Excerpt: Read 'Elvis Is Titanic' Here

In places, the wait lines diverted into parking lots the size of football stadiums where trucks by the thousands were packed side by side. The scene resulted from one of those economies peculiar to war, such as Joseph Heller captured so well in Catch-22. In Heller's mordant satire of the Second World War, Milo Minderbinder achieves notoriety and riches by buying high and selling low, thanks to the often peculiar constructs of wartime economies. At the end of January, gasoline was selling for around one dollar per liter in Turkey, while across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan, prices had settled at around ten cents per liter. But Turkish and Iraqi oil truck drivers had discovered that, via the black market and government subsidies, one could make a significant profit importing refined oil into Iraq and then illegally exporting that same refined oil. The trucks waiting to leave Iraqi Kurdistan were symptoms of a country plagued by violence and organized crime. For the better part of 2005, pipelines from the northern oil fields around Kirkuk were shut down, so all exporting of crude oil was done by truck. By September of that year, a new system involving extensive tribal security and unannounced openings and closings of the pipeline was allowing five million barrels of crude per month to flow out into Turkey—a mere fraction of Kirkuk's production capacity of nearly a million barrels a day. There was thus plenty of work for daring truck drivers.[2] The trucks carried crude into Turkey, to be refined in Turkish refineries. Iraq was thus importing the refined version of its own greatest natural resource, in effect outsourcing the refining process.

Having finished lunch, we sped south by the bored and restless truckers, in a convoy of four white Land Cruisers—two of them carrying a guard of eight Kurdish soldiers—doing sixty when no other vehicle on that street could even move, heading south away from the ark's supposed resting spot, past checkpoints as night fell, just north of Nineveh, where Jonah traveled after emerging from three days and nights in the belly of a great fish, downward closer to the tomb of Daniel in Kirkuk and that of the Shia martyr Ali in Najaf. For the first fifteen miles after we crossed the border, two pickup trucks with mounted machine guns escorted us through a series of mountain passes. En route to Arbil, we passed forty-five miles north of the provincial capital Mosul and cleared at least a dozen checkpoints. Despite the relative safety compared with central and western Iraq, it seemed like a war zone. We passed the four-hour drive with a mix tape of Kurdish, Iraqi, and Lebanese pop music on continuous loop.

Notes [1] Archibald M. Hamilton, Road Through Kurdistan: Travels in Northern Iraq (Tauris Parke Paperbacks: New York and London, 1937), 112, 116, 169. [2] Robert E. Looney, "The Business of Insurgency: the Expansion of Iraq's Shadow Economy," National Interest (Fall 2005), 68, 69; James Glanz, "Thanks to Guards, Iraq Oil Pipeline Is Up and Running, On and Off," New York Times, 3 September 2005, A6.

Excerpted from Elvis Is Titanic by Ian Klaus Copyright © 2007 by Ian Klaus. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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