kurdistan that straddles the mountainous Iran Iraq border is one of the more remote and stunning areas in the region. The houses are still made from stone instead of the horrible ubiquitous concrete that’s spreading across Iraq like a virus. The traditional music is a warbling male a cappella solo that sounds more like sheep bleating than men singing. Even the clothes have a unique twist. Instead of the duotone jamana headscarves (Red & White in Badinan and Black & White in Soran) the Hawramis wear colourful scarves of purple, green, yellow, and blue all with long tassels hanging down to the shoulders.
But, the breathtaking beauty hides a very dangerous reality. Last winter three Americans who were reportedly hiking in the region disappeared only to surface a few days later as prisoners in Iran, accused of spying against the Islamic Republic.
In the past, Hawraman was home to Ansar Al-Islam, an Al-Qaida styled fundamentalist group who dominated the area until the American military with the Kurdish Peshmerga bombed and mortared them into submission in 2003. Among the dead were Chechens, Africans, and Afghans.
Although there still remains a tone of a stricter Islam in some of the villages, the region has reverted to a tourist destination for Iranians, Kurds, Arabs, and a handful of Westerners. With the tourists have come concrete, plastic Chinese tchotchkes, and Kurdish pop music blaring from car stereos. Along with a very weird habit of standing in waterfalls to have your picture taken.
For the time being you can still easily escape all the noise and hokey tourist crap by hiking off the main roads. If, however, the concrete and tasteless development continues, I will lead the American and Peshmerga forces in a second assault on the region. We won’t take prisoners.