In this Tuesday, July 7, 2015 photo, Kurdish men discuss which hat to pick up while playing a game of Klawane in Irbil, Iraq. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
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The economy is in freefall, but business has never been better for one trade in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Smugglers are taking thousands of dollars from young Kurds desperate to leave the autonomous region, now at war with ISIS militants and in the throes of economic crisis.Iraqi Kurdish prosperity took a hit early last year when Baghdad cut the Kurds' share of the budget, leaving the region unable to meet a bloated public payroll.More than 1 million Iraqis, most of them Arab, have sought refuge among the Kurds, straining resources in the region of 5 million people and skewing its demography. To young Kurds who grew up after the region gained autonomy in 1990 and feel little if any affinity with Iraq, the newcomers are particularly unwelcome. Oil revenue poured in, living standards improved, and many Kurds got rich just as Europe started to suffer economic woes of its own.As a result, many who had abandoned the region went back, including Kurds who were born and brought up in Europe, but wanted to experience life in their country of origin.
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