……..”Robin Williams slept here. Who is that research institute analyst checking in from Washington? Yes, Senator, welcome: You have the Tikrit Suite.Staff members, however, sleep in outdoor trailers. And there are plenty of other anomalies: chandeliers and sandbags; pinstriped trouser cuffs breaking just so over desert combat boots.The J.V.B. is part of a sprawling base just beyond the Baghdad airport, an area chosen by the American military as its headquarters and named, prematurely, Camp Victory. Within months of the invasion, it became the largest overseas American combat base since the Vietnam War. The first guests to arrive in the spring of 2003 found themselves without electricity or telephones or even windows. The place had been looted of furniture, except for a Ping-Pong table with no net. Sand fleas swarmed, and thumb-size lizards skittered around. To the eye of a quartermaster, it was the perfect fixer-upper for V.I.P. delegations from Washington. As the months passed, the palace was spit-polished. Now, the marble floors gleam, the wooden filigree ceilings are museum quality and the Internet is steadier than in some hotels in Europe.
But as the sun sets on Operation New Dawn, the American military mission that is scheduled to end on the last day of December, the status of the J.V.B. is in some ways typical of American military outposts all over Iraq, as a dwindling force scrambles to pack up billions of dollars of equipment. In other ways, though, the Idaho National Guard troops who currently run the J.V.B. have had a combat tour unlike any other. Take, for example, the day they spent in a crash course last year at the University of Southern Mississippi’s department of tourism and hospitality, which typically trains workers for hotels and casinos along the Gulf of Mexico. It was a quick introduction to the basics of hotel management, including “front desk etiquette” and “banquet protocol.”
But a day in class could not prepare them for everything required of a concierge in Baghdad. The Guardsmen are under a grim security shadow, and they warn visitors to walk with a buddy between dusk and dawn. Military intelligence picked up specific indications that the League of the Righteous, or Asaib al-Haq, one of the more maleficent Shiite militant groups, has set a goal of kidnapping American service personnel made vulnerable by the withdrawal.
That was not a problem in years past. When tens of thousands of soldiers were based at Camp Victory, the roads were at rush-hour tempo around the clock, with traffic jams in front of the J.V.B. as likely at 4 a.m. as 4 p.m. There were always plenty of well-armed troops within earshot anywhere you went. Not anymore. The gold-rush camp has become a dangerous ghost town. Last week, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was at the J.V.B., the “Incoming!” alarm went off in the middle of the night as sensors tracked a rocket attack. Everyone jumped out of bed and into gym shorts and scrambled into cement bunkers until the all-clear sounded 15 minutes later.“……