Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 3:29:39 am

"Are there many of your people in Kermanshah?"

"Kermanshah" My dear fellow, Kermanshah is the largest Kurdish city in Iran." The excitement still glinted from Ahmed's eyes.

"You are enjoying yourself, aren't you?"

Ahmed only grinned and drove on.

Kincaid checked the missile launcher again to make sure it was ready to fire.

The road wound up and over some hills and then ran alongside a twisting river. They drove for fifteen minutes without being challenged.

Kincaid couldn't get the image of the fierce looking tribesmen out of his mind. "How many men can you raise?" he asked.

"Enough to take and hold all of Kurdistan," Ahmed replied, "given the proper weapons."

Ahmed thought for a moment. "With you help, old boy, we could take all of Iran too." Ahmed threw him a sidelong glance.

Kincaid thought he was joking. "What would we do with Iran?" he asked, laughing.

"I'm serious, old boy. You and I together, with an army of Kurds... We could do it."

Kincaid stared at him. "By god, you are serious! What would you do with the Iranians?"

Ahmed dismissed them with a wave of his hand. "We've had to put up with them for many years. Let them put up with us for a while. The shoe on the other foot and all that. Fair is fair, right? What do you say?"

Kincaid shook his head in wonder. "Why the hell should you want any more than your own land? Why the hall should you want to rule over the Iranians?"

Ahmed was about to speak but Kincaid went on. "That's what causes these problems. Let me tell you something. The minute you try to take and hold Iranian land; the minute you try to rule over the Iranians; in that minute I will be on the side of the Iranians and against you."

"Uncanny!" Ahmed nearly shouted. "Do you know, I can remember my brother Jabar saying nearly the same thing."

"You should have listened to your brother."

"I did, old boy. I just couldn't recall his saying it until just now. It's just that... one gets carried away now and then."

"That, my friend, is how wars get started."

Ahmed suddenly stopped the Jeep and stared ahead, a mixture of fear and hatred in his expression. "A check point," he said.

Two hundred meters ahead there was a wooden barricade across the road with a small gatehouse alongside. Six or eight Iranian soldiers manned the checkpoint. They had spotted the Jeep. The soldiers stared at them uncertainly.

"This is my party, old boy," Ahmed said, tapping the missile launcher.

Kincaid let him have it. "It's armed," he said.

Ahmed sat on the top of the seat with his feet on the cushion. He used the top of the windshield to support the launcher. Two of the soldiers aimed their rifles at them. Ahmed released the missile before they had a chance to fire. The gatehouse exploded in a cloud of flame and shrapnel.

Ahmed said something in Kurdish. It sounded violent.

Kincaid tried to determine how many soldiers survived. He couldn't see through the dust and smoke.

Ahmed threw the used launcher away. "Give me another," he said holding out a hand.

"You have no target, Ahmed. Drive up. We"ll have a look."

Ahmed slid down in the seat. He put his M-16 across his lap before starting the Jeep forward.

Kincaid got his rifle ready. "Faster," he said. "Get up there fast." He wanted to be there before they had a chance to recover from the blast.

As they approached Kincaid saw movement in a roadside ditch. "On the left," he told Ahmed, pointing.

Ahmed squealed the Jeep to a halt. Kincaid was out of the seat in an instant, crouching low and moving to the right. Ahmed went to the left, his M-16 ready. While Kincaid fired a few bursts to keep down whoever might be in the ditch, Ahmed rushed across the road. Kincaid heard a short burst from the M-16 then nothing more.

"Are you okay, Ahmed?" he shouted.

Ahmed shouted something back but he wasn't speaking English.

Holding his rifle ready to fire, Kincaid advanced cautiously across the road. He had to step over debris and body parts, the result of the missile blast. When he got closer, he saw Ahmed's head bobbing up and down.

"Are you okay?" he asked again.

Ahmed turned and faced him, a look of fierce hatred on his features. He had a knife in his hand. The knife and his hand were bloody.

"If you're done," Kincaid said quietly, "we'd better get moving."

He could see Ahmed trying to regain his composure. Ahmed bent down and wiped the knife on something. Kincaid could only see him from the waist up.

When Ahmed stood up again he was back in control, his civilized mask in place. "Bit of sport, eh, old boy?" He put the big knife back in his belt.

Kincaid moved to the top of the bank. The three soldiers in the ditch had their heads nearly severed. "Are you sure they're dead?" Kincaid asked, his voice tinged with irony.

"I think so." Ahmed held his hand out to Kincaid. "Give me a lift out, will you old boy?"

Kincaid pulled him out of the ditch. His hand was sticky with blood.

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