Mood: crushed out
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Something approaching beauty in Baghdad
October 21, 2009, 5:31PM
CAMP VICTORY SOUTH, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's artistic sensibilities, like those of many self-important dictators, were somewhat blunted. He was given to pseudo-classical motifs, clumsy statuary and, of course, he had a fondness for heroic images of himself.
Yet here at the former Al Faw Palace compound, now the center of a massive military base on the western edge of Baghdad, Saddam's vision found something approaching beauty.
The Al Faw compound is a complex of substantial, buff-colored buildings, built on man-made peninsulas and ringing a series of lakes formed by canals from the Tigris River. There remains much for an architectural critic to disdain, but there is also the foundation for an upscale resort that could impress even jaded world travelers.
There are just a few things to do before Iraq can hang out the welcome sign:
Lose the concertina wire.
And the sandbags.
And the blast walls.
And the Porta-Potties.
And the uniformed Ugandans who stand at the checkpoints with rifles slung over their shoulders.
And the stream of paired Black Hawk helicopters, racing over the near horizon.
And the signs warning of the authorization of deadly force against intruders.
And, if possible, minimize the frequency of unexplained explosions, which tend to bring visitors out to the sidewalk with questions on their lips. ("Controlled det, I think," muttered one last week.)
In fact, Al Faw, for all its hard edges, is a showpiece for the U.S. military. Late-night comic Stephen Colbert performed here. The Army hosts band parties on the patio overlooking the lakes. The military even has set up an honest-to-goodness hotel in the pillared hunting lodge that looks west toward Al Faw.
Today, the hotel is a project of the Oregon Army National Guard, whose soldiers check in guests, show them to their rooms and explain when the dining room opens for breakfast. It turns out the Army needed somebody to operate a hotel at Camp Victory, the better to entertain visitors, distinguished and otherwise. So the job was assigned to the incoming soldiers of Oregon's 41st Brigade.
So bring your duffel bag to the front desk and say hello to the uniformed soldier behind the desk. He (or she) will be happy to guide you to the Chief Joseph Room, across the parking lot full of armored Humvees. He'll be happy to show where the soldiers fish for the carp, eels and other unlovely species that populate the lake. And, good host that he is, he'll advise you against eating anything you pull out of these waters.
Then, when the door closes behind you, you'll lie on your bed and think, "If only Saddam could see me now."
Associate Editor Mike Francis is in Iraq reporting on the Oregon National Guard soldiers assigned to tours of duty there. Read more and comment at: blog.oregonlive.com/oregonatwar/