April 18, 2007

Where Kurdistan Meets the Red Zone

“If Turkey allows itself to interfere in the matter of Kirkuk, we will do the same…in Turkey.” – Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani.

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KIRKUK, IRAQ – Just south of the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq’s northernmost provinces lies the violence-stricken city of Kirkuk, the bleeding edge of Iraq’s “greater” Kurdistan, and the upper-most limit of the asymmetric battleground known as the Red Zone. Kirkuk is claimed and counterclaimed by Iraq’s warring factions and is a lightning rod for foreign powers – namely Turkey -- that fear a violent ethnic unraveling of their own that could be triggered by any change in Kirkuk’s convulsive status quo.

I spent a day there with Member of Parliament and Peshmerga General “Mam” Rostam, Kirkuk’s Chief of Police Major Sherzad, my colleague Patrick Lasswell, and our driver Hamid Shkak. You could stay a month in Kirkuk hunkered down in a compound or a house and not see or hear signs of war. But violence erupts somewhere in Kirkuk several times every day. If you go there with a Kurdish army general, as we did, and spend your day with the city’s chief of police, as we also did, you will see violence or at least the aftermath of some violence. This isn’t a maybe. So I brought my video camera as well as my Nikon along.

From the safety of the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya – where the war is already over – Kirkuk looks like the mouth of Hell. It’s outside the safe fortress of the Kurdistan mountains and down in the hot and violent plains. The city doesn’t look much better up close, and you can feel the tension rise with the temperature in the car on the way down there.

Patrick and I woke Mam (“Uncle”) Rostam first thing in the morning at his house in Suleimaniya. He told us we could follow him to Kirkuk, where he works every day, so we hired a world class driver to do the job.

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World class driver Hamid Shkak

Hamid Shkak spent years driving foreigners around war zones in south and central Iraq. He has more experience than anyone I know steering clear of IEDs, barreling through ambush sites at 120 miles an hour, and veering around spontaneously exploding firefights. He was perfect for the job, and we had little choice but to trust him and Mam Rostam with our lives.

Hamid told us more than I really wanted to know about the limits of armored cars in a war zone. (Our car did not even have any armor.) “B7 and B8 cars are armored in the factory,” he said. “They put armor on top and below for IEDs. It provides a cage around the passengers. The whole car could explode, but you’ll be safe inside the cage. The only problem is the cage might get locked and sealed from the heat. Also, if four bullets strike the same place, the fourth will go through the armor. The companies will not tell you this.”

We followed Mam Rostam’s car through a Kurdish police checkpoint on our way outside the city of Suleimaniya. He got big smiles and waves all around from the police as they recognized the famous general and member of parliament on his way to work in the morning

Mam Rostam is a genuine bad ass, and he’s either famous or infamous depending on who you ask.

“He’s a nutter!” said an academic friend of mine in Washington who knows him well.

“He’s a show-off,” said another friend in Erbil. “He took some journalists to see the oil fields in Kirkuk and purposely drove down a street where he knew they would be shot at with mortars. The journalists screamed and cowered in the back while Mam Rostam laughed in the front seat. Tell him to roll up his pants and show you the scars on his leg.”

A few nights earlier Patrick and I had dinner at Judge Rizgar Mohammad Ameen’s house. Rizgar was the first of many judges in the trial of Saddam Hussein.

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Judge Rizgar, the first judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein

He told us that when he flew with Mam Rostam in a plane from Suleimaniya to Baghdad they were forced by the airport control tower to fly in circles for an hour and twenty minutes before they received permission to land. “They knew Mam Rostam was on the plane,” the judge joked. “They did not want him landing in their city.”

Thirty minutes or so outside the city of Suleimaniya the mountains began to get smaller. Jagged snow-capped peaks were replaced with surreal rugged hills.

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We were on our way out of Kurdistan, I could see it. Hamid hurtled us down the road at 90 miles an hour. The temperature climbed, along with the tension in the car, as the air became hazy and dusty. Cows mooed and lumbered along the side of the road.

“Up ahead is a ridge,” Hamid said, “above Cham Chamal. Saddam’s Iraqi Army was perched on that ridge over the city until 2003 when the Americans came. Near there was the last Iraqi Army checkpoint before the first [Kurdish] Peshmerga checkpoint.”

You could have fooled me. Nothing indicated the area was recently a line of death imposed by the Baath. I saw only hills, trees, and fields of flowers where children ran and played. I hadn’t yet seen the hell of Kirkuk, but I knew that what lay ahead beyond the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government would not look like this.

