Monday, June 18, 2007

Back to Abnormal

An American Army patrol searching for al-Qaida comes upon an old Iraqi man sitting outside his home. The Lieutenant asks if he has seen any foreign fighters in his neighborhood recently. The man stares back at the lieutenant and states that he has, just today even. The young officer excitedly asks, where? The old man just continues to stare and smiles.

The curfew has been lifted and people are once again moving about the city. The airport has resumed operations, however, the line to just get into the terminal was a two hour wait on Sunday; standing in the baking sun as temperatures creeped up to 110 degrees.

While on the subject, let me describe what it is like to simply fly out of Baghdad. Firstly, the ten-mile trip to the airport takes about an hour and twenty minutes to make, and to even move a single person to the airport requires three cars, as many drivers, and four plus security personnel. Along the way there are countless U.S. and Iraqi military checkpoints, as well as Iraqi Police security checks. Each checkpoint is different, some are just a flash of credentials, while others are a complete ‘get out of the cars, open everything up and have the dogs go through’. Weapons are loaded and unloaded several times depending on where you are in the process, airline tickets are produced for inspection, and identification documents scrutinized.

The drive takes you onto Route Irish, which has been dubbed ‘the most dangerous road in the world’. The pavement is pockmarked with scars from past car bombs, and the concrete blast walls show signs of shrapnel and small arms fire. RPGs and machine gun fire are common place, and heavily armored military vehicles routinely transit the road traveling against the traffic. Imagine flying down I-95 in the States and seeing a convoy of military vehicles coming at you in your lane with weapons trained on your car.

More checkpoints and searches, and finally into the airport, which by this time one assumes is fairly safe. Heavy body armor is kept on until the very last second in case a mortar attack begins or there are snipers in the area.

At the terminal there is plenty of space for curbside unloading because people don’t screw around saying 'good-bye'. They roll up, kick the passenger and luggage out, and get away again, lest they become a target for a car bomb, mortar or sniper attack.

Once inside the terminal, the process of checks and searches starts all over again. It can take almost two hours of waiting in line to finally be called forward to your gate to immediately board the plane.

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