Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ghost Towns

In 1990, Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world.

In 1991, the multi-national coalition shattered that army. In 2003 we obliterated it.

The evidence of the war that destroyed the army of Iraq is all over the country. When I fly around south central Iraq, from Babil to places like Karbala, Wasit, and Qadasyia I see those places from 1000 feet up.

I have seen army bases were once huge, thriving facilities, covering several square miles, all flattened. I can tell that they were military bases from my maps and by the way the buildings and roads are laid out in precise order. Barracks look like barracks everywhere. In many places the only indication of the base ever existed is by the internal road network and outlines of exterior fences. All other evidence has been wiped clean by our bombs and time.

In some places the buildings still stand but the roofs are gone and all that is left is an empty shell. Looking down at these places you can see that the buildings have been picked clean like a carcass, whether it was by looters, Americans, or salvage workers, leaving just the skeleton.

I flew over a former Republican Guard air base yesterday where bomb craters the size of baseball diamonds dotted the ground up to the four foot thick concrete bunkers that once housed the air force. The bunkers are cracked and broken like empty shells buried in the sand.

If you know what to look for the evidence of the war is also visible on the ground. Pock marks cover walls where machine guns fired. Pavement is patched up where rockets impacted and were covered over with cement. Every now and then you can find a stray rusted shell casing.

I think about the men who no doubt died in these places and feel no pity for them. Not even in passing. In fact, I hold them in some respect for as soldiers they faced certain death without leaving their posts. Their dedication to their nation is what being a soldier is about. I once met a man who fought in the 2003 war against us. He actually admitted to firing artillery at Coalition Forces during the attack on Baghdad. He has been the only military aged male who served in the military who has ever admitted to shooting at us. I shook his hand – at least he was a warrior.

Many others, forced into conscription, never believed in Saddam’s regime and fled the obvious. I can’t blame them. The only cowards were those who believed in Saddam but ran anyway when called to duty.

Not a single base I have seen has any squatters living on them. The Bedouins don’t even stop here. The new military doesn’t even build over these places. There are no signs that life ever visited these places after March/April 2003. It’s as if the malevolence of the Ba’ath regime still lurks in the shadows and no one wants to be haunted by ghosts of that recent past.

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