Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween in the Hooch

Phipps took this photo where he was today. KBR staff and its subsidiaries and their staff go out of their way on Holidays. Halloween's a pleasant surprise. I can't wait for Christmas - (mostly to see what we're allowed to do in a Muslim country - versus what the ACLU allows us to do in the US).
Candy-corn and water, mmm-mmm. Halloween in Baghdad.

Our Iraqi hosts could not be more accomodating. They all dressed up . . . . and did a frightful impersonation of ghouls today! A wedding party, a police station with a five-yr. old girl in it, and another crowded market. All blown to bloody shreds as entrance fee to the self-detonators' Bordello-Valhalla. "72 Vestal Virgins at the Will-Call Window . . . ?"

Carnage. Mayhem. Zombies. Ghouls and Goblins. Howling (barbarity). The Specter of Death. You call it Halloween.

We call it Tuesday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun With Trucks!

This is what truck day, (Saturday), is sometimes like. (not usually this involved.) For the past two weeks, we've been gutting the catalytic converters, to add more juice to our over-burdened engines. The converters strangle air-flow, and they could hardly make Baghdad air better or worse - so they're getting some "modifications." Mack and Phiss are grease-monkeys, so they led the way and perfected the technique.

Here's Mack doing what we usually do, giving the truck a once-over to check for any abnormalities, called Pre-combat maintenance services check . . . (I think thats what its called).

Here's Jimmy Rogers and I, after doing some of the same stuff (with tutelage). This process developed some of its own rituals under Mack, Phiss, and Olsen. No singing till a part was off (not before). No cursing when a wrench fell on your face. And proclaiming how you liked eating Baghdad mud - when the inevitable occurred - a pile of crud gunked onto whatever space you were fiddling with fell right on your teeth as you were grimacing. These were some of the ground rules.

Here's CPT (he's been promoted) Olsen and Phipps underneath showing how its done. Using a stretcher for a head-board.

And here's SPC Eatman cleaning out one of the converters, still attached to the tail-pipe.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hooch Life

Here's Cliff, burning the Midnight oil. (the Old Man regularly knocks off at like 9:30) These pictures were taken about an hour ago. This is a typical evening. No "incoming" so far.

This is myspace, where I blog from - surf the internet, watch movies, play freecell, ruminate and answer emails from, (notsomuch, recently, on that last count. (sorry)).

To my left is Europe, which I dream of. Places I've been marked with colored tacks. A Guinness coaster. Beauty. Pure Magic. To keep me focused on what's really important.

To my right is Angela Marcello, Miss October. Who sent me this calendar anyway??!! (thanks).

Claustrophobic? I occupy 1/6 of a trailer (caravan - for the Brits) that's about as big as an on-set movie-celebrity cocaine station. B-list bands have bigger tour-buses. Its about half as big as a grand old single-wide back home. Unpictured is all my clutter, which makes it smaller still.

Ah, my clutter! This is my bed and personal space, all fifteen cubic feet of it. At the back you'll notice the un-needed headboard. (Thanks KBR!) Which I've been moaning about for months now, to no avail. You can see the flimsy, inadequate pillows I have to contend with this medieval iron torture device.

And here is my plea. This is the monster. You want to help a soldier in Iraq? You want me to email more? Send me a pillow stout enough to instill the courage necessary to face this beast for any length of time!

(aaaaah, stout. Oi Love Guinness, Aye.)


This was also today. We never did work out if it was in fact a car bomb, (or a trash fire at a local FOB), but this is what one looks like from afar), I've seen plenty.

There were three very audible ones today (by my count), and if this is one - its close, (if not - its a surrogate Car-bomb for purposes of illustration). Fire raging, smoke wafting - and for what? If this was a bomb it's at one of the checkpoints here to the IZ that we use regularly. Like most things - you don't find out till the next day, (unless, God forbid, you happen to be there). When one of these goes off, there's a horrible sucking - swishing sound produced - no doubt - by the extreme air-physics at work. PUUWOOOOSHBOOOM!!!! Like throwing a boulder in a lake, only with sharper percussion - and audible for miles around.

