In a few short months, the American military presence here will be history; the tanks, weapons, computers and personnel all shipped out; the gates locked and the keys turned over to the Iraqi government.
Already, only 24,000 troops remain on the base, and the amenities that once made this the most American of outposts in Iraq — the Cinnabon, Subway and Burger King kiosks, as well as the PXs that sold everything from microwaves to thong underwear — are rapidly closing.
A sign tacked up recently in the restroom near one of the last remaining mess halls reads, “Due to the drawdown the maid has been fired. Therefore clean up after yourself!!”
“This whole place is becoming a ghost town,” said Lt. Col. Sean Wilson, a public affairs officer for the Army, who lives on base. “You get the feeling you’re the last person on Earth.”
Like so many before them, several of the troops charged with the historic task of shutting down Camp Victory are just marking their time before their tour ends and they ship out. Others, however, are keenly aware of their role in this, the finale of the U.S. occupation here.
Brig. Gen. Bradley A. Becker is a deputy commanding general for support for the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, which will be the last division headquarters left in Iraq by October. He is overseeing the closure from his office on the base, tracking the details on a dry-erase board on which the rapidly waning days are ticked off. The military has gone from 505 bases at the height of its troop strength in Iraq, in 2008, to 47, and Camp Victory is slated to close even if the Obama administration wins backing for a plan to keep a few thousand U.S. troops in the country beyond the end of the year.
Becker’s job now, he says, is “to write the final chapter” of eight years of war.
A cocoon in the war
In that time, the base — about a 15-minute Humvee ride from downtown Baghdad — has become the iconic stomping ground for U.S. forces in Iraq, the first stop for dozens of dignitaries and celebrities coming for tours.
Both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have come. Vice President Biden came to visit when son Beau was stationed in the country. Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld came early on to proclaim that “truly amazing” progress had been made. Much later, Gen. David H. Petraeus oversaw the troop “surge” from here.
Hussein built the hunting retreat and resort that would become Camp Victory in the 15 years leading up to the U.S.-led invasion, sparing no expense on nine palaces and villas ringing man-made lakes. Its centerpiece is the al-Faw palace — with 62 rooms, 29 bathrooms, a sweeping marble rotunda and an enormous chandelier. Troops scrawled “U.S.A. was here” in the battle dust in the main ballroom when they arrived in 2003; a few months later, their commanding officers decided they should move in.