Iraqi Soldier, Food, and Sunset

Photography by Jayel Aheram.

“Post 1” in this base is an access control point between the Iraqi Army compound and the rest of the American-military controlled compound. SOP (standard operating procedures) of this post is to make sure that no Iraqi Army personnel leaves their compound unless accompanied by an American military personnel. This, of course, excludes the IA officers who are authorized to come and go at whim without an American escort. Opposite of Post 1, about 50 feet away, is the Iraqi Army’s control point, which is manned by usually sleeping Iraqi soldiers (if manned at all). They probably realize the redundancy of their post and realize that Post 1 is the one that really matters.

Now, about these Iraqi soldiers. They are generally cordial and when they are passing through my control point, they make a point to wave and smile at me. But when they are not passing through my control point, they are all business. Because, apparently, Guard Post 1 is known to the Iraqi soldiers in this base as Trading Post 1. When they are not sleeping in their post, Iraqi soldiers in their spare time operate a booming black market business with the Marines that often guard or pass through Post 1. DVD players for 150 dollars? No problem. Bring dollars tomorrow. Want some cigarettes? What brand? No problem. 12 dollars for a carton. You need not to trade for money either. They are willing to part with their cartons of cigarette for good ol’ American pornography. A magazine filled with dirty photos of American blond infidels with artificial breasts is worth about five packs of cigarettes. If you have the movie in DVD, even better! I have heard that one Marine managed to part with his “MOTO” for a couple of cartons.

But once in a while, they will surprise you with their generosity. One night while I was manning Post 1, an Iraqi soldier came to my post bearing three platters filled with local food. It looked pretty good, too.

More about Butts the Mangy Mutt. I learned that she is a veteran in patrolling the dangerous streets of the city near this base. She often accompanies Marines when they are on foot patrol and was credited in saving many a Marine’s life when she alerted them to mines, IEDs, and a few snakes. And she had been a casualty of war as well! One time, she was hit by a shrapnel from an exploded IED. This bitch has seen more action than most of the Marines in this base it seems.

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching the most amazing sunset I have ever witnessed in my whole life. The combination of clouds, desert dust, and smoke billowing from the city conspired that day to create a sunset that is meant to awe and inspire. Hues of purple, blood red sun, streaks of orange in the sky. I joked to my post buddy that we might have very well caught a glimpse of the face of God in that sunset. He joked back that while we were watching the sunset, five insurgents might have crept in.

When you have eight hours to kill and nothing to do but talk to each other, Marines end up talking about the weirdest of things.