Yesterday, I flew out of Baghdad International Airport to Amman, Jordan--thereby leaving Iraq for the first time in five months. There are two flights per day out of Baghdad to Amman on Royal Jordanian airlines, and the security is tight. Unless you have a DOD badge, you must get dropped off at a remove parking lot, where a shuttle bus picks you up to take you a significant distance to the main terminal. I must note that the terminal itself offered a freedom that we no longer enjoy in the United States: the freedom to smoke. Indeed, not just the freedom to smoke, but the freedom to smoke cigars. So, as I sat during the long wait for my planes departure, I enjoyed a fine cigar.
Once on the tarmac, one of the baggage handlers came up to me and said "check bag" while pointing at my carry-on. This was not a negotiable point, and so I replied, "Lau, Lau," (Arabic for no, no), explained that I had my camera and computer in the bag, and that checking it was not an option. He nodded his head, and said something like "Your luggage is my luggage." That really didnt change my mind. Finally, after some back and forth, I discovered that he was not asking me to check my bag, but to show me which of the checked baggage sitting by the plane was mine, so that they could assure that all the bags belonged to passengers on the flight before loading them. (I found that I was not the only one who had this misunderstanding with the baggage handler as I watched other passengers make similar protestations while boarding after me.)
When the plane took off, it immediately banked left and went almost straight up, rising in altitude extremely abruptly. For the next 15 minutes, the plane continued in a corkscrew pattern over the airport, ascending in altitude to the ultimate cruising altitude for the flight. I have been told that the pilots do this in order to get the aircraft to an altitude beyond the reach of RPGs and missiles before they leave the more secure perimeter of the airport. After that, it was smooth sailing into Jordan, where I am spending a short time before returning to the States.