October is on course to be the worst month since the invasion, with 69 killed already. TEN Yesterday. Eight last Saturday, Six last Monday. I'm talking of course about American Troops. Baghdadis are being killed at a clip of around 110 per day. A female gynecologist was executed yesterday in Basra - don't bothering asking. Pick the most psychotic motive you can think of - and you're probably right. Remember these photos. They're probably building a mosque in your town as you read this.

I expect it will get worse very soon, and will likely include a big Tet-style offensive on some target - probably here in the IZ. All part of Moqtada Al Sadr's attempt to get you to vote Democrat.

These guys here. this tenth-century death cult already operates defacto press-censorship in Europe. Sways elections in Spain. They couldn't even organize an onion-gathering! - as one of my Poli-Sci Profs. at Sheffiled Uni. used to say - and here they are exercising jurisdiction over large swaths of the earth with their howling beastiality. This is surely as weak as the West's ever been (on the inside). This can't continue . . .

Faith Restored

Here's two photos of the plot, taken just this morning. They give you an idea of the layout. The building we're in, I'm told, was one kind of courthouse or another under the previous regime. There are ample spaces for landscaping; set-asides like this one - where everything has died except the date-palms. Its coming back, in fits and starts, largely through the efforts of foreigners like myself and Alex. Over by another building where the Brits work - its amazingly green and manicured - with creeping vines and flowers all around. Takes you back to "Old Blightey", which I think is the point.

There's our big date palm, which litters the ground with dates as fast as any oak does with acorns back home.

PROOF OF LIFE. Germination. There's hope yet. These are the marigolds (the hardiest of lots) coming up first.

Here's hoping they make it . . .

Black-Eyed Susans. My mother's favorite. Probably because she's called "Susannah". (Call her "Susan" and she'll throw you out the house.)

The Garden

This photo is from a day or two after I sowed this plot behind our building with seeds sent from the states, and these are the guys that helped me.

Unpictured is a British fellow named Alex, who's away on vacation, but who has struggled mightily to get something growing back here. When he gets back we'll probably plant the back 40. Back during the summer the murderous mid-east sun and heat killed everything we planted. In Baghdad, everything must be watered EVERY morning - and we just weren't getting the help. With these guys looking after things, and the weather about 20 degrees cooler - there's hope.

From left: Abbas, me, Ali, and I think - Ali. Both Shiites. (Ali is a Shiite name, for the uninitiated) And from Sadr City, like most of the guys that work here. They're probably spies for Jeish Al Meidi, which is Moqtada Al Sadr's militia. We had some guys from our IT help-desk - (IT HELP DESK!!) test positive for explosive residue during a routine check a few months ago, and they were quietly dispensed with. In Arabia, the outsider soon learns that nothing is as it seems. Notice these guys aren't smiling in either photo . . .

Ah, there's that smile! (Once the American is removed!)

One of the problems we had growing stuff here, (one of the complications) is that these guys would dump their mop buckets right here into the soil. They had already succeeded in clogging the street-drain nearby via this method. I bring this up because its so emblematic of Iraqis and their approach to problems, (which is itself emblematic of yet larger problems). They're hired to clean this building, and some of them are only responsible for keeping the plants alive. The gardeners care nothing if a cleaner dumps his poisonous buckets on the plants, and the cleaners think nothing of dumping their trash somewhere else. (We've had instances where Baghdadis who weren't getting their trash picked up (usually because trash-collectors were getting shot) dumping their trash in other neighborhoods where the trash was still being collected, by some miracle. To drive around Baghdad is to marvel that any trash has ever been picked up.

Seeds sowed, ready to grow. (In rich, history-laden, fertile, POISONED Mesopotamian soil). Still, these are AMERICAN seeds - and I have faith that they'll find a way.

SUBTEXT - if you want democracy to work in Iraq - you're going to have to move in Mormons . . . by the boatload.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


No pictures, sorry. Left my camera at work.

