I have been in Iraq for several days and I’m starting to get over my jet lag. I encountered another problem, though – aching feet. I wore a pair of dress shoes which were not the best choice for desert terrain. I quickly ditched them and purchased a pair of comfortable boots. My feet feel much better now.
My team and I left Baghdad for a short trip to the Al Asad Airbase in the Al Anbar Province. On the way to the airport, we passed Suddam Hussein’s unfinished “Victory of America Palace.” He was building this palace to commemorate his “victory” over George H.W. Bush. It would have been a beautiful palace if it were not bombed at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Hussein had an expansive wild game preserve surrounding the palace. He built high walls to contain the animals and to keep people out. The grounds were lush and green because he installed several canals for irrigation and to provide water for the animals. It’s sad to say that those animals were probably better cared for than the Iraqi people. I asked my driver what happened to the animals when the war started. She told me that they were hunted and eaten by hungry Iraqis.
As we continued, I noticed truck with an orange object attached to the tire. I thought to myself, surely that is not a boot. Of course it was. My driver told us that the Military Police (MP) were quite aggressive at controlling parking and traffic. She could hardly get those words out of her mouth before we saw an MP parked on the side of the road with a radar gun. When we past the MP, we were nearly run down by a private security contractor’s convoy that was traveling on the cross road. These guys don’t play around. They barrel through the city and shoot first then ask questions later. Even my driver was afraid of them. She called them mercenaries.
A few yards down the road, I saw a sign that read “True Value Hardware Coming Soon” hanging on the side of an abandoned building. Someone obviously placed the sign there before the war began. Although, its placement was somewhat ironic, I saw it as a symbol of hope. Iraq will be rebuilt and companies such as True Value Hardware will be able to provide retail services to its citizens.
Judging by the activity in the airport, things in Iraq are slowly returning to normal. I saw Iraqis catching flights and the Duty Free store was even operating. Our plane was delayed a couple of hours so I stepped inside to have a look. It was interesting to see the Iraqi men flocking to the western clothing. Many of them were trying on blazers or sizing up jeans. The shop was even raffling a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
As the time passed, my stomach started growling. Since it was Ramadan, I didn’t want to disrespect anyone by eating in public. Many of my fellow Americans did not share my cultural respect and surprisingly neither did a few Iraqis. There was an Iraqi vendor selling food to all of the “infidels.” His shop was decorated with Christian paraphernalia such as a large picture of the last supper, crucifixes, and a velvet Virgin Mary painting. I resisted the temptation to join them and sat down to wait. While I sat, I made a conscious effort to keep my feet firmly planted on the floor because in Arab countries, it is considered disrespectful to show the bottom of your feet. I kept catching myself crossing my legs and sticking my feet out.
Our flight to Al Asad finally arrived and we were escorted aboard. The flight was about 30 minutes long, but we had to ascend to a high altitude to get out of rocket propelled grenade (RPG) range. Al Asad is a remote, barren land. When you envision a desert, you’re thinking of Al Asad. The temperature can reach 140 F, but it can also dip into the teens in the winter. There are no towns around this area which is a plus. The remoteness of this site acts as a security buffer.
Driving through the desert I saw bombed out remnants of Iraq’s Air Force. Carcasses of MiGs littered the landscape. One danger that we have is encountering unexploded ordinances. We were very careful not to disturb anything and to report any item that we see.
I will be in Al Asad for a few days. I will post again when I return to Baghdad.