Via Laura at War and Piece, I came across a rivetting article by Nils Rosen about his travels with a private security company who were paid $70,000 by the company he was working for to escort Rosen from Erbil in Kurdish Iraq to Baghdad. It's a must read.
Although it is spring, a chill blows into the trucks, carrying with it the smell of dust. We will rely on darkness and speed to survive, making no stops and driving without headlights as fast as possible the 220 miles to Baghdad. What if nature calls, I ask. "Tie a knot," they tell me.
The U.S. military has assigned Iraq's roads American names, creating a hidden cartography that soldiers and contractors navigate, but one that might as well be in invisible ink if you're an Iraqi. We head south on Route Santa Fe. Due to curfews, only the police are out, manning checkpoints and roadblocks. Our F-350s slow to wind through the barriers, briefly shining our headlights on shivering Iraqi police. Steeler and Pirate maintain constant contact with Ilwaco—describing our location, checkpoints encountered and traversed—as we continue on Route Clemson southwest toward Tikrit and then take Route Tampa south to Baghdad. South of Balad the road is blocked by American soldiers and Iraqi police searching for ieds. We cross into the northbound lane and continue south, passing Ad Dujayl, a town famous because Saddam Hussein massacred its inhabitants. As we drive through the village of Mushahidah, the road is totally blocked by American military vehicles; soldiers have discovered an ied.
Our convoy circles into a defensive position, our client vehicle in the center. The road is unlit, both sides lined with tall reeds partially blocking the village's homes beyond. When it becomes clear we might be here for a while, we all step out to relieve ourselves, peering uneasily into the darkness. "One of ours was martyred here," a Kurd tells me, explaining that a few months earlier a convoy was attacked by Sunni insurgents. "They're all Wahhabis," he says with disgust.