Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Tikrit & Kirkuk Road

Kirk von Ackermann's car was discovered abandoned on October 9, 2003 in the Jabal Hamrin mountains. The approximate location was given as Latitude North 34 Degrees 54’ 16.998” Longitude East 43 Degrees 57’ 45.836” (34 54.169 - 43 57.458) at an altitude of 232 meters.

Driving, it's about 25 miles outside of Tikrit.

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There are a few video clips of the area online, both shot from helicopters.

Crossing Ridgeline In Iraq by galtcitycouncil

Video from my tour in Iraq in 2005. This shows us crossing a mountain ridgeline heading for Kirkuk from Tikrit. Notice that Iraq is very green during the spring. Also, most people forget Iraq has many mountains in the north.

I really wish there was just a little bit more to this next clip as it ends just as the hills begin to rise.
Chopper Ride departing FOB Danger - Tikrit by Eric

Just a quick clip of an airlift from FOB Danger in Tikrit en route to FOB Warrior in Kirkuk.

There are numerous news reports of check points, patrols and convoys along the road between Tikrit and Kirkuk. The first gives an idea of how long it takes a convoy to move through the area.

Soldiers Keep Their Eyes on the Road During Combat Logistics Patrols in Iraq
By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes, Mideast Edition March 7, 2005
Tuesday's convoy was typical, it ran from Tikrit to Kirkuk and back, about 65 miles and 2 hours, 45 minutes each way.

The route snaked through downtown Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, and moved out onto a crusty two-lane road dubbed IED Alley for its history of roadside bombs that have been placed there. [...]

The convoy leaves Tikrit and enters a barren land of dirt and rocks, hills and crevices and the occasional sheep farmer.
The area has had its own share of power struggles both political and criminal.

Tensions boil over between Kurds and Arabs
By Patrick Cockburn, Independent, April 14, 2003
At least eight people were killed in gun battles between Iraqi Kurds and Arab tribes south of Kirkuk yesterday as Arabs in northern Iraq become increasingly nervous of the Kurdish advance south.

The fighting was around the town of Hawi Jah on the road between the Iraqi oil centre of Kirkuk and the city of Tikrit.

"It has been chaos. The Kurds are here to steal, and have killed some of our people while trying to rob them on the road," said one leader of the al-Obaid tribe. Arabs said five people were killed in the clashes while the peshmerga said three of their number were killed.
In The North, Fear And Hate
By Borzou Daraghi, Columbia Journalism Review, May-June 2003
Muhammad and Tahseen had helped me explore the back roads and smugglers' routes in the no-man's-land surrounding government-controlled Kirkuk. Antiaircraft tracers lit up my driver's face as he watched the coalition's nighttime bombing raids over that city, his hometown, and the Kurds' lost dream city. On April 10, we gunned it in a convoy behind Kurdish pesh merga and United States Special Forces as they stormed Khaneqin, a Baghdad-controlled city to the south of the autonomous Kurdish area, soaking up the adulation of residents welcoming us to their newly liberated town. We sped through the desert past miles of abandoned Iraqi military positions and deserting Iraqi soldiers on our way to Kirkuk.

But those were all in Kurdistan. Now we were in Arabia, and my driver and translator were like fish out of water. All day long on the drive to Tikrit they had complained and fretted and resisted. They weren't unique. Two journalists from NBC had to fire one of their drivers midway to Tikrit because he refused to go any further.

But leaving Kevin behind was an altogether different story. "Stop the car, you coward!" I yelled at Muhammad. "Go back now! I'm not going to leave Kevin behind."

As if waking up from a trance, he finally began to slow down. We turned around and went back to get the photographer. We found him putt-putting along at five miles an hour in his ailing car. He was very glad to see us.

Kevin's Kurdish driver, Adnan, had raced his engine and clogged up the carburetor of his Nissan. Kevin said a nice Arab taxi driver had offered to help, but Adnan contemptuously shooed him away. He said he didn't believe any Arab could fix his car.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Jabal Hamrin and Jabal Makhul

A quick note on spellings: Arabic to English translation is partially based on sound. As a result, there are almost always spelling variations for even the most common names. (See Lost in Translation) Variations of Jabal Hamrin include any combination of: Djebel, Djbel, Jabul, Jebel, Hamrain, Hamrayn, Hamryn, Hemrin, Himreen, Himrin, Humreen, Humrin, etc.

Patrol near Bayji, Iraq submitted by CW4 Alexis Geacintov for the 2008 Calendar of Stars and Stripes. Addendum: Alex Geacintov has a website of his photographs - please be sure to check it out.

Bay Area civilian vanishes in Iraq
By Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 2003

In the town of Baiji, where his disappearance was originally reported, the main police station had only passing knowledge of the situation. Col. Ismael Abdullah Jassim, the commander who led searches in the days immediately after the disappearance, left his post last month and did not brief his replacement on the details.

Lt. Muhamad Abdullah Jassim, one of Col. Jassim's deputies, said: "We took one of Mr. von Ackermann's colleagues out on a patrol to search for him and gave copies of photos of Mr. von Ackermann to local tribal leaders. Then we went out again just on our own. So far, we have heard nothing."
The Tigris River bisects a mountain range as it passes through a gorge near Bayji in Iraq. The pass is known as the al-Fatha Gorge or The Aperture. There's a very dramatic flyover view of the gorge here about 3/4 of the way down the page. It's well-worth the click. The mountains rise to about 1200 feet from the Tigris River basin.

