Quieter Week

The back end of the week has certainly been much quieter than it started out last weekend.  The news has reported that Kirkuk has been placed under a very strict curfew which I am certain makes it more difficult to mount attacks on our folks.  I had an opportunity earlier in the week to visit and talk to one of our security folks that had some small arms fire come a little too close.  Most of the week has been spent doing visitation and working to finish setting up our new chapel.  Our services and Bible studies continue to grow in number.  I'm running through Galatians with a group on Thursday nights.  There is a fairly substantial Bible study on Wednesday night and tomorrow we shall have some robust services. 
We've had some beautiful sunsets the last few nights thanks to some significant dust in the air.  I've managed to take some decent photographs of these.  It was hot today, but for the most part the weather has moderated. 
There is not much else to report that is new or different.  Most of my time is spend out visiting with the troops or speaking with them as they come to the chapel.  Some time is spent in preparation for Bible studies and worship.  I think one of my most enjoyable times is after I finish eating I usually get myself a cup of coffee and find some of our folks to sit and visit with.  Tonight I sat and talked with the leadership of our medical facility ---great people.  And it is a good thing that the coffee is good - very strong and very hot.  I'm also making use of our gym facility here.  It's not the best gym I've ever worked out in.  The equipment quantity and condition is limited partly due to the large number of folks that use it.  I wonder if the contractors who manage it could do somewhat better. But it gets the job done for the most part.  I may just be spoiled by our Air Force Services folks because when they run the gym of dining facilities they always do above and beyond.
Some of my mail has finally arrived including a letter from my oldest daughter - her first grown up letter to her daddy.  I have it tacked onto the wall beside my desk.  The mail is hard to fathom here.  Some items I purchased after I arrived were received weeks ago.  But one box my wife shipped out the day I left the country still hasn't shown up.  Go figure?  By the way, Walmart says it can ship anything over here that they sell on their website.  One of the guys I was talking to in the DFAC (dining facility) claims he purchased a patio set and that it is on the way.  I did order some storage cubes as furnature is sort of hard to come by here -- and they arrived -- no problem.
I've included two news stories about events, including one about the curfew.
Below is a story from Stars and Stripes that provides a little more background about what is going on the city of Kirkuk. 

KIRKUK, Iraq -- On the third floor of a ramshackle housing complex in northeastern Kirkuk where scores of insurgents are rumored to live, 1st Lt. Michael McCave and two members of his squad gathered around a dented metal door Sunday and arranged themselves to go in.

It was the kind of door soldiers in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division might otherwise want to kick down, but this time McCave just knocked.

A few seconds later, a woman answered and the soldiers presented her with a small bag of toys for her children. It was a type of visit McCave and his fellow soldiers make regularly in their sector of this city of about 775,000 people in north-central Iraq, part of a patrol that touched on many of their objectives in Kirkuk.

McCave's squad was in Hussein Apartments to make a show of force in an area known to be less-than-friendly, and to gather intelligence from a friendly source about recent events in the area.

The soldiers only got to talk to the widowed mother of five for about 10 minutes, however, before a hollow metallic pop echoed in through the window.

"We've just had an explosion," said a voice over a sergeant's radio.

The soldiers left quickly to respond to the reported roadside bomb, but by the time they got to their Humvees someone else was on their way, and instead they diverted to perform some "route reconnaissance" around the sector.

For the 3rd Platoon, the afternoon included elements of much of the unit's work in the oil-rich city about 160 miles from Baghdad.

A great portion of the soldiers' effort in the city is aimed at maintaining stability, rooting out pockets of insurgents and "legitimizing" Iraqi police forces.

Earlier in the day, the platoon had made its daily visit to a police station in its area after the original plan for the afternoon -- to deliver supplies to local schools -- was scrubbed because the materials weren't ready.

The squad's mission reflected, in part, the situation in a city defined by its status as a multiethnic metropolis shared by Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Turkomens and others.

Originally Kurdish, it underwent a period of forced "Arabization" under Saddam Hussein that forced out many original inhabitants and moved in Sunni Muslims.

Since the invasion and overthrow of the dictator, however, the Kurds have made a return. The groups are now at loggerheads over who has a majority, and whether the city's future -- and oil -- should lie with the Kurdish north or the Arab south.

Either way, the American military is received well in some parts of the city, though the reception is cooler in the poorer, often Arab, areas, soldiers said.

"The Kurds love us," said Sgt. Aric Zern, serving on his second tour in Iraq.

Soldiers said the level of violence directed at the U.S. military has been low since they arrived about eight weeks ago from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to replace elements of the 101st Airborne Division. But attacks have picked up in recent days, soldiers said.

McCave said the group had a scare not long ago when it came through one of the gates at Forward Operating Base Warrior, just before a truck loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosives detonated near the entrance. Roadside bomb attacks also persist throughout the city.


Iraq oil city shut down as troops hunt insurgents

7 October 2006

KIRKUK, Iraq - The northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk was deserted Saturday except for the rumble of military vehicles and the sound of patrolling helicopters as a curfew and military operations kept residents inside.

Iraqi police and troops were conducting raids across the city, hunting for insurgents and unlicensed weapons in a bid to end a wave of assassinations and bombings.

�These operations are the first of their kind in Kirkuk, with more than 14,000 police and soldiers supported by US helicopters,� said Captain Emad Jassim Khidr of Kirkuk police.

He added that all vehicles and pedestrian traffic had been banned and shops closed during the open-ended curfew.

Roads into the city have also been closed and in some cases sealed with newly dug trenches to cut down on rebel infiltration.

�We are tightening security on these entrances and searching the incoming vehicles,� said Khidr.

The new lock-down tactic is one increasingly being used by coalition forces in troubled cities across Iraq, including Baghdad where trenches and barriers are being built to control access to the capital.

In some cases, whole towns or neighbourhoods have been surrounded by massive earthen walls with limited guarded entrances in an effort to halt bombing campaigns by insurgents opposed to the US-backed coalition government.

More on the curfew from Aljazeera    http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/0CB40C3C-34CD-44E1-85CD-A70E13070C3A.htm