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The low ridge overlooking the city of Cham Chamal, the northernmost limit of Saddam’s Iraqi Army before its destruction

“In between that ridge and the city was a no-man’s land,” Hamid continued. “Cham Chamal belonged to Kirkuk Province before 2003. But it’s entirely Kurdish, so it was added to Suleimaniya Province after the war.”

When we entered territory that was recently controlled by Saddam Hussein, I felt we had crossed an invisible barrier or through a ripple in the dimension. Everything looked and felt heavier and much more unstable. Kurdistan was behind us. We were surrounded by eerie rolling plains, vanishingly empty of people. The horizon was swallowed up by the hills. I could no longer see the mountains of Kurdistan.

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A Kurdish friend in Erbil emailed me that day: “[Kirkuk] lacks major services and is extremely ugly,” he wrote. “The reason for that is that Saddam Hussein never considered it part of his country. He knew one day it will be taken from him. I will not go to Kirkuk, especially not to the Arab parts at night. It is full of terrorists.”

There is no formal boundary, no road sign that says Welcome to War. There is no line, visible or otherwise, where you’re safe on one side and in peril on the other. Rather, each mile on the hour-long drive from Suleimaniya to Kirkuk is incrementally more dangerous than the last. When you reach the Arab parts of Kirkuk – if you make it that far – you’ll be in extreme and immediate danger if you’re a Westerner.

War-blasted rubble lined the side of the road.

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Which wave of destruction wiped out this village, I couldn’t say. It could have been Saddam’s genocidal Anfal Campaign in the late 1980s, or any number of other violent convulsions since then.

Black smoke rose in a plume on the horizon. I’ve seen smoke plenty of times in the northern Kurdistan governates, and I never assume it’s anything other than a smoke stack from a cement factory, a pile of burning trash, or burn-off from a newly discovered oil well. This new plume of smoke was in the Red Zone, and it could be anything.

*

The road into Kirkuk was nice and smooth even at 90 miles an hour. My ears popped from the increase in pressure as we finished our descent from the snowy peaks of Kurdistan toward the vast muddy plains of Mesopotamia.

The city appeared on the horizon. We had left the fortress of the Kurdish autonomous region and entered the war.

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Kirkuk, Iraq

“Kirkuk is the richest city in the world,” Hamid said, “and also the poorest.”

Indeed. Kirkuk, with all its resources, if properly managed, should be as prosperous as Kuwait and Dubai. Glittering bejeweled skyscrapers should make up the city center. Instead it is a sprawling catastrophe of a place ground down by decades of fascism and war.

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We drove to, and through, the Kurdish side of the city, which is considerably less dangerous than the Arab side of the city. But the Iraqi police at the checkpoints wore body armor, something I never once saw in the Kurdistan Regional Government territory where there is no insurgency and there hasn’t been a single suicide bomb for two years.

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The only public art of any kind I saw in Kirkuk

Kirkuk’s cars are old and beat up. Its buildings are shabby. The streets are utterly bereft of beauty and grace. Residents live behind walls. There are no trees to walk underneath, no social places to hang out in, no sights worth sighing at, and nothing to take pictures of. It induces agoraphobia and a powerful urge to get inside and hunker down somewhere safe.

Here is a short video I shot from the car.

Nothing exploded anywhere near us as we drove through town. I just kept snapping pictures and video of this most broken of cities.

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A few people told me I’m brave because I went to Kirkuk. I appreciate what is meant as a compliment, but I am not brave. The Kurdish side of the city is only moderately dangerous, and besides…women live there.

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Children live there.

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They go about their lives as best they can in their shattered environment. Somehow they manage.

Are Iraq’s children brave?

*

Kirkuk is divided between Kurds, Turkmens (who are related to Turks in Anatolia, not Central Asia), and Arabs. The Arab quarter is extraordinarily violent. The Turkmen and Kurdish areas aren’t so much, although random acts of terrorism and mass murder can and do erupt anywhere at any time.

People in areas where the Baath Arabs live help terrorists plant bombs, Hamid explained as he drove. The Baathists have no support whatsoever in Kurdish and Turkmen neighborhoods. Terrorists have a much harder time operating in those places, so they don’t bother much. The available methods of killing are limited without local logistic support. Everyone knows everyone else. Strangers are instantly suspected, often searched, and apprehended if necessary.

