In the Kurdish North, Progress for Some

(Andrea Bruce/The Washington Post)

Hyder Hassan Aziz, 46, walks the damp streets of Irbil with his hands thrust in his coat pockets and his shoulders tense, close to his ears. His clothes are faded-gray, like the overcast early sky, and he looks at the ground when he walks, kicking small stones with every step.

The bakery is a block from the apartment building where Hyder has lived with his family for 12 years. His morning routine, buying fresh bread for their breakfast, has changed very little in that time. But in the past five years, the street has become barely recognizable. While most people in Iraq have been suffering because of the war, the Kurdish region in the country's north has been growing, becoming unaffordable for the working class.

Here in Irbil, the storefront windows are new and the treeless street looks freshly paved. Walking back to his apartment, Hyder steps over a red carpet, swollen with rain, rolled out to greet customers at the new Bijan Plaza hotel. There are many new hotels like this one in the Kurdish areas now, Hyder says. Most are designed for foreigners.

An empty plot sits like a missing tooth next to his apartment -- where an apartment building once was and a hotel will be. The new sidewalks, already flagged and marked, should be finished soon. Jackhammers echo around the corner. Hyder's vegetable cart sits idle at the construction site, its wooden wheels deep in mud. He won't be using it today, he says. The rain keeps people from shopping.

Selling vegetables is Hyder's second job. He is also a police officer.

His apartment stands at the end of the block, the only site that doesn't suggest new growth. It is weathered and crumbling, above a row of mechanic shops. Water drips disturbingly close to generator wires. The landlord wants Hyder and his family to move out in a week. They say the building will become another hotel.

The city of Irbil no longer has room for his family, he says. And he doesn't have a plan. He says this without emotion, beyond worry.

He slips off his shoes before entering his apartment. Rainwater spreads like an ink stain on the ceiling. It forms a drip and falls, missing a bowl. The family is quiet and busy with the bedding that is rolled out every night and folded away every morning.

When the smell of bread enters their home, the family gathers around Hyder, sleepy and hungry. Avoiding the wet areas, they sit on the floor, in a quiet circle, and eat bread with yogurt and tea.

By Andrea Bruce

By Liz Heron  |  November 23, 2008; 8:05 PM ET  | Category:  Irbil
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