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December 10, 2005

Mood:  special
Topic: The Places
A few weeks back a bunch of my friends and I decided to visit one of the bars inside the Green Zone. The bar is named after the company that owns the compound – Parsons.

To get to the bar, we called up a motorpool driver and piled into a large van. We had already thrown back a few drinks, and I am sure that our fairly conservative and religious driver was wondering how a bunch of drunks like us could be placed in charge of the reconstruction. On the short trip through the Green Zone, we were very loud and made many crude jokes.

After passing through a Marine checkpoint, where the very sober Marines gently teased us, we finally arrived at the entrance to the compound where the bar was located. We walked through the main gate and then approached a small guard shark. The security guard manning the shack was from southern Africa. His accent was so thick that I had a hard time understanding what he saying. He wanted everyone to sign into a guest book, but since most of my friends had already taken off toward the bar, I simply signed all of them in and forged their signatures.

The bar was nothing more than a double-wide trailer filled with a television, tables, chairs, and a dart board. The bar itself was rather small and didn’t provide enough room for the bartender to keep all the beer behind the counter. A lot of the beer rested in larger coolers to the right of the bar. If you wanted a beer, you simply pulled it from a cooler and paid at the bar.

The prices were very reasonable. Beers were about $2 per bottle, and most mixed drinks were $3.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:56 AM EST
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November 11, 2005

Topic: The Places
The large Crossed Swords are a major landmark inside the Green Zone, yet only a small number of people ever take the time to actually visit them. Those who do and decide to give a tip to the police officer at the nearby checkpoint will be shown to a small hatch around the back side of the monument's base. On the other side of the hatch is a short hallway that leads into the underbody of the monument. From there, visitors can climb up through the underbody of the massive three story hands. A series of ladders lead to a small opening near the top of the hand, which is where people poke out their head to see a great view of the Green Zone.

As I climbed around inside the monument, it reminded me of the inside of the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Statue of Liberty. How would the average American feel if someone invaded America and then climbed through the underbody of our monuments?

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:30 PM EST
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October 6, 2005

Topic: The Places
Although the military does not allow soldiers to mail bootleg DVDs back to the States, it does not stop them from buying or watching them in Iraq. Consequently, dozens of bootleg DVD shops litter the Green Zone. Many shops are no more than small wooden stands resting along side major roads, but there is a large store in my corner of the Green Zone, Sam's, that is very popular.

Sam's sits right next to a small government compound. From the outside, it looks more like a bomb shelter than a store. Large dusty t-walls protect the patrons from any would be car bomber. Inside, the store has three small rooms not much larger than a master bedroom in an average size American house.

One of the rooms is filled with Sony Playstation games and a handful of music CDs. Another room is filed with a handful of DVD box sets, but the main room is the heart of Sam's bootleg operation. The main room has hundreds of bootleg DVDs lining the walls and filling large wooden boxes. Most bootlegs vary in price from $2 to $6 dollars. The average bootleg has at least two movies on it, but newer movies generally only have one. The newer movies have the worst quality because they were filmed inside a movie theater under less than ideal circumstances. All the same, many people enjoy watching a bootleg of a movie released a few weeks ago in the States. It helps them feel in touch with people back in the States who can go to the theater to watch highly anticipated movies.

Sam's exchange policy is one of its greatest selling points. If a bootleg's quality absolutely stinks, you can bring it back and exchange it for a new one. However, exchanges are rare because Sam's has a DVD player and television that customers can use to test out a bootleg before buying it.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:24 AM EDT
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July 14, 2005

Topic: The Places
I'm still stuck at Camp Stryker. I'm trying to entertain myself by visiting the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) tent. It has computers, board games, and video games. Still . . . I'm starting to get bored. Hopefully I can get out of here on Saturday morning.

In and other news . . . there are no lights in Saddam's Bunker. When you go into it, you have to take a flashlight. European engineers designed the entire bunker to withstand the impact of a nuclear bomb. When the two five hundred pound bombs hit the palace in 2003, the blasts supposedly didn't even break a light bulb in the bunker.

As the Americans, stormed into Baghdad, Saddam's cronies abandoned the bunker. Shortly after they left, Iraqi and Americans looted the bunker. They took almost everything that wasn't bolted to the ground. Then, because the Americans cut off power to the bunker, the water pumps could no longer stop the groundwater table, which is fairly high throughout all of Iraq, from flooding the bottom three floors of the bunker.

