May 2004


Camel Spiders are fucking gross. This thing literally made Dan jump up onto a cot. I can’t blame him.
 

Nasty.
 

Nasty.
 

Look at the fangs on that thing! Nasty.
 

Here are a ton of photos of the Hussein palaces in Tikrit.


King Jason al Tikriti, in the lobby of Uday Hussein’s former palace.

 

“Magical Arch”, artist unknown

Northbound on Iraq highway 1 on our way to Tikrit we came upon this magical arch
that will stargate you to ancient Sumeria where you can witness the beginning of human civilization,
a regional accomplishment the people of Iraq are very proud of. So proud in fact that they haven’t
really done anything since then other than rest on their laurels. People of Iraq, it’s time to get
a new schtick. We’re all very impressed by Hamurabbi and algebra and everything, but it’s time to
do the next insanely great thing. A cure for cancer or usable cold fusion would be cool, but I’d
settle for a fatwa denouncing jihadi’s beheading my countrymen and detonating car bombs. Or
maybe the secret to those tires that are supposed to never wear out. And by the way, I don’t think the arch was
working right. When we drove through it, I didn’t see any cradle of civilization, just a bunch of
absurdly poor people juxtaposed by ridiculous despotic wealth.

 

“Saddam, seated, deposed, defaced”, artist unknown

You know you’re getting closer to Saddam country when you start seeing these sort of things. Frankly I’m
surprised it’s still standing at all.

 

“Street Signs”, artist’s whereabouts unknown, courtesy of Saddam’s prison system
where when atrocities were carried out by peer-pressured young scared guards there shrewdly were no digital
cameras. Unless there was an infidel to be beheaded, then they’d roll tape because they knew no one
would care about that.

Nearly to Tikrit now.

 

“Welcome to Tikrit, Nevermind the Mess”, artist unknown

I’m curious what the oil decanter thing symbolizes. Maybe wealth, or bounty? It brings to mind the bible
story about the oil vessel that never ran out of oil. Maybe that’s what we’re doing in Iraq, looking
for something that will keep giving oil.

 

“Brigade Headquarters”, architect unknown

Before going to the palace complex, we made a stop at what is now our brigade headquarters.
I don’t know what this building used to be. I didn’t get to go inside, we were just dropping someone off.

 

“Welcome to Tikrit, Redux”, artist unknown

This piece depicts flowers that I am yet to see in Iraq. The red and green eight-point stars are a very
common design element in Iraq. I have no idea what they symbolize, if anything. Maybe Iraqis just like
eight-point stars. But the culture here is all about symbols, so they probably mean something. However,
I don’t think the yellow concrete pylons actually symbolize anything. But I did read once that there were
some people in San Francisco who worshipped a yellow concrete pylon in a public park.
I don’t think there are many yellow concrete pylon-worshipping San Franciscans in Iraq. So I guess they
probably don’t symbolize anything.

 

“Stop Here or You Will Be Shot”, some soldier

I think my favorite thing about the military is the philosophy of succinct, concise communication. I
especially like how this sign looks as though it were made by cutting the words out of a magazine like
some psycho ransom note. “STOP heRE or yOU wiLL be sHOt! Ptht! Ack!”

 

“A Threshold/Entrance Thing, One That Gets Used”, architect unknown

We were already inside the perimeter of the base, but this is one of the entrances that brings you within
the walled area of the compound.

 

“A Threshold/Entrance Thing, One That Doesn’t Get Used”, architect unknown

This is another one of the entrances into the walled area, just not one of the ones primarily used.
I think these are really cool.

 

“A Palace”, architect unknown

This is one of the main palaces, I want to say Saddam’s, but I’m not sure. I also think this was
one of the ones that was fairly damaged that I believe is currently unused.

 

“Another Palace”, architect unknown

This is another one of the main palaces, one that I believe is still in good shape and I believe is being
used. We didn’t get to go inside it.

 

“Mosque?”, architect unknown

I know that mosques tend to include a big dome, but I’m still going to guess that this was at the very least
for some religious purpose. It’s taking all my powers of the force to not make fun of that tower. To the left
in the background is one of the palaces. This is where you are when you exit the chow hall.

