Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fun With AK-47's

"Dig up the sand in Iraq, and you will find weapons or hit oil" a crusty Arab villager confided to me once.

This is certainly true for the "weapons" part. You are not considered a man in these parts unless you have artillery rounds buried in your backyard and a couple AK-47's hidden in your living room.

The Americans confiscate a lot of these weapons, and not all of them end up in the armory, if you know what I'm saying.

So what, exactly, are some fun things you can do with your extra AK-47's?

AK-47 Back-scratcher!

AK-47 Fencing! (en garde)

AK-47 Toothbrush!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Hesco Garden

Modern war, like ancient war, requires cover and concealment. The Romans used elaborate earthen-works around their camps to help keep the enemy out. World War I saw a proliferation of trenches and bunkers. Even today, there is no quicker way to gain a measure of safety than to use a bulldozer to push a big pile of dirt up around your position.

A clever British company called "Hesco" designed a simple product that makes it even easier to throw up huge, thick walls of earth wherever you can find dirt and a bulldozer. Take a frame work of mesh wire walls open at the top and bottom, line it with a durable cloth, and voila, you have the "Hesco Barrier" (or "Hesco Bastion"). The Hesco Barrier is ubiquitous in Iraq, and along with the cement T-wall, provides all the blast protection that the military relies upon for its safety.

Rows of Hesco barriers surround the tents, headquarter buildings, and porta-johns that comprise the Army bases dotting Iraq. Using a Hesco bastion is 10 times faster than filling sandbags.

Several rings of Hesco barriers surround the old Iraqi-army barracks where I live in Kirkuk Air Base.

Now for some backstory:

- It gets really hot during the Iraqi summer, like 120F-for-60-days-straight hot
- I like tomatoes.

One day I thought to myself, "What better way to take a positive attitude towards the lethal heat than to plant some tomatoes? Tomatoes love heat. I love tomatoes. My loathing of the summer weather will be tempered by the joy of watching my seedlings flourish."

Thus was born the Hesco garden.

Tomatoes like full sun, good drainage, and a raised bed. The Hesco barriers around our barracks provide all that in spades!

So I had Joan mail me some seeds (corn, peppers, & tomatoes). I created some starter-pots out of used water bottles and found some good soil down by the drainage ditch that runs behind the airstrip.

Today marks the 13th day since I put the seeds in the ground, and the first day I saw two little sprouts come up from one of my starter pots. Yay!

Viva La Hesco Garden!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Like the Kurds

When the US & Britain carved up the Middle East after World War I, every ethnic group got their own country, except for two peoples: the Jews and the Kurds.

We all know what happened to the Jews.

The Kurds, on the other hand, have since patiently consolidated their own cultural and linguistic boundaries across 3 different countries: Turkey, Iran, and northern Iraq.

If you look closely, you will notice: Kurds look different. They don't dress like Arabs. They are more likely to have blue and green eyes. And big heads. They smile a lot and like to dance. They drink beer once in a while. They sympathize with the state of Israel, instead of demonizing it.

And most importantly, they LOVE the United States (unlike the Arabs, who secretly hate us).

The Kurds are of an Indo- European ethnic group, distinct from Arabs. American planes enforced a no-fly zone over Northern Iraq since 1991, allowing the Kurds to form their own de-facto government, centered in Irbil.

This government, the "Kurdish Regional Government" or KRG, has turned northern Iraq into one of the most peaceful, prosperous places in the Middle East.

The Kurds have their own Army, the "Peshmerga", who keep the peace. And I mean *really* keep the peace. You can count the successful terrorist attacks in Kurdistan on one hand.

I don't even wear my body armor when I visit Kurdish villages. The worst thing that could happen? Someone might throw flowers at me. The worst argument I've been in with a Kurd is over why the Americans can't stay longer.

So let's summarize...

Arabs: always fighting, secretly hate us, innate corruption, support Jihad

Kurds: fierce but keep the peace, love the US, embrace democracy, support Israel

Now here's the part I don't understand: the US is about to throw the Kurds under the bus.

The Shi'a government in Baghdad will soon be sending the Iraqi Army into Kurdish Kirkuk to wrest control from the KRG.

Why? Because of the oil refineries here.

Is there plenty of oil in the rest of Iraq? You bet!

In fact, there is a sea of oil under virtually every province.

Each ethnic group and sub-group could have their own oil refinery and live fat off petro-dollars for the next 100 years.

But people here aren't so big on the whole "looking ahead" thing.

They prefer to marinate in the perceived injustices of the past.

And a scared and skittish American administration wants to turn the page on this particular chapter of Mesopotamian adventurism.

So the Kurds will get screwed out of their territory once again, and our tax dollars will go to "rebuilding" the infrastructure of those who would chop off our heads just as soon as shake our hands.

Can I come home yet?

(Shown above: a poster, published by a Kurdish political party, commemorating the anniversary of "Anfal", Saddam's campaign to relocate the Kurds away from oil-rich areas in northern Iraq. This happened from 1979-2002. Saddam would then move his Sunni Arab tribesmen in. The bulldozer is a symbol of the destruction of dozens of villages and towns by Saddam's army. None of the houses in the Kurdish villages in my sector are over 7 years old - they were all rebuilt when Kurds started moving back in after 2003.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

My First Name Means "Ass" In Kurdish

I was both chagrined and honored to learn of this.