When we got here, it was just Victory North and Victory South; before long, our part of the camp (“camp” hardly does the place justice – “Victory Base Complex” seems more fitting, in the Army parlance) became Liberty and Victory South was truncated to just Victory.
I’ve written many times about how Liberty is, for all intents and purposes, a sandy, rocky wasteland, a place that seems to have sprung up in defiance of the earth, a veritable geographic abortion that seems to have no sense of real place. Not so with Victory, which lies firmly within Saddam-land; within Victory’s borders are many of Saddam’s former palaces, administrative buildings, and other elaborate buildings of unknown function. There, the roads are asphalt (with concrete curbs even!), with date or other thin, water-starved trees running alongside in neat rows; there are many buildings of brick, stone, plaster, and concrete, instead of thin-walled aluminum trailers.
Riding shotgun in the Humvee coming back from the networking class, no canvas door, just feeling the oven-hot flow of wind against my face and body, I could almost appreciate the beauty of the place. Saddam’s former palace – now XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters – was yellow-orange in the setting sun, mirrored by the wavy dark reflection in the waters of the vast manmade lake that surrounded the place. Tall green grass along the shore rippled in the everpresent evening breeze, a breeze that carried the almost-forgotten scent of lake water to my nose. However tainted the water might be with algae, pollutants, and lord-knows-what-else, it was a welcome new aroma compared to the pervasive scent of rocks, sand, sandy rocks, and sandy rocks with dust on them.
Really, it wouldn’t be such a bad place if it wasn’t so damned hot.
It’s utterly bizarre to think that the very same narrow blacktop roads I’ve been traversing for a year were once used by Saddam and his henchmen. It’s not exactly like I feel the proverbial “ghost of Saddam” wandering the place or anything, but I do wonder what all the buildings around the lake were used for. Who stayed in them? What decisions were made there? If the walls had ears (and mouths)…
I wonder, too, what will become of this place when the Americans are gone. They’re still improving the DFAC – constructing a permanent roof outside to create a sort of covered pavillion – so I presume the building at least is here to stay. Will it become an Iraqi Army DFAC? Will “signal hill” someday be festooned with the antennae of the IA signal troops instead of the US Army ones? So much infrastructure exists here that the Iraqis would be insane not to keep it for their own use when we leave.
As LTC Kilgore said in Apocalypse Now, “Someday this war’s gonna end.”