One in an occasional series
I wake up early and begin my walk to the bus stop. While on my way, I watch as a convoy of armored vehicles rumbles by me, rolling dust and heavy exhaust as they hurry up the street in low gear.
These giant Kenworths and Peterbilts are almost unrecognizable because of a cage of blast proof plating and inch-thick glass that has been installed to protect the driver on the open road. Each rig comes complete with custom handholds and a flat-tan paint job, allowing the procession to resemble the filming of Mad Max more than a military convoy.
The trucks are followed by a few late model production cars, and since a general's order was issued forbidding Department of Defense personnel from owning civilian cars in Iraq, I can be pretty sure that the shiny new SUVs are driven by the contractors who live and work on base.
As I approach the bus stop, something catches my eye, and I double-take to find a rare British Navy Rover. I cross the narrow street to take a closer look at the truck that was once British military standard issue, much like the Jeep was for our country in World War II. The Rover has no overt markings to identify it as a British asset, just the deep blue enamel that is reserved for use by the Royal Navy and something blacked out above the mudflap.
I study the truck in disbelief, and admire the legacy fenders and utilitarian styling reminiscent of it's Toledo cousin. I have not seen a truck like this in 10 years, and my mind burns through all the possible explanations for the Rover's presence in this country: It might have been stationed with a British unit in the Middle East prior to the Gulf War, or possibly driven into the country by a British forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I have a brother-in-law who served in the Welsh Guard, and I recall him telling me how these vehicles are sold at auction in England each year for around $1,500, quite a value for a legacy SUV.
Remembering this makes me think that it is far more likely that the Rover was imported by a wealthy Iraqi after a surplus sale overseas. I decide to inspect the license plate in hopes of finding some clue that may shed light on this unique vehicle's story, but I can't find a thing at the rear bumper. I search the front bumper for a while and suddenly realize that I have yet to see a car in country with a license plate of any kind.
In Iraq, there are no license plates or government markings, and a consult with our cultural experts reveals that there is no traffic law or vehicle licensing of any type in Iraq.
If you can afford to pay for a car, you can do just about anything you wish until you crash or it gets stolen.
My mind flashes back to my days clerking in Toledo Municipal Court. Sometimes, we would get the opportunity to help the judge on duty by reading the charges during arraignment proceedings.
Arraignment is fairly simple procedure in which the accused gets to exercise his or her constitutional right to hear the crimes with which they are charged before a judge.
I realized that many times when a someone was charged with violent crime, the charge was accompanied by a rather small driving infraction.
When I asked about this odd partnership, the bailiff informed me that most of the defendants would not have been arrested but for a routine traffic stop where an outstanding warrant was discovered.
Even in America, law enforcement agencies simply do not have the resources to go round up all the people that we are fairly certain committed a crime.
In Iraq the matter is worse. Even if an insurgent is wanted for a crime, he can buy a truck with cash and blend into the law-abiding populace until the time is right to strike.
My mind races through the implications, and I find myself still standing in the dusty lot, surrounded by cars, including the mysterious Rover.
I wonder how many of these vehicles will be stolen, how many will be used by insurgents in a future crime, and if the Iraqi people can hold out long enough to establish some semblance of order in this place where something as common as an automobile can be a weapon of opportunity.