This is the town called Mosul, which is not the town that forgot under Saddam Hussein. The streets are wide and the traffic thick, like arteries after a fat man downing a bucket of the Kentucky Colonel's finest original recipe.
The stares are voluminous, even through the windows of cars nestled tightly against each other, like protozoa jonesin' for a hit of the milk of life before splitting in two and going on their merry way.
Thanks to the 101st Airborne Division, there is some sense of normality in this city in the north, 400 kilometers from Baghdad spared it from the heavy bombardment, but there is damage, that is certain. Certain buildings have gaping maws where walls and windows used to block the day's intense heat and let in the hot night air, too. It was here, just down the road, where the Hussein brothers' sibling rivalry hit a mortal stage, blasted by TOW missiles and untold rounds of M-60 and M-4 gunfire from wild-eyed Kentucky marksmen eager for a chance to make history unfold under the soles of their combat boots.
I saw them, the bodies that is. I was part of a select group of media to view them in the field morgue just on the perimeter of Baghdad's supposedly international airport. They were on gurneys, naked as the day they came into the world. Short men, both. Genitalia covered, but the wounds of the fierce fight evident. At least 20 bullet holes on each body, flash burn remnants and bruises that turned their dark skin into patches of black and blue. They airbrushed their faces, the Army and Air Force morticians. Made them up with putty, dropped in some planted fake hair along the scalp and showed them off to the world. A bid, they said, to stem the insurgents who grow bolder by the day, 12 attacks on average with each cycle of the sun.
The populace, they're mixed. Not sure if they can really grasp the fact that the pair of shitwicks are banging on the doors to hell. Others, well, to them those boys are still alive, riding high in the desert, the wind at their back, falcons abreast in a hard charge to wherever it is daddy is hanging loose and keeping his head low. The soldiers are convinced the noose is tightening, but they're getting fed up with the media overblowing the latest deaths by insurgents. This is, one told me, normal. The country is occupied, the power is haphazard and the water, well, it is shit, literally. One processing plant in Baghdad only, but it was so thoroughly looted that it'll take well into next year and beyond to get up and running in a manner accustomed to Western standards. Knowing that made it very easy to turn down the kind offer of fresh carp for dinner a couple of nights ago. Carp are bottom feeders, literally, and lately all they've been consuming is Iraqi shit and that, mates, ain't shit I'm prepared to eat, much less fritter up and fillet.
The country is in turmoil, but it's also sedate. Her people, all 25 million of them, are resigned to yet another occupation, yet another time of turmoil and uncertainty. It seems like fate and humanity has got it in for this part of the world. Been like that for centuries, millennia even. Get a good thing going and someone comes in with an army and tears it all down. The British hang loose and divide her up after the Great War and enthrone an unpopular fella that no one likes. Years of discord and mistakes, and what we have is a great pearl that is gone dirty and scuffed.
But pearls can be polished and I've got my money on the Iraqi people. They're surly right now, who wouldn't be, but they're driven and determined, whether it's capping Yankee blowhards with a grenade or making them feel welcome with flatbread and hummus and dreaming of the day they have self rule, these people have moxie, a truckload full of it.
Now, if they could just do something about all this damn sand and dust.