15 MINUTES OUTSIDE OF KIRKUK, Iraq — The highway to Kirkuk is packed with thousands of civilian vehicles at mid-afternoon today, after news broke that peshmerga had entered this oil-rich city that Kurds have claimed as their own, despite the Turkomen, Arab and Assyrian residents.
The mood is World Cup crazy as people were hanging off trucks and speeding to the city. Armed men stood up in the back of pickup trucks waving the yellow or green flags of the KDP or the PUK, respectively. As we passed, they waved to me and honked, chanting, “America!” On the horizon, however, four thick, black plumes rise up. The faint smell of burning oil was in the air.
I met a B2I reader earlier, djoy, who now says I can use his real name: Delshad Fattah, 33, a former resident of Kirkuk. He came with me to Mosul and was now on the way to Kirkuk with me and Freydoon. I don’t think he expected this when he agreed to meet me for tea at 10 a.m.
He said many of the people on the road were going to Kirkuk to loot, and shook his head in sadness. “This is what Saddam has done to my people. He has turned us all into thieves.”
We hear news that there is an intifada in Kirkuk. Delshad is a little worried about the conflicts among the different groups now and wonders if we need a weapon.
Along the way, we stop at one of Saddam’s old prisons on the road. A peshmerga tells us, when we ask if the road ahead is safe, that we should go ask his commanding officer based in the prison.
Of course there’s no such officer but there are about 300 Iraqi soldiers there who have surrendered. They are happy to see me and the two peshmerga guards let me interview them.
They surrendered this morning around 9 a.m., said Motaz, 23. “We know that everything is over, so why fight?” he says. “The leadership is gone, so there is no need.” He’s a conscript and, like his buddies, glad to be done with the war. This group will be sent to Arbil for processing and then, the guards say, they will be sent home.
The Iraqis say they have been treated well, given good food, cigarettes and tea. They show no signs of mistreatment and even have a jocular relationship with the two guards. These guys have no fight left, if they had any to begin with.
One Iraqi prisoner, Hamid Abdulahussein Karin, tells me he has two brothers in the United States who fled after the first Gulf War. He knows nothing about them and asks me to publish his name in the hope that someone will be able to able. I promise him I will.
“They are too young for this,” said Delshad. “They have seen nothing good in this life.”
We’re close to Kirkuk now, and the smoke is heavy on the horizon. I think it’s a refinery, but I don’t know. It could be fires in the city. We’re going in, as the way seems safe.