Anyway I started to look outside while travelling to our hotel and you can see the ancient roads and areas. Iraqi troops were everywhere and you could see them but not that much as the security has much improved in the south of the country away from the Sunni dominated areas. Since our hotel was near one of the holiest Shiite Shrine in the world, the Shrine of Imam Ali (the First Shiite Imam, Prophet Mohammed Cousin, Son-in-law, the fourth Caliph), the moment I saw it and it struck me as I was dreaming as not in my wildest imaginations that I would have dreamt of coming here and seeing it with my own eyes. We had to disembark from our buses and walk to our hotels. Starting near the road, we had to go through a physical check; the women had to go through the women side and the men through the other side. Since being in a holy city, the women had to wear the hijab plus the traditional long dress called Abaya. It covers the whole of the female body.
Going through the physical check post, the guard was asking questions about our nationality (I don’t know why) but when it was my turn, he asked me and I said American the guard smiled and said to me in Arabic “Welcome”. It was surprise to hear those words coming from the Iraqi troops guarding the check post. Then we started to go towards our hotel which was almost two avenues in total but if you are carrying your carryon luggage and it is hot outside you would feel an eternity to walk. There was renovation going on near the shrine and the dirt and the heat was not that unbearable but I saw many kids begging or selling stuff on the street.