April 10, 2005

The Green Zone

Over the past few weeks, I have traveled to several Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in the Baghdad region. Part of my trip included two days in the Green Zone (or what is now called the International Zone, or "IZ").

The IZ is located on the northern side of the Tigris river, in the heart of downtown Baghdad. The name "Green Zone" implied it was a secure area, and theoretically safe. Constant mortar attacks and car bombings have plagued this area in an attempt to disrupt the new Iraqi government, but things have changed a bit since the January elections. For the short time I was there, I did not witness any shootings, bombings, mortars, etc. Call me optimistic, but it looks like things are slowly improving.

Walking around the IZ at night. The concrete walls are roughly 4.5 meters high (about 15 feet), and covered with sharp concertina wire.

Imagine your neighborhood, or just imagine a nice main street. Picture houses with front yards and nice long sidewalks. Then one day, 15ft high concrete barriers begin popping up and surrounding all the houses, like small castles. There are pieces of shrapnel and razor wire tangled up in bunches and thrown all over the streets, so you have to be careful not to walk into it at night.

There are checkpoints every several hundred meters, with either Iraqi Police, US Forces, or Trained Gurhkas wielding AK-47s (Gurhkas are British-trained Nepalese Commandos). The streets are mixed with local Iraqi civilians and armed Coalition Forces. Cars speed off in every direction, and HUMMVEE convoys blaze through traffic without having to slow down (because everybody knows to get out of their way).

I think this must be what Israel looks like, with the walls and security everywhere, and unknown safety conditions. It was definitely a weird experience, one of the creepiest for me.

First stop in the IZ was a Forward Operating Base known as Prosperity. On the compound is yet another of Saddam's palaces. You can see we did some remodeling. Saddam's bedroom is a bit drafty, eh?

Behind the palace was one of Saddam's personal orchards. In the photo you can see the yard isn't in good shape, but servants used to take care of it. We found dates and oranges, but I can't remember what those small trees were in the center.

This was the other side of the palace in Baghdad.

These giant statues were part of the palace design until we removed them. They must be 7 meters tall! You can see how little I look in the photo.

The front courtyard reminded me of a Las Vegas hotel, with the fancy decorations and designs, and two large ponds surrounding both sides of the driveway.

The first night, I stayed in what used to be the Presidential Palace. We have now converted it into the US Embassy.

This is FOB Honor, a different base located in the International Zone. One of these buildings is said to be the old Ministry of Defense, but I don't know which one.

Here is a different view of those two buildings. I also don't know what that long structure in the middle was.

Leaving the IZ. I snapped this photo while waiting for our Blackhawk to arrive. Photos of the flight line are normally verboten, but they allowed this photo of a MEDEVAC UH-60 (Medical Emergency Evacuation Blackhawk).

Baghdad Traffic. The view from the helicopter was fantastic, and allowed me to take photos that would otherwise have been impossible to get.

The population of Baghdad is said to be around six million, and the city looks very tightly packed.

Headed back to Taji. In the distance, another blackhawk takes lead and flies a few hundred meters away.

There are so many more photos I would love to include, but as you can see this entry is getting rather long. I also stopped at two other Forward Operating Bases, in different corners of Baghdad, but didn't take any pictures.

Also, I have to get ready for another trip tomorrow to do the same. I'll probably update again within the next few days.

Until then...

Posted by Dan at 09:17 PM | Comments (6)