Last Bus to Baghdad

Peace Tourists and Profiteers on the Road to the War

His phone rings. "Listen, I've got a guy who will pay a thousand U.S. for a trailer," he says to someone. "No, a trailer. Yes, a trailer. A trailer." Then a pause. "It's the thing that you tow behind a car to carry things in."

Balloch has worked in Chechnya, Palestine, Ivory Coast, and now, Iraq, which he hopes will make him a millionaire. "You can say I'm a profiteer," says Balloch, who is trained as a lawyer, and spent some time practicing human rights law. "But I feel the best way I can contribute is with my commercial sense. I get the job done."

And judging from the amounts being spent in Jordan by Western organizations these days, Balloch is in exactly the right place. "If the war starts Thursday," he says, "I'll make a lot more money than if it starts tonight." Timing is everything; but for the real money, Balloch hopes to get in on the reconstruction of Iraq. To this end, he recently made a trip to the southern Iraqi town of Basra, one of the U.S. army's first stops on its way to Baghdad. While there, he says, he met an electrician, who knows a truck guy . . .

Khoder Omran, an Iraqi bus driver, stands in front of what may be the last tour bus to Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
photo: Kareem Fahim
Khoder Omran, an Iraqi bus driver, stands in front of what may be the last tour bus to Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The Baghdad bus, which seats about 60, sits idle in the hotel parking lot. Abbas and Khoder watch an old Egyptian movie, starring the comedian Adel Imam, on multiple video screens. The two are interested in America's "sexy" movies. Is it normal, Abbas asks, to play a film on a bus like this one? This opens a discussion on values, Iraqi and American. While both drivers are awake, bravado reigns. "If Saddam dies, we all die with him," Abbas says. "Occupation?" asks Khoder. "There will be no occupation of Iraq. We all have weapons, you see."

But as Abbas starts to snore again, Khoder softens, and he talks about God. "What kind of freedom do I need?" he asks. "To live, to watch my children grow, to eat, to enjoy life. This is what I need," he says. His tourists are wandering back on to the bus, calling loved ones on cell phones, and telling them not to worry. None of them speak Arabic, and he doesn't speak their languages, so his trip will be a quiet one. It's dark outside, and Khoder smiles, and promises to drive quickly to Baghdad, as fast as a plane.

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