Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Into Iraq: Day Three, Camp Liberty

Five miles from Baghdad International Airport is the sprawling Camp Liberty.

From what I can tell, it is the largest US base in the world.

It is built around several of Saddam's former palaces.

Included in his pleasure dome was a large man-made lake with water diverted from the Tigris. The fact that he did this when farmers were suffering from drought didn't seem to ruffle him. The lake was stocked so visitors could fish from the patios of the number of palaces built right at water's edge.

One of those palaces was our home for a night. It serves as a hotel for visiting guests of the military.

It was big and tacky. Guessing 30,000 square feet. It is not a palace in the European sense, i.e. beautiful architecture and breathtaking craftsmanship. No, this place is like an oversized ego home slapped up with sub-prime mortgage money in a suburb of Dallas, Phoenix or Las Vegas.

The engineers with us pointed out where the building standards sucked. Crooked windows. Thin layers of stone poorly mortared with rebar showing behind it. Wonder if TARP funds will cover this?

We ask about the history of the place. Apparently, it was used by Uday and Qusay as a pleasure palace. Like when they sent their henchmen into town to kidnap virgins to bring to the party. It was already creepy. That made it creepier.

This joint is on the shore of Lake Saddam, across from one of the Presidential palaces. A huge place that is now Multi National Force Headquarters. General Odierno works from there.

After a bit of settling in, we realize how relaxed this place feels compared to Balad. Still in a war zone, but slightly less intense. Until we walked onto the back patio and heard gunfire from a firefight nearby.

In a bit, we went to lunch at the mess hall. It is huge. More Ugandan guards. Very nervous and jerky. No hats, no purses, no backpacks.

Why? Not so long ago an Iraqi shithead walked into this very place with a backpack of explosives and blew himself up along with a number of Americans. The only thing with black eyes he is looking at is Satan. Who is no virgin. And that martyr is getting screwed regularly, just not the way he envisioned.

Why would somebody agree to be a suicide bomber? Islamic sainthood, hero in your hometown, and a promise of $5300 for your family. That's the mindset we fight against. It doesn't make sense to us. That's why it is so dangerous. When life has so little meaning to the enemy, we have to fight a different kind of war.

We scatter amongst the thousands of people. We shake hands. We tell them thanks. We invite them to tonight's concert across the street.

The group is planning to tour some of Saddam's other palaces after lunch.

On the way in, Zac and I spotted a Stryker unit in the parking lot across the street.

Pete was in the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 2SCR. A Stryker is another form of armed personnel carrier. It has six huge tires, can get up to 60 miles an hour, carries a variety of armament, can be operated entirely by video screen in the safety of the vehicle with no one exposed, and is designed to get alot of boots on the ground to hot spots in a hurry. Once, the Cavalry rode horses into the shit. Today, Strykers.

We had never seen one before. Zac and I introduced ourselves to the troops and told them why we were there. They adopted us and showed us the vehicle from top to bottom. We now understand exactly what Pete was doing, where he sat, where he was standing on that morning.

We also learned that the enemy has continued to ratchet things up. Their new favorite toy is a hand grenade version of the EFMP. At roadblocks or on crowded streets, they can lob these lethal bombs right onto our vehicles. And they penetrate everything we have. Strykers, MRAPs, you name it.

The courage and determination of the young people that wage war for us is remarkable. They want to win. They want to finish. They want to kill the bad guys and help the good guys.

President Obama, you called the folks on Wall Street our "best and brightest" in your 60 Minutes interview. You couldn't be more wrong.

America's best and brightest are on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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