 

“Palaces Overlooking the Tigris”

Once you exit the chow hall and walk a little to the left (east), you come upon this view. Here you are
looking south down the Tigris. The palace on the right is the same one in the picture of the mosque,
previously. (Made using Panorama Factory V5)

 

“View of the Tigris”

This is the view of the Tigris from north to south. If you scroll all the way to the right you can see
the same palaces as in the previous photo. (Made using Panorama Factory V5)

 

“View from the MWR Building”

After chow, we drove down to the MWR building and parked in the back. This is the view from the south
of that palace spanning from east to west. (Made using Panorama Factory V5)

 

“Bombed Out Palace”, architect unknown

This is a close up of the palace to the far right in the previous photo. I believe this is
the same palace from before that is damaged and unused.

 

“MWR Palace Entrance”, architect unknown

This is the entrance to the MWR building, what I believe used to be Uday’s palace.

 

“MWR Palace Entrance, again”

The same entrance, seen from directly in front.

 

“Relief Sculpture, Left”, artist unknown

To the left of the main entrance in the patio-like area is this relief sculpture.

 

“Relief Sculpture, Right”, artist unknown

To the right of the main entrance is this one.

 

“Relief Sculpture, Front”, artist unknown

This is another relief sculpture (or would you call it an engraving?) on the front of the palace. These
actually can be found all over the outside of the building. I imagine they tell some sort of story, but
it’s all lost on this ignorant soldier.

 

“Lobby”

Upon entering the palace, you come first to this lobby-like area.

 

“Lobby, Left”

This is the view of the left of the lobby and the entrance to the gym.

 

“Gym”

What was probably once a dining hall is now a gym and weight room.

 

“Gym Ceiling”

Each room in the palace has different and intricate ceilings. This one reminds me of Mormon chapels.

 

“Lobby, Right”

In the lobby again, this is the view to the right and the entrance to the Rec Room.

 

“Screen, Wood, Carved”, artist unknown

On both sides of the lobby there are mirrors covered with these intricate carved wood screens.

 

“Rec Room”

This room, mirrored in size and location to the gym, is what most likely used to be a ballroom. There is
an area with banisters around it, most likely a dance floor, and to the side a bar area that is now a snack
bar.

 

“Rec Room, again”

This is the rec room again, but lengthwise with a view of the dance floor. It is now used as an area for
performances. Performance by whom, I don’t know.

 

“Rec Room Ceiling”,

Another snazzy chandelier with some fancy woodwork.

 

“Lobby Floor”, artist unknown

This is the inlaid design at the center of the lobby at the main entrance. Once again, the eight-point
star design. An affinity for stop signs perhaps?

 

“Lobby Floor II”, artist unknown

Another of the inlaid floor designs in the lobby. This one looks sorta Celtic-esque I guess.

 

“Lobby Ceiling I”, artist unknown

The lobby had a lot of really interesting recessed ceilings with very intricate and detailed designs.
God, I’m using the word “intricate” way too much. Sorry. I know I really suck at describing stuff like this.

 

“Lobby Ceiling II”, artist unknown

Another recessed ceiling, this one in pastels and even more, um, intricate.

 

“Lobby Ceiling III”, artist unknown

Another recessed ceiling. I gotta tell ya, I haven’t been real impressed by the chandeliers. I think I’ve
seen this one at Home Depot actually.

 

“Hallway, Pillaged”

If you go up the spiral staircase and continue going straight, you are brought to this hallway. On both
sides along the hallway were square pillars with a diamond-shaped inset toward the top that must have once held something
of value because whatever used to be there was missing. Maybe soldiers who thought they were Indiana Jones (or
Lara Croft) made a stop here during the initial raid. This part of the palace gave me the creeps for
some reason. It felt like the entrance to a tomb or something.

 

“View from Internet Room”

If you continue up the spiral staircase and walk past an overlook of the lobby, you come to a room that is directly
over the drive-up to the main entrance. Here there were several computers, Playstations and TVs. I emailed
my mom from the computer in the foreground.

"Hi mom.  In Uday's palace.  Have a nice view of the Tigris.  Still looking for the bathroom
with the solid gold toilet and silk toilet paper.  Was going to pee in the pool, but was closed
today.  Made a joke to the girl behind the snack bar that I wanted to pee or poo in the palace,
even if it meant doing it on the floor, but she told me this wasn't Uday's palace, that this palace
belonged to the soldiers now.  Why does no one get my sense of humor, mom?  Will try to steal some
jewel insets out of walls for you.  Love you."

