Jogging in Iraq
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Sometimes I jog in Iraq, outside my hotel, but only at night. This seems impossible, but it can be done. The hotel where I live is in a relatively calm neighborhood of Baghdad, and is in any case protected on all sides by well-placed concrete blast walls and a small miltia of security guards who grimly mark out the night in barricaded booths, shifting their assault rifles from hand to shoulder while they stare out into the dark. I circle the hotel on the streets surrounding it just inside this security perimeter. Four laps is about one mile.
I have to run to music, the environment is too macabre and strange otherwise. Even protected by an envelope of sublime Beethoven or bombastic Mahler, it’s still unnerving, and I never really relax until I am getting so tired I’m more worried about my lungs than Iraq.
I start next to the Time magazine armored truck, always parked on the corner. I pass by the Time house, then by their roaring generator the size of a small car, belching fumes. I hang a left at a series of blast walls 10 feet high, down a darkened back street for a hundred yards, then left again, passing the guard in his pillbox, watching the night. Just past him is an extra-heavy blast wall and a series of destroyed houses; the aftermath of when two suicide bombers tried to ram their way into the compound with a truck bomb about a year ago. But the hotel’s defenses held even if every window was blown out, and while no one in the hotel was seriously hurt, dozens of Iraqis living in those houses were killed. All of the tenants of the hotel poured money into a fund for the families.
Another left and finally down the main street to return back to the hotel. I remember this street just after the war ended in April 2003. I came here to pick up a friend to drive the six hours down to Kuwait and out of the region together. There were no concrete walls then, no guards, no belching generators – just a mid-class Baghdad hotel, 10 stories tall, that was a bit cheaper than al-Rasheed or the Palestine downtown, yet had bigger rooms and better service. Now it’s a barricaded fortress.
When I finish the run I don’t linger on the street, but rush inside and go straight to bed.