In the Field
With Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 2, 2003; 11 a.m. ET
Washington Post foreign correspondent Karl Vick was online live from Northern Iraq Wednesday, April 2 at 11 a.m. ET, to to discuss the unfolding events in that region, heavily populated by ethnic Kurds.
The transcript follows.
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Karl Vick: Hello again. I'm still in Sulaimaniyah, the city in the autonomous Kurdish zone of northern Iraq ("free Iraq as the Kurds like to say). Two weeks into the war I expected, like all the other journalists in these parts, to be somewhere farther south. But it has not been to be. I'm sure the questions will go into why. And it's not like there's not things going on, some of them nasty enough. As I walked down the hall to this net cafe a colleague told me that a cameraman stepped on a landmine this afternoon, apparently fatally. Details just coming in, but another reminder that it's a war zone nonetheless.
Washington, D.C.: Karl, have you had a chance to get to the captured Al Ansar compound? If so, can you give us a first-hand account?
Karl Vick: I did visit their former turf, a couple of times actually. On Friday, the day they retreated from all their villages, I caravaned in with a few hundred pesh merga, as the Kurds call their militia, to Biyara, a sumptuously beautiful village that had been Ansar's headquarters. It was just full of triumphant Kurds and some kind of tired looking Special Forces guys who had basically organized the huge infantry charge -- 6,000 pesh, from four directions -- who had won the day.
washingtonpost.com: Kurdish-U.S. Assault Takes Town, (Post, March 29)
New York: Do Kurds keep chemical weapons protective gear around? Are they worried about a possible use of these weapons against them again?
Karl Vick: They wish they had it. Very little in the way of chem protection gear in Kurdistan. What little is available in the downtown market -- in the military section of the central bazaar -- has been snapped up by visiting journalists. Not for themselves, in most cases, but rather for their translators and drivers. Almost all of the journalists arrive pretty well kitted out by their employers. But if there is a scare or attack, no one wants to be reaching for their gear with two local hires looking on, ah, helplessly.
washingtonpost.com: Kurds Revel in Rout of Extremist Group, (Post, March 30)
Washington, D.C.: Okay, I'll bite... why not farther south two weeks into the war, Mr. Vick?
Karl Vick: Clamp on!
Rockville, Md.: Good morning,
I've heard reports that the Iraqi Army in the north has amassed close to 80,000 soldiers and that they're waiting for the U.S. forces to gather so that they can surround them and then hit them hard. That's the reason why the Kurds do not want to advance any further and expect the U.S. to do the fighting for them. Any insights on this?
Karl Vick: 'Morning.
washingtonpost.com: Karl, this morning you wrote that Kurds are ready to rise up against the Iraqi regime (Kurds Ready, Willing, Unable to Cross Line). Is there any concrete plan for the U.S. to help them achieve their goals?
Karl Vick: If there is, I'm as much in the dark about it as the Kurds claim to be.
Portland, Ore.: You can make a pretty good case that we (the U.S.) sold the Kurds out in the last Gulf War, despite the no-fly zones we did enforce.
How skeptical are the Kurds of the U.S. involvement now? Are they hoping, but holding back? Or are they ready to throw in their lot completely with us?
Karl Vick: You don't hear much about it. Today was unusual. I was in a town called Kifri, watching Iraqi artillery thump into the residential sections, then a US jet thump the artillery sites. A pesh merga commander I was sharing binoculars with was giving me the history of the town. When the story got to 1991, he said, "and then, when the Americans betrayed us, we had to leave again."
Piscataway, N.J.: Do you see any signs that al Qaeda has been operating in Iraq?
Karl Vick: Some senior Kurdish officials are using "al Qaeda" to describe fighters who have rushed to Baghdad from other Arab countries to fight the US. That seems a pretty broad definition of what used to describe a specific terrorist network. I am old enough, you know, to remember the days when it wasn't enough to take orders from Dr. Ayman to be technically al Qaeda; you had to have sworn bayat, or allegiance, to OBL. Times change, I guess.
