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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Iraq Pictures Set 2

The brand new Mosque at Kirkush Military Training Base (KMTB). Not being a Muslim, I did not go inside the Mosque so I only saw the outside improvements. KMTB is about 20-30 minutes from the Iraq-Iran border right out in the middle of nowhere. Rumor had it that Saddam built KMTB with the help of the old communist Yugoslavian government but the base was never fully operational because Saddam was skimming most of the construction money for other purposes. The worst sandstorm I was in while in Iraq was at KMTB. It was so bad that you could not see two feet in front of your face.

Up in smoke. The Information Technology room at the Presidential Palace in the Green Zone in Baghdad goes up in smoke due to either faulty wiring or over-wiring. This happened one morning in the summer of 2004 before the regular work day had begun. The IT room was basically just a wooden structure built on one of the balconies of the Presidential Palace. This fire burnt up ALL of the computer equipment in the IT room. Rumor had it that the total loss was somewhere in the $250,000-$1,000,000 range. Since this was U.S. taxpayer money, the solution to the problem caused by the fire was simple: more U.S. taxpayer money was spent to replace what had been lost.

Precision bomb damage. This was one of the large Iraqi government buildings in the Green Zone that was destroyed from the air during the initial war in April-May 2003. This building was about 2-3 blocks from the Presidential Palace which was not damaged at all. I got a couple of different stories about why this building was taken out. One story was that it was Headquarters for the Republican Guard. Another story was that it was one of Saddam's fake palaces, i.e., an expendable decoy. Whatever its real purpose, USAF/USN bombing made it totally useless.

An early method of employing an Improvised Explosive Device (i.e., IED; roadside bomb). Early in 2004, the insurgents would just pack explosives in a pipe, wire the explosives, bury the pipe under the road, get set up to observe the target area (with a camcorder of course) and then just wait. Because they were using pipes, we made an effort to deny them pipes. If you drive around the Taji Military Training Base, you will see that all the pipes that use to be buried in the ground have been dug up in order to prevent their being used for IEDs. Of course since then, the insurgents have become more sophisticated and deadlier. Their preferred weapon of choice now is the Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED, i.e., car bomb). VBIEDs come in two varieties: static (i.e., the car is parked and detonated by remote control) or suicide [i.e., the car is driven by a single male fanatic (very few women drive in Iraq and suicide bombers rarely carpool)].

Bust of Saddam. This is a pic of one of the four busts of Saddam that were positioned on top of the Presidential Palace in Baghdad. All four had been removed by the time I arrived at the Palace. The Presidential Palace was the Iraqi equivalent of our White House. This is why many Iraqis are pissed that it is now the U.S. Embassy. Saddam, by the way, had his face on EVERYTHING: money, billboards, roadside monuments, portraits and pictures of all kind everywhere. Any guy that obsessed with seeing his face all over the place has to be a real sicko. I was even told that every hospital in Iraq had been named after Saddam which must have made it extremely difficult to locate a friend or relative who ended up in a hospital unexpectedly.

A convoy in the early days. Note that these are unarmored Humvees without doors!!! This is early 2004. This is why many soldiers were screaming for armored Humvees and many were raiding scrap metal yards in order to come up with improvised armor plating. Because the insurgents are now using deadlier IEDs (artillery shells as opposed to mortar shells and grenades), it is totally impractical to drive around like this in Iraq nowadays.

Haji Mart aftermath (My apologies if I offend anyone but this is what we called it). This is what the Haji Mart looked like the day after a suicide bomber carrying explosives in a backpack struck. The Green Zone Cafe was also taken out by a second suicide bomber carrying explosives in a backpack on the same day. As it was told to me by my Iraqi co-workers, the Green Zone Cafe was targeted because some Iraqi women were using it for the purpose of meeting western men (FYI, many Iraqi men DO NOT like the idea of Iraqi women getting involved with western men so a few words of advice to those headed there: avoid Iraqi women while in Iraq). The Haji Mart was targeted because the insurgents did not want Iraqis doing business with westerners and they knew it would be shut down if they hit it (which is exactly what happened). I do not recall exactly how many people died in the Haji Mart blast. I believe it was two U.S. contractors and two Iraqis (one being the suicide bomber). I arrived at the Mart about ten minutes after the explosion. I had parked my car and was observing the scene from the street when someone pointed to an object on the ground not far from where we were standing. It turned out to be a piece of intestine from one of the victims. Since most of us had already seen the aftermath of one or more explosions, no one was even phased by this.

Martyr's Park in the Green Zone as it appears from the street. You can actually climb inside the hands and go up a certain distance into the swords. The FPS guards (Facilities Protection Services; Iraqis in blue uniforms hired to protect certain buildings and facilities) protecting this place also showed me a piece of the infamous U.S. Dollar carpet. When Iraqi soldiers paraded through the park, they would march over a carpet made out of U.S. dollars. I guess this was one of Saddam's sick ways of insulting the U.S. There were also Iranian helmets hanging from the hands and embedded in the concrete at various spots throughout the parade field.

Brick factories on the road to Kirkush Military Training Base. These things were really spooky in that they were stuck out in the middle of nowhere (like KMTB) and every time we drove in to check them out, we did not see a living soul. Because the countryside in this part of Iraq is absolutely flat, you can see the smoke rising from these chimneys for miles. This is a relatively quiet sector of Iraq. In all of our trips to and from KMTB, the only hostile fire we experienced was one wayward rocket round that landed way out in the middle of nowhere (I experienced indirect fire at Baghdad, Ar Rustamiyah, Taji and KMTB-this one round; I experienced direct fire at An Najaf and Taji).

Blawkhawks over central Iraq. The UH-60 (Blackhawk) is a comfortable ride but being an old paratrooper, I will always prefer the UH-1 (Huey). Even though I like the Huey, I never bought the story that it could glide when in trouble. Since the UH-60 is bigger and heavier, to me that just means more trouble if it runs into the problems. That's why I favor the Huey over the Blackhawk.

Iranian helmets. This is another gem from the sick mind of Saddam. These Iranian helmets are part of the "Arms holding the Swords" monument at Martyr's Park. Whenever you see videos or DVDs of Iraqi soldiers marching past Saddam in his viewing stand, chances are this was occurring in Martyr's Park. FYI, Martyr's Park is right next to Iraq's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Haji Mart in the Green Zone during its heyday. This is what the Haji Mart looked like before the suicide bomber struck. You could buy a lot of interesting items here: old Iraqi money (genuine and counterfeit), cheap DVDs (two weeks after a movie's release in the USA, you could buy a bootleg DVD version of it in Iraq), leather custom made holsters, knives, paintings, Persian rugs, CDs, old Iraqi medals, old Iraqi uniforms (parts or complete sets) and even porno DVDs. When the killing of several vendors who had booths in the Haji Mart failed to scare away the others, the insurgents blew it up. That did the trick.


Blogger hi5-0h said...

thanx, elton, this gives me a better idea of what is actually going on over there. may you return safe and sound. patricia

6:07 PM  

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