Over the past year, many people have asked me, "Jane, what is it like in Iraq?" I have answered this question in many different ways but today I would like to focus on one aspect of my experience in Iraq -- getting around from one military base to another. Today I'd like to give you a personal tour of what it is actually like to embed in Iraq. Why? Because Lonely Planet hasn't been over there within the last five years. But I have.
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".
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.
The first place that we are going to explore is Baghdad's Green Zone. While I was there in April, that's ALL that I saw. Ask me ANYTHING about the Green Zone! Been there, done that. "But why just the stay in the Green Zone," you might ask. Here's a travel tip. When asking for an embed outside the wire in Iraq, DO NOT write anything unfavorable about John McCain! Directly after I wrote an article about McCain's so-called stroll through a Baghdad marketplace, I was informed by a fellow reporter that Condoleeza Rice's guys at the State Department were keeping me on a very tight rein and so I only got to see the inside of the Green Zone. Oh well. It just means that I will have to go back.
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.
The airbase is a tent city. Almost everything you will see on an American military base from this point on is some sort of pre-fab. And because guys build all of these bases and guys maintain them, most of the American stuff you see in Iraq resembles a cross between a Boy Scout camp, a trailer park and a fraternity house. Forget about the fine points of interior decoration. This is a guy thing.
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.
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