Written by jorgejuan on 12 Mar, 2006
Iraq, like North Korea, Afghanistan, and Bhutan, is a very hard country to visit today. In Amman, Jordan, I met four individual Spanish travellers. The Iraqi embassy in Madrid imposed us the conditions to travel in a group of a minimum of five persons to…Read More
Iraq, like North Korea, Afghanistan, and Bhutan, is a very hard country to visit today. In Amman, Jordan, I met four individual Spanish travellers. The Iraqi embassy in Madrid imposed us the conditions to travel in a group of a minimum of five persons to this country under the supervision of an official travel agency in Baghdad. It was one of the very rare times that I was compelled to join a tourist group during my travels. In the border with Iraq we were invited to produce a test of AIDS in situ. If you did not agree with this condition you were not accepted into the country. After this prerequisite we were introduced to our tour leader, driver, and headed to Baghdad at 120km per hour through a paved road in very good conditions, stopping twice for drinking tea and eating the unavoidable shish kebabs.Baghdad appeared stunning and radiant. Its mosques, like the celebrated Kazimayn, were of highly aesthetic and exquisite forms, decorated with colourful and harmonious tiles representing geometrical shapes, reminding me those of Isfahan, Baku, Kabul, Bukhara, and Samarkand that I had visited in the past. The archaeological museum was like the Ali Baba cave, and the central market, with its covered winding lanes like a labyrinth, was almost as exotic and rich like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Finding your way around the many stalls, where the polite sellers offered you tea all the times, you would have not been surprised if somebody would have offered you the enchanted lamp of Aladdin, or a flying carpet, or meeting Mullah Nasrudin with his donkey around the corner.KARBALA Karbala, at about 100km distance south from Baghdad, is a very holy place for the Shia Muslims. During the 12th century there was martyred Hussayn, the Prophet Mohammed grandson, during a massacre of Shia faithful people. In order to enter this mosque I had to be very respectful, observing all the Muslim rules. First I took my shoes off, put them in a plastic bag and gave them to a porter to hide in an armchair in the mosque premises, as everybody does. The religious feelings inside were as powerful as the Christians in Vatican, Lourdes or Fatima, or the Jews in Jerusalem, or the Hindus during their Kumbha Mela’s, or the Buddhists in the Potala Palace. Under a startling and contagious atmosphere people cried desperately and, weeping, they caressed with tenderness the Husayn vault exteriorizing infinite pain and introducing notes through its slots.BABYLONIA One of the day visits that we made based in Baghdad was to Babylonia. We entered the site through the Ishtar Gate, which was part of the temple devoted to Bel, built by Nabucodonosor II. But the present gate was a reproduction. The original (restored) is to be found in the Staatliche Museum, in Berlin, Germany. The atmosphere inside Babylonia premises is breathtaking. When you walk among its ruins and walls you feel that you are in a fabulous city that in the past was the capital of the world. Babylonia is located 90km south of Baghdad.KURD TERRITORYEvery day was a new discovery in Iraq. Every day was better than the previous one. Sometimes we felt that we were learning more history than a student in a university. Our programme was filled with cultural activities: one day in Nineveh, another in Najaf to see the tomb of Ali, in the next one I visited in Ur the house where lived Abraham, and still another one we went to the Temple and Palace of Hatra, which was a caravanserai stop in the Silk Road.But the best was the three day excursion that we did to the north, to Mosul, where live the Kurds. There, we entered in Nestorian Churches and also in a temple of the Yezidis, or followers of a fallen angel that they call Meleke Tawus, and believe in the reincarnation.Everything was included in this tour, hotels, restaurants, transport, excursions, tickets to the museums, car with driver, and guide. Individual tourism is, today, not viable.Many good travellers that I have met in the past have the taboo of never travelling back to a place where they had already been. If you return, they assured me, you ruin the first feeling, and second parts are never good. I thought that this argument was nonsense. But after what has happened to Iraq in the present times, I do not think that I will ever revisit this fascinating country. It would be too sad. Close
Written by GuerillaScribe on 21 Aug, 2003
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…Read More
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.
Written by C2WnDC on 16 Apr, 2005
The loadmaster in the back of the C-130 in which we were flying came by and yelled over the engine’s roar, "Buckle up, we’re going to land." Then, the lights went out completely: no red no chem lights, only blackness. When beginning…Read More
The loadmaster in the back of the C-130 in which we were flying came by and yelled over the engine’s roar, "Buckle up, we’re going to land." Then, the lights went out completely: no red no chem lights, only blackness. When beginning an approach on a commercial airliner, the pilot normally cuts back on the throttle and collects the plane for a gradual descent. Ours was a bit different. The engines revved and we banked sharply and continuously until a wing was pointed straight down. We seemed to increase in speed as we dropped in altitude. From our angle and speed, and due to the operational blackout requirements on the ground, there was no way for us to gauge our height. Completely disoriented and ignorant, we sat, trying to keep our chow down, when suddenly, the plane leveled out and we touched down. What a relief.
