SUWAYRAH, IRAQ — The U.S. military called it shock and awe, and it began on March 21, 2003 — 8:09 p.m., to be exact. It concluded here with a sigh. No one quite remembers when the Americans withdrew from Forward Operating Base Summers.
“One morning they left, and they never came back,” said Osama Majid, a vendor on the road to the base, as he hovered over his shelves of Iranian and Turkish packaged sweets. “People woke up, and they were gone.”
Occupations probably never really end. Even after the last of the 115,000 U.S. soldiers leave, this one will live on in the national psyche, in the bearing of Iraq’s military, in cowboy boots, tattoos and, of course, language. “Badjat,” demand Iraqi sentries at Summers’ gates, waiting for a visitor’s identity card. Sometimes occupations leave behind the banal.
Summers is like an archaeological dig.
Perched 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, the former U.S. base — known before the Americans arrived and after they departed as Suwayrah Airport — often strikes the pose of a post-apocalyptic outcast, the posture of much of the country. The land around it is austere, possessed of beauty only at the gloaming, when loneliness becomes serene. Its outskirts were looted of everything years ago, down to the tan brick that once lined buildings’ walls. The compound itself feels forlorn and deserted, the doors of its buildings barricaded by plywood, its windows sealed by cinder block.
Inside those buildings is the swill of American commercial culture, feeling as incongruous as the winter rain that falls on the country’s desert these days.
December 4, 2009. Read the full article >From The 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners for International Reporting