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« A Dormant Hell in Iraq | Main | Unreported Story from Iraq »

April 10, 2007

Travels Through the Souk in Suliamaniya, Iraq

-Patrick S Lasswell

Girl Shopping for Gold.jpg
Shopping for Gold with Mother in the Suliamaniya Souk

If you've never been through a real middle-eastern market before, you've missed a wonder. Especially for those of us accustomed to shopping in strict rectilinear grids laid out according to the results of exhaustive market research. To add strangeness to the western mind, similar vendors are set alongside each other in Kurdistan, so competitors see each other. We normally avoid putting two grocers side by side, but here you have six or twelve all calling out for your business. Loudly.

Through the Produce Souk, Past a Butcher and some Fabric Stalls to a Housewares Shop

Over time, different shops encroach into the sub-markets so you will sometimes have fabric stores next to grocers or houseware shops in a goldsmith area. It is all marvelously confusing and fascinating in ways that local Saturday and Farmer's Markets wish they could be.

Into the Souk, Past Honey Sellers, Spice Merchants, Home Fittings, Carpet Shops, and Cosmetics Vendors to the Perfumerie

Malls are encroaching on this way of life and soon these markets will be extinct. Our troops in Iraq rarely get to see and never get to wander carelessly through them. Come with me, get jostled by the crowd, surprised by unseen steps, and be amazed by the simultaneously chaotic and orderly splendor of it all. You'd hardly know there is a war on only one hour away.

Cigarette Alley.jpg
One Large Alley was Filled with Cigarette Vendors

Pixie in a Fabric Store.jpg

Cute Little Girl in a Fabric Shop

Mmmm Pickles.jpg

Mmmm...Pickles... I love pickles and every time I pass this place it makes me want to stop and try everything. The worst part is that they'd let me!

Plus: Play Spot the Totten!

Please support independant reporting (and Souk purchases) from Iraq:


Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/10/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Damn, but that's some [redacted by PSL because my friends in Iraq will be offended] in the first picture. Did you get her name?

Imagine the most conservative real city in the US, and then take it a notch more conservative. That is the most liberal city in Kurdistan. Plus, my wife would kill me, a lot. Besides, chasing after girls who know they look hot while in front of goldsmiths is just dumb. -PSL

Looks like the souks in Jerusalem and the Arab Quarter in the Old City and the Italian Market in Philadephia. All of which are going strong in spite of supermarkets. If the Kurds are smart they will make these tourist destinations. :-)

The pickle stand looks like some in the Old City, esp the pink things.

Perhaps the souks can survive prosperity. Two years ago I was in Riyadh -- which has definitely made the propserity step. The souks there (I managed to get to more than one) looked and sounded much the same.

At least it looked similar in the way the stalls were laid out and the traffic flow. No women in the Riyadh souk, of course. Certainly not dressed like that young lady in the first photo!

Amid all the depressing news out of Baghdad and the south, this is a very timely reminder of a wonderful success story from the war -- a genuine liberation for the Kurds after 100 years of persecution. And haven't they made the most of it!

Hope you are msitaken about the souks going extinct.

They still seem to thrive in Dubai, which seems to have more malls per capita than any 12 suburbs I've seen in the USA...

I could be wrong about the extinction of the Souks, but I suspect they will be regularized soon. Once the bureaucrats enter into it, you will have an orderly and sanitized Souk. The wild Souk surprises and confuses. Domestication is more profitable, and dull.

Honestly, higher employment is the real threat to Souks, not just money and malls. Once it becomes unprofitable to sit around chatting with the 15 other honey sellers all day, people will stop doing it. Dubai, Riyadh, and Jerusalem all have low wages and relatively high unemployment. The Kurds are looking to create real jobs, and that will kick the Souks in the head.

Erbil, Iraq.

Like others, I would have to disagree with you on souk extinction. There are a number of advantages over conventional stores:

1. You can barter.
2. Local vendors can better reach niche markets and often supply hard-to-find items.
3. Service. If they have to compete with brick and mortar stores, one of the things they can out-compete such businesses with is the ability to tailor service to the customer.

