Monday, June 05, 2006

Road Trip Iraq 2006 - Day Four

Camp Diamond -back is one of the only U.S. bases in Iraq to be inside a city. From the edge of the base you can see the houses and streets of Mosul. The ancient city of Nineveh is on the northern outskirts of Mosul as well as what might be Jonah’s grave. I think Jonah, the reluctant mouthpiece of God, might be one of my favorite prophets of the Old Testament. I laugh every time I look up at the hills east of Nineveh and think of how Old Jonah went up there to watch the Lord destroy the people Nineveh and how disappointed he was when the Lord forgave them instead.

But Jonah’s tale isn’t the only funny story about Mosul. Today there are much more interesting ones. For instance, rumor has it that a Turkish restaurant on the base closed down because it was the center of a prostitution ring. This was hard to imagine since the only ladies I ever saw there were old Turkish grandmas. Nevertheless, the restaurant was gone.

But the best story I heard in Mosul was about two soldiers who decided to beat the snot out of each other with fire extinguishers. They thought that if they could break a bone or two, they could go back to the States. Unfortunately, the MPs didn’t buy the story that they were randomly attacked by fire-extinguisher-wielding insurgents. Whatever happens to them, I’m sure their punishment will be less painful then their crime.

Camp Diamondback is one of my favorite bases in Iraq and Sgt. Powell and I didn’t want to leave. We were exhausted and wanted at least a day to recover. Capt. Andrews, however, tempted us once again with stories of snow capped mountains and friendly locals. We hooked up with another convoy and soon found ourselves driving down the nocturnally deserted streets of Mosul. It was beautiful. Because of the curfew, we rode quickly and quietly through all the intersections and bypasses without seeing a soul.

We passed a few hours without any problems and then, just before we reached the mountain pass to go into Zakho, a convoy coming in the opposite direction had an accident. A third country national truck driver rolled an oil tanker. We pulled security and waited for the medical evacuation to arrive. I wasn’t able to find out if the driver was OK. Oil was all over the road. A few days later, I would find out just how precious oil really is in Iraq, but I’ll tell you more about that later.

Finally we drove into Zakho, the northern most major city in Iraq. Capt. Andrews was right. It was already more than I expected. We passed two travel plazas, the kind of luxury truck stops you see on the highways in Nebraska and Iowa. We even saw a Toyota dealership that looked every bit as modern and clean as a car dealership in the U.S.

The streets were empty, not because of a curfew, but because it was early in the morning and it was still raining hard. We passed a Kurdish soldier guarding a gate to a four-storey marble building that the local government had loaned to the Army. We ran in from the rain and put our bags on bunk beds set up for the soldiers who run the convoys. Then we climbed the stairs to find what looked like a nice little restaurant with small tables and red tablecloths. The cooks had stayed up for us and dinner was still hot.

It took us four days of grueling and dangerous night convoys to get there, but I could already tell that it was worth it. It was, as Capt. Andrews promised, a different world. Unfortunately, I would soon find out that it was a different world complete with its own wars and its own hate. Peaceful Zakho isn’t peaceful for all.

Photo: Sgt. Powell peaks around the corner on the roof of one of Saddam's former palaces during an earlier trip to Mosul. The Army now uses these palaces for their offices in Mosul. Somehow, I think that using these decadent buildings, which are inextricably tied with oppression, might have been a bad move for the U.S. We wanted them to see us as liberators, but now were just he new guys in the castles.


Blogger Spencer Case said...

Great entry, I mean it. Your BLOG really is your best work. But what a cliffhanger...

12:52 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Your last comment, about occupying Saddam's castles, really hits the head on the nail.

2:49 PM  
Blogger lindy said...

Hi :) I caught your interview with Amy Goodman on Demorcracy Now!

I am looking forward to reading it and I am wishing you well on your walk. I would like to join you :) but 20 miles in a day is a bit much for me.

Take care!

5:33 PM  

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