KHALIS, Iraq – Want to confuse the heck out of a print-shop owner in Diyala province? Just walk in and ask for posters of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Joe and I went on a daylong tour of the civil-affairs projects of 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment and walked through the main market in Khalis. One shop hawked large posters of Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric whose hate of the Americans is pretty well-documented. The guy’s a major political influence throughout Diyala province (and much of Iraq), so posters of him aren’t a rare sight.
So Lt. Col. Chuck Hodges and I popped into the shop and asked how much the big poster outside – one showing the unsmiling, bearded face of Sadr above two lions – cost. The guy behind the counter said the shop owner wasn’t it, so he couldn’t help us. But another one caught my eye: A full-frame shot of Sadr in front of an ultra-Photoshopped background featuring perfectly manicured grass, flowers and a quaint bridge over a peaceful stream.
The owner appeared a minute later and told us the only copies he had were the ones tacked up to the wall. But the dude is in the business of making money. So for 12,000 dinar, those two plus two calendars featuring Sadr were ours.
Now I just hope customs agents at the airport don’t ask me about it…