Saturday, May 22, 2010


 The radio transmission we received told us not to engage any target west of the base of the Kani Domlan ridgeline. I asked for authentication due to the fact we had been pounding this ridgeline and the Iraqi troops on it for a few weeks with airstrikes. The order was authenticated and myself and my commo sergeant looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. We made a transmission back to our patrol base in Klaw Kut where the rest of our team was located seeking further direction. Our Team Leader informed us that the Kurds had broken through to the city of Kirkuk and that he and the rest of the ODA would link up with us at a small village that was situated on a road intersection just north of our position. It would take them a few hours to arrive so we leisurely packed up our gear and threw it in our vehicles. We headed north until we stopped at the agreed upon meeting point and discovered it was already swarming with Kurdish Peshmerga. We dismounted our vehicles and greeted our allies with some small talk and those that smoked enjoyed a butt.
While we were waiting our medic conducted an impromptu sick call for the Pesh, one young fighter hobbled up with a bullet wound in his lower leg which our medic quickly treated. From the facial expressions and gestures, I got the impression the other Kurdish fighters felt it was self inflicted. As I lounged on the bumper of our vehicle I watched the continuous and comical stream of Kurdish vehicles pour by as they headed south towards Kirkuk. The Peshmerga had commandeered anything with wheels in an effort to take back what they considered their ancestral home. A home that had been stolen from them by Saddam Hussein, and oh by the way there also just happened to be some very large oil fields located near by. Pesh were packed into the beds of the usual Middle Eastern vehicle, the white Toyota pick up, but they were also jammed into school busses, taxi cabs, and passenger cars. I even saw a dump truck with about twenty Peshmerga hanging out the back. All of theses were flying down the road hell bent for leather with scarves flapping in the breeze and rifles hoisted in the air.
I got out of the truck when I saw some Humvees headed towards us, at first I thought it might be another SF team although none were operating in our sector and none where driving such obviously marked military vehicles.  In fact it was a unit from the 173rd Airborne Brigade who had seen us sitting by the side of the road and stopped for a quick intelligence update. I laid my map out on the hood of this Major’s vehicle and pointed out to him the lay of the land and the targets we had been engaging. I estimated the Iraqi strength and probably direction of flight. He asked me a few more questions and got in his vehicle and their little convoy moved on down the road. This small encounter put in context why I had joined Special Forces. Here I was a Master Sergeant deep in enemy territory with my small team of kick ass troopers and our indigenous allies. I was wearing my University of Iowa baseball cap and hadn’t shaved in about a month. My team had more ammunition and fire power on us than a platoon of infantry. We went where we wanted and when we wanted within the scope of our orders.
This Major had his Kevlar on, chin strap tight, and was all dress right dress. It was obvious he didn’t like talking to a lowly E8. But the point was he needed the information we had and it was good to kick a little dirt on his regular Army boots so to speak. After they left my Team Leader showed up and we all joined the parade of vehicles going south. As we headed down the highway we started to climb up over the ridgeline and as we topped it I saw the damage we had inflicted. The pillboxes we had been directing our airstrikes onto where actually very large bunkers that looked like they led to tunnels farther underground. They were scarred with shrapnel and blackened by smoke. Time and the very real likely hood of booby traps kept us from investigating further. After we crossed over the Kani Domlan we could see the oil fields and the city of Kirkuk spread out before us. We also saw what appeared to be some kind of armored vehicle approaching us at a high rate of speed. It looked like nothing we had ever seen before but we were taking no chances. We got our vehicles off the road and prepared a vehicular ambush using our AT-4’s and Squad Automatic Weapon.  As it got closer however we came to the strange realization that this was a Toyota pickup truck so loaded with stacks of what appeared to be conduit and aluminum tube that from a great distance it looked like it was a Multiple Launched Rocket System. We packed up the ambush and waved as out little Kurdish friend drove by with his loot.
It was shortly after that we entered the chaos that was Kirkuk, the Kurds were vandalizing and stealing everything they could get their hands on in revenge. It was obvious they intended on pillaging the city. As there were only a few U.S. troops on scene in those first few days, there wasn’t much we could do about the whole scenario. I saw one Peshmerga driving a forklift up the highway out of town. I am not sure what he intended on doing with it, but it was his by god and he was driving it home. I also saw a full sized and operational fire truck heading back north. A few weeks later I saw this same fire truck abandoned on a mountain road with no wheels or battery. It must have run out of fuel and they stripped what ever was valuable.
We navigated to a link up point to meet our company commander and the rest of the company. The linkup point was at a large, gated house that reportedly once belonged to “Chemical” Ali the cousin of Saddam. “Chemical” Ali was like the Iraqi Kilroy, that dude was everywhere. Our company had experienced a short but intense firefight prior to our arrival but had secured the house. We linked up and were given some security positions to man on the flat roof of the building. From our vantage point I could see the entire city which mostly seemed to be on fire. I could also hear automatic weapons fire and explosions. Some were in the distance but some were quite close.
Once we got organized I reported to the Company SGM for a debrief and some further instructions. I will be quite candid here, I had no respect for our Company SGM the man was a Douchebag. When I reported to him it was the first time he had seen me in weeks he told me to have my guys shave and take the Kurdish scarves we were all wearing off. No “Hey Mike how’s it going?” or “You guys have been doing an outstanding job!” Just instructions that I had to take back to my guys and enforce that made me look like the same douche he was. Oh well, one thing about civilian life I don’t have to ever talk to that guy again. We stayed in this villa for a few days and then were told to find somewhere to set up a safe house to run operations out of similar to what we had done in Kosovo.
We ended up renting a gorgeous house on the South West corner of the city; it was all marble tile and stone walls with a large stone fence around the yard. The previous owner had obviously fled as no furniture or utilities of any kind were present, we weren’t even sure if the guy we rented it from had authority to do so. We organized the upstairs as an operations/communications room and started running patrols out of the house on a rotating basis. These patrols turned up some interesting things. One day we discovered an Iraqi Mobile Multiple Launch Rocket System stalled and on fire in the middle of the street another day we had to diffuse a small riot between rival Kurdish groups. The PDK did not take kindly to the PKK taking over one of the buildings they had claimed. Tribal loyalties run deep in the Middle East and these rivalries are pretty intense. Another day we acted as a PSD (Personal Security Detachment) for Jalal Talibani . He was a Kurdish leader that would eventually rise to the highest levels of the new Iraqi government.
An informant directed us to an Iraqi vehicle depot that had obviously been looted, but still provided some valuable intelligence. On the way back we cleared what appeared to be an Iraqi barracks and discovered some suspected chemical weapons we turned over to a U.S. Chemical unit. Just for the record, Weapons of Mass destruction where found in Iraq, because we found some. Our time in Kirkuk though was like a finger in a dike, there was only so much that a small contingent of Special Operators could do in a city that size. Every night we heard gunfire celebratory and otherwise. The Kurds where fighting a turf war with the Turkmen, and each other over control of Kirkuk. We saw tracers arching across the sky on a daily basis from the roof of our house. We also heard and felt some huge explosions that rattled our neighborhood as car bombs and IED’s became more prevalent. The smoke plumes would linger for hours from these explosions. After initially melting away the Iraqi resistance was starting to flex the muscle it would show in the bloody months of 2003-2006 prior to the “surge.” My time in Kirkuk is what makes me uncomfortable around any fireworks and sudden bangs to this day. Eventually conventional units like the 173rd moved in to take over responsibility for security in the city. My team and the rest of our battalion moved back north in to Kurdistan to refit and await further instructions. As we left the city once again headed north I didn’t realize that that would be the farthest south I would ever get during my time in Iraq.

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