Don't underestimate people's preference for the familiar, or for the atmosphere and camaraderie of the souk. Factoring all that in, I think it will likely survive. As far as personal experience goes, the only comparison I can offer is Mexico. Street vendors exist side by side with conventional stores and both seemed to have thrived when I was there.

This is very much like markets in China. Move away from the malls and these markets continue to exist throughout China. The smells are fabulous. Move down to the Caribbean and visit a market; it's the same.

I also think the souks here will survive. They are all over the Middle East. Globalization improves their quality, it doesn't destroy them. This is true everywhere, especially in Jerusalem and Istanbul.

To add strangeness to the western mind, similar vendors are set alongside each other in Kurdistan, so competitors see each other. We normally avoid putting two grocers side by side, but here you have six or twelve all calling out for your business.
You get this in eastern Asia, too. I remember in Seoul coming across a major intersection the the city; every shop along each of the streets as far as the eye could see was selling lighting fixtures. It was twilight, and all of the shops had their display windows lit up. The effect was, quite literally, dazzling. About a mile away there was a long street where the shops all sold either wedding dresses or wedding photography services!

Dubai definitely does not have high unemployment. In fact due to the building boom (the largest in the world), they have to bring in thousands of workers from other countries. And yes, the wages are very low for those guys.

I invite any who doubt th continuing existence of the souk in the face of modernity to visit Akihabara or Ameyokocho in Tokyo. In the midst of the most modern city on earth there is still room for close-packed stalls of specialty goods, the proprietors angling for customers with their promise of bargains and superios quality.

Actually, concentration helps all the vendors; a spot becomes known as the place to go for product X, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You see it here, too, with coffee shops and electronics stores, etc.

Your cinematography needs some improvement. STOP every once in a while and focus on detail. The viewing experience of a walk-through is far different through the lens than through your own eyeballs. The bouncing and scanning is a constant PITA.

Brian H.,

Constructive criticism is a profound force for positive change. Perhaps someday you will learn to give it.

Complain about my crappy cinematography on the YouTube site.

But what can I expect from a Canadian talking about doing things in Iraq? Useful advice, participation, meaningful contributions or pointless whining about things that don't matter and can't be changed?

I love the pictures and videos of the souk, but what's with the negativity about Canada? We've had the third highest casualties of the U.S.-supporting coalition in the war on terror (not counting the countries on whose territories it is fought like the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq.) I like the perspective on Iraq brought by you and Michael Totten, but American minimization of the sacrifices made by our armed forces really gets on my nerves.
Sorry for distracting from the main topic, but I don't understand why Americans need to constantly minimize the Canadian contribution.


Valid points all and the Canadian Armed Forces have given us much more than most, often more than their government is willing to admit. The shabby treatment of your snipers by the government, as if press coverage speaks to matters of honor, does call into question the your willingness to continue fighting the good fight. The ongoing paucity of funding for your Armed Forces is another complication.

Brian H has a address and irritated me when I woke up this morning. The lack of Canadians around here in Iraq gave me an outlet to vent.

I meant no slur upon the valor of your Armed Forces. I wish I could say the same about your governmental action. Brian H sounded like a bureaucrat when I read his post.

Patrick has been found guilty of grumpiness in the comments section and been ordered out of Iraq by his wife.

Mrs. Risk
The Risk Moderator



Last chance for picture requests while I'm in Erbil!

Erbil, Iraq

Mrs. Risk & Patrick, LOL.

First off, let me tell Aaron that all my friends really respect the job the Canadian Armed Forces are doing, and my hubby and I do as well. We try to follow the news about ALL our Coalition Partners, but as you know the MSM, for the most part, sucks, and it's hard to get good info about it.