People living inside the Green Zone do stop by for a visit now and then, but most of the excitement of visiting the bunker has faded. Going there is about as exciting as visiting an abandoned steel mill.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:01 PM EDT
Updated: July 26, 2005 2:24 AM EDT
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July 11, 2005

Mood:  rushed
Topic: The Places
The crossed swords are a major landmark inside the Green Zone. The official name of the monument is the Hands of Victory, though hardly anyone living inside the Green Zone knows the real name.

Saddam built them to serve as an Arabic version of a Roman triumphal arch. They were built to celebrate the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam took guns from dead Iraqi soldiers, melted them down, and recast them to make the 140 tall blades. Saddam also placed captured Iranian helmets in nets held between the swords. The fists that hold the swords aloft are replicas of Saddam Hussein's own hands!

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:35 PM EDT
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July 8, 2005

Topic: The Places
Insurgent have frequently attacked infrastructure (water plants, power plants, oil pipelines, etc) around the country in an attempt to destabilize the new Iraqi government. Recently, the insurgent have conducted a number of effective attacks against Baghdad's water system, which at times has nearly completely cut off the city's water supply.

Nevertheless, an industrious Iraqi has started a car wash inside the Green Zone. The proprietor washes the cars by driving them underneath large pipes raised about 10 feet above the ground. Each pipe, which is roughly a foot across, continually gushes out water even if there are no cars at the car wash.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:46 PM EDT
Updated: July 8, 2005 11:47 PM EDT
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June 30, 2005

Topic: The Places
During the first days of the invasion of Iraq, the US military dropped a few precision-guided bombs on the Believer's Palace, which is located in the center of Baghdad. The bombs had a devastating effect - ceilings collapsed, elevator doors were blown out, columns fell, and the palace's marble floors were covered under thick dust, twisted metal, and broken bricks.

As the U.S. Army began to invade Baghdad, the Iraqis realized that Saddam could no longer effectively control his military or defend the spoils he collected while he ruled as the dictator of Iraq. Thus, Iraqis looted almost all of the Saddam's palaces, including the Believer's Palace. The looters took anything of value that was not destroyed by the American's bombs.

After the invasion, the Believer's Palace almost became the home of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Eventually the U.S. government decided to use other property inside the Green Zone to house USAID. The palace itself still remains largely abandoned to this day, but a U.S. government contractor (Parsons) has erected a small camp on the palace ground.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:57 PM EDT
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June 28, 2005

Mood:  blue
Topic: The Places
Saddam had 27 palaces throughout Iraq. He moved from palace to palace in a paranoid attempt to stay one step ahead of potential assassins.

When the Americans arrived in Baghdad, the U.S. military quickly captured the 600-foot-long Presidential Palace located on the banks of the Tigris River. Because this palace was one of the few that was not bombed during the invasion of Iraq, it quickly became the seat of the U.S. occupation and to this day it still serves as the de-facto American Embassy.

When the Americans arrived at the palace, they found four 30-foot-tall busts of Saddam on the roof of the four-story palace. In late 2003, the U.S. government removed them. Oddly, the U.S. government did not destroy the busts. They now stand far from their original home in a Stonehenge-like setting in a quiet part of the Green Zone.

And in other news . . . the New York Times had a nice, short editorial about Iraq yesterday.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:40 PM EDT
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June 25, 2005

Topic: The Places
The U.S. government recently opened a recreation center inside the Green Zone. The complex, renamed the Liberty Pool, once served as Uday Hussein's playground.

Uday was nuts. Iraqi exiles say Uday murdered people at will and tortured with zeal. He routinely ordered his guards to snatch young women off the street so he could rape them. Uday had once been a strong candidate to succeed his father, but he felt out of favor when he killed one of Saddam's favorite bodyguards with a club and carving knife.

As Uday drove his red Porsche through Baghdad one day in 1996, assassins opened fire on him. The attack, allegedly organized by his younger brother Qusay, left Uday permanently crippled. From 1996 until his death during an American raid in 2004, Uday had to walk with a cane. Apparently, after the attack he also had trouble making love with women, which apparently only worsened his lust for violence against women.

After the assignation attempt in 1996, Saddam built a large pool complex to help Uday relax and recuperate. That pool is now the Liberty Pool, used by Americans living inside the Green Zone. Most people have no idea about the history surrounding the pool complex.

And in other news . . . Rummy got grilled the other day on the Hill.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:41 PM EDT
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June 12, 2005

Topic: The Places
There aren't too many bars inside the Green Zone, and almost as quickly as they open, there are rumors that the State Department's security officers intend to make them off-limits. Thus, that is why I feel real lucky that I recently made it to another Green Zone Bar - Ocean Cliffs.