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The Kurdistan flag painted on a wall, Kurdish quarter, Kirkuk, Iraq

Kirkuk’s terrorists are, my Kurdish hosts explained, mostly Baathists, not Islamists. Their racist ideology casts Kurds and Turkmens as the enemy. They’re boxed in on all sides, though, and in their impotent rage murder fellow Arabs by the dozens and hundreds. They have, in effect, strapped suicide belts around their entire community while their more peaceful Kurdish and Turkmen neighbors shudder and fight to keep the Baath in its box.

American readers may be uncomfortable by the explicitly racial nature of this description, but that’s just how it is in Kirkuk and I cannot apologize for it. Iraqis kill each other over race and religion and power. If you go there yourself you had better pay attention to who lives in which neighborhood and what they think of others. Otherwise you will not survive. I'm a bit awkwardly self-conscious about it, but race blindness is punished in Iraq with the death penalty.

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Kurdish neighborhood, Kirkuk

Not every Arab in Iraq is a terrorist, obviously. Most of the victims of terrorism in Iraq are Arabs, after all. And there is nothing at all about Arabs as Arabs that makes them dangerous or hostile to me as an American. I lived in a Sunni Arab neighborhood in West Beirut for six months. All my neighbors were lovely. Not a single one was a terrorist. Lebanese politics is unstable and at times deranged, but it’s nevertheless orders of magnitude more civilized and mature than politics in Iraq, poisoned as it has been by (as Fouad Ajami put it) Saddam’s legacy of iron and fire and bigotry.

*

Mam Rostam is a gruff man with a thin moustache and a thick forest of chest hair who does not wear a uniform. He has two official jobs; member of parliament and general in the Iraqi Kurdish army, the Peshmerga. Unofficially, he describes his job in Kirkuk as “the wild card.” He’s a jack-of-all-trades, a Mr. Fix It. He’s the guy you call when your forces are overwhelmed, when you don’t know what to do, and when somebody needs a swift kick in the ass.

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Mam Rostam

Patrick, Hamid, and I met up with him at a house on the Kurdish side of the city that he keeps as a base. He sat in the sun in a plastic chair on the porch, chain smoking, slamming cups of Arabic coffee, and constantly answering his phone while Patrick and I interviewed him.

“This place, where we are now,” he said, “was emptied of people, of residents. The government of Iraq brought Arab people to settle here. Those houses,” he said as gestured across the street, “were built for them. The majority are Kurds now. Many of the Arabs sold their houses and Kurds bought them.”

Kirkuk is historically a Kurdish and Turkmen city, but Saddam Hussein tried to Arabize it. He forced out as many Kurds and Turkmens as he could and resettled the neighborhoods with Arabs from the South. He hoped to use the Arabization campaign to solve two of his ethnic and sectarian problems at once. Most of the Arabs he placed in Kirkuk were undesirable Shias from Karbala and Najaf he wished to be rid of. The city is now torn, then, along racial and sectarian lines. The legacy of Stalinist politics will take a long time to die.

“Can you explain the main reasons why Saddam Hussein changed the makeup of this city?” I said. “Was it for the resources, because of the Baath ideology, or both?”

I heard a loud thump somewhere off in the distance and wrote “possible explosion” in my notebook. No one else seemed to notice it, though.

“It was for ethnic reasons,” Mam Rostam said. “The proof of this is that not only Kirkuk was involved. Suleimaniya and Erbil were also involved. They wanted to remove all the Kurds from everywhere in Iraq. They just destroyed whole villages and provinces and moved people into collective towns and concentration camps. Some of the Turkmen villages around here were demolished for the same reason. The point was to make it an Arab area, and no other. Saddam Hussein intended to be the leader of the Arab nation, the whole Arab world. He didn’t want anyone other than Arabs to exist around him. That was his policy.”

Saddam Hussein wasn’t content merely to force Kurds and Turkmens out of their homes so he could move Arabs in. He also smashed their villages and neighborhoods with air strikes, artillery, chemical weapons, and napalm.

Below are satellite images of a Kurdish neighborhood in Kirkuk in 1997 and 1998 before and after an ethnic cleansing bombardment.

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Kurdish neighborhood in Kirkuk before ethnic cleansing

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Kurdish neighborhood in Kirkuk after ethnic cleansing

“The Arabs use Islam as a cover for their aims,” Mam Rostam said. I hear this time and again from Kurds in Iraq who are just as Islamic – but much more liberal and democratic – as the residents of Fallujah.