It has rained twice in 24 hours! The sky is overcast. I never knew I could be so happy to see English weather! Well, South Carolina weather - to be exact. It rained so hard, and the wind blew so fierce - it knocked the tops off many date palms last night. The scene looked like a hurricane aftermath when we went to work on vehicles this morning. Decapitated palms, banyans split asunder and all. And it rained again this afternoon. Its raining now! Ah, the smells! (not all bad). That makes exactly the second and third time it has rained since we landed here in late April. Imagine that. A few weeks ago, we fell back into double digit weather, every third or fourth day. Now, maximum temperatures barely crest 95 - each and every day. Baghdad weather has become a good deal more hospitible, as far as I'm concerned. I'll take the wind, and the trees blown down - as long as I don't lose a pint of sweat walking 300 yards down to the Dining facility. Bliss! I can handle this!

I hope to post some more pictures soon.
All the best to everyone! I'm a bit behind in my emailing, and I apologise. Cliff's back from R&R now (he went home and married his fiance', KIM) so I have to SHARE my internet connection again. To all who are waiting for an email response from me - in due time. In the meantime, with all those care-package solicitations - send TRISCUITS, and peanut butter. I don't need any more toiletries. Thanks, but I have four tubes of toothpaste, five tooth brushes, and stacks and stacks of baby-wipes I'll never get rid of. We have access to toilets and showers here - baby wipes are more useful for guys out in the field who can't do either (properly). Wherever I go in Baghdad, I way my wittle head down on my piwwows in my hooch every night. (OK, my head's not so little).

Speaking of pillows - noone's sent me a giant back and arm-rest pillow! For one of my next posts I plan to photograph and post my e-mailing arrangement. Its vewy uncomfootabew. I have a few paper-thin pillows to stand upright to buffer my back against this twisted, useless, needless iron headboard behind me. Ouch, I'm getting back cramps right now . . . I guess thats why we get hardship pay.

All the Best,


Friday, October 06, 2006

Miscellaneous (more from iraqinsider.com)

I found this one and loved it. Sums up alot of the resentment. Navy guys are here for 6 months, most of them. Air Force guys are here for FOUR. FOUR MONTHS, no typo. The guys that moved in opposite myself and Cliff, after we moved in, ARE HOME ALREADY. Navy and Air Force have different (better) facilities, different rules, and different expectations. We saw that first-hand back at Bragg, training with these Air Force and Navy guys. The belly-aching, moaning, and complaining. The lack of bearing and professionalism - in my opinion, and of course - the undisputed lack of shooting skills, (married with their UNCONCERN for said inability), speaks volumes about the different cultures in each branch. Perhaps if we were forced to fight a war at sea, and man positions normally staffed by the Navy - we'd behave with equal flippancy - but I DOUBT it.
At least the Navy works with us in the PRT. The only time and place I see Air Force personnel here is in the gym, and in the chow-line. I think they run the Post-office, and some of their personnel staff hospital positions, and the IZ police.

This one I couldn't pass up. A "Piss-take" for all "me" British "mates" out there. Fabulously condescending, and so shopped-out now as to be trite and boring. A new formulation, perhaps, of the decades old resentment. That GIs were "Over-sexed, over-paid, and over HERE!" Is what our cousins used to say. What many don't know (I've done a poll) is the retort given by the "Yanks" to the Brits: that Tommies were "Under-sexed, under-paid, and under-EISENHOWER!"

Hahaha. Have your laugh. Now get back in formation, Limey!

This is one of the refineries on the edge of town. Burns like a giant Roman candle 24 hrs. a day. If you're ever flying over the middle-east (and I don't reccomend that you do) you'll see these burning bright all over (especially at night).
Choppers are everywhere, all the time. This is how we arrived in the IZ, and how we come and go, now and again. There is nothing to compare with a chopper-ride. And a chopper-ride over war-time Baghdad - bristling with guns and leaking testosterone - well I just don't think I'll ever be able to top that.

