Sunday, March 21, 2004

Mundane days

Over the past couple days, our pace has slowed considerably. The Ambassador has made only a couple of recent ventures out of town, thus leaving the team to find other avenues of entertainment. Life in the compound can be pretty simple - eat, work out, sleep, eat some more, and sleep again. The daily grind can become quite tedious and monotonous when the team is static. Fortunately, several of the team members brought portable DVD/CD players which have allowed us to have "movie nights" when we are not away on travel. Comedies and police dramas are the usual routine, and all that is missing is the pizza and beer.

Our compound spans 50 acres and is divided between British regular military forces and civilians who've signed on for a variety of jobs available with the coalition. The compound infrastructure is maintained by KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root), a contracting firm that operates in all of the top vacation spots of the world - Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia, and Iraq, to name a few. The contractors are paid quite well. Although it might not pay much by American standards to work in the laundry, a lucritive assignment such as private security nets the contractors up to $500.00 a day in salary. There is certainly no shortage of contractors who want to work in the various CPA's throughout Iraq.

Last Wednesday, our team escaped the compound to make a short trip to the port of Um Qasar, a small town located close to the Kuwaiti Border. Um Qasar was one of the first towns to experience the northern push of coalition troops during Op. Iraqi Freedom and has become the primary seaport for goods entering the southern region of Iraq. As part of the planning stages of any movement outside of the CPA, my team conducts an "advance", which was hindered on Tuesday by the discovery of an IED, or improvised explosive device (military speak for bomb) right in the middle of our route. Fortunately, the Brits sent an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team to disarm the device and make the route clear for coalition vehicles. It just goes to show that not everyone in the southern region has accepted the coalition's peace efforts. Most of the devices, we believe, are probably coming in from elsewhere and are not made locally in Basra.

Our trip to Um Qasar also included the use of a special vehicle we affectionately refer to as the "Death Star". If you can imagine a large, black SUV bristling with antennae and sprouting all shapes and sizes of rods and orbs from it's roof, you've got a good mental picture of the "Death Star." The "Death Star" allows us to jam a wide spectrum electronic frequencies within a certain distance of the convoy. When operating, it also disables AM/FM radios, walkie talkies, and personal cell phones, something we'd all love to use back at home during morning rush hour. It was quite amusing to watch a local Iraqi punching his car radio after losing his favorite Islamic radio station as we passed. We had a little fun with one particular vehicle filled with US Army staff officers who were stopped in front of us at NAVSTAR , a coalition refuel and arming station at the Kuwaiti Border. It appeared that several of the officers were attempting to make cell phone calls while the junior man got stuck pumping gas. Of course, we always test the "Death Star's" equipment before hitting the open road. It just so happened that our testing fell in direct synchronization with each of the officer's attempts to make their telephone calls and provided quite a laugh for my teammates whenever the officers gave up in disgust with their dialing efforts.

We've only got one movement scheduled for today, hence most of our day will be at the CPA. There is a mosque located on the eastern, outer edge of our compound that transmits the daily "call to prayer" 5 times a day for the local populace. Over the last 3 days, however, the local muslim clerics have been reciting in chant and song the entire Koran. As typical of all Islamic mosques, the tower is outfitted with loudspeakers so that prayer can be heard by those of faith many blocks away. With the loudspeakers situated approximately 500 feet from our compound perimeter, the 16 hour sing-song of the Koran has started to frazzle even the most pious of the CPA inhabitants. The clerics have allowed an 8 hour window of silence in the evening, which was shattered by the sounds of automatic gunfire this morning at 3 a.m. You can't have this much fun in Washington, D.C.! Thankfully we'll be back to just 5 prayers a day tomorrow.

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