• Life on Mars: Staff writer Howard LaFranchi went to Baghdad prepared for the challenges of finding dinner when restaurants are off limits for security reasons and of working with bad phone lines. What he hadn't planned on was Baghdad's worst sand storm in recent years. A red fog left the city looking like a long-abandoned movie set.
"I woke up the first day of the storm last week with a chalky throat and a sense that something had changed overnight," says Howard. "It was the morning light – now an eerie orange. The buildings across the street were barely visible. It looked the way I imagined Mars might be like."
It turns out that what was annoying for residents was a bigger problem for others. The few commercial flights that serve Baghdad's airport were canceled, the unmanned drones the US sends up to aid in the fight against Shiite militias in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood were grounded. A travel advisory was issued for truckers and other drivers on the sandswept highways.
Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got a taste – no doubt literally – of the storm when she arrived in Baghdad Sunday. Helicopters were grounded, so she and her entourage had to resort to riding in a convoy of cars from the airport to the fortified Green Zone.
"By Monday morning the sky was a very welcome blue. But walls, cars, trees, and bushes – anything that had stood outside – was blanketed in a fine clay dust," Howard says. "One man I saw was patiently spraying a bougainvillea hedge in full bloom, restoring a bit of beauty to this war-marked city."
– David Clark Scott