“The Ottomans didn’t do this,” Patrick said. “They didn’t try to make everyone Turks.”

“Even when people gave birth here it was forbidden to give them Kurdish names,” Mam Rostam said. “They were only allowed to give their children Arabic names. If a Kurd wanted to purchase real estate he had to have it purchased in an Arab’s name. Otherwise he could not have it. During the Anfal operations they took young women and used them as sex slaves. Even when the Mongols invaded they didn’t do this. They just don’t like people who are not Arabs. Whoever is not an Arab is an enemy, and they use religion as an excuse for their evil goals.”

“What exactly are the people who bomb the Arab parts of the city trying to do?” I said. “Why are Arabs bombing other Arabs?”

“Most, if not all, the terrorists are the old Baath Party members,” Mam Rostam said. “They changed their names and became an Islamist party. But they are the same guys. They have unified with some Sunnis around the Southwest of Kirkuk because they are living in this area. They are making these attacks to make this democratic experiment after Saddam fail.”

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A child watches passing traffic from the roof of a house

I had heard much the same from members of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Suleimaniya. What frustrates them most about the U.S. military strategy is the American prioritization of Al Qaeda. The vast majority of the violence, according to my Kurdish sources, is committed by Baathists and old Baathists under new names. Failure to identify Iraq’s principal terrorist organizations and treat them accordingly is the number one reason why Iraq is such a catastrophe. At least this is what I have been told. Kurdish officials I’ve met who try to explain this to the Americans are dismissed out of hand and ignored utterly.

“So their goals are not local to Kirkuk,” I said. “They are for the whole of Iraq.”

“They want all of Iraq to fail,” Mam Rostam said. “They want the Americans to feel that they are not able to succeed in this area. They want to force the Americans to negotiate with the Baath Party.”

“So they aren’t necessarily targeting you or us,” I said.

“They are targeting anyone just to achieve instability,” Mam Rostam said.

“So there’s no plan other than violence,” Patrick said.

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“There is no plan,” Mam Rostam said. “It doesn’t matter where. It’s just random violence. Sometimes they bomb a kindergarten in their own neighborhood. Or a university. Or the civil office. Or a municipality. Or wherever. In these offices there are people of every nationality and religion. There is no way to say there are only Sunnis or whatever in these places. This is a multicultural country. Everyone is everywhere.”

Most Americans have soured on the war and want out. I was once optimistic myself, but I no longer am. I can’t help but notice, though, that those I’ve spoken to who actually live in Iraq are more confident and less fatalistic.

“The central government intends to send an army here, about 6,000 soldiers,” Mam Rostam said. “They have been chosen by them. They are not anyone from anywhere in particular. They are very clean. Those 6,000 soldiers will be working in Kirkuk to achieve stability in this city. We’re expecting after this, which is going to happen in a very short time, for the terrorism to be reduced 80 or 90 percent.”

“This is what you hope or expect?” I said.

“This is what we expect,” Mam Rostam said.

American military vehicles rumbled past the front of the house with their guns up.

“This is a big city,” he continued. “The police can’t control it by themselves. The police are not so many in number and they’re not that good in quality. We have our main central police departments which have been working by themselves and have chosen the elements to work in these locations. They are perfectly controlling their neighborhoods. But the others belong to the central government and other directorates. There are people from various places who work for them, so they’re not that trustworthy. There are some people who work with the terrorists who then apply to work with the police. So they go to the police stations, and instead of faithfully working with the police and the government they just transfer information – especially the sensitive information – to the terrorists. The problem is, the right person is not in the right place. Nobody is managing this in some places. On the Kurdish side, we have taken care of it and we’re stressing they do the same.”

“If we go outside this city,” I said, “are there more Arabs in the countryside in this province? Or are most of them in the city?”

“Around 100 years ago there were no Arabs around Kirkuk,” he said. “There are a few villages southeast of Kirkuk where there are Arabs, but the majority inside and outside the city are Kurds. If you take a ride around outside the city of Kirkuk you will notice that the names of all the places are Kurdish. It has been a Kurdish area for a long time, from the beginning. Even Kirkuk is a Kurdish name. The name of the place where they found oil for the first name came from a kid who was accompanying his father in the area. He noticed something was coming out of the ground. He tried to figure out what it was and found fire. He said Daddy, Daddy, fire, fire. And that became its name. But the governments and regimes that came from the beginning time until now wanted to change the city and the names. Sometimes for sheep, sometimes for salt, but always because the area is important and they wanted to remove the Kurds from here.”

