The Real World: Baghdad (Life Behind the Blast Walls)

Sunday, May 23, 2010 | Baghdad, Iraq (map)

Attending a meeting in Baghdad requires a unique wardrobe.
The company compound where I stayed during my time in Baghdad was really nothing more than a few city blocks beside the Tigris River enclosed by high blast walls. The neighborhood was once prime real estate, however—just up the river is the former epicenter of Saddam Hussein's regime. Today that area is the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone).

Given its prime position, the neighborhood was previously home to some of Saddam's closest cronies. His wife and other family members owned many of the houses in the area, as well as the mosquito-infested swampland leading to the river. Our security guards swore to me that Chemical Ali used to live in the villa facing the one where I slept.

Saddam's crew fled in 2003 with the arrival of US troops, and a private security outfit moved in and slapped together the compound walls, using a mix of concrete slabs, sand bags, and shipping

Iraq: It's Not For Everyone

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | Baghdad, Iraq (map)

The Swords of Qadisiyah are just one of several garish monuments erected by Saddam Hussein in what is now the "Green Zone."
My trip to Iraq began with a 13-hour flight to Dubai. On that leg, my neighbor was one of many Americans on the flight who wore civilian clothes with military-issue desert boots. He was also heading to Iraq, he said, but I decided not to ask him what he was doing there. (Probing the Iraq- and Afghanistan-bound for further information these days usually ends in awkward silences, with smug grins that seem to say, "C'mon, if you knew a damn thing you'd know I ain't answering that.")

But my neighbor volunteered some information on his own. After connecting through Dubai and Baghdad, he said, it would take him four full days of further travel—on progressively smaller planes and ground transport—to reach his unnamed outpost somewhere deep in the deserts of southern Iraq.

"Wanna see a sandstorm?" Pulling a digital camera from his shirt pocket, he showed me a video he