Thursday, November 17, 2005

Another Trip to Iraq

It was Saturday Nov. 5, 2005 and I was getting ready to go to the airport
on my 11th trip to Iraq in the past three years. Packed and ready to go,
Hussein picked me up and drove south toward Beirut's Rafik Hariri
International Airport. I walk inside and take a look. Ohhhhh nooooooooo. It
is packed with hundreds of people who spent Eid al-Fitr that marks the end
of Ramadan in Beirut and were heading back now. Took my boarding pass half
an hour later and waited for MEA's flight to Amman. Some 45 minutes later we
land in the Jordanian capital and Mohammed is waiting for me. During the 30-minute trip from the airport to the hotel, Mohammed, a chain smoker, burnt at least three cigarettes. As I walk in the man on the front desk looks at me with a big fake smile on his face. "Welcome. Hope you had a good trip." I reply with a
smile and give him my passport. The man types on the keyboard, then look at
me and say: "This is the 10th time you stay at our hotel. I will give you a
no smoking room." Shortly afterward I met my friend Hamza, who I haven't
seen in nine months and was heading to Cairo. A brief chat with him about Baghdad and his three kids then he heads to the airport.
ΒΆ On Sunday morning, Mohammed again picked me up from the hotel and took me
to Amman's Queen Alia Airport to take Royal Jordanian flight 814 to the
Iraqi capital. An hour after taking off, we were over Baghdad. The Tigris
river can be seen cutting the city into an eastern part known as Risafa and
Karkh on the west side. "We will be landing shortly," the pilot said while
turning over the airport. Unlike the normal landings done around the world,
pilots flying over the Iraqi capital have to take into consideration
possible fire or rockets by insurgents. A sharp descend begins in spiraling
turns until we land at Baghdad Airport that used to be called Saddam
International Airport until April 2003.
I take my bags and head out where R is waiting. "How is the situation
these days?" I asked. "Well same as it was when you were last here," he
replied. "Oh no. The last time I was here there were many explosions, shootings and assassinations. We then headed to the central Saadoun street in the world's most
dangerous city. After a short drive we reach a white sign on the right side
of the road that reads in red: "You are leaving a secure area." On our left
side stood the statue of Abbas Ibn Firnas, extending his hands covered with
feathers. Ibn Firnas is the Muslim physician who tried to fly in Andalusia
in 875 A.D. by wearing a suit of feathers.
A bit later, R suddenly stops. From a distance we can see U.S. troops
blocking the road the cuts through the Furat neighborhood so he turns left
heading north where we get stuck in terrible traffic near the Zawra Garden
where hundreds of children wearing their new uniforms for the Eid played at
the Luna Park. Near this garden, a massive bronze statue of Saddam Hussein extending his right hand used to stand but was brought down hours after his fall in 2003. An hour later we reached the hotel where I and my bags got searched three times before reaching my room. As I left my room one of my colleague walked toward me extending his right hand.
"Welcome to paradise," he said then burst into laughter.


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