The bar is housed in a British diplomatic compound called "Ocean Cliffs." Don't let the name fool you. There is no ocean, and there are no cliffs. The compound built inside the lower level of a parking garage. It is buried under lots of sand bags and filled with converted metal cargo containers that serve as makeshift "homes" for many British foreign service officers posted to Iraq. Somewhat depressingly, the place feels like a cave.

Presumably, in an effort to keep up morale, the Brits opened up the "Whine Bar" in the middle of their cavernous underground compound, though I think the official name for the bar has been forgotten by most people who live inside the Green Zone; everyone simply calls it Ocean Cliffs. To get into the bar, you need to be British or get a Brit to let you into their bar. I guess that they want to keep the bar somewhat manageable and keep the riff-raff out, especially since people are living in metal boxes that surround the bar.

The prices are VERY reasonable. Beer only costs a buck and mix drinks cost $3. Interestingly, they accept U.S. money even though it is a British bar.

And in other somewhat related news . . . even though the Brits sent thousands of troops to Iraq, at least a few Brits were worried that the Americans didn't do a good job of planning for the post-war period.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:27 PM EDT
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June 10, 2005

Topic: The Places
The only official U.S. post office I found inside the Green Zone is located at the Palace. It isn't very big. It is about the size of mobile homes found in countless trailer parks across America. Once you get inside, a soldier checks your package to make sure you are not trying to mail bootleg DVDs, shisha (which is considered to be drug paraphernalia), or some other illegal item. After the soldier checks the package, you seal it up and see another friendly soldier who tells you how much it will cost to mail the package. If you are simply mailing a letter, it is free!

Most of the soldiers use the post office to ship their belongings back to the States at the end of their tour. Soldiers can only carry a bag or two with them on the plane, so they have no other way to get everything back to America.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:38 PM EDT
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April 26, 2005

Topic: The Places
Adnon Palace is located on the edge of the Green Zone. It was formerly the home of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Adnon. According to one of my drivers, Adnon defected from Iraq and cut off all ties to Saddam's family. In an effort to convince Adnon to come back to Iraq, Saddam built the palace just for Adnon. When Adnon heard about the palace, he decided to come back to Iraq. When he landed at the airport, Saddam killed him.

Adnon Palace is now home to the Ministry of Interior. The palace grounds is also the home of the Country Club, one of the few bars inside the Green Zone.

Getting to the Country Club is an adventure. I have to armor up and call a driver from the motor pool. During the short ten minute drive to the bar, I pass by a number of Baghdad landmarks, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the famous Crossed Swords. Upon arriving at Adnon Palace, the vehicle goes through a quick check for explosives. After passing the inspection check point, the driver goes another 1/8 of mile to another checkpoint, where my friends I and have to hop out of the car.

The short walk from the last checkpoint to the entrance to the bar is enjoyable. Along the way, we pass by Adnon Palace, which rest on a small rise. A stone's throw from the entrance of the palace is a small building marked with a nice neon sign announcing that it is the Country Club. Before you enter the building, there is a small tub filled with sand where PSDs have to dry fire their weapons to make sure there isn't a round sitting inside the chamber.

Inside, the bar is hot and often crowded. Loud trashy pop music blares from large speakers. A few foosball and pool tables line one side of the bar. On the other side is an open area where people can dance, if they are so inclined. In the middle are a few tables and chairs. On a busy night, it is hard to even walk around inside the bar. The drinks are cheep ($2) and no one is in a hurry to leave; there are very few other places to go and drink inside the Green Zone.

Because the bar has become way too popular, the Country Club is getting ready to become a "members only" club, which means anyone who wants to go there must be a member or a friend of a member.

One last comment about the Adnon Palace . . . it is right on the edge of the Green Zone, and during election day apparently a number of insurgents jumped over the wall and tried to storm the palace. The bar might be a little island of normalcy inside the zone, but it is still just an island that is susceptible to the storm moving all around it.

As you can see from this photo, the Country Club is not the place to go to pick up women.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:08 PM EDT
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March 25, 2005

Topic: The Places
Every Thursday night, a bunch of Personal Security Detachment (PSD) mercenaries hang up their guns and slide behind the bar in one of the few places to buy drinks inside the International Zone, the Bunker Bar.

