I feel extremely very lucky to have visited northern Iraq when I did - a mere two and a half years ago in February 2012. The visit was memorable for several reasons, not least of which was the extreme hospitality with which we were greeted and the kindness of the Kurdish people. Barely a day went past without finding that someone had paid for our food or drinks before we could or that we were invited to join total strangers over a cup of tea.
I traveled through the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan for about 10 days with another photographer/writer friend and a French film maker and came back with nothing but positive things to say about the region - how different it must be today, only a couple of years later.
One of the interesting and overriding messages that sticks with me was the fact that people in the region identified themselves not by religion saying I am a Christian, Sunni, Shia, Yazidi or any one of the other religious groups that can be found in the area - they considered themselves first and foremost to be Kurds and were very much against being characterized by religion. Seeing the images on the TV each evening and reading the news online is very distressing - it's easy to dismiss this area of Northern Iraq as a disaster area but it's not the case. The regional capital Erbil (also spelt Irbil, Arbil) is a thriving city full of modern amenities and at times you would be hard pressed not to think you were in a European city. There are shopping malls, ice rinks, cinemas, playgrounds for kids and now to add to this there are refugees fleeing the seemingly unstoppable advance of ISIL.