I spent my New Year's holiday traveling to Jordan. At a hotel by the border, I heard that there was an iraqi tour. Soon after that, I was heading to Baghdad. This was January 2003, when the UN was still conducting an investigation into WMDs in Iraq. It was when the war was considered to be inevitable.
Iraqi National Air arranged an exploration tour of historical sites. The idea, which at first sounded almost ludicrous, was to travel virtually the whole of Iraq, from the Ctesiphonu, via Babylon, Kerbala and Najaf, and to Ur, dashing from one ancient site to the next in the space of only one week.
The beautiful scenery of the plains of Mesopotamia. We took the road down south. The very road which US forces were later to take to move up north. Pebbles on the roadside spelt out "Down with USA".
It was not easy to take photos freely as the tour was watched over by Iraqi officials. I saw tanks going down south loaded on a long freight train. I also saw soldiers amusing themselves by playing soccer. In the context of mounting tension, that was the everyday reality I witnessed there at that time. I then went up to Northern Iraq. Samarra, Hatra, Mosul and Nineveh.
... We were having a meal in an almost empty restaurant. Suddenly, A bunch of soldiers stormed in. It must have been the lunching place for the troops. The canteen was immediately occupied by these young soldiers. Everyone was enjoying the meal with bustling voices full of laughter, as if they were still boys. All laughing as if there was nothing to worry about.
The food served for them was something like a stew. Their faces looked almost godly as the steam rising from their dishes shone in the afternoon sun which was glinting through the window.
I tried to take a photo of them but was stopped by the guard. "Do you speak English?" "Where are you from?" The soldiers stood up and came to talk to me, a bit shyly but making so much fuss, like a Group of high school kids talking to foreigners on a school trip. "I like Japan!" "No.1" each of them yelled something like that and came to see us off when our car pulled away.