Excerpt: "Iraqi Kurdistan is at the heart of the Fertile Crescent, the region where farming and settlement first arose, stretching from the Mediterranean across modern-day Turkey and through Iraq to the Persian Gulf. Some of history's greatest civilizations--not just the Assyrians but also the Babylonians, Sumerians, and Hurrians--reigned over the rolling hills and valleys of Iraqi Kurdistan. "It's a crossroads of cultures in all periods," says Jessica Giraud, head of the French Institute in the Near East's mission in Erbil. "It's vital to answering all kinds of questions, from the domestication of plants and sedentarization to the birth of civilization." "