A Grapevine service announcement Pay attention: Eruption Pollution Likely To Hit Whole Country


Words by

Published April 8, 2005

On June 1st 2004 the Icelandic foreign minister was present when Iceland took over control of Kabul International Airport from Germany. Hallgrímur Sigurðsson was made overall commander of the airport, and many other command posts were filled by Icelanders. But even though they were still civilians by Icelandic law, they had to be able to defend themselves like soldiers, and in fact were told to stand and fight if attacked.

Iceland and other NATO countries provide the manpower to run KAIA airport, with equipment and machinery being provided by NATO. A deal was made with the Germans before they left that they would leave behind their security equipment and lend it to NATO. However, the Germans felt insulted at being relieved by Icelanders, and removed all their security equipment. Fortunately, apart from a few mortar shells, the airport was not attacked during the Icelanders’ stay. But danger still awaited on the streets of Kabul.

The Chicken Street Massacre
On October 23rd 2004, a suicide bomber blew himself up on Kabul’s shopping street, known as Chicken Street. An Afghan woman and an American woman were killed, and eight other people wounded, including three Icelandic peace troopers. The Icelanders were shopping for carpets, and had been in the store for upwards of an hour. Commander Halli was in the store, but escaped unharmed. His response to the attacks was: “Shit Happens.”

The three wounded Icelanders were sent home on sick leave, and were met at the airport by their wives. All three recovered, although one of them suffered the permanent loss of a testicle.

Commander Halli was recalled in November and is currently working as an air controller at Reykjavik Airport. Kabul’s International airport was placed under the command of another Icelander, Garðar Forberg. Turkey took over control of KAIA when the Icelanders’ shift ended on February 1st 2005. The last Icelanders are set to return on the 1st of June, a year after they had first arrived. Thus ended Iceland’s first armed venture since the Viking age.

Valur Gunnarsson is the former editor of the Grapevine, and is currently working on a documentary about Icelandic involvement in Afghanistan.

By Valur Gunnarsson

Afghanistan: 647,500 sq km
Iceland: 103,000 sq km

Afghanistan: 28 million
Iceland 395,000

Median age:
Afghanistan: 17.5 years
Iceland 33.8 years

Life expectancy:
Afghanistan: 42.46 years (male: 42.27 years, female: 42.66 years)
Iceland: 80.18 years (male: 78.18 years, female: 82.27 years)

Population growth:
Afghanistan: 4.92%
Iceland: 1%

Birth rate:
Afghanistan: 47.27/1000
Iceland 13.83/1,000

Afghanistan: 36%
(male: 51%, female: 21%)
Iceland: 99.9%

GDP growth:
Afghanistan: 29%
Iceland 2.6%

Below poverty line:
23% (Iceland officially does not have poverty. It does, however, have more than 100 homeless people).

Major exports:
Afghanistan: Opium (around a third of GDP), fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems. 80-90% of heroin in Europe comes from Afghanistan.
Iceland: fish and fish products 70%, animal products, aluminum, diatomite, ferrosilicon

Afghanistan External Debt:
$8 billion in bilateral debt, mostly to Russia.
Iceland External Debt:
2.6 billion

Afghanistan Main Lines: 33,100
Iceland Main Lines: 190.000
Afghanistan Cellular Phones: 15,000
Iceland Cellular Phones: 280,000

Internet users:
Afghanistan: 1000 (.af established as Afghanistan’s domain in March 2003)
Iceland: 195,000

Afghanistan Military: 7,000 men
Iceland: 17 men

*All data retrieved from the CIA World Fact Book.

<?php the_title(); ?>

News In Brief: Early September


Remember last issue when we complained that the Bárðarbunga volcano was a huge disappointment for not having the decency to erupt? Well, apparently the volcano gods read the Grapevine, because a huge fissure opened up in Holuhraun and began spewing forth some very photogenic magma. Icelanders were quick to ask the most important question: What are we going to name the new lava field when all is said and done? The jury’s still out on that one, but for now, this is proving to be the ideal volcanic situation: pretty lava, no airplane-choking ash clouds and no one hurt or

<?php the_title(); ?>

Why You Can’t Go See The Eruption


In the middle of the night on Saturday, August 16, an intense swarm of seismic activity began in the area of Bárðarbunga—one of many central volcanoes nobody can pronounce—under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Since that day, my co-workers and I at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (aka the IMO) have been working day and night to monitor the activity, holding daily meetings with the Civil Protection services, and trying to figure out the possible outcomes of these events, which might just be the start of something a lot bigger. When the activity began, it was incredible how we could follow the

<?php the_title(); ?>

A Volcano Bigger Than Timberlake


The most prominent, truly devastating volcanic eruption in Icelanders’ public memory is arguably the late-18th century eruption in the volcanic ridge Lakí, followed by the Móðuharðindi, two years of all-over brutal hardships. The sky went dark, and the sun faded, while ashes destroyed pastures, and temperatures sank, leading to the death of an estimated 75% of the country’s livestock and a fifth of its human population. Then there was the late-19th century eruption, after which a fifth of the island’s populace moved to Canada. The ashes from the sudden 1973 eruption in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago destroyed 400 homes. One person

<?php the_title(); ?>

“What A Hard Life Is That Of The Poor Icelanders!”


One day in August 1888, the British steamer ‘Camoens’ docked in the town of Akureyri in Northern Iceland. The ‘Camoens’-for some reason named for Portugal’s national poet, Luís de Camões- sailed regularly between Scotland and Iceland with passengers and cargo. Debarking the ‘Camoens’ that day was a group of British friends, three young men and two women, on their annual autumn holiday, fresh from a busy summer of high society parties and picnics. They came to Iceland looking for adventure and experiences, and—not the least—to be different from their friends and acquaintances, who mostly chose the more fashionable Switzerland and

<?php the_title(); ?>

Iceland On The Brain: 1200 Years Of Tourism


Everyone knows that Ingólfur Arnarson (that chap with the spear thing on the hill overlooking the city centre) was Iceland’s first settler. But, he was not the first person to set foot upon it. A few years before the settlement, which is assumed to have started in 874, a Swede named Garðar arrived, naming the place Garðarshólmur before abruptly leaving again (thankfully, modern-day Swedish tourists no longer feel entitled to go around naming the country after themselves). Not long after, a Norwegian named Hrafna-Flóki (“Raven-Flóki”) arrived to spend an entire winter on the island and, not much impressed, subsequently re-named

<?php the_title(); ?>

Workers Unite!

by and

Earlier this month, a news story broke in the Icelandic media that a young Icelandic woman working at Lebowski Bar was fired after she asked to be paid minimum wage—effectively a pay rise over what she was getting. The story sparked shock and outrage amongst many. To others, it was merely par for the course. Restaurants, bars and clubs in Iceland are notorious for the use of what is known as jafnaðarkaup (“median pay”)—a form of wage offsetting. By most collective bargaining agreements in the service industry, a worker is supposed to receive a base hourly wage, plus an extra

Show Me More!