The elusive Sheikh Yaíerbuti spotted outside a Baghdad palace belonging to the even more elusive Saddam Hussein.
Editor's note: The Post's energetic yet slightly weary senior Iraq correspondent,
Sheikh Ya'erbuti, writes in his final missive from Iraq about the post-war preparations,
Palestine Airlines, and Waqil, who has resurfaced after several weeks in the desert.
He filed this piece on April 21.
BAGHDAD: In one corner, combatants of the self-styled militia known as the Free Iraq
Forces are holding court. A Muslim cleric and his entourage sweep past soldiers in
full battledress while a middle-aged man hustles whisky out of a plastic bag.
A marine yells: "Clear a path," as General James Mattis tries to leave.
But the order is ignored by the hundreds who fill the hotel lobby. His bodyguards
deploy the butts of their M-16 assault rifles to force an exit.
Cameras flash and journalists shove microphones under the noses of ranking military
in the hope of securing an elusive quote. No one is quite sure whether General Tommy
Franks will pop in for a kebab.
A mix of cigarette smoke and the aroma of Turkish coffee fill the air as a bleary-eyed
soldier twinkles the ivories on a beaten up piano. He attempts As Time Goes By, then
settles for Chopsticks.
It's rush hour at the Palestine Hotel, where the end of war in Iraq has delivered
a circus of characters that would test the imagination of any Hollywood scriptwriter.
The Palestine is not quite the Ritz in Paris after World War II, but its atmosphere
is comparable with the al-Rashid in the first Gulf War, or even Saigon's Continental
or Phnom Penh's Le Royal during the Vietnam War era.
It is, however, a little more dangerous: gunfire is common, there are looters aplenty,
and nobody is riding the elevators that tend to free-fall between the third and 15th
floors and have been rather aptly dubbed Palestine Airlines.
Between those floors, self-interest is the fastest horse. One Iraqi has declared
himself mayor of Baghdad, another the governor of Iraq. Neither has told the US military
but they argue their positions were authenticated by interviews they gave on CNN
where veteran correspondent Peter Arnett has been seen hanging around since NBC relieved
him of his last command. Arnett was most recently seen freelancing for a Greek television
Outside the Marines have pitched their tents and are giving themselves a pat on the
back for a job well done. Except for Colonel Joe Dowdy, who I can say was relieved
of his post for failing to "combine all the elements of a combat regiment and
running it at a tempo comparable to the war".
That's according to his boss. I guess Colonel Dowdy failed to impose his will.
My subversive friend Waqil, last spotted in northern Kuwait, is now selling over-fermented
beer at seven bucks a can which he stores in Spit's camel bag. Spit proved rather
popular among the British officers in Basra and is undecided about leaving. Waqil
is demanding four months backpay - cheeky sod doesn't appreciate my best wishes.
But pleasingly, this war is drawing to a close.
You know how I can tell? Those detestable do-gooders have started showing up, disguised
as NGOs with their usual opinions, well-honed from the backpacker hostels on Kao
Sanh Road in Bangkok.
For the military, our main point of contact for the entire war is now a Corporal
John Hoellwarth who at 22, some people argue, is a little young for the post. I like
the lad, but did raise an eyebrow when a lovely 16-year-old sauntered past prompting
John to quip: "Wow, she looks just like Jasmine in the cartoon series Aladdin."
He then confirmed that a string of Saddam's henchmen had been arrested, no weapons
of mass destruction had been found, and more civilians were killed. But he couldn't
restore the nearest electricity grid first to allow us a hot bath.
Once again it is chic to be anti-American and anti-war. That is a good thing for
the folks in Syria and North Korea, though I remain uncertain whether Iraq's ousted
strongman Saddam Hussein is still grateful for their previous efforts.
Thus I have packed my bags and booked myself on the next flight to Beirut. Waqil
shan't be needed unless he apologizes for being greedy. Spit shall follow: I simply
won't allow those Brits in Basra to take advantage of his sensitive side.
Speaking of sensitive sides, I do remember Colonel Rick Thomas (he who cannot be
quoted) telling me at the start of all this that we would be embedded with the military
for life and the current noises about Syria are irritating. Ricky and I will not
meet again. Next time I shall ensure total coverage, from the Hotel Maurice in Paris.
Until next time, dear readers - and there will be a next time, perhaps Cambodia for
the elections? - I bid you a fond farewell and look forward to meeting the legions
in your fine capital's bars. S.Y.