Washington, D.C.: What are you using to talk to the world and connect to the Internet? It is amazing that you can do this. Do the troops have similar connectivity?
Karl Vick: I'm in a rather nice net cafe in a new hotel in downtown Suli, as we call this increasingly modern and pleasant town. The Kurds have done a lot with their freedom and loot in recent years, especially since the UN started sliding 13 percent of Saddam's oil-for-food revenues their way.
Clifton, Va.: Karl, is there such a thing as an "average day" for you there? If so, can you give us a run-down?
Karl Vick: Today wasn't atypical. I got up around 7:30 in my hotel. Checked e-mail using the satphone, then went down to breakfast. Couldn't face it in my hotel -- a very homey place, but the lobby/breakfast area is dark gray marble -- so went a couple blocks down to the bigger, newer hotel where the food is about the same -- bread and cucumbers and tomatoes and yogurt -- but there's sunshine.
Columbia, Md.: I have heard they are landing planes nightly at the seized air base. Have they sent in any additional troops to help out the 173rd? Are they going to send troops from the 4th Infantry now that they are in Kuwait?
Karl Vick: Yes, lots of planes coming into Harir nightly, I gather, though from what our embed with the 173rd, Steve Vogel, writes, that force is at strength with just 2,000.
Cumberland, Md.: Do you think there will be a true Northern Front?
Karl Vick: Personal opinion: Not much of one, or maybe not much more of one than we're seeing so far. I'm perfectly willing to be surprised -- would love it, in fact; things have gotten a little static here lately. But my sense is that the Pentagon is not looking for fresh risks after the surprise of Iraqi resistance in the south, and all the rest. They don't have a large enough force in place in the Kurdish zone to mount a serious assault on Kirkuk and Mosul -- or to hold them afterward, I should probably say -- and I don't see any signs of one being on the way. Not that I would if it were a surprise, but...
Minneapolis, Minn.: Poor Geraldo Rivera (har) was asked to leave Iraq after disclosing tactical info. How much tactical censoring are you subject to?
Karl Vick: I'm not with U.S. forces, so there's no "guidance'' or security review for my copy to undergo before it's transmitted to the Post. I suppose the SF guys could come to my room and register a complain but it's really not their way. And besides, the only thing I know about what the US is doing militarily is what I can see with my own eyes; and if I can, anyone else can too. Cuts down on the exclusives.
Manchester, N.H.: Have you seen any landmine fields? Have you had any training to detect the various types and how to avoid them?
Karl Vick: You know, it's not the ones you *see* is it?
Gullsgate, Minn.: As a sidebar with little significance, but -- where have all the flowers gone? When you speak of a beautiful village, is the Oleander in bloom?
Karl Vick: Gullsgate. Is that near Nisswa? Paul McEnroe greets you, I'm sure. He's the guy (Mpls Star Tribune, one of my old papers, or halfway so anyway) who just gave me the news on the mine accident.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Hey, Karl. Did those U.S. "cowboys" ever rope them Turkish cows and herd them back into their own pasture? I understand Sec Def Powell is over there now at Rancho Ankara working a deal to get better fencing along the border. Have you seen any of them wayward cows over your way? It's tense enough up there without dumb livestock wandering into the fire fight between coalition troops and Iraqi forces and their proxies. Keep your head down. Happy Trails. Thanks much, Pard.
Karl Vick: They all appear to be corralled, for now anyway.
Silver Spring, Md.: How far is Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral home, from Kurdish-controlled territory? If the Northern front collapses entirely, would the Kurds move that far and vent their hatred on this place? How far south would they want to claim?
Karl Vick: I don't have a map in front of me, but Tikrit is the next obvious stop south of Kirkuk. When I said up top that I expected to be south my now, the assumption was that two weeks into the festivities the whole press pack would be in Kirkuk watching for ethnic warfare, or have moved south to Tikrit, where the fighting would be intense. It's the Hussein Homestead, after all, and presumably he'd want to fight for it.
washingtonpost.com: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining the discussion.