Traveling Iraq: A series
I’m a civilian. Because of that, I get to see places in ways that are different than the military gets to see them. After two trips to Iraq, I am gratified to have had these experiences.
Because I have had the chance to do this, I want to share it with other Americans, so that they understand, really, how Iraq is, at least from the only perspective I can give, which is the one on the ground there. For so many of my fellow countrymen and women they think of “Iraq” as one giant danger zone. That simply isn’t true. Some places are much more dangerous than others. Some places are moderately dangerous, and some are downright safe.
For some unexplainable reason, a major event has happened, either in the world or in the Middle East every time I’ve been there since November of 04. I’ve gotten to witness and experience some things that I’d never dreamed I would.
So, here are some stories and photos from Iraq, I hope you enjoy them.
My first flight into Baghdad International Airport. The views are stunning. The planes all do circles coming in, banking hard on the corners, to make any possibility of being a target of anti aircraft fire more difficult. It sounds much more dangerous than it is though, as there hasn’t been a major incident in the airport in years now, insofar as planes being downed by anything other than accident.
I’m about to find out why.
But before I go into that, I need to tell you about Baghdad in spring. It looks like paradise. It did not look like the hell I saw on tv, not at all. There are giant areas of housing of course, it’s a huge city, of about 6 million people. But, many of even the smaller homes keep a “backyard garden”. So there was still plenty of green, and that’s what surprised me, how lush it was, how the groves of palms were almost forests in places, how the Tigris (Dijla there) sparkled in the sun. I don’t mind saying after all the time I waited to go to Iraq, my first views of Baghdad put tears in my eyes. I whipped out a piece of paper and started scribbling down my thoughts and feelings about what I was seeing. I gave it to my Iraqi friend that was accompanying me to read. I got back a grin of pride and understanding.
Back to BIAP, as it is fondly called. The protocol there is constantly changing. As we landed, the tarmac was FULL of armed guards, I doubt anyone has seen a civilian part of an airport more guarded than this one. As we disembarked the plane, we got on a bus that brought us to the main terminal. I had to go get a visa, which is an interesting process in itself. I got my visa, in typical Iraqi style, no rush, no hurry, but with graciousness, and once the man issuing them saw that I was doing Internet work, he immediately perked up. He was so happy to see I was from the US, and he was also so happy I might be able to help him with a computer issue he was having. I took his e mail, he gave me my visa, and we said ma’as salama (goodbye, until later).
Luggage was taken off the plane (though it had been scanned in Amman of course), BIAP isn’t your typical “stopover” airport between flights. Everyone disembarks. Everyone goes through customs. Everyone gets their luggage x rayed, AND hand searched (don’t bring anything that might embarrass you or may be culturally insensitive). After all this is completed, you are led hurriedly through one last round of security (women are separated at all airports in the Middle East for security “wanding” and pat downs), and then finally, back out to the plane. Oh, I wouldn’t want you to miss the chaotic nature of this process, it’s all done with the people flying and yelling, rushing about, getting their visas, their luggage dealt with, their passports stamped, paying their exit fee, while the Iraqis that work there take it all in stride, as Iraqis do, relaxed, no rush at all. When you get back to the tarmac, and think, “phew, now we’re going to re-board”, there’s one last step. You leave all of your carry on luggage in a line, while a guard takes a dog over it to find any hazardous materials, or traces of them, both on your luggage and on your feet. Ours was a shepherd, and she was a beauty, but all business. At this time, a mortar exploded outside the gates of the airport. I have say that I didn’t flinch, really it didn’t even affect me. There’s so much noise already, with blades whirring, and people shouting, that it was just one more noise.
Conclusion, Baghdad International Airport may just be one of the safest airports in the world right now. They are doing a hell of a job keeping it that way.
Now, I was off to Erbil……and here’s what greeted me there.