Special Reports

No shortage of irony in the mean streets of Kirkuk

Alpha Company's soldiers discovered an old woman living under a bridge in south Kirkuk. She is a 50-something widow who has no way of supporting herself.

According to Amin, an Alpha Company interpreter, she used to live in Baghdad, but moved to Kirkuk because it's cheaper and safer. She has family in Kirkuk, but they kicked her out their house. Amin didn't know why.

Now she lives alone in a small, dank, cinderblock room with a blanket for a door. The soldiers brought her blankets, and they drop off food and water when they're out on patrols.

By caring, they also put her in danger. Some Iraqis see her as a traitor or an agent because she has accepted help from Americans. She told Amin that some men have threatened to kill her, including one man who said he was an Iraqi policeman.

The night an Alpha Company patrol stopped by to check on her, a man was lurking nearby. He said he was walking home and stopped to go the bathroom. The soldiers chased him off and told him not to come back.

Amin said there's no other place for the woman to go. Kirkuk has a serious housing shortage. He said it would be safer if the soldiers gave food and water to someone else and had them deliver it to the woman, so she wouldn't be associated with Americans.

He suggested the Iraqi police.

Iraq has a shortage of many things, but irony isn't one of them.

— Roger Phillips

Brig. Gen. Alan Gayhart addressed the soldiers in Alpha Company for a "town hall" meeting of sorts to answer questions from soldiers Wednesday.

Gayhart is the commander of the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team, which is based in Kirkuk and has responsibility for security and stability in several provinces in Northern Iraq.

During the meeting, some soldiers were recognized for their good work, including Staff Sgt. Rich Burch. Burch, a Boise police officer in civilian life, was given a brigade coin by Gayhart.

Gayhart also recognized Spc. Jesus Bautista, of Caldwell, for helpfulness and the performance of his duties in coordinating communications. Bautista got a brigade coin from the brigadier general.

"It means I'm being recognized," Bautista said. "That's pretty cool."

— Kim Hughes