In the passenger terminal at BIAP, the other officer who tagged along with us paid her way. She called her unit and they picked us all up. As we convoyed in the darkness toward their building, the base came under mortar fire. The rounds impacted a considerable distance from us. The outgoing counter-fire was quick, and maybe even effective, since the mortar attack was short-lived.
Her unit was one of the higher-level headquarters there, so they were housed in one of the few livable hardstand buildings. There were no flights to Balad the following day, but an NCO told us about a convoy of commercial trucks that departed to Balad from the airport every morning with US MP escort vehicles. We walked the half-mile or so to the hose-fed plywood shower, then slept soundly on our borrowed cots. Our hosts drove us to the truck marshalling area at first light. The dispatcher said his boys would be glad to give us a ride. He showed each of us our truck, and we traded introductions with the drivers. Mine was Larry from Texas. He has been working for KBR since the U.S. involvement in Bosnia began. He had just come to Iraq following a year in Afghanistan. We both put on flak vests and moved into our position in the lineup. He lit a smoke and drank from his gallon-size coffee cup until the armored MP armored HMMWV pulled up alongside with their top-mounted 50-cal machine guns. Without much further ado, we moved out.
We passed a huge mosque, children waving and running beside us and open-air roadside butcher shops and long lines of beat up Iraqi vehicles waiting for gasoline. We were all a little tense during the times when we were stuck in traffic, not moving, with all of the other vehicles surrounding us. I was pleased to note that all of this traffic suggested that the commerce was again moving and the economy was on the upswing. The farther north we drove, the greener the countryside became. Balad is blanketed with fertile soil and vegetation: the country’s bread basket. Once through security, we found our way to our contact unit on the base there. The meeting went well. We conducted a reconnaissance of available real estate within the perimeter and found our Dutch friends a suitable site for their Iraq operation. As luck would have it, we secured seats on a C-130 that evening directly back to Kuwait. Mission accomplished.
Written by C2WnDC on 15 Apr, 2005
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…Read More
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.
They say the stars at night are big and bright in Texas, but the Lone Star state ain't got nothing in the terrain around the Sinjar mountains of northern Iraq. I lay on the floor of the crevasse, nestled with my flak jacket as a…Read More
They say the stars at night are big and bright in Texas, but the Lone Star state ain't got nothing in the terrain around the Sinjar mountains of northern Iraq. I lay on the floor of the crevasse, nestled with my flak jacket as a pillow, my feet up on my helmet. I could feel the indentation of where the bullet struck the front panel, which left me with a bitch ass bruise, but not a high velocity armor piercing round bouncing through me and around my rib cage.
Life is in the details, mates. The slug that crawls, the stars that shine with ferocity, and even the scorpions that nick you on the hand, desiccating the tissue and turning it black until the venom grounds itself down and the body starts to heal.
So many thoughts, so many emotions. The soldiers here, they use my sat phone to call home for a quick, premature conversation if only to say to a girlfriend I love you, mi amor. Me? Ain't got no one special to call so it seems a waste not to let them use my phone.
Being here has taught me a few things, like enjoying a cold coke or a hot meal or a warm shower or the soft kiss of someone held near and dear. Life is among these promontories, but the life I desire, the life I lead, a life less ordinary will carry me from here and onward to new adventures.
But the stars, mates, the stars. If only you could see them here, with nary a trace of terrestrial light to mess up the view.
Written by mainw on 11 Jul, 2003
The amenities from place to place differ widely depending on your choice of vacation spot. If you desired "palace" accommodations, that is what you got. During our palace visit there was no running water or electricity. The U.S. Army and Airforce had just begun some…Read More
The amenities from place to place differ widely depending on your choice of vacation spot. If you desired "palace" accommodations, that is what you got. During our palace visit there was no running water or electricity. The U.S. Army and Airforce had just begun some serious renovations. Our palace stay was pleasant nonetheless. Once we arrived at our semi-permanent lodgings (hoping to go home someday), the amenities were significantly downgraded. Still worth the price considering the cost -- FREE, military ID card required!
