BAGHDAD – Joe and I have landed in Baghdad, the final leg of our Iraq journey. We’ll soon be bringing you stories from I Corps, which is running daily American military operations throughout the country.
When I was hammering out our itinerary before we left, I envisioned Baghdad being the start and finish point for us. The start because we needed press badges, available only from the Green Zone, and the end because the creature comforts of Baghdad are unlike anywhere else in the country.
I’m writing this from the back patio of the Joint Visitor Bureau, which sits just across the lake from the Al Faw Palace. Inside is pure Saddam opulence: chandeliers, enormous tables, gaudy furniture. Outside is a magnificent view of the myriad stone buildings that comprise the palace complex. Nowhere to be seen are the miles of concrete T-walls or countless coils of concertina wire that can be found at bases across the country.
The back patio is stocked with wooden benches and picnic tables to take in the view, as well as a barbecue pit for cookouts. For added distraction, a couple hitting mats sit just feet from the lake’s edge. You can tee off straight into the lake – though a sign announces “Don’t hit your golf balls at the Al Faw Palace.”
Only the UH-60 Black Hawks buzzing across the sky serve as a reminder that this is Iraq, these are dangerous times and the American military is playing a high-stakes geopolitical game.