Monday, July 17, 2006

Lunch on the Mountainside (Kurdistan, Pt. IV)

After being shown the mountain peaks in Iran and Turkey, the entire convey somehow managed to execute a three-point turn (on an unpaved, single lane road with no shoulder and possibly with land mines on the sliver between the road and the cliff) and descended back down the mountain. After fifteen minutes on the "main road" winding through the mountains, we stopped in a paved clearing half way up one mountain. Our Pesh Merga accompaniment immediately disembarked and began scrambling up the slopes to establish overwatch positions. Apparently, we'd arrived at our destination for lunch.

The site the Barzani's had selected for lunch was apparently where Saddam Hussein and several of his top henchmen once had hunting lodges. However, in the Kurdish uprising following the Gulf War in 1991, mobs of angry Kurds climbed the mountain and tore down the lodges. We were escorted to an old army tent, under which white plastic lawn chairs were arrayed in a horseshoe. As soon as we sat down, attendants brought us tea, which was quickly followed by lamb kabobs on skewers two feet long! Masroor Barzani, one of Massoud's two sons, pulled out a radio that alternated between Kurdish tunes and American soft rock.

After twenty minutes, we moved to another tent with a fully set table. The meal was less elaborate than dinner the night before, mostly succulent grilled lamb and chicken kabobs with vegetables and bread. From the few snatches of conversation that were not in Arabic or Farsi, I could make that once again the Ambassador, Barzani, and Allawi were discussing Iraqi politics.

So, what does one do after a barbecue picnic in the Kurdish mountains with a former guerilla leader and current President of the Kurdish Regional Government? You fire weapons, of course! About six empty Pepsi cans were placed on a rock about twenty meters up the mountain side, and Barzani's sons offered everybody (including Ambassador Khalilzad and former PM Allawi) their handguns for a little target practice. (I'll skip the details of who hit how many targets to avoid embarrassing anybody. I didn't have any earplugs so opted not to shoot).

When the ammunition was expended, we returned to the original tent for fresh fruit, pastries, and more tea.