May 20 - 25, 1991

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

In the Mountains of Kurdistan

Mon 20 May

Haney's foot hurts badly. He decided to go into Silopi to have it checked, and found out it was broken. I weent out with British Navy LT John Howells to Baloka, Kani Masi, A and C Companies, Begova, then in to Zakho for the NGO (Non-governmental organization) meeting. I stayed through it just to see what was going on, but it was mostly a talk fest and there was little information of real interest for our team.

This is a good point to talk about the NGO's. They live in Camp Red Eye, their tents are adjacent to ours, they use our mess hall, and they get along very well with us. They include professional relief workers and volunteers who signed on for a few weeks to come down and help out. Many of them had never worked with the military before, and they were apprehensive about dealing with us, but their comments are invariably favorable. Most of them have no romantic illusions about human nature. I mentioned the problems we sometimes had maintaining order and one of them said "It's amazing how nasty you sometimes have to be to help people".

Spanish MP's are guarding the road by the camps now. We got home about 2000. The British Marines strike me as a very likable, relaxed lot, articulate, competent, and confident. Since they are well-disciplined themselves, they have little need for external discipline.

Tue 21 May

In the morning we went to A and C Companies and Batufa Clinic with Lt Howells. Batufa is staffed by German doctors. In the afternoon we drove north from Begova to Nazdour, a spectacular ride over the mountains, unfortunately marred by haze. On the way back I rode in the open hatch of the Humvee shooting pictures - great fun. We stopped at the wash point. Corrigan went first and Haney and I waited in the Humvee. Haney had a British catalog of survival gear and we gradually both got hysterical over the dumb ads and overpriced merchandise. Then some Kurds came by in a car that kept stalling every 100 meters or so. In the mood we were in, that generated still more hysterics, which we were barely able to stifle.

I found out the British aren't always so laid back. When the unit first moved in, one of the Marines threatened to kill a sergeant and drew 28 days' confinement. That sobered the rest of them up and put them on their best behavior.

Wed 22 May

We spent most of the morning in camp because the British are planning a mission and Haney wants to be around if anything happens. A team in the mountains found bodies which may be the remains of a BBC team who vanished in March.

In the afternoon we went to Company C with Lt. Howells. As we were leaving, Chaplain Burr, LT Pat Cassidy and CPT Yancy came by. From their description it soundes like morale in Zakho is poor from inactivity; there was a rowdy party last night that the MP's had to quiet down. In the aftermath, camp rules have been tightened up, including no alcohol. They hinted we'd probably be best off staying in the mountains. We invited them to come up to Uzumlu later on but they declined, wisely it turned out.

Down the road from Company C is a camp which we checked out after our visit. From the description we heard, it sounded like there was a water problem in the camp. When we got there, we found a beautiful flowing spring, surrounded by a well-built wall, right in the middle of the camp. And just to make matters more interesting, there were two civil engineers there, a British chap I recognized from Camp 1, and a Kurd. To say there was no problem is a major understatement.

Then we went up to Kani Masi. Howells stayed on there while we went up to Uzumlu, a former camp on the Turkish border. The road was scraped out by the Kurds with tractors and earth-movers; it is an incredibly bad road with incredibly wild views. I gave Haney credit for finding a road that was as bad and as wild as any I'd seen anywhere. At the base of the mountain was the most unusual vehicle I'd seen taken by the Kurds: an abandoned fire truck.

At the top of the mountain is a broad bowl that at one time held 40,000 people. Now the last few people were leaving. There was a poignant scene of a woman praying at a gravesite, saying a last goodbye before leaving, in all likelihood, forever. We could drive right up to the Turkish border, where there were a few Turkish soldiers on guard. By this time the sunny day had given way to clouds that were just skimming the mountains, and new snow was falling on the mountains in Turkey. A warrant officer said they had snow flurries last night.

Thu 23 May

Corrigan and I went back to Zakho and check in and run errands. I visited the food site in Camp 2 to find that operations were running smoothly. In fact most days the place shut down early in the afternoon. The Kurds were running most of it. Nobody missed me at all, a fact that suited me just fine.