“If there was a wise leader in this country,” he continued, “it would be the greatest country in the world. Because of our natural fortunes, not only the oil but also the other things. But the government has spent all the fortune on weapons and bombs. I know some countries that don’t have any resources at all, but when you go to the cities they look like crystals. You see now what Kirkuk looks like.”

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Physical beauty does not exist in Kirkuk

I asked about Kurdish and Turkmen relations.

“As Kurds we don’t have any problem with the Turkmens,” Mam Rostam said. “If you come back I will show you some villages where the Turkmens live and you will see how much they like us.”

As if on cue, two Turkmens came to the house and joined us on the front porch. They enthusiastically shook hands with Patrick and me, as if they were meeting rock stars. This kind of treatment always embarrasses me, but – believe it or not – that’s how it goes in parts of Iraq if you’re an American. Mam Rostam kissed both of them on their cheeks.

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Iraqi Turkmens in Kirkuk

After exchanging pleasantries with his Turkish guests, Mam Rostam steered back to the subject. Neither objected to what he said next.

“The Turkish government created a party here that makes problems for us and the Turkmens,” he said. “The Turkmens got their rights as soon as we started managing the area here, more than before when they were under the Baath Party authority. Now they have much more rights than before. If Turkey is honest and is actually helping the Turkmens, why didn’t they defend the Turkmens when the Baath Party demolished their villages? They are not interested in the Turkmens here. They are afraid of the Kurds living in Turkey. We have about 400,000 or 500,000 Turkmens here in Iraq. There are millions in Iran. Why doesn’t Turkey defend them?”

“What does Turkey do here to cause problems?” I said.

“In general the Turkmens are on our side,” Mam Rostam said. The two Turkmens who sat on the porch nodded in agreement. “The problem with this Turkish party is that they demonstrate against everything we ask for. They bring in Turkmens who are loyal to them and who don’t agree with the Turkmens here.”

The Iraqi Turkmens backed by Turkey insist Kirkuk is not a Kurdish-majority city and that it should not be formally attached to Iraqi Kurdistan and administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The residents of the city – Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arab – will all be asked later this year in a referendum whether or not Kirkuk should be administered from Kurdistan’s capital of Erbil or from Baghdad.

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Kirkuk, Iraq – one of the nastiest places I’ve ever seen

“They don’t want people here to be able to vote on letting Kirkuk be managed by the Kurdish authorities,” Mam Rostam said. “They are working against that. 85 percent of them want to join Kurdistan.” And why shouldn’t they? The Kurdistan Regional Government is the only authority in Iraq that has proven its ability to defeat terrorism, rise above racism and sectarianism, and govern effectively. “Only a small percentage of them are against this idea.”

“Why would any Turkmens rather be with Baghdad than Erbil?” I said, addressing no one in particular. The visiting Turkmens were invited to answer as much as Mam Rostam.

“It’s not about who manages Kirkuk,” Mam Rostam said. “It’s about Turkey. Turkey has got a problem with the Kurds. It’s not a problem for them if Kirkuk belongs to the central government of Iraq. They would still have problems with the Kurds in Erbil, though. They are against the existence of the Kurds.”

What Turkey really fears is that Kirkuk, which sits on top of as much of half the oil in Iraq, will be added to an independent and wealthy Kurdish state that will embolden the Kurds in Turkey to break from Ankara and attach themselves to Erbil and Kirkuk.

“In Hamburg, Germany, there was a restaurant opposite the Turkish Embassy,” Mam Rostam said. “That restaurant was named Kurdistan, and they flew the Kurdistan flag. The Turkish government sent a notification to the German government that said If you don’t remove that sign and that flag and that name from that restaurant, we are going to pull our embassy out of Germany. And they did it. The Germans removed it. If the Turkish government was smart they would know Kurdish rights is a good thing for them. They have to know this can be useful and beneficial for them. But they aren’t wise enough. They aren’t smart enough to understand this.”

“They’re afraid of losing the Kurdish portion of Turkey,” I said.

“When I was a member of the Kurdistan Parliament a guest from Turkey came,” Mam Rostam said. “He said they don’t have problems with the Arab nations, that only the Kurds are their enemies. I said to him, frankly, You’re an idiot. If we become a country, what harm are we going to cause you? All the Turkmens here are going to get good jobs. For sure. And they’re going to get most of their rights, if not all. Okay? And the other thing, we’re going to manage ourselves and sell our oil to Turkey. And they can set up some refineries that will be useful for them and for us. The Turkish government promised not to understand. They don’t understand today, and they won’t understand in the future.”

Just then Kirkuk’s chief of police arrived and introduced himself as Major Sherzad. He wore traditional Kurdish men’s clothes and carried a walkie-talkie that constantly squawked. I asked if I could take his picture.

“Yes, take my picture,” he said. “I am not afraid of terrorists.”

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Kirkuk’s Chief of Police Major Sherzad

Mam Rostam invited all of us, including the major and the visiting Turkmens, into the house for lunch. We ate chicken, rice, cucumbers, tomatoes, and soup. Liquid yogurt was served in tall drinking glasses.

“I am sorry for the quality of food for my guests,” Mam Rostam said. “This is what we had in the house.”

A portrait of a younger, less grizzled, Mam Rostam hung on the wall over the table.

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“The American troops based here refuse to eat outside their compounds,” said Major Sherzad. “Unless they are invited to Mam Rostam’s. Here they will eat.”

Patrick and I were in good hands, then. Mam Rostam may be a high value target for the Baathists and other troublemakers, but they have an exceptionally difficult time hitting their target.

After lunch we moved into the living room and sprawled on the couches. Piping hot tea with sugar was served.

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Mam Rostam upended his glass, poured the tea into the saucer, blew on it for two seconds, and downed it all in one gulp. Showoff. My glass was still too hot to even pick up.

Everyone but Patrick and me spoke to each other in Kurdish. I did not interrupt or ask for translation. Kirkuk’s security elite should not revolve around me. Instead I watched the TV. The channel was turned to Kurdsat, a highly professional Kurdish satellite station out of Suleimaniya.

The news was on, and I saw pictures of the war in Iraq. It felt so strange to watch the war in Iraq on TV from inside Iraq. It felt the same as when I watch the war in Iraq on TV in my house in the U.S. The violence and mayhem on the screen had nothing to do with me. I was in Iraq’s Red Zone. But sunlight slanted in through the windows. The grass outside was green. Flowers bloomed in the yard. Birds chirped. The neighborhood was at peace, at least at that moment.

Iraq is a big place. It is more or less the size of California. If a car bomb were to go off in San Diego, it wouldn’t disturb people who live in San Francisco. They would watch the aftermath from safety on TV just as I watched scenes of carnage from safety at Mam Rostam’s in Kirkuk. The war was far away…or at least around a couple of corners. Iraq looks scarier from far away than it does up close and in person…even when you’re in the Red Zone. How much danger you’re in depends on where you are in Iraq. The Red Zone is not one shade of crimson. The war, for the most part, is concentrated mostly in very specific areas. On any given day you might see something violent, but you probably won’t. This fact is completely lost in the breathless media coverage of the carnage, the mayhem, and the bang-bang.

But I was lounging around with the chief of police. Any illusion that Kirkuk might have been safe couldn’t last long with him in the room. My feelings of detached security were but a passing moment. The chief’s walkie-talkie urgently squawked and he had to answer. The room was silent as he listened grimly.

“There has been a shooting,” he said. “Two men on a motorcycle rode down the street and fired a gun at people walking on the sidewalk. One of the men was apprehended. They are bringing him here.”

For some reason I assumed when the chief said “here” he meant the police station. He did not. He meant Mam Rostam’s.

“They will be here in two minutes,” he said.

“Here?” I said. “They’re bringing him here? To the house?”

“They will bring him here before taking him down to the station,” the chief said. “I’ll interrogate him here. I’m not going to feel good until I slap him.”

An Iraqi Police truck pulled up in front of the house and slammed on the brakes.

“Here he is,” the chief said.

I grabbed my video camera, flipped the switch to on, and ran out the door.

To be continued…

Post-script: If you like what I write, don’t forget to pay me. Travel in Iraq is expensive, and I am not able to do this job without your financial assistance. If you haven’t donated before, please consider donating now. If you have donated before (and a thousand thanks for doing that), please remember that my expenses are ongoing and my donations need to be ongoing too.

(Email address for Pay Pal is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com)

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Many thanks in advance.

Also, don’t forget to visit Patrick Lasswell’s blog Moderate Risk. He, too, wrote about our trip to Kirkuk.

All photos and video except “Before” and “After” satellite pictures copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 18, 2007 11:38 PM

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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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