Found this one. Looks like a dusk (or dawn) patrol. Images like this one will become iconic of this war. And its a peculiar feeling to know you were there, wore the uniform, performed many of the same functions (and others). Its like seeing yoursefl in a movie opposite a celebrity, I suppose. To have such a close connection, and personal - to a chapter of history that unfolds before your eyes. To know that the photos in your personal album could conceivably wind up in Time Life magazine as emblematic of the era. And to understand instantly - how TV and magazines magnify. Because my day to day here is no more than that, my day-today. Any given day, however, my day to day might be the focus of the camera lens and the media's fleeting attention. Suddenly MORE important than the day before, (and perhaps less important after they leave).


I don't know if these pictures are real or photo-shopped. (They too come from iraqinsider.com)

But these are real pictures of Baghdad taken from the air (most likely a chopper), and I have to believe this is what a rocket streaking through looks like.

Al Faw

These are some pictures of Al Faw Palace, not far from here. There are Palaces EVERYWHERE. Some two blocks apart.

This one's particularly striking. Like a few, surrounded by water.

Al Faw at night.

A well-apportioned lavatory. Many of them look like this. As for Saddam's Palaces - the wood-work, stone-work, fixtures like chadeliers - all seem as though they were done by the same contractor, with the same supplies, (which they likely were). Stunning at first - then tired, trite, and shop-worn once you've seen a few.

And paper-thin. Because of the damage to many of these edifices - inside and out - you see just what a thin veneer, a thin gloss these things had on them. Shoddy workmanship, poor materials. And tacky as only the Arabs can manage. Style over substance. Ostentation over class. These Palaces are to Versailles or Vienna, what a "pimped-out" Lincoln is to a subdued Rolls Royce.

The ceiling above a chandelier.

The Heads

Here's a look over the front of the Palace, (a few years ago). This is where those heads came from - the ones face down in an earlier post! Here they are posed above the Palace, gazing down on all visitors. Imposing. This scene is right over the "Promotion Ceremony" sight. Who'd have guessed that that's what those sandstone boxes, (above the entrances), were constructed for?

And here they are being REMOVED . . . .

All Pictures from www.iraqinsider.com.

The Palace

This is a panorama of the front of the Palace. I found these and all the pictures to follow at www.iraqinsider.com Regular readers will recall this "Promotion Ceremony" venue.

Chopper's eye view. This is looking East across the Palace (now US Embassy) grounds. We live right behind it, sandwiched between this monstrosity and the Tigris.

And like so much at "Iraq Insider", I found pictures that answered lingering questions in my mind. This is a view of the back side. If you stood here taking this photo, you'd be about 100 feet from my hooch. I walk by this area several times a day. There is scaffolding covering it now, and restoration work has been ongoing since I got here. - The Story I was told - was that this was Saddam's personal apartment in this palace (he frequented this one, the "Presidential Palace" most often). And that the night of his impromptu departure - a mysterious fire erupted here, where many of his persoanl effects and papers were stored. Well, this picture begs that question. For if all that is the case - what are contractors doing setting up camp here, while the apartment burns? -Oops (?)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dinner at Taha's

Shortly after returning from R&R, 1SG Winchester and Jack invited me to go with them to dinner at the home of Mr. Taha, President of The Taha Group. Mr. Taha's businesses are instrumental in rebuilding Iraq, and he braves a considerable amount of danger by just being here.

He and his employees do a good bit of charity work as well, have donated monies for life-saving surgeries, and have hired a few people at our behest that were looking for work. They are VIPs for our "Econ." team, on which 1SG and Jack serve.

Here's me, a few seconds after the most "scrumptrulescent" meal I've had since arriving in Iraq.

Mr. Taha has an incredible pad here in the IZ, and he had a bunch of us foreigners over for dinner. We sat around on a little manicured and neatly landscaped lawn, Mediterranean style - munching on appetizers and smelling the fragrant, wafting smoke of the well-apportioned hookahs all around. They had these "swamp-coolers" - which look like industrial fans, (a horizontal, wide-diameter cylinder with an exhaust near the bottom). They blow across cool water in a water-hose replenishing reservoir, dampening and cooling the dry, Baghdad summer air as it disperses across the garden.

