Live from Baghdad

My adventures in Iraq.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Iraq Geography Lesson

I thought it might be useful to get my loyal readers geographically oriented so they can follow some of my future stories. This will be quick and painless, I promise.

Baghdad is roughly in the center of Iraq and right in the middle of a floodplain formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This area is also known as the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia, and the birthplace of civilization. (It's rumored that the neighborhood has recently gone downhill, but we're working on it!) Mosul is situated in the more mountainous north and Basra sits near the Persian Gulf in the south. In the Baghdad region, Falluja is located about 20 miles to the west and Hillah, Karbala, and Najaf (the "Triangle of Death" according to the media) is located about 60 miles south.

The city of Baghdad is set up much like Los Angeles or other large cities with several cities or distinct neighborhoods within the metropolitan area. The International Zone (IZ) or "Green Zone" is a 4 square mile area located in the middle of the city on the west bank of the Tigris River. Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) lies about 15 miles west of the IZ and is accessed by the BIAP Road, also known by its military designation as Route Irish (more on this later). Just north of the airport is Abu Ghraib, site of the infamous prison. The Sadr City slum is located in the northeast part of the city on the other side of the Tigris. Sadr City was built for 450,000 people but is now pushing 2 million, mostly due to in-migration by Shiite Muslims displaced when Saddam drained the southern marshes, as discussed in my last blog. The district is one of the poorest in Baghdad. It is also a haven for criminals released from Iraqi prisons by Saddam shortly before the invasion.

You can find a great description of the IZ at Sorry, I haven't figured out how to publish links on this blog. Anyways, it's the “Ultimate Gated Community” with armed checkpoints, coils of razor wire, chain link fences, and the fact it is surrounded by “T-Walls” (12-foot high reinforced and blast-proof concrete slabs). Within the Zone, there are dozens of "compounds", each occupied by either a military unit, an embassy, another government agency, contractors, or security firms. Each of these compounds is secured by more T-walls and private guards.

I'm living and working on the USAID compound, which consists of about 85 1-bedroom "hard houses" (brick and mortar construction), 30 "trailers", and a mess hall. I live in a trailer ("You might be a redneck..."), which is actually a ConEx (or shipping container) converted into living quarters. The trailer is divided into 2 rooms or "hooches", each with their own bathroom. They're actually pretty nice, laminated wood floors, queen size bed, dresser, TV with satellite, and as stereo. I'm supposed to get a DVD player as soon as some more come in. The trailers are all surrounded by blast walls to protect against shrapnel from a mortar or rocket attack. Of course, it doesn't do much against a direct hit from above but nothing short of several inches of concrete helps in that case.

I'm also working in a trailer, which is set up like any office with cubicles and office furniture. I'm sharing my office with my boss and our Iraqi Admin Assistant. More on that later.

So that's a quick primer on my geography. As always, feel free to ask questions (of course, I'll mock you if they're stupid.) Next up, Iraqi Security (yeah, that's an oxymoron.)