Welcome

By Graeme Wood

Over southern Iraq -- I first flew over Iraq in November 2004, when the country was still in flames. From my KLM seat I could literally see some of those flames below me. The in-flight map indicated we were passing over Fallujah, and bright flashes from enormous explosions illuminated the ground. No other passenger seemed to notice. (For a few minutes I felt delusional, like John Lithgow or William Shatner in The Twilight Zone.) Watching the flashes was exactly like looking up in the minutes before a storm to see lightning pass from thunderhead to thunderhead -- except these flashes were 35,000 feet beneath me, and the skies above were starry and calm.

The working assumption of this blog is that there's profit in traveling, wandering, and describing places, people, and scenes. (Profit, and also loss -- more on this in future posts.) To be 35,000 feet from Fallujah is to see something slightly different from what one sees in photographs; to have one's boots an inch deep in Fallujah dust, as I will soon, is still better. In the coming weeks I will file dispatches from Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, along with photos if time and bandwidth permit.

It will be a journey to places, but also to tribes and peoples. The first such tribe is the group with whom I'm flying right now. This direct flight to Kuwait City from Washington's Dulles airport is a sort of shuttle bus for military contractors. Nearly all passengers are crew-cutted white men, 30-55, some still Army-fit but many with paunches and flab. About half wear baseball caps, and many have bags and t-shirts that identify their employers (ManTech, a northern Virginia defense contractor, is in the aisle seat across from me, and KBR -- the former Halliburton subsidiary that feeds and accommodates soldiers on seemingly every base in Iraq -- is sleeping against the window to my right). Conversations tend to be about military service, where they served and with whom. In the whole economy cabin, I request the sole vegetarian meal.

I hadn't expected strangeness to surround me so soon after leaving Washington. More soon.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/06/welcome/19301/