Kurdistan Regional Government
TUE, 16 JAN 2018 22:15 Erbil, GMT +3

Visit to Kurdish area is like leaving Iraq

TUE, 13 MAY 2008 11:07 | The Huntsville Times

My team and I were headed north into Kurdistan, the northernmost province [Region] in Iraq. Our mission was to pick up supplies in Dohuk and then go to Zakho, on the Iraqi-Turkish border, to pick up two additional personnel who would be helping us at the port of entry (POE).

The team we replaced at the POE had told us numerous times that we needed to head up to Dohuk. Every time they mentioned it, they spoke excitedly of their past visits. We had no idea what to expect, but we were eager to visit and pick up our supplies.

About 20 minutes into our drive, we began to see gradual differences in the terrain. Slowly, the desert turned to lush green pastures; the roads went from rugged and cracked to new and smooth. The closer we approached the Tigris River, the greener our surroundings became. After passing the floating bridge over the Tigris, the drive into Dohuk was like coasting down I-65.

As we pulled closer to Dohuk, we passed through several smaller towns. It felt like we had left Iraq altogether and were in some European city. The houses and buildings were two and three stories tall instead of the one-story structures that litter the countryside outside Rabiya.

As we drove on into Dohuk, we passed the university on the left, and a store that seemed similar to a Wal-mart on the right. We drove by a neighborhood of condominiums overlooking the valley, into downtown Dohuk. We found a place to park our Humvees and waited for a couple of local citizens, whom we had contracted to help us purchase supplies. We took off our body armor and hopped into two taxis to head for the first store.

First, we needed office supplies. The contractors took us to a store where our supply officer started to go over the items that were needed.

While this was going on, I decided to walk around the streets with one of our NCOs. A young boy walked up to us and started talking to us in English. He wanted to be our guide for the day and said he could take us to any store in town. We found store after store selling everything you could want for a fraction of the price back home.

We entered the street market, where the streets were lined with vendors, and began looking at the merchandise. Good Cuban cigars were five for $10, and Italian silk suits were only $85.

After a quick lunch, the team gathered at the vehicles, where the vendor met with us to load all of our equipment and depart for Zakho.

Though we had a few mechanical problems climbing through the hills on the way to the Turkish border, we arrived about an hour and a half later at the Ibrahim Khalil POE. The port was further north on the Tigris River, with a bridge connecting Iraq and Turkey.

Ibrahim Khalil was a huge port; it was amazing to see all of the restaurants, stores and equipment affiliated with it, things that Rabiya didn't offer. Ibrahim Khalil was at least three times larger with all of the high-tech equipment we would want to have at the Rabiya POE. After the tour of the POE, we ate a relaxed dinner at a local restaurant. The team went back to the port, where we stayed the night, before heading back to Rabiya the following day.

The trip to Kurdistan was an eye-opening experience because we were able to see what it was like to walk around the streets of an Iraqi city feeling completely safe. The people were all friendly, and we never felt threatened.

US Army Capt. Matthew Curtis of Madison is stationed on the Iraq/Syria border as part of a transition team training Iraqis to provide their own security.

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