Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Road Trip: Erbil

This morning, we headed out bright and early for Erbil, which is one of the major cities in the Kurdish region. We didn't have much trouble with rush hour here in Kirkuk and our little convoy was soon heading out onto the wide rolling flat plains to the north of the city. It was a really gray morning and even more gray looking north. We passed a Hyundai dealership on the way out ... first car dealership I've seen in Iraq. (I know there are some in Baghad, but I've never seen them). We also passed a huge trash dump. They don't have very many regular landfills here, there are just vast areas where they dump trash, and this was one of them. Right in the middle of it was a soccer field that had been carefully graded flat and kept clean.

The main highway is in pretty good condition and we were moving pretty fast. Our security team relaxed our security posture a little ways into the drive. As I mentioned yesterday, Kirkuk is still a contested area and there are some (not a whole lot, but some) insurgents in the city. To the north and east, though, is Kurdish-controlled area, and they don't put up with Al Qaeda nonsense.
There are lots of animals to be seen in the countryside. Camels, wild dogs, and flocks of sheep are common. And donkeys: attached to donkey carts, being ridden energetically by kids, or just standing patiently in the middle of the highway median. If you want a chicken for dinner tonight, there are lots of guys set up by the side of the road with eight or ten chickens walking around. Take one home, kill it, pluck it, and cook it ... they don't get any fresher than that.

There was a big traffic tie-up where a tractor trailer had tried to pull over on the shoulder, but the shoulder gave way and dumped the truck with its load of fruit all over the road. Quite a huge mess.

The further we got into Kurdish area, the better everything was built and cared for. There's much more small and medium-sized industry up there and the buildings were more modern. And there is lots of construction going on: homes, industrial areas, and apartment complexes. It's clearly a very energetic economy.

It was raining by the time we got to Erbil. The city itself looks like a contemporary European city. It's quite large with something like 3 million people. There are working traffic lights up there and, wonder of wonders, people actually pay attention to them. We passed a bustling university, a whole Miracle Mile of car dealerships, lots of new modern hotels, and a shopping mall. Some of the stores are quite high-end, too, and there are even a bunch of liquor stores. Absolut seems to be the poison of choice. Traffic was pretty wicked and our convoy had a heck of a time sticking together, but they did by ignoring traffic lights when needed and judiciously using their sirens and squawk boxes.

I had a good, productive series of meetings with my contacts once we arrived. Some of them are Kurdish engineers; very smart, very experienced guys who gave me a lot of insight into the issues that my project is trying to address. We had a Kurdish lunch: chicken, a very spicy orange cucumber/pickle thingie (really good), rice, and American sodas. Lots of fun with some very good people.

The trip back was more of the same. As I was the only passenger this time, I had a good chat with the young Brit and Irish lads in my vehicle. The truck was still on its side when we passed and they hadn't made a lot of headway in cleaning up the fruit. Iraqi/Kurdish drivers are even more wacked-out than Italians: one car ahead of us whipped out to pass a truck, and the car behind him whipped out to pass both the truck and the car, and there was oncoming traffic to boot! And this on a two-lane crowded road.

We arrived back in Kirkuk before rush hour and zipped right through town to the base. I took care of office business in time to catch pizza and a movie with the local Corps of Engineers crowd. The pizza was good; the movie (2012) was pretty bad but fun anyway.

All in all, a good day. Tomorrow will be interesting, too.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/30/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.