Opinion: 36 hours in Iraq, 'a messy hell'

Life at Camp Taji
Life at Camp Taji

After 36 hours in Iraq, the best description I can come up with for the experience is 'a messy kind of hell'.

I've got to say I admire the Kiwi troops there training the Iraqi troops because Camp Taji was a bit of a hellhole.

Camp Taji has a 'Mad Max feel'. It is deserted, desolate and dusty.

It is effectively a piece of desert with concrete jungle in the middle of it.

In fact, a lot of it is like a dump.

It was built by America during the 2003 Iraq war and had thousands of troops on it.

Now it's full of disused military vehicles and empty buildings.

And there is concrete everywhere – concrete barriers, even concrete on the roof put in by the Americans to stop mortar and rockets.

The 102 Kiwi troops live in containers wedged in behind the bunkers.

For work, they head out to a disused part of the base. Then come on home to the bunkers.

There's nothing to look at but dust and concrete all day long.

Despite that, morale seemed high – all the soldiers I saw were enjoying the work. They clearly feel they are making a difference.

Obviously life in Camp Taji is great compared to the truly hellish existence in much of the rest of Iraq.

That's all too real for the Iraqi trainees.

One I talked to was just back from Fallujah, six of his mates were killed fighting the Islamic State.

That adds to the surreal feeling I got inside Camp Taji, knowing that the trainees were inevitably off to a bloodbath.

I watched one Kiwi give a brilliant lesson via an interpreter in how to save someone's vital organs or guts. It made me so sad knowing that this training would actually be used.

The Kiwis and Iraqis get on well 'soldier-to-soldier'.

The Kiwi trainers and the Iraqi trainees, called "Jundi", say they get along well. Many of the Jundi are actually already active soldiers coming in for "top up" training and the Kiwis say there is a military camaraderie.

They like the Iraqi sense of humour, say they love football and any training-based games that involve a bit of competition. The trainers believe the relaxed Kiwi style goes down well with the Iraqis and helps the training.

It might be a messy kind of hell but the Kiwi troops and trying to make it better for the Iraqis.

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