Chapter 20: Out 'n About in the Red Zone

    Sunday, March 28, 2004

    From Baghdad, Iraq

    As we have discussed before, the Green Zone is where I live and, for the most part, work. It is an approximately four-square-mile section of Baghdad surrounded by high concrete walls, entry to which requires one to drive or walk through a gauntlet of razor wire, assorted automatic weaponry, steely-eyed soldiers or Marines, barriers made of concrete and/or sand, and over and/or around speed bumps and chicanes.

    A chicane, by the way is a racing term - I think a Formula One racing term - which describes a point in the course where the cars have to maneuver back and forth. It is from the same root as the word, chicanery (v. to employ shifts, subterfuges, or artifices - from Merriam-Webster's Unabridged).

    Dear. Mr. Mullings:
    The American Society of Thriller and Suspense Novel Editors, Publishers, and Readers

    I'm getting to the good parts.

    For some time Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and Mr. Dan Senor - the two guys who do the press conferences about four days per week - have warned that as we get closer to the date on which we will return sovereignty to the people of Iraq, June 30, the bad guys will create more mayhem and commit more murders.

    This has led to a level of danger for civilians which we have not seen here since last November. The civilians who are being targeted are Westerners. The two CPA employees down in Hillah a couple of weeks ago; a car filled with missionaries up north; two Finnish businessmen last week.

    One suspects a pattern has emerged.

    Ever on the lookout to find ways of protecting its citizens, the United States Department of State the other day, issued this warning:

    State Department issues travel warning for Iraq

    WASHINGTON (AP) _ The security situation in Iraq is dangerous and the threat to all Americans there remains extremely high, the State Department said Tuesday.

    Remnants of the deposed regime of President Saddam Hussein, foreign terrorists and criminals remain active in the country, the department said in a notice warning Americans not to go to Iraq.

    There is credible information that terrorists have targeted civil aviation, the statement said.

    APWR 03-23-04 1830EST

    Ah, I thought (as either Bill or Ted said during their Excellent Adventure). Strange things really are afoot at the Circle-K.

    Normally attacks on the Green Zone occur during the evening hours - largely between eight and ten at night. The other night someone asked me if there had ever been a rocket or mortar attack during the day. I assured her this had not happened as the bad guys knew the rules as well as we do: Rockets and Mortars between 2000 and 2200 hours ONLY.

    Sure enough the next morning at about 10 AM: Ka-BOOM! . I happened to be watching General Kimmitt and Mr. Senor do their morning "gaggle" with the press corps when the blast occurred:

    This, from Reuters:

    At least two rockets hit in the vicinity of the Green Zone as Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt was conducting a news briefing. The huge convention center shook as the rocket exploded. Reporters looked around nervously. Kimmitt raised his hand like a teacher stopping a class that was siring too quickly for recess. "That's a rocket," he said dryly. A second explosion shook the building. "A couple of rockets," he added.

    I didn't happen to catch the exact moment of the attacks, but this was the scene immediately preceding:

    I would have gotten a photo of the reporters ducking for cover but I was, er, busy.

    I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I have cut down pretty dramatically on my recreational travel outside of Baghdad until things settle back down. However, I have been slapping on my Battle-Rattle and zipping around Baghdad now and again.

    Last weekend I was invited to be on Tony Snow's Saturday show on the Fox News Channel. You know that Baghdad is eight hours ahead of Washington, DC so to be on at shortly after noon, I have to show up at the Fox bureau here - which is in the oft-shelled Sheraton Hotel - at about 8:00 pm.

    Last week I was supposed to follow a speech by President Bush which was to have begun at about noon and finished about 12:20.

    I stood on the balcony waiting patiently for the President to conclude his remarks, which went over - largely because the crowd interrupted just about every sentence with cheers and applause.

    At about the bottom of the hour, the producer came on the intercom and said that they were going to leave the President's speech, go to Tony Snow for a short re-cap then come to me in Baghdad.

    I said, "If you leave the President's speech to come to me, I will have to stay in Baghdad for the whole rest of my life."

    They saw the wisdom of my position and we agreed I would wend my way back to the Green Zone to be on another day.

    The week before, however this is what it looked like from the TVs in the Green Room:

    Mullfoto by Maj. Missy Foss


    During the daylight hours I was invited to go on a mission to visit the gravesite of a woman named Gertrude Bell.

    Ms. Bell was quite a remarkable person and was a huge part of the founding of Iraq. In brief she was a high-born lady who, in the early 1900's attended Oxford and got a First in History - whatever that means; and went on a walkabout which took her to the Middle East.

    She fell in love with the area and, one suspects, with a guy named Prince Faisal. She was hired by the British as a spy during World War I, after which she in essence decided that this Prince Faisal would be the king of Iraq which kingdom's borders she largely drew.

    According to the Smithsonian Institution her association with King Faisal "earned her the title of 'Uncrowned Queen of Iraq.'"

    Anyway, her grave is located in a Christian cemetery in Baghdad. This is her grave:

    Note how Ranger Rick has gone undercover in his sneakers and fanny pack? He could blend in with the passengers on any cruise ship leaving from Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately there are no cruise ships in Baghdad so Ranger Rick might just as well have painted a target on his chest.