Here's Jack and I, savoring the moment. This was the first time since arriving at Frankfurt airport that I felt a profound and unimpeachable sense of peace. I suspect its that warm, fuzzy comfort that only civilized life provides. Unfortunately, its muted . . . till you spend some time in a war zone - and you notice its absence. Which makes this doubly ironic - as I was back in what's now being called, "The Battle for Baghdad." But here was an oasis. A redoubt where civilisation has not retreated, and made no apologies for it. What magic and graceful majesty, what potential - in Baghdad.

1SG Joe Winchester, Taha's HR chief Nadia (the most gracious of hostesses), Mr Taha and myself. Mr Taha's a cad, making jokes incessantly. Nadia's vivacious, a pleasure to be around, making everyone feel right at home. Both speak English fluently, and of course Arabic, (plus a few other languages -I'd wager). They are an absolutely deadly business team. Could you imagine saying no to them? I couldn't.

1Sg Winchester and I with the Chef. A man who I'd nominate for the Nobel Prize in culinary salvation for soldiers in war-zone. He was a splendid chap who was too gracious to accept much (well-earned) praise. The man who first taught me what Iraqi Cuisine is - AND ITS Fantabulastic! If Pops, Papa Ed or Bill Blakely are reading this - The food I ate was so good I said to the guy next to me - "Anybody 'at doesn't like this is a summ'bitch, how's yourn?"

For any Russells or Manns or Taters or Wilsons out there - if we brought this guy out on "Rendezvous" - you'd all convert to Islam to eat this good.

We spent a few hours watching the 200 plus channels on offer in the Middle-east (The number of channels was a shock, the themes and the variety - not so much.)

That's when I got my 2 million dollar idea. A 24-hour belly-dance channel!

We thanked the Chef and our gracious hosts profusely, and departed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Assorted ignored

These are some of the photos I either took before leaving - or since I've been back. Blogging those 27 odd R&R posts meant that these took a back-seat 'till I could get through that blog-athon.

Here's Major Mike, myself, and Johnny - looking tough, (or trying to).

Yes, that stuffs as heavy as it looks. Body Armor, full ammo load, rifle with accoutrements and assorted extras adds about 75 extra pounds. Almost all of it to your front - giving considerable lower back discomfort - to put it mildly.

Did I mention it was hot over here?

This is SGT Fregoso. I didn't have a picture of her earlier when I introduced Sgts Moore and Kangas, but she's part of the same team - usually the LEAD vehicle in our convoys - and she's the commander of that vehicle. A tough cookie, with a gentle, endearing spirit. Often seen waving from her vehicle to Iraqis hither to and yon. Spreading good will.

Kangas, Moore and Fregoso and their teammates tours are up. they'll be rotating back to the world soon.

Tala, graciously translating for me when Johnny wasn't available, on this day in Karada. With her is the Karada District Council Chairman Mohammed Al Rubaie, and two local kids that always seem to be there.

These guys always have a few words to say to me in English. Like most Iraqi kids, they're usually selling something, (entrepreneurship needs no introduction here among 8-16 yr. old demographic) And like most kids everywhere, as Psychologists and neurologists tell us, they sure seem to aquire foreign language faster than the rest. And with terrible, funny, and terribly funny street-slang!

I suppose this will come as no shock to any American veterans reading this, like the Charlotte Russells and the Chattanooga Manns, but for everyone else - nothing really prepares you for the (pleasant) shock of pulling up somewhere in Baghdad, "un-assing" your vehicles, and 4-20 Iraqi kids amble up, "What's up, dog? Hey, man - buy my CDs!" "Two for 3 dollars, Mister", and should you bid too low - you might be met with a, "You're killing me, man!"

We've been here only three years, and 8-yr olds are already conducting sensitive financial transactions - in English!

I had planned to do a post devoted exclusively to these damn towers which seem to be everywhere, but never got around to photographing the others. One good thing I can say about them is that each one is different - a different architectural statement. But they're so plentiful. And plenty useful, no doubt, for Saddam to watch his public. Although I'm told many were open to and used by the public.

By some odd, inexplicable coiincidence - I also found alot of these in the former Soviet union on my trip. Prague, Budapest - had bunches of these in - and mostly outside - the city. Surveillance towers, (?) Interesting . . .

A close-up.