The outhouse style porta-potty units were a refreshing enhancement to our earlier sanitary dilemna of burning our own refuse. Thank you camp sanitation and cleaning services! Although the plastic porta-potty inside and seat temperatures easily reach 130 degrees during the day, they're still a welcome change from the seatless, wooden huts of past. If you enjoy having your mid-day sauna WHILE conducting business, these babies are for you! However you look at it, the new stalls are a fabulous addition to our increasing standard of living.
I haven't even mentioned the inside decor! I'll let your imagination run away with you. Our recreation area is a pleaseant place for activity and a little exercise. If armchair quarterbacking is more your style, nightly basketball and volleyball games are always happenning. If you're more of a weightlifting buff, we've got weights and benches. The best time for lifting weights is bewteen 8:30pm and 6:30am (yes, while your normally sleeping). During the day you'll find yourself battling to keep your eyes open from the continual afternoon sandstorms. As the winds calm in late afternoon, you might be able to slip in a short workout. However, you'll be conditioning more than just your physique. You'll also get a grueling but spiritually rewarding mental workout if you're fit enough. Only the strong minded can actually hold onto the scorching hot, metal weight bars. The choice (not many) of the free weight area unfortunately ensures sunlight ALL day long. So if you're in for a toughening up, both mentally AND physically this gym is your best friend. Just think, you can compare this experience to the African culture hot coal walking you watch on the Discovery Channel that you've always wanted to try.
Just when you thought there was no more to talk about. We've got TV! Yes, TV pumped into every outlying tent, building and room. We pull down HBO and The Movie Channel just to name a few. Okay, I 'gotcha! Did you actually believe that? I don't even have those channels at home. And I'm certainly not home enough to watch them. Seriously though, the dishes are for our entertainment. We recently received the proper satellite receiver to downlink American sepaking shows. The two months prior to that, we were all brushing up on our Islamic Pop culture . . . yes, there is apparently such a thing. Probably equivalent to how your parents reacted to Elvis' hip sway, or The Beatles' long hair and suggestive lyrics. We now get several American sports channels, some Sitcoms and something called AFN (closed circuit world-wide Military TV satellite network). In every tent or room? No, sorry, just kidding there. One consolidated location for our enjoyment. You can see someone sitting in the wondow behind the dark colored dish. All in all a nice enhancement!
If you're privileged to hold a Military ID card like we were, you to will be issued a 10kw generator on wheels. You can't get too much more convenient than that. No matter where we were traveling in Iraq we could stop, start that bad-boy up, and get juice to nearly anything we wanted. Need power to your battery powered electric razor but forgot to pack extra batteries? Need lights (not suggested for good combat light discipline) for your travel sized but still power hungry make-up armoire for evening make-up removal? Kids can't brush their teeth without recharging their Elmo handled toothbrush? Power is at your fingertips, everywhere you go. Well, after you learn how to use it that is. Not too many knobs and buttons. Really quite simple. Oops, you'll need fuel for the generator. Okay, that's not so easy. I've only seen one gas station out here and well, they declined to serve us. They said something about our OPEC counsel membership card being cancelled back in January of 1991. Enjoy the plentiful amentities!
Written by C2WnDC on 14 Apr, 2005
Jaber, we were told, is where we would catch our C-130 to Balad, Iraq. Like good soldiers, we arrived early and signed in with the operations’ desk. Then we took advantage of the fabled mess hall on the base. It was great.…Read More
Jaber, we were told, is where we would catch our C-130 to Balad, Iraq. Like good soldiers, we arrived early and signed in with the operations’ desk. Then we took advantage of the fabled mess hall on the base. It was great. These air-force guys even had Häagen-Dazs ice-cream bars. With our bellies full to bursting, we took a walk to the bombed-out fighter bunkers.
Prior to the 1990 Iraqi invasion, the Kuwaitis had contracted with a French firm to construct these heavily reinforced concrete bunkers in, which they could park their fighter aircraft. When Iraq captured Jaber, they parked their own inside of them. At the onset of the U.S.-led liberation, our Air Force placed a single laser-guided smart bomb neatly through the top of each, devastating everything inside. Rumor has it that, after the war, the government of Kuwait attempted to sue the French contractor since their super-bunkers were basically worthless. Apparently, the French warranty didn’t cover U.S. weaponry.
We worked our way back to the operations tent and rested uneasily on the floor until an airman announced the cancellation of all flights into Iraq. Either he didn’t know the reason or wasn’t disposed to say. Immediately, we began discussing ideas for alternative transportation. Another officer overheard us and asked if she could go with us since she was trying to get back to her unit at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). So, the six of us loaded into our vehicle and drove to another base in Kuwait, from where we knew that a CH-47 Chinook unit operated frequent cargo lifts into Iraq. Somehow, we talked our way onto the next flight—destination Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq.