Friday, June 29, 2007

Trip to Kirkuk (pics)

21 Jun 07
On the road again this time traveling with Scifi. We caught a ride up to Baghdad with the British then hopped on the Iraqi Cessna Caravan headed to Kirkuk. Scifi was going up to attend a squadron activation ceremony there and needed a travel partner. He and I have to attend a conference in the International Zone ("the IZ") in downtown Baghdad in a few days so it made sense for me to accompany him to Kirkuk. Our sister advisory team at Kirkuk has grown to the point of achieving squadron status so we went for that ceremony. We're back in Baghdad now.

Kirkuk is in Kurdistan and is a USAF base with a huge Army presence and some IqAF. There is quite a bit of fighting that goes on in the region but there are few attacks against the base itself. One night Scifi and I heard what we learned later was a car bomb in the distance in the city followed by emergency vehicle sirens. Several times a day automatic weapons fire is heard on base as US Army convoys preparing to depart the base fire their weapons into berms at the base checkpoints just before leaving the base. They fire a couple of bursts to ensure their weapons are working properly before heading off base.

The British at Basrah are great but we've noticed that within the base, very few carry weapons. Everyone on our team carries a weapon everywhere we go. At Kirkuk every American is carrying at least one weapon and many carry two or three depeding on their weapon cofiguration and scarcely an Iraqi can be found. There is no jeopardy to our Second Amendment here.

We had quite a bit of time off while I was there so one of the Kirkuk advisors took me on a tour. I had seen what I thought was an O-2 Vietnam-era observation plane when we flew in so I asked to go see them. I found out it was actually the a Cessna 337--the civilian version of the O-2. The Army has contracted out one aspect of airborne reconnaissance to a civil company. The Florida company, AirScan Inc, put an MX-15 forward looking infrared sensor on the aircraft and provides an airborne eye in the sky for their troops on the ground.

Scifi and I also took advantage of the opportunity to go to the pool while we were there. The lifeguards on duty at the pool were civilian contractors. One was working on a masters degree via distance learning and was saving huge money for the return home.

I'm always surprised by the number of civilians here and one of the Airscan pilots remarked that the civlian companies fighting in this war would be here long after the US military pulls out. He cited Kosovo as an example. I was deployed to France and Italy during the build up for and initial phase of that conflict back in 1998-1999. As far as I was aware, only a few NATO troops were in the area. He said the civilian companies were only recently leaving the doubt headed to Iraq.

As we were leaving Kirkuk today the USAF leadership in the advisory sqdn was discussing an event which occured earlier in the day. Two of the Iraqi-Arab pilots were driving to the base from Baghdad and stopped at a checkpoint. The checkpoint was manned by the Pesh Merga (the Kurdish militia) and the militiamen told the two pilots the region was only for Kurds and told them to turn back. The two pilots protested and the scene got heated. Eventually shots were exchanged from both sides and apparently both pilots were injured and taken to a hospital.

In an USAF sqdn, the sqdn commander of those two guys would have spent the rest of the evening at the hospital sitting vigil for his troops and doing whatever he could for their families. As it was, the Iraqi sqdn commander came out to the acft and flew Scifi and I down to Baghdad. I don't think that's indicative of Iraqis or their IqAF leadership and I'm absolutely certain our IqAF sqdn commander, Col Sami, would have been at the hospital with his troops.

I pass a lot of care package stuff along to Adnan to give the maintainers and he recently brought me a gift to thank me. It was a laser figurine of the Malwiyah...the Great Mosque of Samarra. It is very nice and I appreciate the gesture. As luck would have it, today on the flight back to Baghdad we flew right over the Malwiyah at about 8000 feet. Several of the guys asked the Iraqi pilot if he knew what the tower was but he had no idea until I told him it was the Malwiyah of Samarra then he told us briefly about the tower. Essentially, Malwiyah means spiral and it was one of their caliphs attempts to get closer to God. It was very cool to see in person.


emitch1 said...

Whoa-Nelly! I sure hope you had some sun screen on! I'd love to see a picture at the END of that day! In fact, maybe you two REALLY white guys next to a lobster! You know, for comparison!

Seivar said...

Hi, you have a nice blog going on here. One error though...Kirkuk isn't in Kurdistan. I'm from Kirkuk myself and it's mainly disputed because of the vast oil reserves - but one thing I am sure of - Kirkuk is definetly not Kurdistan. Thanks for your insight

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Levitra kaufen said...

Nice pictures. Thanks for sharing them.