The Gathering Dust Storm

By Graeme Wood

FALLUJAH - Anbar may no longer be Iraq's most dangerous province, but it is still the dustiest. If you are imagining a constant powdery film that settles lightly over everything, you have at best a partial appreciation of the juggernaut of particulate that can, and does, stop all productive activity for days on end, when the desert feels like coughing up a real storm. Yesterday started with blue skies. By sundown, they started going orange:

fallujahstorm.jpg

Darkness fell soon after, so I don't have more photos from this series. Here's a storm from elsewhere in Iraq; it gives a sense of how my storm might have looked in daylight:

iraqduststorm.jpg

The cloud billows outward with the wind, and slowly consumes everything and stops all traffic, whether by air or land. Viewed up close, when the cloud finally arrives at the huts and portable buildings where Marines live and work, it is a filthy fog that infiltrates every crevice and gap, creeping like a succubus under doorways and into drawers, sleeping bags, computers, and more.

Marines often berth in "SWA huts" (for South-West Asia, the area where they are most commonly used), wooden structures with a few inches' gap between their walls and their roofs to allow ventilation. In a storm, those gaps make SWA-hut occupants miserable. It is as if the Marines had a violent pillow-fight using filled vacuum-cleaner bags instead of pillows. Even in a supposedly sealed hut, a little crack under the door will permit enough dust to fill a small room with haze so thick that you cannot watch a television on the other side of the room. Outside, the conditions are a blizzard of dust.

My hair is now crunchy with sediment, and my laptop's insides have probably aged six months in the last day.

Photo by Flickr user alohateam under a Creative Commons license.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/06/the-gathering-dust-storm/19792/