July 28, 2006 - This morning some co-workers and I took a tour of the International Zone - previously known as the "Green Zone," but no longer. "Green" means "go" or "safe" or whatever and frankly, it isn't all that green. OK, quite a few palm trees, but it's not exactly a garden spot. Anyhow, it's called the "International Zone" or "the IZ" for those in the know. The IZ includes the Al-Rasheed Hotel (famously bombed in 2003), many Iraqi government offices, the Embassy of Canada (and the US) and quite a few private homes.
We drove around and saw some of the rest of the US Embassy compound, and visited a couple of the other "camps" in area. We went to the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where we spent considerable time looking at Oriental carpets. They were gorgeous, but I didn't buy anything because (1) I don't know 'nuthin 'bout carpets; and (2) they only take cash and I don't walk around with a lot of cash. But it was interesting to see the shops and the hotel. You're not allowed to take photographs, but I can describe the place as "shabbily elegant." The leather upholstery on the furniture in the lobby is splitting; there are no flowers and no real garden anymore; and we weren't allowed to view the pool or tennis courts, but I suspect they are abandoned as well.
We also drove through "Little Venice," which is a residential area with - you guessed it - lots of small canals. Of course, the "canals" are full of green water and are abandoned as well, but it must have been beautiful at one time. Actually, that description would cover most of the areas I have seen. You can tell they were once beautiful, but now the areas are abandoned.
Next, we went to Liberty Pool, which looks like an old country club. There are a couple of huge pools and a kiddie pool (empty/abandoned) and even one of those set-ups for doing a "dunk the principal" game at a school fair. On the way back, we saw the "Assassin's Gate" and drove past one of Saddam Hussein's palaces which we bombed during the war. We also stopped at the Chancery - which used to be the palace of Saddam Hussein's wife. It's very small, but beautiful, with pink marble balustrades/stairs, what appear to be malachite floors and other gorgeous touches. We also had lunch at the AID compound - very elegant and good food. (I think the chef is French.) They actually have small apartment-sized houses - not trailers. Sigh. . .
In all, it was very interesting to see things beyond the Palace and its immediate surroundings. And I found out where the gym is located!!!
August 25, 2006 - Today I was lucky enough to participate in a private tour of parts of the IZ, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Palace of 2000, a/k/a The Palace of the Believers - the palace the USAF bombed when the war started. We also visited an Iraqi bakery and watched them bake traditional bread - and tasted it too!
We started back at the Parade Field where the Crossed Swords monuments are located. I didn't realize until today that the hands holding the swords were cast from Saddam Hussein's hands! We went up into the reviewing stand, stood where Saddam Hussein stood as he reviewed the troops, saw his private reception room, the heliports out back, etc. The entire building has been vandalized - broken windows, graffiti, etc. Nothing was left untouched. (Please see photos on the next page.) Out back we saw the International Baathist Headquarters, which Saddam Hussein wanted to make the international headquarters for a political party that basically was founded in Jordan and crosses many borders. It's as if someone decided to build an international communist headquarters. Where would it be? And are the Chinese communists the same as the Vietnamese? It made no sense. Now the building is where they are holding Saddam Hussein's trial. Fitting, indeed.
Afterwards, we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Iraqis are doing major repairs and are taking pride in putting it back into shape. There is no electricity, so we couldn't see much inside, but the view was fantastic. The Unknown Soldier is actually buried in a large tower-like structure right in front.
Next, we were lucky enough to enter the Palace of the Believers, a/k/a/ the Palace 2000. Oh, my gosh, I cannot begin to describe the destruction. Our Air Force used advanced technology to send bombs right into the middle. The destruction is overwhelming. You must check out the photos to see what I mean. We gingerly walked around the rubble, took pictures and were amazed at what we saw. We also went down into the bunker that was built for Saddam Hussein. It was like entering a submarine - totally sealed off. The doors were built to protect against all chemical and biological warfare and also radiation in the case of a nuclear war. Again, with no electricity, we had to use our MagLights, but we saw the huge conference room, operations center, kitchen, dorm-style rooms that slept four people in bunk beds and what was probably Saddam Hussein's bedroom, bath and walk-in closet.
Last, we came up to fresh air and visited "Little Baghdad," a housing area within the IZ. We stopped at a bakery and watched the workers make the traditional bread, took pictures and tasted the bread. It was very delicious and the bakers were very nice, inviting us to take pictures, watch them work, etc. Then we headed home. What a day!
Through it all, I kept thinking, "This is a piece of history. What a unique opportunity to be here and to see this." Once again, the opulence of the palaces and the building that Saddam had for himself were overwhelming, especially after seeing how the normal people live. No expenses were spared for his - and his cronies' - comfort, while the common folk were terrorized by his secret police. I am so glad to be here and to be a part of this effort.