 

“Palace Rear, viewed from the South”

When you exit the palace and walk to the parking area in the rear, you have this view of the Palace. This is
the same spot I stood to take the continuous shot of the pond area to the south. This part of the palace
is accessed from the creepy hallway and is currently used for offices, a small library and a lot of local
merchant areas. The pool is also accessed through here, but was closed today. Notice the laundry hanging
on the balcony. Soldiers always know how to add a classy touch to everything.

 

“Rec Room, Exterior”

This photo– taken from the same spot as the last panoramic shot– is the exterior of the ballroom/rec room.

 

“Relief Sculpture, Infantry Style”, artist unknown

This is a close-up of the relief sculpture on the rear-exterior of the ballroom/rec room. The thing that
kept going through my mind was if the person who did all this carving did it out of love for the Husseins
or because he had an unfortunate talent and did it to spare his family from being slain and/or raped by
Uday. The fact that this particular piece is so military in flavor especially makes me think about
how many times this part of the world has been overthrown. If you figure the Sumerian civilization
was here, through to the Ottomans and all the warring peoples inbetween, this is a place that has pretty
much never known peace. Would this palace survive over the centuries? Sandstone by a river
bed? Not likely is my guess. And here I am, standing where was once the domain of the dictator du jour,
and now I was the arm of the new sheriff in town. Of course my cause is righteous so I guess I’m supposed
to see the overthrow of Iraq for what, the twenty-fourth time in less than a century as a good thing. This
relief depicts soldiers with uniforms and weapons that belong to an army that we just trounced. I feel sad
when I think of these guys trying to find pride in being soldiers, as I am of proud of being a soldier, but
who were really just being betrayed by a despotic ruler who cared more about his cheesy palaces and fantasy
art-filled bachelor pad apartments in Baghdad than his own people. And now here I am, part of the most
recent conquering army that isn’t exactly led by William Wallace. Oh well.

 

“Professionalism, Vigilance, Pride, Lethality”, some soldier

As we leave, we are reminded of values that will help us in the world outside the safety of these walls.
I like the message, but I’m not a big fan of painting messages directly onto what would otherwise have
been a sorta nice building. Oh well. That’s all I can think to say for almost everything here. “Oh well.”

 
Thus ends our tour. Thank you. Come again. Watch your step.

ICDC yardbirds
Some ICDC guys being less than completely useful

Ad Dujayl
Main street, Ad Dujayl, as viewed from the turret of a Humvee

Socky paratrooper
Socky is now a paratrooper. Today he earned his Airborne wings with three day jumps and two night jumps.

bunker entrance
In the photo above, Kirk stands before one of the dark entrances to the underground complex.

bunker exit
Our exit from this twisted level of Doom.

lazy overwatch
Atop the bunker, lazily keeping watch. We could see for miles with nothing in sight. We prayed that someone would try to attack us because it would have been an excellent excuse to effectively use pretty much every weapon system we had with us.

binos view
The view from binoculars.

kids with tea
The kids who brought the tea and bread. Kirk on the left, Rubin on the right.

Apache Longbow
For a grunt, the sound of close air support is very comforting, here in the form of an Apache Longbow keeping an eye on things as we set up our perimeter for the morning’s operation.

Baath House
This is what used to be a Baath party office building located on Highway 1, not far from our base. It got hammered, as you can see, during the invasion, and continued to be used by assholes to fire on convoys due to its close proximity to the highway. A lot of units had made it standard procedure to fire it up whenever they passed it, but this drew the ire of the people who live behind it since that’s where half the rounds would land as they sailed through the open floors. On this day it was decided it would be flattened. It was my platoon’s duty to secure the site while the engineers did their thing, emplacing all the explosives. Once they were done and the notorious “Baath House” was felled, all that remained was the elevator shaft, much to the chagrin of the engineers.

Saddam stencil
Next to the Baath House was a complex of military buildings, also razed during the invasion. It was here that the engineers parked the flatbed tractor trailers that carried their massive bulldozers and where my security post for the morning was. A few of the buildings still stand, this one sans roof, and make good places for bored soldiers to take pictures of themselves. This is me and Wazina with an awesome stencil of Saddam behind us.


This is Chris with Melissa, perched atop the Humvee known as Malibu Barbie, providing overwatch for the morning’s raid.


The family of the house we raided. The woman in the foreground is cryinq/praying while rocking back and forth.