One of the things I did at camp was get a set of maps, so I can plot geology on them. LT Jeff Ponkratz also caught me and taped me for the company video, something I'd feared I'd missed out on. The current word on redeployment has us leaving for Turkey on June 1, convoying our vehicles to Iskenderun, and leaving for the States by June 15. Except for the convoy part, the info was nearly on target, but nobody dared believe it.

We also got our mail. It had been getting critical. I was in the mountains, surrounded on all sides by targets, and running low on ammo. Then - salvation! A FILM RESUPPLY! Six rolls from Mom, and nearly as valuable, a package of spearmint leaves. I tried to call home on the satellite link but got no connection. From camp we went to the border post so Corrigan could try the commercial phone; that too was a no-go. This was the first chance I had to see Zakho, which is a generally grubby and nondescript town. My only previous visit was the first night we were here, in the dark.

When we got back to camp, we heard the real story on the rowdy party, which will live forever in unit lore as The Mother Of All Bonfires. It got a bit out of hand. The MP's came by because they could see the fire from headquarters several miles away.

We got back to the British camp about 1400, only to find Haney had gone up to Kani Masi. So Corrigan and I took advantage of the clear day and went up to Nazdour to get better photos. The scenery is truly gorgeous up there.

Early in the morning four British Sea King helicopters arrived. They looked oddly familiar, and I finally realized they looked like giant locusts. After the Marines boarded, they took off eastward to recover the bodies that were found yesterday. They found one man and one woman. There are no clues who did it, and no ID, but the suspicion is strong they are the missing BBC news people. There is also no clue what happened to the third reporter.

Two of the British Marines have this sign on their tent: "You are about to enter a seriously mellow zone".

Fri 24 May

In the morning we went to Kani Masi to escort an earth mover to C Company. The earthmover itself is a compact little gem, made in Germany, that has every conceivable excavation tool built in. It really was a marvel of engineering. The only problem was it was front-heavy, and several times along the way it hut a bump and the rear wheels left the ground entirely.

After visiting C Company, we washed up at the bath point, then went over the mountains to Sirsenk. The pass on the south side of the mountains is just wide enough for the road and was probably barely wide enough to walk through before it was blasted wider. Most of the people Lt. Howells wanted to meet in Sirsenk were gone, but we did check out the supply yard, where the people in charge seemed quite competent. Then we ate at the mess hall, my first mess hall meal in a week.

Sirsenk International Airport is a huge complex designed to serve Saddam's Winter Palace. It seems purposely located to displace the Kurds, since the ground requires a lot of cutting and filling and there appear to be a lot of places in the valley better suited for an airport.

In the evening I spent a lot of time in a futile effort to get Haney's Coleman stove running. He tried, too, and we finally gave up and got a British hexamine stove to replace it.

Sat 25 May

We went to camp to check on the current move-out status and get mail, then went into Silopi. We picked up a few items in town, then went to the base. Haney had his foot checked. The mess hall had the sorriest excuse for a lunch I ever saw: soup, bread, and sardines. Corrigan suspects the French are running the mess hall this week; they eat lightly at lunch. The PX involved a long wait for bare shelves, but the Turkish PX next door was different. I found a nice chess board to replace my old Turkish chess board that was ruined in the flood last year. On the way back we stopped at the border post and I called Shawn. We stopped at camp again; I wanted to ask about clothing for one of the British companies to hand out, but it turned out most of ours had been given out by now. We got back to the Briish camp about 1500.

I went for a walk in the fields and encountered a huge land tortoise about a foot long. The area is crawling with little lizards, impossible to catch, and the stream is full of tadpoles. Corrigan tells me she has seen crabs in the streams (not crayfish but real crabs). I have found a few claws but have not seen any crabs myself. There are lots of squirrels about, more like red than gray squirrels. They're brown and small. There is also a gorgeous bird I have seen both here and in the Gulf. It has a gold back, turquoise breast and dull greenish wings. I found a dead one at Khobar. Nobody can tell me its name, not even the Kurds. (After getting back I looked it up; it's a common or European roller.)

On the way back from my walk I spotted a wall buried in the opposite stream bank. A closer look turned up some pottery shards. Kuyper and the Three Amigos have been calling me Indiana Jones for so long this had to happen. I showed it to Haney; in the morning we'll survey it and report it.

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