Wednesday, December 09, 2009 4:49 AM
Playing Tourist In Iraq
I am currently at Camp Striker on the southwest corner of Baghdad, waiting for a flight up to Camp Taji on the north side of Baghdad, where my unit is stationed. Yesterday was probably the only day that will be worth mentioning this entire year, but it was pretty cool.
The "Green Zone" is essentially a bunch of different compounds all linked together inside one main outer wall. Striker is one of these, but larger bases like Camp Victory, Camp Liberty and Biap may be mentioned in the news... Some of the major palaces are here inside the Green Zone. My buddy Mat, who I'm traveling with, has a cousin whose job is giving tours of some of these palaces. She came and got us and drove us back to Victory for some behind-the-scenes touring. We went to the Victory Over America/Victory Over Iran Palace, the Bath Party house, Uday(or Odai)'s palace and a huge underground bunker. The bunker was the only one we hadn't bombed.
The Victory Over America Palace was constructed around the Victory Over Iran Palace, and was Saddam's/Iraq's largest palace. I guess he had his hopes up, since neither of those victories ever occurred. The palace was actually still under construction when the Air Force was kind enough to drop two JDAMs (a 2000 lb precision bomb) on it. There are still three cranes erected around it and since it would cost somebody somewhere money to remove the damaged cranes, they're still there. We won't pay for it since they were damaged during an act of war.
This place was extremely falsely elegant. Apparently all the marble's really cheap and so is most of the rest of the structure and decorations. Tons of dust and one flashlight don't really lend to an accurate diagnosis... There is scripture from the Koran around the ceilings of a lot of the main rooms. Some of the ceiling tiles had just been started to be painted, so you can see what Saddam wanted it to look like. You can get up on the outside wall on the fourth or fifth level and walk around the edge of the palace to other balconies.
There's only so many places the actual tour goes so Mat's cousin had never been higher than these levels.. but with just us it was "No time like the present" and I found a "ladder" that led up and eventually we had climbed the two or three stories to stand on the very top of the palace. It's seven stories tall and you can look across all of Baghdad. It has a visibility comparable to Los Angeles so... but you can still see some other major palaces and mosques in the distance. Whenever I think of Baghdad, I think of a city. So maybe I'm the only one that didn't realize that Baghdad is actually a state of about 400 million, with the major city of Baghdad somewhere in the middle.
Next was the Bath Party house. As the story goes, 250 members of the Bath party were sitting around the conference table waiting for Saddam (and watching Pretty Woman) when a Tomahawk missile, launched outta the Gulf by the Navy, landed right on their table. A lot of them are still buried under the rubble. The Air Force donated another JDAM to the cause leading to further roof rubble, which we saw when we accompanied Mat's cousin on her first visit to this roof too. The walls of this building were constructed with cinder blocks, glass bottles and other garbage because they couldn't accurately meet Saddam's demands to complete it on schedule. The chandeliers are all a very extravagant flimsy aluminum painted gold. This building was completed so you can see the painted ceiling tiles, which have Saddam's initials incorporated everywhere.
There is a very extensive munitions bunker nearby that was equipped with nuclear-grade blast doors so... As we wandered through it we found the yellow caution tape that said "off limits, radiation" only to realize we were already on the inside of the tape. Oh well. Whenever the bunker was discovered it was evident that probably Saddam, and definitely plenty of his minions, had been living in there after we came to say "Hi" in 2003. There are bathrooms down there, but it has been all but completely cleared out at this point. Jackals are the only current inhabitants here. And at the Victory Over America Palace, where there are tons of places to hide in the dark.
Uday's palace wasn't too shabby either. Saddam's oldest son was killed in a firefight in Mosul in 2003, so he wasn't around whenever whatever fireworks explodicated his domicile. This place was one of the more damaged and required a lot of scrambling around. It's not nearly as large as his dad's house, but a palace none the less.
Went to dinner in an actual restaurant. Served by a guy in a suit and tie. Iraq? Right. These people are living it up over here. All the diplomats, contractors, ambassadors, CIA types, and possibly some of the higher-up military types too -I'm not sure- used to have MASSIVE parties every night in some of these palaces. The smaller palaces out on the lake were not targeted for bombing and so they made ideal nightclubs. Apparently some general got sick of all the debauchery and now they're not so un-bombed anymore. -dunno.
Hope all's well with everyone, let me know what you're all up to. For anyone who's interested, I will try to upload photos when I get a little more settled.