This was not our destination, not even close, but Tallil is as far north as we could get on the Chinook. Besides, one of our sister units, whose operations’ officer was a good friend, was stationed there. We landed around noon, and I called my friend’s unit, unbelievably, from the terminal’s phone. As we waited on them to pick us up, we got ourselves put on the list for that evening’s flight north to Baghdad—still not Balad, but getting closer.
En route to my friend’s compound, we drove past the Korean Army Engineer’s camp. The stench was horrible. They were burning the barrels full of human waste from their outhouse latrines, the smoke from which was black-grey and billowing over the road. We held our breath as we passed. It was great seeing the guys here. They offered a tour, so we geared up some security escorts and headed to the Ziggurat, aka the Temple of Ur. Immediately outside the gate, we were greeted by Iraqis lining the road selling blocks of ice, soda, and bootleg whisky, all of which was of questionable quality.
We sped past the traffic circle in An Naseriah, easily identified by its statue known as "Rocky." This is near where Private Jessica Lynch was captured. Our guide at the Temple of Ur was the fourth generation from his family to hold this job. He was extremely knowledgeable and fluent in English. We were allowed to climb to the top (see picture below) as he described the history and significance, and explained the site’s neglect under Saddam’s reign. Then we walked to the site of the Prophet Abraham’s home being recreated/built on its original foundation. His family was wealthy, and it was reflected in the size of the house. Another Sumerian-era structure there was in even greater disrepair, but our guide pointed out the detailed cuneiform inscriptions on several of its bricks. Another feature was the oldest known architectural arch in the world—circa 2000 BC.
Afterward, we convoyed to a cluster of newly erected vendor stalls. Several enterprising Iraqis were selling all sorts of items to the US soldiers/tourists: stacks of Iraqi dinars, bayonets, flags, soccer shirts, Saddam posters, etc. The bargaining was typical of a third-world market and lots of fun. Their typical retort to a lowball offer was "you, my friend," then a higher counteroffer.
We followed a different path back to the passenger terminal. This time we saw women and children living in abject poverty. Tallil is situated in the southern third of Iraq and its encompassed within the decade long UN imposed "No-Fly Zone". The people there were of a sect in opposition to Sadam’s. He rerouted their irrigation systems and destroyed the south’s economy. We passed out MREs and sodas than left hoping that they now would have a chance for a better life.
On the other end of the base was a huge reinforced concrete bunker that had likely cost Saddam millions to build. Like the fighter aircraft bunkers in Kuwait, though, this one had a neat US-provided smart-bomb hole in the top. Spewed around it was what remained of the bunker’s internal contents, which had apparently been sucked out by the force of the blast over a decade ago. At dusk, my friend dropped us at the airfield where we prepared to board a C-130 to the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). We ate an MRE, drank bottled water, and watched the sun set over the shell of a pre-Gulf War Iraqi army hanger that had been stripped of its sheet metal by the oppressed local populace.