Getting to the bar is a little tougher than getting to a bar in the States. I had to "armor up" and call a driver to take me over to the compound where the bar was located. After the driver dropped me off, I quickly zipped by the compound security guard and made a b-line for the front door. There was a quasi-bouncer at the door. To help keep the number of people in the bar manageable, you need to be a "member" or a friend of a member. Thankfully two of my buddies were members, and one of them "sponsored" me so I could get in that night.

Inside, everything was a little dirty. It was like a large garage that had been converted into a bar by two "bubba's." The tables were simple and the folding chairs were uncomfortable. The music was loud and bounced around off the concrete walls. It may be the only bar that I will ever visit that has tons of weapons, grenades, and mortar rounds plastered to the wall for decorations. Plus, there were about 40 guys to every one woman in the place. Brings a whole new meaning to the words "sausage fest" doesn't it?

Don't get me wrong. Even though it wasn't as lovely as the Penn Ave Pour House or Local 16, I loved it. The drinks were cheep, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. What more can you ask for while serving in Iraq?

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:29 PM EST
Updated: March 25, 2005 11:41 PM EST
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March 18, 2005

Mood:  chatty
Topic: The Places
So far, I have seen three Post Exchanges (PXs) in Iraq. Two were rather spartan, but one was really nice.

The PX near the Palace, which is the only one I can visit on a regular basis, is rather small. It is about twice the size of a large 7-11. It has a lot of junk food and a small selection of DVDs and CDs. Overall, it is rather depressing and the lines are notoriously long. Getting to the PX isn't very fun either. I have to armor up, get a driver, and pass through a military checkpoint.

When I returned from my regional rest break, I had to spend the day at Camp Stryker before catching a Rhino Bus back into the International Zone. The Camp Stryker PX was about the same size and was just as disappointing as the Palace PX. Still, there wasn't much else at Camp Stryker, so I was pretty happy to find it.

The PX at Camp Victory is much, much larger. Sadly, I cannot get to the Camp Victory PX on a regular basis. It is near the airport, and because of the insurgency, I can't simply drive out there. I will only be able to go there when I fly in or out of Baghdad International Airport for my rest breaks.

The Camp Victory PX has a large central plaza dotted with small gazebos. In one corner of the plaza the military erected a small bizarre where you could buy souvenirs, carpets, and paintings. On one side plaza, there are a number of small buildings, which housed an odd array of businesses spanning from a barber shop to a company that could help you buy a car. The main store has tons of junk food, clothing, stereos, books, magazines, shoes, bicycles, and much more. And . . . in the far corner of the plaza, I found a Burger King. I stood in line for five minutes to order a double whopper with cheese. Sure it was gluttonous, but it felt good to have a little reminder of home sliding down into my tummy.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:26 PM EST
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February 6, 2005

Mood:  mischievious
Topic: The Places
Although I've never seen anything in writing, I've been told that the soldiers stationed in Iraq are prohibited from drinking alcohol. While enforcing that rule probably sends a good message to the Iraqi people and helps prevent the troops from getting ripped in a country where the bad guys are always looking for easy targets to pick off. Still, in moderation it is probably a good this. Thus, I only have one thing to say about the troops - those poor bastards! Alcohol isn't prohibited on my compound. Getting it is a slightly different matter. We are only supposed to travel inside the International Zone (IZ) on official business. Even under the most liberal of interpretations of this rule, making a beer run is not official business. To make it even shadier, we are not allowed to visit any restaurants in the IZ, which leads me to believe that any stops at the local beer shack probably fit into the "don't do it" rule. All the same, these are rules that don't seem to stop most people. I've been to parties when the booze flowed as freely as any house party in DC. Thus, after living in the IZ for one month, I finally felt the need to make my first beer run. It started with an "official" trip to the al Rasheed, which took about an hour to complete. When my driver came back to pick me up, I asked him to make a little side trip over to our local liquor store - the White House. The White House isn't very big. It is a small 20 by 50 foot white concrete block house nestled in a small little neighborhood. I was a little hesitant when I first jumped into the store. Inside the bare concrete building, two Iraqis in their mid-twenties tossed an indifferent glance my way. They were too busy talking on their cell phones to provide any direct customer service, which did not to reassure me and forced me to quickly shift through the collection of alcohol on my own. The selection was fairly impressive considering that we were living inside the IZ, in the middle of an Arab country, in the middle of a war. They had gin, rum, scotch, vodka, and a host of other hard liquors on the 15 long, 6 foot high metal shelving. In the small back room they had stacks of Heineken, Amstel, MGD, and a few other beers. The prices weren't too excessive. A 24 pack of Amstel cost $20, and a bottle of Captain Morgan cost $15. When I made my selections, the proprietor of this nice little establishment didn't seem interested in taking my money. He was too busy with his heated cell phone conversation. Thankfully his assistant was more attune to the standards of customer service that I have grown accustom to over the years. The assistant took my money and even helped me carry the case of beer to my van. I gave him with a small one dollar tip as a reward for his services. As I rode back to the compound with my new supply of alcohol, which I hope to share with some of coworkers sometime soon, I wondered why someone was willing to risk his life to transport or sell me beer. (However, please note that the White House is fairly safe nestled inside the IZ). It seems like businessmen are always looking for a way to make a buck. Sadly, I have to report that I still haven't found any place that sells kegs, but I remain eternally optimistic that I will throw the first kegger on my compound.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:20 PM EST
Updated: February 6, 2005 11:29 PM EST
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January 26, 2005

