January 07, 2006

Sa'tumTir

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So it's raining and a bit gloomy. This is definitely a welcome change. The air has been so bad lately, that it has been hard to sleep at night. The air is always nicer when it rains.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of rain drops, captured in the flash.

Another thing about rain is, inevitably, something will leak. My office sprung two small drips in the ceiling, and one of our guys removed the ceiling board to see what the fuss was.

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And he found this bullet round imbedded in the board. Hmmmm.

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The round came from an AK-47, the most commonly known rifle out here, as well as the world. You always see the bad guys in movies using these. AKs are a product of the Soviet Union, but many countries now manufacture local variants.

We don't know when the round impacted in our work trailer, but we occasionally hear a loud "ting" sound coming from the roof. Sometimes they get stuck, and sometimes they go through the floor. It has already happened several times over the past month.

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So strange how it kept its shape...

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You can see the hole in the roof, where the rain is coming in.

And in other news...

I've been a bit lazy the past week. I wanted to post some pictures from my trip to the Believer's Palace, but haven't had the time or energy to do so. I will throw them up here in a few days.

Believer's Palace is one of Saddam's many large estates here in Baghdad. The thing that makes it unique is that it isn't really a palace. On the outside it looks quite nice, but the structure is a shell, designed to hide the massive survival bunker underneath.

Saddam was always worried that Iran would attack unexpectedly, especially with Chemical and Biological weapons. As a precaution, he built a large underground compound with it's own "Chem" cleaning showers, air purification systems, power generation, and other life-support facilities.

I explored the ruins and half-flooded chambers, and took some cool photos. I also went to Adnan's Palace, on the other side of the IZ. I got lots of good stuff, and I promise I'll get to it this week.

Cheers.

Posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (2)

January 15, 2006

Believer's Palace

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OK, things have been way too busy this week. I was hoping to get this stuff out sooner, but it's my website, and I can do what I want.

Enough jabber. Here's the post...

Another beautiful sunset in Baghdad. In the middle of this photo is a large watchtower, the tallest point in the IZ (International Zone). A few weeks ago I got the chance to climb it and take a look.

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From this angle, you can see the tower is shaped like an eight-sided star, very common here in Iraq. Geometric designs are popular in Muslim countries because it represents "the infinite" that can be found throughout the universe. These detailed shapes and patterns can be found in many mosques.

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At the top of the tower, you get a great 360-degree view of downtown. Unfortunately, Baghdad's largest power plant (Al Doura) spits out a daily dose of smog that engulfs the horizon in almost every direction. In this picture, you can see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a strange Minaret tower behind it, and far off in the distance, the yet-unfinished Grand Mosque in Baghdad. Look hard. It's massive.

I flew past this mosque when I first visited the IZ in May, 2005.

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To the east, you can see the Sheraton and Palestine Hotels, both involved in the triple carbombings back in October. I have a few shots from that day in the Archives. Go to the bottom of the article.

The concrete lines that run along the horizon are the banks of the Tigris River. Also in the photo are turqoise-colored domes from Believer's Palace. Pictures are on the way...

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Following the Tigris to the south, you can now see the Presidential Palace, one of Saddam's largest.

After the hike down the staircase (in the tower), we crawled through the remains of Believer's Palace, only a few meters away.

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Saddam had dozens of palaces, but this one is unique in many ways. The most obvious thing about it is that it really isn't a palace. It's a shell, designed to hide the bunker underneath it.

A German firm built the bunker in the early 80s, not to protect Saddam from any possible U.S. attack, but because Iran posed a serious threat, and had the potential to use biological or chemical weapons. As a precaution, Saddam had NBC "decontamination" rooms installed at the main entrance points.

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When we began our attack in 2003, we hit this building with 500 and 1000-lb bombs, using JDAM kits. The only reason I mention this is to clear up the misinformation that JDAMS are bombs. JDAMs are just guidance systems that can be attached to bombs. I know the whole thing is creepy anyway, but I wanted to set things straight. Here is more info on JDAMs.

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As you can see, the bombing literally gutted the inside of the palace. All that remains above ground is a shell structure.

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This used to be a hallway...

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Now I'm taking a break and enjoying the scenery...

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Amazingly, the bunker survived, with only minor damage. This reinforced door is one of just a few entrance points.

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At the top of this staircase is another door seal.

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All the rooms are designed to lock-down in sections, like a submarine. This would enable structural survivability of whatever rooms remained.

Another thing to point out is we're approximately 96 feet below ground, and with the power out, there is no light down here. We brought flashlights and chem-lights (glow sticks) to look around, but without that, we'd be pretty screwed.

