In the Field
With Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 25, 2003; 11 a.m. ET
Washington Post foreign correspondent Karl Vick was online live from Northern Iraq Tuesday, March 25 at 11 a.m. ET, to to discuss the unfolding events in that region, heavily populated by ethnic Kurds.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Karl Vick: Good day from northern Iraq, and apologies for missing yesterday’s scheduled chat. A press briefing came up at the appointed hour, suddenly enough that I didn’t give the folks at .com a chance to explain. No undue worries. As I’m in the part of Iraq where that’s under the control of two Kurdish parties, and not likely to see any fighting, the only real security concern is these extremist galoots out in the Halabja Valley. They’re getting bombed a couple times a day by U.S. warplanes preparing for a ground assault later this week, and are taking out their sudden frustration with the conventional arena by stepping up their terror campaign. A more visible hazard is the windstorm that kicked up about an hour ago. Up here, in the foothills of the Zagros Range, they don’t call it a sandstorm. It’s the “black wind.” Got to like that.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Once the Turks move in and start grazing in Northern Iraq, which of our "experts" thinks it going to be easy to herd them back across the border to their own pasture? They might like the feed, the water, and the view much better in Iraq. And how many U.S. divisions of "cowboys" is it going to take to ride herd and complete the cattle drive? My family's from Texas - loose cows are a nuisance and can cause a lot of mischief until you get 'em corraled again. Yee-Haw. Thanks much.
Mogadishu, Somalia: Who is now controlling Basra?
Karl Vick: General Morgan.
Denver, Colo.: We heard you were in the area near the car-bombing incident. What happened?
washingtonpost.com: An Edgy Place, a Suicide Bombing and a Near-Miss, (Post, March 23)
Karl Vick: That's the story. The next question has the follow up.
washingtonpost.com: Karl, you encountered an awfully scary situation on Saturday with the carbombing that killed the journalist. What's happening where you are now? Is there thought that pockets of al Qaeda sympathizers will continue to target Western journalists more? And how are you and your fellow journalists handling that?
Karl Vick: A couple things are happening now.
Silver Spring, Md.: Are the extremists you're referring to fighting for Iraq? Or related to Al Qaeda (sp)? I read that there are Iraqi troops on a mountain ridge overlooking a Kurdish town that fire randomly into the town. Are U.S. troops doing anything about them?
Karl Vick: The Ansar extremists want to defeat the avowedly secular government that the Kurdish parties have built in Iraq's north since 1991, the year the US and Brits starting sending daily fighter packages to enforce the no-fly zone above the 36 parallel. Ansar al Islam translates roughly to "supporters of Islam." They want a government based on the very nearly strictest interpretation of Sharia, which is what they enforced on the few villages they've controlled for a couple of years. Women must be veiled. Men have to close their shops and hie on down to the mosque at every call to prayer. Soap packages showing women's faces are pealed off.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Have you been able to interview many civilians? If so, what are their reactions to the war? In particular, what impressions are you getting from civilians from different ethnic groups, if you've had the opportunity to talk to people from different groups, i.e. Kurds, Turkmen, etc.?
Karl Vick: Civilians aplenty here in Sulaimaniya. But they're pretty much all Kurds. In fact, I spent an hour the other day with a kid, 19, who had never even met an Arab.
Washington, D.C.: My husband is overseas and naturally I'm scared to death. We aren't really going to have potentially 3,000 casualties in the next few days, are we? I keep hearing that on the news. I can't imagine that many people would lose their lives for a schmuck like Saddam. And there is an interesting editorial in today's Post about how Rumsfeld was so confident the Iraqis would crap out at the first sign of an American bomb that the country as a whole would surrender. Now the troops have no backup because Rumsfeld was so shortsighted. Do you know anything of this?
washingtonpost.com: Shock, Awe and Overconfidence, (Ralph Peters, Post, March 25)
Karl Vick: I'm afraid I don't know, but 3,000 in a few days sounds extraordinarily pessimistic. The war is a bit of a puzzler to many of us. I'm trying to keep my mind as wide open as my eyes but they did seem to have launched this thing on a certain assumption of political behavior that may yet be forthcoming -- that is, permission and welcome from the shackled Iraqi masses -- but doesn't seem very evident so far.
Fargo, N.D.: If the Kurds enter the fray, what safeguards are in place to assure there won't be ethnic cleansing or payback for atrocities committed on the Kurd's by Saddam's regime? If Turkey enters the fray, will that cause an expansion of the war.
Karl Vick: A place that knows something about wind, Fargo.
Jacksonville, Fla.: How's the air? I mean, any news or rumors of oil wells being set on fire in Northern Iraq?
Karl Vick: Air: Dusty.
Boston, Mass.: What exactly are all you reporters doing out there? The front is hundreds of miles away. the local Special Ops operate in secret. The Kurdish leaders seem mostly out of the loop. Nice hotels? Good food? Or just waiting for the collapse of Saddam?
Karl Vick: We are smoking fat ceegars and pinching waitresses. Come on over, Mr. Bean.
Oxford, Ohio: Mr. Vick, Thanks for having this forum. I imagine there are lots of questions out there. However, there's only one thing that really puzzles me about the Kurdish region. What interest does the Turkish government have in wanting to invade and occupy a region where the people have thoroughly made it clear they hate the Turks? The Kurds within their own country really want independence from Turkey, why would they want more kurds under their government? Wouldn't that just create a larger oppositional force?
Karl Vick: Good, logical question. I can only answer that it's power politics. I'm usually based in Istanbul, so kind of appreciate the peculiarity of the Turkish outlook. The country has perhaps the fiercest vision of nation-state going. The nation's founder, who is worshipped -- worshipped -- more than half a century after his death, decided that "Turkishness," being proud of being a Turk, would be the quality that made a nation from the shambles of the Ottoman Empire after WWI.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Why hasn't the US moved against Ansar before? Their strongholds are not controlled by Saddam, but are more or less U.S.-friendly, and their existence and links to al Qaeda are well known. Couldn't the U.S. have bombed them anytime after Sept. 11, 2001?
Karl Vick: I don't think they were really on anyone's radar until late last year.
McLean, Va.: Mr. Vick,
How hard is it for you and your fellow journalist's to move around the area your in? Also,Where did you cross the border from Turkey and what's the situation with journalists coming over at this time?
Karl Vick: Turkey hasn't been letting journalists over the border, with one large exception in advance of last month's opposition conference in Arbil.
Woodbridge, Va.: Karl,
We've been hearing about a buildup of forces in Northern Iraq being airlifted in. But, this buildup seems too little too late to have any involvement in an assault on Baghdad, or any other major enemy position for that matter. Exactly what is the mission and objective of any force assembling in Northern Iraq?
Karl Vick: The guys coming in are all special ops. I don't think anyone expects Kurdistan to be a platform for any kind of substantial invasion force, at least not since Turkey shut the door.
State College, Pa.: Any word on what's going on out in western Iraq? I know there's lots of folks busy out there, but no embedded journalists.
Karl Vick: No recent word, though the Special Forces guys took those two airfields no code-named Exxon and Shell in the first days of the war. They also did their Scud-hunting, looking for the mobile launchers that might threaten Israel and complicate everything.
Karl Vick: That'll have to do it for now. Got to hop to an interview. Thanks for the grounding, and hope to chat again before too long.