Suppose you want to embed in Iraq or maybe even want to enlist. Can you simply turn to the transportation section of "Iraq on $5 a Day" and get all the information you need? No you can't. So I've located a much-neglected niche in the travel guidebook business and I'm gonna fill it. And you don't have to go to Barnes and Noble to buy my guide either. Everything that you need to know is right here. Welcome to "Iraq on $5,000 a Second".
In April of 2007 and then again last October, I embedded with the US military and saw a lot of Iraq from inside the wire. So if you want to get a guidebook to Iraq that will give you travel suggestions on where to go and what to see outside the wire, you are gonna have to contact Dahr Jamal or Aaron Glantz for that kind of stuff. In Anbar province, I was fortunate enough to go out into the towns and villages and meet individual Iraqis, but that was the exception. I met poor farmer families out in the countryside and sheiks and children in the city of Hit and women who had come to a hospital in Haditha to have their babies. And most of the Iraqis I met were dirt-poor -- which is totally ironic because the ground under their feet contains trillions of dollars worth of oil. But I digress. Most of the time I was in Iraq, I was inside the wire.
This is your guidebook to what's happening inside the wire -- an eye-witness account of what the place looks like, how to get around there and what to expect.
No, wait. Before I tell you about the Green Zone, I gotta tell you how to get there!
After you either get your embed permission papers from MNFI's CPIC (that stands for "Multi-National Forces Iraq" and its "Combined Press Information Center"), you go to www.baraintravel.com and buy your plane ticket to Kuwait. Bargain Travel always gives you a good rate. The only problem with Bargain Travel tickets is that they are so cheap because they are non-refundable. So make sure that CPIC gives you the green light to come over there first before you buy your ticket or else you will be screwed. And you will have to take the Department of Defense to small claims court to get your money back. Can't you just see it now -- General Petraeus standing up there in front of Judge Judy, arguing his case. "But Your Honor, it wasn't our fault!"
After you have secured your CPIC permission and your plane ticket online, hop onto BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) at the Ashby station and wrangle your 100-odd pounds of luggage off to SFO. Then you fly for 16 hours to Frankfurt and sit around that airport for a day, waiting for your connection to board. Then you fly another six hours to Kuwait and you finally arrive at the Kuwait City international airport, all haggard and jet-lagged. And what does the Kuwait airport look like? It looks exactly like the San Francisco airport. Or the Phoenix airport. Or JFK. Except that most of the guys there are wearing white nightgowns and the ladies are wearing black headscarves.
Then you go try to find your ride out to the nearest US airbase -- there are a lot of US airbases in Kuwait. But where should you look for the person who will give you your ride? At the airport Starbucks, of course.
It used to be that if you couldn't find a ride to the base, you could spend the night in a Barca-Lounger at the KBR office at the airport for free but they closed that one down.
Here comes our ride coordinators. Army officers dressed in Nike T-shirts and Bermuda shorts drive us 40 miles out into the desert in their American SUVs.
War is a guy thing. It's like football. Only what's going on in Iraq isn't exactly a war. It's more like a barroom brawl, a free-for-all where everyone jumps into the fray -- except instead of fighting over Super Bowl rings, they are all fighting over oil.
After Kuwait, we board a C-130 troop transport plane (wearing our helmets and flak jackets of course) in the middle of the night and head off to BIAP -- Baghdad International Airport. Ha! BIAP consists of four large tents and some picnic tables -- and lots of concrete blast walls.