The Islamic State, or ISIS, has been taking down swaths of territory in northern Iraq and Syria in recent weeks. Between taking the city of Mosul, targeting the Yazidis (an ethno-religious minority in Iraq), and battling the Kurdish peshmerga, ISIS has moved increasingly towards Kurdistan, the de facto state of northern Iraq’s Kurds.
Amid the chaos, U.S. officials and northern Iraqis have fled to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. President Obama authorised military strikes against ISIS should they threaten Erbil.
With a population of 1.5 million, Erbil is the largest city in Kurdistan. It is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with life in the city dating as far back 6000 BC.
Since the winding down of the Iraq War, Erbil has become a hub for development, leading some to question whether it could become the next Dubai.
We gathered some photos of the progressive city that ISIS has in its sights.
This is where Erbil is located on the map. It is far north of Baghdad, but just 55 miles from ISIS-controlled Mosul.
Erbil is very liberal city, compared with the rest of the Middle East. As Kurdistan is both largely secular and religiously diverse, Erbil has a busy nightlife scene, with dozens of bars, liquor stores, clubs, and restaurants opening in the last 10 years. Many consider its busy nightlife scene to be rivaled only by Dubai and Beirut in the Middle East.
This is Erbil International Airport. Though an airport has been located on the site since the 1970s, a brand new one with modern amenities was built in 2010.
This is downtown Erbil, the main hub of development in the city. In 2013, Dubai’s Emaar Properties announced that it was investing $US3 billion into downtown Erbil. The proposed investment would go towards building houses, apartments, offices, hotels, and parks.
This is what downtown looks like at night. In the distance are a number of the towers that are currently being built or have just opened in downtown Erbil.
Erbil’s major tourist attraction is the Citadel, the historical city center of Erbil. It was been inhabited since the 5000 BC and has been a major cultural center numerous different cultures. It is a UNESCO Heritage site.
This is what it looks like closer up. The Citadel is located on a mound that archaeologists think conceals the remains of ancient cultures. It features a continuous wall with 19th century facades, giving it the look of a fortress.
This what it looks like inside the Citadel.
The Mudhafaria Minaret is nearly 120 feet tall. It is all that remains of a massive mosque built in the 1100s.
The Quaysari Bazaar in Erbil is one of the oldest in the world. It wraps around the entire southern half of the Citadel.
The Bazaar is a bustling center of life in Erbil. You can literally find anything there from food to clothes to books and electronics.
Like other economic hubs in the Middle East, Erbil has recently begun opening mega-malls. The Family Mall Erbil opened in 2010 with over 100 retail stores that carry major Western brands like Zara, DKNY, Rolex, Armani, and Levi’s. Family Mall is also located directly next to a new amusement park.
The mall is extremely popular. It also features an indoor ice-skating rink and a 14-screen movie theatre.
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