It has been a pretty busy week. I arrived at my ultimate destination in Iraq – Foward Operating Base Loyalty. They call a lot of the bases FOBs over here. It distinguishes the smaller bases from the very large ones. Camp Victory and Camp Liberty are enormous bases – tens of thousands of troops and contractors, huge construction projects constantly going on, and a lot of vehicle traffic – tanks to Humvees to construction vehicles to pickups and SUVs. I spent the first few days at Camp Liberty, waiting to move onto FOB Loyalty. It was a deja vu experience – I had been at Camp Victory (which is the south part of the same piece of land) in ’03-04. On Saturday night, I caught a Blackhawk over to Loyatly which was about a ten minute trip. Loyalty is on the east side of Baghdad – the Shia part of town. It was kind of an interesting flight – not so much the way we got here but what you could see. First, a common complaint over here is that they only get a limited amount of electricity every day – maybe as small as 5 or 6 hours. Well, if that was the case, they seem to get a lot of it that night. Over the city, it was extremely lit up – not so much with street lights because there are not a lot of those, but fluorescent lights atached to houses and interior lights in the houses. In the southern suburbs, a mostly poor rural area, very few lights. It was so bright that you could notice the other thing that stuck out – no vehicle or pedestrian traffic on the streets. Not one car at all in a city of 5.6 million people – they have an absolute vehicle curfew from 9:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. It was very striking.
FOB Loyalty was is on the eastern side of the city – on the east bank of the Tigris River. The Shia live mostly in this part of town. Mostly poor and kept on this side of town away from the richer parts of the western area – the part of town where Saddam lived and part of which is in the GreenZone (now called the International Zone) where the U.S. Embassy is (in the same palace where Paul Bremer was when they had the Coalition Provisional Authority), the other embassies are and the Iraqi government is. FOB Loyalty is a throwback. Most U.S. bases are almost prefabricated – trailers for housing the troops, metal, almost warehouse buildings for DFACs (dining facilities or mess halls) and headquarters and a few harder structures for key installations. When I was at Liberty, I had real trouble finding wmy trailer at night – they are in huge pads (groups) of white metal trailers none any different from any other one except for a number. FOB Loyalty, urban legand has it, is a former headquarters of the mukharabat – Saddam’s secret police. Certain things tip you off. First, it has your basic prison architecture – big walls, guard towers and a jail/prison/torture facility in the middle. The headquarters building – or I should say, the previous headquarters building of the last tenant – has your classic caved in look created when struck by
Tomahawk cruise missiles and JDAMs (Joint Directed Attack Munitions – radar guided bombs). It was really spooky – completely darkened – not a light to be seen. I was lucky I was met on the helicopter pad by the officer I am replacing – CPT Rich Clifford.
Have spent the last few days with CPT Clifford – introductions to the Brigade Commander, Executive Officer, Operations Officer, etc. Learned about what my job will be and what I need to do to get it done. I received a really good
introduction – especially since the rest of the troops had remained behind in Kuwait – they finally arrived today. We took a side trip down to FOB Rustimiyah – a FOB approximately ten miles down the road for a couple of days – part of my detachment will be located down there. Rustimiyah has a few more luxuries but is located not too far from a sewage treatment plant. Since it gets up to 130 degrees in the summer, I am glad I don’t have to spend the whole time down there – they call it Rustiflyah for all the flies.
Loyalty is pretty spartan – a gym, a mess hall, military buildings and not much else. Glad I brought what amounts to a duffel bags worth of books. Still would rather be here than Liberty – more important mission and fewer rules – and not
as many Sergeant Majors making up more trivial rules that end up just aggravating people.
Went on a patrol with a company from the 82d Airborne last Saturday – a good introduction to the city. After we left the front gate, the first view was of three very large Christian churches – lots of crosses adorning the steeples and dome – not exactly something I have seen a whole lot of over here. Good to see that we’re a relatively – for Baghdad – diverse area. The patrol took us over to Baghdad University to speak with the University President who was willing to talk to us. Not a bad sign.
Got what amounts to the usual laundry list of copmplaints – summed up as what have you done for me lately but at least he was willing to listen to us. Went down to the compound for the Republic of Georgia military in Baghdad to see what they needed in the way in medical supplies. Spent most of the time explaining these guys were from Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union and not the state of Georgia. It amounted to a hotel they had in Baghdad and a couple of very large and heavily armed Slavs. Not a group to mess with. Since their government just agreed to send 1400 more troops here, I am all for giving them whatever they want.
After that we headed over to the Green Zone. Went by the embassy – the U.S. government is still headquartered in the Republican Palace where Ambassador Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority were set up. I have heard they are building a new embassy in Baghdad – I guess the State Department must be a pretty optimisitic bunch. Still, they need the space – it is the biggest embassy in the world – 3000 people. If there is a U.S. facility, there must be a PX nearby – with Burger King and Pizza Hut trailer nearby. A change for the mess hall. After that, we headed back to Loyalty – through the Green Zone and past Firdos Square – the place where they tore down Saddam’s statue on April 9, 2003. In its place they have put up probably one of the ugliest statues I’ve ever seen. Like most everything else here, it is starting to crumble.
The streets were pretty full of people and the shops were open. Saturday was the end of Arabe’en, a Shia religious holiday that commemorates the death of the Imam Hussein, the grandson of Mohammed. His death is what started the Sunni-Shia split. Millions of Shia make a pilgrimage to Najaf (100 miles south) and then walk to Karbala – where there is a huge mosque for Ali. The Imam Ali’s portrait is to the Iraqi Shia what the Head of Christ portrait is to many Christians. This is the march where you see people bleeding or whipping themselves with chains. They do it as a sign of penance for symbolically not having been there to fight with/die with Ali. Needless to say, there were people everywhere – buses, trucks or even on donkeys. It is a different world.