My first instinct is to keep the mood light

Motorcyclist - - Shift -

by jok­ing with the sol­diers in cam­ou­flage uni­forms who can keep our newly ac­quired mo­tor­cy­cle off the road and threaten our dream.

I tell them through our trans­la­tor and driver, San­gar, that they bet­ter have beds for us in the small, shabby trail­ers at the check­point along the road con­nect­ing Iraq’s war-rav­aged city of Mo­sul and the rel­a­tively gleam­ing, pros­per­ous Er­bil just 35 miles away. The sol­diers laugh, though my comedic stylings aren’t chang­ing their minds. “How about this,” I say, pref­ac­ing a Hail Mary pro­posal, “I’ll arm wres­tle you all. If I beat you guys, you let us go.” Feats of strengths are pop­u­lar among sol­diers in Iraq, so I fig­ure of­fer­ing one as a con­di­tion for let­ting us pass is just crazy enough to work. They chuckle, shake their heads, and tell me they’ll get the big­gest guy they have to take me on. So with the sun cast­ing its golden, evening light over north­ern Iraq, ren­der­ing this trou­bled land breath­tak­ing in its beauty, there sits on a dusty patch the bike we’d just pro­cured from one of the most dan­ger­ous places on earth, go­ing nowhere.

And while San­gar tries to fig­ure out how we’re go­ing to over­come this bureau­cratic road­block, I plop down on a nearby mound of dirt to watch the sky grow darker as the dream gets dim­mer.

We’ve been cul­ti­vat­ing this “Mis­sion to Mo­sul” mo­tor­cy­cle ca­per for months, ever since my friend and pho­tog­ra­pher, Nish Nal­ban­dian, first no­ticed the par­tic­u­larly unique brand of bike on the streets of the be­sieged city.

Nish has been chron­i­cling the fight­ing in Mo­sul for al­most a year, and, as a fel­low moto en­thu­si­ast, he was prac­ti­cally giddy at the site of a Rus­sian-made Ural, re­plete with trade­mark side­car.

He and I joined forces a hand­ful of times to re­port on the fight­ing in Mo­sul between Iraqi forces along­side Kur­dish troops and Sunni mili­tias against the dreaded Is­lamic State, which cap­tured Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city in 2014 and sub­ju­gated its res­i­dents to count­less hor­rors.

It’s been a dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous story to cover. The last time Nish and I were in Mo­sul ear­lier this year we linked up with the elite Iraqi Special Op­er­a­tions Forces as they made their big push into the western half of the city af­ter re­cap­tur­ing the east.

The fight­ing was fierce; ca­su­al­ties mounted on both sides. The bod­ies of sol­diers, civil­ians, and Is­lamic State fighters were stack­ing up in Mo­sul. Ex­trem­ists killed in the fight­ing were left in the streets, some with ex­e­cu­tion-style bul­let wounds in their heads.

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