I’m standing about 50 km from Tikrit and nervous enough to feel like I’ve just swallowed molten lead. The road is as straight as an sniper shot. Behind me, about 10 km, stands the last PUK checkpoint after Kirkuk. The land is flat, and perhaps it’s my imagination, but it appears stunted and less fertile than the hills and mountains to the north east. There is a light wind that smells faintly of burning oil. Every now and then a car passes our small encampment on the side of the road and its passengers peer at us intently. The ones coming from the direction of Tikrit don’t smile. Before us lies the stronghold of Saddam Hussein, and I have to make a decision to press on or not.