The claims conference lasted most of the day on Friday. It was productive, and much good information was taught about how to handle issues relating to claims, such as US forces crashing into Iraqi cars, taking over Iraqi houses, or other such problems.
The one downside to the conference was Victory Base itself. Most of the base is a dusty, rambling place that is confusing to newcomers. It is big, and so it’s hard to walk anywhere. Finally, they put us into some old tents that were caked with dust, and poorly lit. So the accommodations were not the best, but I was able to sleep very well at night due to being tired from the day’s efforts.
I didn’t do much on Friday night other than check my email, and then get to bed early. Friday brought a big dust storm, so flights were cancelled and there was little to do anyway. Saturday, however, turned out to be a very fun day. I’d arranged to go to the “International Zone,” which is sometimes referred to as the “Green Zone.” This is where all the foreign governments keep their embassies. The US still has a large military presence in the IZ, but overall control has been given back to the Iraqis.
To get from Camp Victory to the IZ, you must either fly on a helicopter or go in a convoy. I went in a convoy, which consisted of several heavily armed MRAP’s, and a Rhino. A Rhino is an armored bus. It’s the most comfortable way to go in a convoy, and reserved for higher ranking folks. I’d never seen a Rhino before, but here is what it looks like:
(Note the mine detector sticking out in front).
They let us off in the IZ around 8AM, and we got breakfast. My first stop was to see the new US Embassy. It’s a brand new, and is a very sterile and un-interesting set of buildings:
There are buses run by KBR (a big US contractor here in Iraq) that take you around in the IZ. It’s too large to just walk. My next stop was to take a bus over to Camp Prosperity, a small enclave army base in the IZ. It has a few of the old Saddam palaces and playgrounds, and is a very amusing place:
The headquarters in Camp Prosperity is an old palace that is converted into a US military headquarters, as well as a gym.
They also had an Iraqi market, where you can buy pirated DVD’s. This is quite common on US military bases in Iraq.
After seeing Camp Prosperity, I then went to see the parade grounds. Here is the standard photo that everyone takes of this area:
I also saw the new Iraqi government building, known as the old Presidential Palace. You can’t go in unless you are a member of the Iraqi Parliament or on official business. Near by, they a picture of Saddam that had been defaced, with the words “Iraq good, US good, Saddam Donkey” written above Hussein’s head. Here is the closest I got to the Iraqi parliament building:
I had lunch at Freedom Rest, a little hotel and spa used for soldiers to vacation in the IZ. It has a large swimming pool, nice recreational activities, and several pleasant hotel rooms and a spacious lobby. It’s a very nice place:
At about 2:30, I had to get back to take the convoy to return to Camp Victory. The IZ is an interesting place. It’s run by the Iraqi’s, and it was my first time to be outside the confines of a US military base. The IZ is probably the safest place in Iraq outside of a US base, but I enjoyed the adventure. The return convoy went well. I was in a Rhino again. There have been something like 2,000 convoys over the past few years between the IZ and Camp Victory, and there has never been an incident. It’s about the safest way possible to get “outside the wire.”
Tomorrow, I’ll finish off my description of my trip to Baghdad.
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