A few things I spotted as I stared out the dirty window of our Reagan-era Toyota bus as we winded our way from Sulaymaniyah to Kirkuk to Irbil:
- Iraq turns from green to brown as you leave the Kurdish north and head in the direction of Baghdad. As we left Sulaymaniyah, the forested mountains that surround that city were replaced by rocky brown hills which soon melted into the familiar desert of central Iraq.
- While the peshmerga fighters who man checkpoints under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government carefully checked the identification of anyone entering or leaving their autonomous area, the regular Iraqi army soldiers who patrol Kirkuk barely peer in the windows as they wave us on.
- Kirkuk still looks like the war zone it is – two bombs went off here as recently as Saturday – with some roads torn up by the tracks of tanks (likely American ones) and other streets barricaded to keep Arab and Kurd apart.
- Three things in a row along the highway northwest from Kirkuk to Irbil: first was the rubble of a stone fortress that served as a base for Saddam Hussein’s army before it was destroyed by American air power back in 2003. Next came a (presumably empty) discarded oil tanker with the word “Allah” scrawled on the side in Arabic. After that was an unfinished home with the blue letters “USA” written on the outside.