Below is a satellite image from Google. Included are markers for FOB Pacesetter in the south, Tikrit, Bayji, al-Fatha Gorge, Kirkuk, as well as a mid-point for the road between Tikrit and Kirkuk.

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If you'd like to see the satellite image in 3D, consider downloading and playing around with Google Earth.

Jabal Makhul

From the al-Fatha Gorge, the northern ridge just west of the Tigris is known as the Jabal Makhul. Jabal means mountain. According to one scholar (ref), Makhul means 'kohl colored.' Kohl was once commonly used to make eyeliner as well as to darken the area under the eyes to protect from the glare of the sun. (Also Mak Hull, Makhal, Makol, Makul, Mokhul, etc)

During the 1980's, Saddam Hussein built an underground oil refinery in the Presidential Palace located in the Jabal Makhul. Baby Babylon, a 350 mm. supergun, was stationed in the mountains during the Iraq/Iran War. It was reported dismantled by the UN after Gulf War I (ref).

The Jabal Makhul Presidential Palace featured prominently in theories and rumors of illegal weapon programs. A number of 'experts' insisted secret tunnels criss crossed the area hiding everything from blue prints to nuclear weapons. Initially, UNSCOM inspectors found water. Beginning in the late 1990s, a number of Iraqi defectors stepped forward to inspectors with additional allegations. Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter shed a fair amount of ink on Jabal Hamrin in his book Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein. No weapons of mass destruction were found.

The 'tunnels' of Jabal Makhul made news again in 2006 when fires from low grade black oil were lit near Bayji. The massive plumes of smoke were visible by satellite.

Waste Oil Dumps Threaten Towns in Northern Iraq
By James Glanz, New York Times, June 19, 2006 1992, Iraqi engineers began drilling deep holes into Makhul, said Adnan Sammaraie, an Iraqi engineer who was then an Oil Ministry official and worked on the plans for the project.

The idea was to pump black oil and other refinery byproducts inside the mountains, where countless miles of cracks, caves and fissures could in theory contain almost limitless volumes, Sammaraie said. But the system was improperly monitored and it malfunctioned almost immediately, coughing up black oil and other polluted wastes and pouring them over the mountain range.

Engineers shut Makhul down, not for environmental reasons per se, but rather out of fear that the seeping oil would reach the Tigris and flow downstream toward the town of Auja, which sits on the riverbanks near Tikrit, Saddam's home. "Everyone was scared to death," Sammaraie said.

Jabal Hamrin

From the al-Fatha Gorge, the southern ridge east of the Tigris River is known as the Jabal Hamrin or 'Reddish Mountain' (ref). The ridge forms the border between the provinces (governates) of At Ta'mim and Salah ad Din.

Two injured in Tikrit army base blast
Thomas Crosbie Media, October 12, 2003
A US Army spokesman has confirmed a report earlier in the week of an American contractor who went missing by the Jabal Hamrin mountain ridge on the road north to Kirkuk.

The contractor, whose name and company were not released, had phoned in to report a flat tire but when assistance arrived at the scene, only the contractor's car and some personal items were found.
The Jabal Hamrin is sparsely populated with small villages, population approximately 100 people per square mile.

One ancient name for Jabal Hamrin was Barimma (ref - p 660) or Temple of Rimmon (Syrian pagan god of thunder). Sumerian scholars believe Jabal Hamrin is the Mount Ebih in the myth, Inanna and Ebih. The Sumerian myths are some of the oldest known writings of literature in the world (ref).

Art Lecture: From Here to Sumeria
By Leila Kubba, October 05, 2004
At that time, the most famous goddess was Inanna. Inanna, queen of heaven and earth. Inanna, lady of the largest heart. I became absolutely fascinated with Inanna, because there were so many translations of her life and she was so important in Sumerian times, and then went on to become – in Babylonian times, she became Ishtar, and eventually Venus. But at that time, in Sumerian times, she was not only the goddess of love, she was the queen of heaven. She was called both the first daughter of the moon and the morning and evening star, which is the planet Venus. So I guess her role was diminished as time went on.

She is the Sumerian version of a personification of the whole of reality. Inanna is a complex and paradoxical goddess that mirrors a wide range of characteristics, whose nature is both dark and light. A passage from the poem "Inanna and Ebih" – Ebih is Jebel Hamrin, which is towards the north of Iraq. It is the story of a conflict between the goddess and a defiant mountain. Ultimately, Inanna triumphs over Ebih. By challenging Ebih, she challenges nature and tries to dominate nature. Here she represents the human race, who are then becoming farmers or conquerors of the natural earth.

Here is when she talks to the mountain. She was very sure of herself and very arrogant. You can imagine this Inanna standing in front of this huge mountain.
I, the lady, came near, and the mountain did not fear, did not tremble of its own accord, nor wipe its nose on the ground. Even the Holy Anuna [the council of the gods] stand in awe of me. Listen! I, the lady, came near and the mountain did not fear.
I realize this is a bit off track from what I usually post here at the Missing Man but felt the myth of Inanna and Ebih captured a presence in the Jabal Hamrin that satellite photos can only hint at.

Additional reading:
Sumerian Myths by Michael Webster
Sumerian Mythology by Christopher Siren
Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer
Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart by Betty De Shong Meador
Encyclopedia of Islam by EJ Brill

Coming soon: a map of the region showing American bases and camps that were active in the fall of 2003.