    About a block away from the cemetery is an Armenian church.

    The doors, unfortunately, were locked but the bright white building, behind a modest garden against what bad writers call "an impossibly blue sky" presented a picture too good to pass up.


    Another night I went out to dinner with a Coalition Provisional Authority senior advisor, and great pal, Jim Haveman of Michigan. Haveman had the honor this weekend, of seeing the Ministry of Health - which Jim built up pretty much from scratch - be turned over to the Iraqis. This was significant because the Ministry of Health is the first ministry to be set free, so to speak, and that speaks volumes of Haveman's leadership skills.

    Nevertheless, his skills at choosing restaurants needs a little work. We went out to a place called the Babeesh Restaurant in downtown Baghdad.

    We traveled under the protection of Jim's security detail which, as it turned out was a good thing.

    This the slogan on the front of the menu:

    I think this is what happens when you take a phrase and translate it word-for-word. Although I asked the Iraqi translators what the Arabic said and they told me it was the essentially the same gibberish.

    The meal at the Babeesh was excellent and we were complimenting one another on our fine taste in Iraqi restaurants. We were, however, curious as to why we were the only ones in the restaurant. Not the only Westerners. The only customers.

    Then the bill came.

    Wine in Baghdad is pretty cheap. Because it's really cheap wine. A bottle of wine can get as high as $20 US, but you've got to search hard to find it. Normally wine goes for between $5 and $10 per bottle.

    The joke here is:

    The first time you drink local wine you make faces, gag, and generally make a fool out of yourself.

    About three weeks later you ask if anyone's got a bottle of that six-dollar-wine you can buy offa them.

    Three weeks after that, you are holding onto people's pant legs begging them to fix you up and asserting you can stop any time you want.

    Ok. It's not a joke. That's actually the sequence.

    Dear Mr. Mullings:
    There are many people who suffer from drug dependencies. They might not find this amusing.

    Actually, we're starting a Double-Stuf Oreo Withdrawal Support Group. We meet every night at about 8:30 - right after the first mortar attack - and talk about how long it's been since we've eaten one.

    My name is Rich. I eat Double-Stuf Oreos.
    Hi, Rich!

    There are now some people in the Palace who have been Double-Stuf Oreo free for two or three ... hours.

    While we're on the subject, we're switching from Oreos to Slim Jims and Beef Jerky. Or anything light and tasty you think a soldier, Airman or Marine can stick in his or her backpack and carry with.

    We also have a new ZIP code. Why we needed a new ZIP code is a matter of some hilarity in the Green Zone, but we do so here's the new address:

    Strategic Communications
    AE 09316

    Anyway, bill came and they had charged us $40 PER BOTTLE of wine. A bottle of house red at The Palm isn't $40. Well, maybe it is, but at least at the Palm you don't go through what happened next.

    We had finished paying the bill and grousing about how we'd never come back when the security guys suggested strongly that we go out through the kitchen door.

    I generally don't stop and discuss things like this with armed people, so I said something clever like, "baa" and followed the others out.

    When we got back to the Green Zone we were told that that guys watching the outside of the restaurant thought they heard a round being jacked into the chamber of a handgun. They caught sight of a guy going into a house across the street, who turned out the lights inside. They were pretty sure it was the guy with the handgun. Not only that, they were pretty sure the resturant people had stopped customers from coming in.

    Nevertheless, rather than get into a gun battle outside the restaurant, they decided to hustle us into the cars and get out of harm's way.

    They really did want to transfer us "to Dreaming Sky." But not before we overpaid for the wine.

    I ran into Haveman just a few hours ago and I told him I'm still not sure what I'm more angry about: Being set up to be shot, or being overcharged for the wine.

    That, I don't believe, has ever happened at The Palm on 19th Street, NW in Your Nation's Capital. At least not to me.


    One more:

    The Iraqi national soccer teams are pretty good. The Under-23 team is locked in a fight to qualify for the Olympics. The group they are in includes the Saudis, Oman, and Kuwait. Each team plays each other twice.

    Iraq has beaten Oman and Kuwait and only lost to Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Riyadh.

    We have offered to help them by, among other things, improving their practice facility.

    So, the other day we trekked, with the Corps of Engineers and some other folks out into Baghdad to visit said complex.

    A sports facility anywhere in the world is pretty much the same. The locker room had a blackboard on which was sketched the diagram of a soccer field with the names of players and arrows pointing this way and that.

    With only minor modifications - and a couple of million dollars in improvements - it could have been the locker room of the Dallas Cowboys.

    Anyway, I was in full Ranger Rick attire as befits traveling around with a bunch of soldiers.

    This a photo of Ranger Rick leaning, with studied nonchalance, on the hood of a humvee. Note how the young man in the turret has his armed draped over his .50 caliber machine gun.

    That's the way we soldiers like to stand.

    As we were touring the grounds a young child shyly followed us. He was not, I assure you, attracted by me. He was attracted to a couple of the young men who were providing security for the group as we traipsed around the field.

    After a while the two soldiers noticed him and waved him over.

    I'm not certain who was more delighted: The solders or the young boy.

    Soldiers and kids. Kids and kids, really.

    God bless them all.

    Be safe.

    -- END --

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