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Operation Iraqi Freedom: Aerial Pictures of Southern Iraq In 2003

My prior posting about my experiences serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom 10 years ago focused on the time I spent in Kuwait before crossing over the Iraqi border to participate in the invasion of the country.  However, before I crossed into Iraq with my unit I had the opportunity to fly over Southern Iraq in a Blackhawk helicopter to conduct reconnaissance of the route we would be taking the first day of our movement into Iraq to a refuel point just outside of the large city of An Nasiriyah.  The picture below shows Camp New Jersey in Kuwait where my unit was based out of:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Like I mentioned in my previous posting Camp New Jersey was nothing more then tents and vehicles parked out in the middle of the desert waiting to move north into Iraq.  From Camp New Jersey the helicopter flew north following Highway 80 which leads to the Iraqi border:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

This highway is more famously known as the Highway of Death from the First Gulf War.  As we followed the highway camps filled with military equipment could be spot everywhere:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

After flying for a few minutes we reached the Iraqi border that is designated by a large berm that runs through the desert.  Large convoys of trucks and other military could be seen passing through the breach in this berm to enter Iraq:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

The first Iraqi town on the other side of the border is a small Shiite village called Safwan:


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Considering Iraq’s vast oil wealth I kind of expected Iraq to look like Mexico where there are some nice downtown areas surrounded by shanties.  In southern Iraq most of the villages and cities looked like Safwan, adobe structures with straw or other materials for a roof:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

The place looked far worse than Mexico.  What was really ironic about it was that the Iraqi Shiites that live in southern Iraq live in extreme poverty while the oil wells could be seen in the distance behind their villages.  It was pretty clear where the oil wealth was going and later on I would confirm this when I got to Baghdad and northern Iraq.

Something that did surprise me was that Saddam did use his oil money to build quite an impressive highway system that run between Baghdad and Kuwait.  It even included interchanges just like those you would find in the US:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Highway 8 that ran from the Kuwaiti border had double lanes in both directions.  I would find out later that Saddam built the modern highway system as high speed avenue of approach to invade Kuwait with.  Instead it turned out to work against him when it became a high speed avenue of approach for the US and its allies to invade Iraq with:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Convoys of military equipment moving north was a common site on the highway:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here are examples of the modern bridges that crossed the highway at various points:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Eventually Highway began to run adjacent to a portion of the Euphrates River:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

This area of southern Iraq used to be a large marsh land as the Euphrates River branched off into a wide delta that emptied into the Persian Gulf.  The delta was home to “Marsh Arabs” that after the first Gulf War joined the Shiite rebellion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  However, when Saddam’s forces were able to put down the rebellion and slaughter many Shiites, he also decided to begin canalling the various branches of the Euphrates River where the Marsh Arabs lived.  This caused the lush vegetation to die since the water could not spill over into the land.  This in turn forced many Marsh Arabs from their lush homeland and forced them to move into cities where they were easier to control.  I just found it amazing that the land where the Marsh Arabs live many people consider that to be the Biblical Eden and Saddam destroyed most of it.  The evidence of the devastation caused by the canalling could be seen everywhere:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

In area that should have been lush with vegetation all we saw was dirt and occasional bush around the various branches of the Euphrates River delta:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is a picture from when we flew directly over the main portion of the Euphrates River:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

This just made me wonder where was the environmentalists when this was going on?  Even today few know about what happened in Iraq with the canalling of the Euphrates River.  There are now efforts by the new Iraqi government to restore the marshes, but it is going to take a very long time to fix the environmental damage that has been done.

As we continued up the highway we eventually came upon a helicopter refuel point that had been setup along the road:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

As we continued up Highway 8 I also found it interesting how I would see Iraqi vehicles going up and down the highway oblivious to a war going on:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is an Iraqi bus going up the highway which was one of the main vehicles their military forces would use to transport troops since aircraft cannot distinguish if the bus holds civilians or military personnel inside:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is an example of what nearly every taxi in Iraq looks like.  In the US we have yellow colored cabs and in Iraq every cab is white and orange:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

As we continued up the highway I also took notice of just random buildings in the absolute middle of nowhere.  Could you imagine being the person that lives here?:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Something else I found really interesting was that Saddam’s made sure that his modern highway system even had rest stops just like the ones you would find in the US.  However, usually rest stops should be some place scenic, but in southern Iraq there is just dirt look at:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Soon we were about to reach our destination which was a convoy refueling point just outside of the large city of An Nasiriyah.  We knew we were nearing the refuel point when we saw this large convoy on the side of the road waiting to enter the refuel point:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

The gas at this refuel point is kept in these large plastic bladders that convoys will then line up around and fill up their tanks from:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is how the soldiers manning the refuel point were living out in the desert:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

IfIn the US we have yellow colored cabs and in Iraq every cab is white and orange.   If you look closely at the above picture you can see soldiers lined up which means that tent there are going in is the mess tent.  You can also see at the bottom of the picture the porta-potties the soldiers use.  Believe it or not these soldiers were actually living pretty well compared to the combat arms forces living in their vehicles and digging holes to use as a latrine as I would soon find out.

Next Posting: Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Road to Baghdad

Prior Posting:  Operation Iraqi Freedom: Pictures from Kuwait in 2003

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