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Down here, the air was dank and grimy...the smell of mold and old dirt.
The entire structure was built in a separate chamber that floated on water, the idea being it could survive a massive explosion. True enough, the bunker did survive, but there was extensive flooding from many of the support pipes that line the chamber corridors. Hence, the funky smell.

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Walking around, you can tell it was very well-designed. Some rooms were built for living, and some for supplies. Others were for command and control. This room contained some kind of electronic sensor board. Oddly enough, the writing is in English.

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This particular room contained a Halon Gas System, used for extinguishing fires.

I do have lots more pictures of this place, but you get the idea...this is one crazy bunker! If you're still hungry and want more information on Believer's Palace, click here.

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It was time to go, so we wrapped things up and headed back to our compound. The IZ is just unreal. All these concrete walls...

When you climb out of a dark place such as Believer's Palace, and you step into the street and this is what you see, you know something isn't right. It's like a movie sometimes.

Well that's all for now. In other news, I am hoping to get on the road again soon. I have to make a run down to a town called Diwaniyah, in southern central Iraq. And after that I think I'm off to Fallujah. Yay for me!

I'm glad I finally got this post up. I needed to make room for more stuff. Believe me, there is lots more to share with you.

Until then...

Posted by Dan at 03:41 PM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2006

Baghdad Snow

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I took this photo about an hour ago (gotta love digital cameras!). Welcome to another winter in Iraq. The haze is actually from a sand storm that blew in over the past several hours.

It's hard to tell, but this is the same "backyard" I took the picture for my Holiday Photo, a few weeks ago. It's also the same backyard that a rocket landed in, but didn't detonate. You can barely see the yellow tape in the lower left corner.

The outside temperature has been in the low 30s (Fahrenheit) at night. Apparently, there is some sort of cold snap traveling down from the northen reaches of Siberia. Several people have died in Russia, and my friend in Ukraine wrote me to say he's freezing his...well, you get the idea.

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This picture reminds me of the fires we had in San Diego a few years ago. The sky was just orange and smoky, and ashes would float down like snow drift.

Other than that, not much else to report. The election results were announced yesterday, and we expect to see more violence as everyone tries to figure out how to divide the "Iraqi Pie." Baghdad will be very busy the next few weeks.

And I will be off to Diwaniyah soon, for a few days. Flying down there is tricky, because there aren't a lot of rides that way.

Anyhow, here are some random photos taken over the past few weeks...

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This is Adnan Palace, another luxo-fortress here in Baghdad. I think I like this one the most because of it's pyramid shape. It looks like some type of ancient vault, hidden within the mountains of Jordan or Egypt.

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The funny thing about these places is you always get three or four different stories. Adnan, for example, was either: Uday's palace (Saddam's son), or a present for Saddam's Niece, or a Museum, or it was just one more place for Saddam to go and relax after a hard day being a dictator.

It's hard to get the real story because most of Saddam's servants were either killed or they got far far away from here.

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Driving along Route Irish, from the IZ to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport). The drive itself is only 10 or 15 minutes, but this used to be the most dangerous run in all of Iraq, and possibly the world. It's amazing how it has changed. Hell, I could probably skateboard down it.

In the distance, you can see the Iraqi Army's new "Stryker" vehicles. These are not the same as our Strykers, but they are similar in that they are Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs).

The Iraqi Army is so happy with these things that they just parade around in them up and down Route Irish, going about as slow as they possibly can. I mean, come on! I thought we were in a parade, it was so slow! I actually think they were doing that because they knew we couldn't pass them.

We ended up getting around them by crossing over into the oncoming traffic lane. I guess you gotta do what you can out here.

That reminds me; I've been meaning to talk about this. It must be horrible to be an Iraqi and have to drive out here. They have to put up with some of the deadliest road conditions out here. Sounding like the true young adult that I am, it just plain sucks.

Here's why...

The US Military and Private Security Companies that drive along these roads have no choice but to drive insanely fast, to avoid roadside bombs (known as IEDs - Improvised Explosive Devices). They also have to worry about sniper attacks from houses nearby, and occasional car bombs (VBIED - Vehicle Borne IED). As a result, they have to move fast, and sometimes that means they need to force everyone else off the road, whether by siren or by bumping their vehicle.

The Iraqis now know to stay away from these convoys, and they definitely pull over to get out of the way, sometimes crashing into the curbs and damaging their already beat-up cars. Just imagine having to live like that...every day.

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These are my two newest friends, Petru and Constantin. They are Romanian Liaison Officers, and work across the way from where I live. I started talking to them one day, and I recently told them of my plans to visit Romania. By the way, that's where I'm headed in about a month.

They just finished their time out here, and are on their way home as I write this. Good guys. And I hope to meet up with them in Romania...

I'll write again soon, probably from Diwaniyah.

La Revedere

Posted by Dan at 10:30 PM | Comments (11)