Sunday, September 24, 2006

CITY OF DEATH: The Battle for Baghdad By Bernhard Zand

From an altitude of 15,000 feet, it's just a pale patch on the landscape, a soft and amorphous silhouette, exposed on every flank. It has no protective features: no city wall, no shoreline, no hill from which a fortress might rise. Its edges peter out like the threads of a frayed rug, the sandy brown of houses merging seamlessly with the green of Mesopotamia's meadows. Falluja is visible to the west, Baqubah to the northeast.

Once the fertile fields surrounding Baghdad overflowed with melons, dates and grapes - a rich bounty for the city. Nowadays they ooze death onto the capital's streets. Terrorism and insurgency have taken root in the fields and palm groves between Abu Ghraib and Baghdad International Airport in the western part of the city. Even military pilots dare not approach normally, while civilian planes remain at cruising altitude before dipping into a last-minute descent towards the runway. Only a very narrow strip of airspace is considered secure.


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