Sunset over Mosul; looking down from yet another of Saddam's palaces.
Not enough time or sleep. I'm up in Mosul, northern Iraq, at FOB Courage. I am so far north, that you could practically call this place another country.
A side note about the photo above: The hotel on the left is supposedly where Nick Berg stayed just before local police detained him. This is not where he was kidnapped, but was the starting point of everything that went wrong. For more info about Nick Berg, click here. A warning about the link - While you won't see disturbing photos directly on that page, there are links to other sites, and the story itself can be upsetting.
I will write a more proper article later, but I wanted everyone to know that I have been up here for the past several days and I am safe. My work is done, and I will soon make my way back down to Baghdad.
I am back in Baghdad, but what you missed since last update is that I already returned to Baghdad - then flew to Kuwait - and am back again. I'm definitely racking up travel points out here!
The night before I left for Kuwait, the Iraqi Football Team (we yanks call it soccer) won a big game against Syria. Normally when you think of celebration, you think of partying, or fireworks, or even riots. But here, they do things a little different. The Iraqis showed their love by shooting AK-47s into the air until they ran out of ammo.
I donít have all the facts, but I have read that over 50 people in Baghdad alone were admitted to hospitals for gunshot injuries as a result of the celebration, and more than 45 people died from fatal wounds in other parts of the country.
I live in an apartment complex here in the green zone, which is essentially downtown Baghdad. Lucky for me, the building is concrete. My work trailer (for example) took three rounds through its tin-metal roof.
The photo came out a little blurred, but you can still make out the tracer rounds. What a crazy night.
So - now I have to jump back in time a little bit. After Speicher (Tikrit), I flew to Mosul, where I stayed for a few days (ignore the red route for now). My contact picked me up at the air field and drove me across town, to one of the local camps.
Here we are, driving through the city, on the way to FOB Courage. I rode with a Private Security Company (PSC). As the U.S. Military's presence decreases, the Iraqi Police and Military will take more responsibility, but a lot of security is placed in the hands of these PSCs. They are vital in protecting reconstruction projects throughout Iraq. Private Security is a dangerous but booming business.
Taking the sheep for a walk, I guess? :)
This is one of the things I really love out here: the architecture is just amazing. Even unfinished, this mosque is impressive.
This is the edge of FOB Courage. I know it isn't much to look at, but I like the drastic appearance of the wall and the lonely guard road next to it. On the right is another of those REVA prototype vehicles now popping up all over Iraq.
My temporary housing. The flag in the background is of Kurdistan - a region of northern Iraq and Turkey inhabited mostly by ethnic Kurds.
Only in Iraq will you see a volleyball court and emergency bunkers!
After a few days of work, I needed a ride back to the airfield. This time, I rode with a Kurdish Security Escort Team. Kurdish soldiers are often referred to as Peshmerga, a name associated with freedom fighters. In this photo, the team is doing an equipment check on a Soviet Anti-Aircraft gun called a "Dushka."
This is one of the Peshmerga, posing for a photo before loading the 12.7 x 107 mm rounds. Notice the bright blue eyes. The photo is a bit overdramatic, but these people are intense (the name Peshmerga, after all, means "those who face death").
Another thing I noticed is their large interest in the Saddam Hussein trial. Saddam is also accused of ethnically targeting Kurds in the late 80s.
Lining up for show time. I made it safely to Mosul Air Field, and am now getting ready to board a C-130.
About two hours later, I landed at Balad Air Base (now see the red route in the map above)...
I have mentioned before that riding with the U.S. Military is like hitchhiking - you never know if you'll make it until you've landed at your final destination. In this case, I had to stay overnight at Balad, and catch a helo in the morning.
Flying over some real desert. My "free ride" the next morning was a Blackhawk to a Marine base called Al Taqaddum, just west of Fallujah. Boy am I glad I don't live there!
After Al Taqaddum (aka TQ, aka Dustbowl), I landed in the IZ, Baghdad. But no, I wasn't done yet. A day later, and I was on a plane to Kuwait.
I have to cut it off there, since this is already a large enough post. But I have some great pictures from the Kuwait trip, and will try to put 'em up tomorrow or the next day. There just isn't enough time...
I do miss this place. It was my home for many months.
Last post, I mentioned that I flew down to Kuwait for two days, but I ran out of time on the last entry, so here's the rest of my trip! And the comments may be sloppy, but I'm tired, folks. Sleeeeep.
Remember Al Boom? I ate here several times, as I used to live just down the street. This fancy restaurant resides in the belly of the wooden Dhow in the foreground. Well, I didn't eat there on this trip, but I did manage to dine underneath it.
This is a Polynesian restaurant called Kon-Tiki, and you can see the hull from Al Boom in the dramatic backdrop. The Kon-Tiki Lounge is actually below the ship's structure. All I can say is, Nice!
I can't seem to get away from Hookah shops. I just love this stuff (and you can laugh all you want...it's legit, m'kay?).
I can't feel my legs! Haha. Just kidding. Relax, Mom. It's tobacco.
I was, again, able to visit the Kuwaiti Towers and admire their unique design.
Most folks wouldn't believe me but I think I found the world's pointiest toilet. I even took this picture to prove it. See the Men's Room sign?
In the photo above this one, the bathroom is at the bottom of the middle spike tower. haha! I'm easily amused.
With the sun on it's way down, I had to head back to the airfield. Soon I would have to fly back up to Baghdad (that's where I am now, of course).
Speaking of Baghdad...
The 15-December elections went surprisingly well. Talk about irony. The United States is a country where roughly 30% of its citizens vote, and we're trying to teach democracy to Iraq? Now that I said that, guess how many people in Iraq voted? 70 percent! Maybe we could learn from them...
But seriously, I still have no idea what will happen out here.
The elections were quiet, but it's hard to tell why. My guess is everybody just wants to move forward, but the insurgency was also quiet, and that isn't normal. Believe me, the fighting is not finished...it just stopped for a few days. Something else is going on. Maybe the fighters are turning political out here.
As for me, I am hanging out here probably until January. Then I will head off to Fallujah and a couple other fun places (ya right).
Happy Holidays, everybody. Even if you aren't religious, one can still appreciate the Winter. So I thought I'd make a "card for all types," to send to my friends. You gotta have a sense of humor!
We got some rain last night - the most we've had for some time. And it will hopefully snow in the Kurdistan region to the north. It has definitely been colder outside.
That's all for this post. Just wanted to share my holiday time with y'all.