Topic: The Places
I finally made it to "the Palace." The palace was once Saddam's residential estate on the Tigris River. Before the invasion, it was probably an impressive sight. It had imperial domes, large busts of Saddam, marble columns, glistening chandeliers, large swimming pools, lavish fittings, and (in my opinion) cheesy frescos. This building served as the public face of Saddam's government. It acted like the Center and East Wing of the U.S. White House. When the U.S. stormed the palace during a daylight raid in April 2003, some Iraqi soldiers jumped into the Tigris River to flee the advancing column of more than 100 armored vehicles racing through downtown Baghdad. After the city fell, the palace underwent a major change. The U.S. stripped out every image of Saddam. Then, it crammed in perhaps a thousand (probably more) employees into its halls. Carpenters erected plywood to enclose balconies to create makeshift offices. Large ballrooms were converted into seas of cubed offices. One massive entrance was converted into overflow seating for a cafeteria. The open land facing the Tigris River quickly became a maze-like city of metal containers that are the "homes" of the new American technocrats who came to Iraq to run the occupation. Civilians and soldiers now walk through the halls and grounds with a meaningful purpose reminiscent of the buzz found in the Pentagon or Main State. Meanwhile Iraqis clean the floors, serve food, and perform other non-technical jobs. All of these people work under the shadow of the wealth that was once wasted to build this palace. The shining chandeliers, expansive frescos, and intricate tiling are still there, and will probably still be there once the U.S. leaves.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:38 PM EST
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January 9, 2005

Mood:  happy
Topic: The Places
I finally got out of my compound today. My teammates and I left to have a short lunch at the al Rashid Hotel. (For those you not keeping track of the war, this is the nice hotel that the insurgents attacked when Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz visited the International Zone (IZ) in October 2003. He walked away from the attack unscratched. Unfortunately, one soldier died, and 15 others were wounded.) To get out of the lovely concrete-walled prison that I call home, I had to put on my "battle rattle," which consists of my Second Chance ? battle amour and matching black helmet. Thanks to the insurgents we can't go walking around the IZ these days, so we had to call over to the motor pool and request a ride over to the hotel. Our friendly Iraqi driver drove us swiftly through the IZ in a nice government van. The IZ (formerly known as the Green Zone) isn't a pretty place, and it definitely isn't green. Large, concrete, blast-resistant walls line almost every street. Mounds of trash and rubble are everywhere. The military has also erected a number of check points to help prevent any bad guys from zipping around the IZ undetected. Once upon a time, I am sure the IZ and the al Rashid were some of the nicest places in the whole country, and al Rashid still might be the nicest hotel. All the same, it really feel hollow now. The only people in the hotel were Americans, British, various contractors, and Iraqi hotel workers who didn't have many customers to serve. We ate lunch in one of the two restaurants, which was completely empty except for us. The kitchen had run out of propane, so we only has a few items to choose between - burgers, kabobs, club sandwiches, and one or two other things. They did have a small wine selection. We ended up drinking a Lebanese wine. It didn't taste very good and cost $30. I kept telling myself that beggars can't be choosers in Iraq. That didn't make me feel any better. After lunch, we wandered around the roughly ten "stores" inside the hotel. Most were selling knock-off Rolex watches, paintings, Persian rugs, and bootleg DVDs. I almost bought a rug, but I wanted to do some research first. I would hate to be the stupid American who paid $300 for a rug that I thought was worth $1,000 only to find out that it was only worth $50.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:01 PM EST
Updated: January 28, 2005 4:10 AM EST
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