Soldier's Diary: There Was Little To Destroy in Iraq When We Got Here

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

I received an e-mail a few weeks ago and I wanted to take a moment and respond. Like a few of the e-mails I have received, this one would have been put in the category of "hate mail." I try not to respond to most of them. I don't like to be baited into response, and other times I feel that sending something back isn't worth my time. This e-mail, however, really made me think.

I was asked how U.S. soldiers could come in and destroy a beautiful country like Iraq. I figure this is the perfect opportunity for me to describe the scenery of the country.

Color is something we take for granted in the United States. By this I mean that at home, you can look around and see colors of all sorts. The grass is green; the sky is blue with intermittent white in the form of clouds. Here we have not seen a cloud in three months, and barring unforeseen circumstances, I do not expect to see another until the plane lands at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Green does exist here, though it is not a common sight. Within the center of Baghdad grass is rarely seen; you have to go to South Baghdad, near the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers to really see it in force. Back at home you see green grass on lawns and ball fields. But if a local Wal-Mart were to open up in Baghdad, there would be plenty of lawnmowers stocking the shelves. Every soccer field I have seen has been made of dirt.

The color scheme on most buildings is tan; there is no need for paint as the bleaching effects of the sun combined with the vast amounts of dust in the air render any paint jobs useless. I hesitate to mention the lung cancer I expect to get; I should have taken up smoking in order to prepare for the air we breathe here.

The housing developments and local towns are somewhat built up, though I have been in parts of the country where I have felt like I was driving around in an episode of The Flintstones.

We have spent lots of money on cleaning projects, as garbage on the streets is a common sight. It's on the highways, it's on the local roads, its everywhere. There are no "adopt a highway" projects here and all the guardrails have all been torn out. There is no "Old Route 66" to travel cross-country on, and every road has checkpoints with concertina wire and large concrete barriers.

There are some nice structures and buildings: mostly the palaces Saddam had built for himself and his cronies. His main palace near the airport has some beautiful views ... of other palaces and homes he built for himself. The interior is a marvel to look at — two-story chandeliers, and marble toilets and staircases that are worth more than all my belongings put together. The crowning pieces of architecture in Baghdad are the war memorials.

I don't blame the people. Rather, I blame the former regime that ruled this place for 30 years. Mark Bowden in his book, "Guests of the Ayatollah," talked at length of the same phenomenon that occurred in Tehran. Sometimes progress comes to a halt, normally when a repressive government rules the place. It happened under the Taliban, under the mullahs of Iran, and it happened here. The only continuing progress seemed to be on the palaces Saddam was building for himself; you can still see the cranes that no longer operate adjacent to the palaces. The tallest building in Baghdad is a hotel that was built over 25 years ago (the tallest structure is the International Saddam Tower).

The infrastructure of this country was ruined long before any U.S. soldier stepped foot on its soil.

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