But, THANK YOU for your support in the WoT. Aaron, it isn't just the Canadian Forces that get blasted and grumbled at. Some Americans murmur about the Brits too. Sheesh. You'd think we'd all support one another better than this, but I dunno? There seems to be a lot o' grumpiness going around on the Net these days. Of course, around here, every year around April 15th (tax time) the grumpy factor jumps to a higher level.

The second thing I'd like to say is that I'm enjoying these YouTube videos just as they are, and I hope they continue.

Also, I sure do hope the Souks stay. When I go to visit Iraqi Kurdistan, I don't want to feel like I'm in the Mall down the street from here. I want to feel like I'm in Kurdistan. :-)

Thanks for the videos, it brought back many memories of the Damascus and Jerusalem Souks.

Well, first off, when you say"from Iraq," it has 2 reactions- 1. people in the West think you're really in Iraq, where you are not- 2. As I have said in my other comments, using "Iraq" for Kurdistan, is a great insult for many Kurdish readers.

P.S. you using word "souk" to me it is "suoq" which is an Arabic work for market. If you mean market, Mike, I thought by now you have learned at least, "bazar" which means market in Kurdish, not "souk."

Aram Azez,

When the stamp on my passport says I'm in Iraq, I say I'm in Iraq. I am not the only one making that diplomatic choice, everybody in the PUK, KDP, and KRG I talked to made the same choice. Since I respect those people a lot, I honor their choices. When the UN recognizes Kurdistan as independant, I'll do so, too. Until then, I'll try to avoid provoking unecessary wars that will hurt the Kurdish people.

Most of the Kurdish people I've insulted lately are PKK supporters, and I kind of like insulting them because they are so intolerant and un-Kurdish. Do I hope there is a Kurdish state someday? Yes, as long as it is democratic and tolerant. Your comments are not very tolerant, are you sure you're still Kurdish?

My name is Patrick, just like it says at the top of my blog. Michael is the other guy.

When I get in a taxi and ask them to take me to the Souk, they take me to the Souk. When they start asking me if I mean the "bazar", I will start using that term.

Spelling local words in roman letters is a crapshoot on a good day. I cannot count how many different variations I have seen of the name "Mohammmed" alone. Consistent spelling is not a functional requirement, although I do make an effort to spell the same person's name consistently.

Hi Patrick. don't listen to crap people like Aram say.

he for sure is a lost sad communist that even us kurds don't like.

he looks like pkk like you said and these guys are the worst I have ever seen. They are against an independent kurdistan but when it comes to public they say a different thing.

all they want is power for themselves.

they worship one man and one man only and yet they call themselves libral and open minded.

when ojalan was arrested these guys felt like days of planet earth is over.

i just want to say they are not welcomed in iraqi kurdistan, they bring us all the trouble, they keep giving turkey reasons to invade us.

if you want to fight for an independent kurdistan go and fight for it in turkey, don't do it in our little small delicate sociaty that took millions of lives to create.

I personally hate the PKK more than the turkish, arab and persian policy makers.


I'm reading "The Kurdistani Forum" and am surprised at how some of the people over there are insulted by "questioning my kurdishness". I didn't realize I was committing a party foul by doing so.

My experience with Kurdish people in Iraqi Kurdistan is that they would like independance but would like freedom and stability more. I think the people like Aram get confused by the difference between independance and freedom because in the US we got both at once. That kind of success for a revolution is almost unparalleled in history. Most places that accomplish independance do so by sacrificing freedom and often end up worse than they were. Zimbabwe is independant but is turning out worse than Iraq under Saddam. I do not wish that kind of independance on my Kurdish friends, or anybody else. I bitterly regret that the kind of independance available through the PKK is closer to Mugabe's than Washington's.


I gaurntee you that 99% of kurds agree with you and support you for what you are saying. But its natural that whatever you do in the world, some people get upset over it and in this world at this time, promoting peace and freedom gets more resistance than anything else.

I would like to see an independant kurdish state, but not through war. Days of fighting has passed. guns no longer change governments, only deplomacy works. for instance if the pkk was all peaceful and never used guns, am sure they would have achived hell of a lot more than they have now.

