A truce after fierce battles in the Iraqi city of Fallujah last month has allowed several homesick U.S. Marines to put away their guns and pull out fishing rods.
And the favorite fishing hole for four Marines is a lake in the Iraqi desert that was once the heart of a pleasure palace for Saddam Hussein’s late sons Uday and Qusay.
Using military Meals-Ready-To-Eat as bait, the men silently cast their lines into the man-made lake, fed from the Euphrates, an action reminding them of homes thousands of miles away.
“We fish big salmon back home,” said Sergeant Jared Hendrickson, 24, a light-armored vehicle commander from Palmer, Alaska.
“The scenery is different out here in the desert. There are no palm trees in Alaska, but still, fishing reminds me of home.”
The Marines who fought fierce battles in Fallujah have now largely pulled out of the flashpoint city after a truce was agreed and an Iraqi force took over responsibility for security.
“I have fished at the Ohio river since I was a kid,” said Bratt Durbin, 20, from Louisville, Kentucky.
“Fishing sets my mind at ease. It takes my mind out of this place. It brings me memories of home,” he said.
Lined with palm trees
A testament to the extravagant lifestyle of Saddam’s offspring, the lake is lined with palm trees and has a waterside amphitheater where Uday and Qusay and their guests watched boat races while drinking and entertaining women.
There is an island in the middle of the lake, where Uday’s and Qusay’s residence once stood. An elegant stone bridge with white lamp-posts connects the island to the shore.
Renamed Camp Baharia after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam, the compound near Phallus now houses 1,500 Marines, who occupy the guest houses by the lake.
The Marines had their parents mail them fishing rods so they could fish for carp, bass and catfish, which swim from the nearby Euphrates into the lake through a pipe.
“The afternoons are the best time for fishing,” said Adrian Welda, 22, from Greenville, Alabama.
“In Alabama, I fish at lakes near my aunt’s farm. We got trees and alligators back home but this will do it,” he said.
Private 1st Class Rodrick Youmans, 22, from Allendale, South Carolina, said fishing releases his stress when he is not riding in his light armored vehicle hunting for Sunni insurgents.
“Didn’t catch anything today,” he said.
But Durbin, who caught and released a small carp, said the Marines don’t eat the fish for fear of being poisoned.
“It’s a game. You just gotta catch the fish.”