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The Georgian Tile
Welcome to Saddam Hussein international airport, and thank you for choosing Indian Airlines," says the air hostess with practised ease. I almost feel like reminding the lady that you don’t have any choice here. This is Baghdad, and it’s only a special chartered flight that’s brought us here, the first from India since the Gulf War. In fact, Baghdad airport is like no other. There’s none of the hustle and bustle of an international airport: no duty-free shopping, no flight announcements, no planes on the tarmac. Instead, the airport is more like a large, disused building. The US-imposed no-fly zone is still in place, and while an increasing number of countries have begun to defy it, flying into Baghdad is hardly on the tourist itinerary. As you walk through the aerobridge, the graffiti on the walls is striking: Down with USA in blood-red paint. It’s a reminder of the near-manic obsession with Uncle Sam. The Iraqi animosity towards Washington makes Indo-Pak relations seem like a picnic. This is ‘war’ in the true sense of the term: personal, national and civilisational. As I enter the lobby of the swank Al-Rashed hotel in Baghdad, I’m greeted by a floor painting of George Bush senior. The man who led America into the Gulf War is shown as tearful, with broken teeth. Since it’s the only entry point into the hotel, all visitors have little choice but to walk all over it. The Iraqis apparently had it made when the UN inspection teams arrived here a few years ago. Wonder what the present occupant of the White House would have to say about Dad being literally placed on the mat by his Iraqi rival.