They are seen as terrorists and threats to global security, in fact when they could have done things differently and maybe they would be given peace prize awards like Leyla Zana.

she never fired a bullet and she got so much more attention and made more changes in turkey in 10-20 years than pkk could ever do in a 100 years.

TheKurdistani is ran by a friend of mine (my friend who runs thekurdistani told me he is thinking about shutting down the website because of the islamits and the pkk supports are giving his website a bad name), I suggest they liberate one village in turkey and then come and advice us on how we should run things in iraqi kurdistan.

I hate the fact that they have not achieved anything and they are trying to tell us that they are smarter than us.

Wow, wow! how many leftist, Baathists, and how many Kemalists I have to face, for a crime or sin I have committed--by asking Patrick, (sorry I used Mike,) that Kurds don’t like to call Kurdistan “Iraq.”

First off all, I don’t want and not need to make a conflict here over nothing. But I’d like to briefly answer Patrick. I’m a Kurd from Garman Region and Veteran PUK Journalist Peshmarga, not a PKK. Here, again, I don’t want to get in details of the PKK issue, I rather leave this.

As for an intercalation recognition of Kurdistan, Palestine is also a non-official state, but can any one dare and call it Israel?

As for those who have posted some comments, claiming to be Kurds and blaming me for my remarks—I’m not using any words, as couple words they used. But I ask them if they have ever read Aram Azez’s articles and reports in both Kurdish and English languages on Kurdish or English websites or newspapers? Perhaps not; otherwise, they would have realized who I was.

I invite those who claim to be Kurds, go to my new blog, which is now under construction, and named it my archive. Let them go and see some of what Aram has written about the Kurdish people.

The blog address is:


Palestine is a non-official state and a bloody nightmare. You really should pick a better analogy, I've seen Palestine from a distance and have no desire to examine it up close.

Here's the thing: If I post that something happens in Kurdistan, nobody will pay attention or care. I'm trying to write nice things about your people in a way that will get noticed. Go ahead and bitch all you want about what title I use, nobody will be reading it as long as you refuse to get the notice you deserve. If that means saying you are in Iraq, deal with it.


Don't dare to ever question my kurdishness, I have family who are peshmerags, I have family who were killed because they were pesmergas, My uncle is a professor in Sulaimani university and he was degraded to a collage teacher because of his kurdishness in the 1970s.

dont you ever question my love for my country. I'm currently studying BSc Hon Degree as soon as I finish that am going back to join the peshmerga and do my two years of service for my country.

Where are you? all you do is sit in your safe house and write things which only harms the progress we have made.

People come here and read your comments and think all kurds are racists and nationalists, you are giving us a bad name. Havn't you heard the kurdish saying? if talking is gold then not talking is diamond. so please don't leave comments like that ever again.

Aram and Shvan,

I'm actually good with arguments, Michael and I have them all the time and we are very good friends. I'm not entirely joking, I did smack Michael upside the head for suggesting Kirkuk...lightly.

What I'm interested in is Aram carefully thinking through his position and articulating it in ways that will further the best parts.

I'm interested in there being an independant Kurdistan, but I genuinely believe the compromises that make it happen in the near term get a lot of great people killed and possibly gets the Kurds subjugated...only by other Kurds this time.

I'm more than willing to argue with Aram about this for years because I think it might help him and all Kurds. We just need to find more common ground to agree upon and I think that can happen.

Aram, I hope you will continue to share your comments. I think we can be friends...who yell at each other from time to time.


using words like southern kurdistan, or independant kurdistan makes alot of countries angry. primary examples are , turkey, iran, syria. and if they are angry it means they will create trouble for america and distablizie the reagin which = america angry and if america is angry = europe is angry and if it gets to that then we are back to 1921. Whatever is in your mind, has to be kept low and political games have to be played.

you think you are an intelegent man and i think you are but your nationalism and patriotism has turned you into somthing else.

Thank you patrick for doing this, we would like to support you, tell us how?

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