However, the northern region shares one crucial characteristic with the rest of the Iraq — the heart of its economy is based on oil production.
The region has proven reserves of around 45 billion barrels of crude, or about a third of Iraq’s total reserves, according to regional officials, and its sale is the subject of tense debates.
The central government has angrily criticized Erbil for signing contracts with foreign energy firms without the expressed approval of the federal oil ministry, dismissing such agreements as illegal, and slamming the transport of oil to Turkey as “smuggling.”
Gebara described the disputes — which also include a row over a swathe of territory stretching from the Iranian border to the Syrian frontier — as “healthy democratic debate,” but analysts and officials point to the disagreements as among the biggest threats to Iraq’s long-term stability.
For now, businesses in Erbil are not worried — at the dealership where Abdulkarim was eyeing a US$24,500 pick-up truck, owner Hunar Majid was upbeat.
His glass-walled Toyota dealership lies at the center of the city and is packed. Majid hopes to increase sales threefold compared with last year.
At the entrance, Abdulkarim, a shepherd wearing the traditional baggy Kurdish garb, wasted little time debating whether to buy the truck of his dreams.
“Before, life was tough,” he said. “I could never pay for this truck, but now, everything is good.”