Road to Baghdad: Behind Enemy Lines: The Adventures of an American Soldier in the Gulf War


In 1990, U.S. Army Major Martin Stanton was a military advisor stationed in Saudi Arabia. Encouraged by the Army to broaden his cultural horizons, and assured by the U.S. embassy that Kuwait was perfectly safe, Stanton took off for a long weekend there. Roused by gunshots his first night in Kuwait City, Stanton looked out the window and discovered he was in the middle of a full-scale invasion.

Iraq’s Gulf War had begun—and in the Kuwait City ...
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In 1990, U.S. Army Major Martin Stanton was a military advisor stationed in Saudi Arabia. Encouraged by the Army to broaden his cultural horizons, and assured by the U.S. embassy that Kuwait was perfectly safe, Stanton took off for a long weekend there. Roused by gunshots his first night in Kuwait City, Stanton looked out the window and discovered he was in the middle of a full-scale invasion.

Iraq’s Gulf War had begun—and in the Kuwait City Sheraton, overlooking the entire western part of town, the United States had inadvertabtly encouraged an Army officer to go "behing enemy lines". As fighting continued and bullets hit the hotel’s facade, Stanton began phoning in intelligence reports to his superiors. He noted the arrival of the first tanks and their strategic deployment—to places with the most shade—as well as the Sheraton’s transition from hotel to Iraqi military headquarters. From the top floor of the hotel, Stanton would scour the surrounding streets with his binoculars, then descend to the lobby, where he’d lounge around the door of the Iraqi command post’s map room—conveniently converted from the Sheraton’s conference room—gleaning what he could and reporting back intelligence. Without a doubt, the Pentagon had unwittingly scored a major coup.

Yet Stanton’s prime “position” was short lived. Rounded up by the enemy, he would spend the next four months in Iraq as one of Saddam’s “guests”— also known as human shields—as the western “hostages” were shifted among various strategic facilities: chemical weapons factories, oilrefineries, and power plants. Despite his dire circumstance, Stanton nevertheless strove at all times to do his duty to the best of his ability by continually taking notes and looking for ways to smuggle out information. In his role as a roving human shield, Stanton saw more of Iraq than he ever wanted to. Fortunately, he was released in time to fight the Gulf War with his Saudi unit.

With the same insight and intelligence evident in his first book, Somalia on $5 a Day, Martin Stanton has produced another fascinating account that offers readers a rare glimpse of a different time in the Middle East, when Saddam Hussein was at the height of his power and ambition, and when the U.S. was simply trying to repel an invader.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Stanton (Somalia on $5 a Day), a U.S. Army major serving as an advisor in Saudi Arabia, took a mini-vacation to Kuwait in the summer of 1990, he found himself caught in the Iraqi invasion. He chronicles his adventures in this informative, balanced and often witty Gulf War memoir. Watching the tanks roll in from his room at the Kuwait Sheraton, Stanton offered intelligence reports to U.S. forces (and dined next to Iraqi colonels and generals when the hotel became Iraqi headquarters) before being arrested two days later. As a hostage, he and a group of fifteen others (British, French, German and Japanese, all memorably portrayed) were taken to several strategic-target detention centers; along the way, Stanton encountered a wide range of Iraqis and developed a deep-seated animosity toward Saddam Hussein and a low opinion of the Iraqi army. Released in December 1990, he flew home to Florida to see his family and marry his Canadian fiancee; in January he returned to the Gulf: "After twelve years as an officer in the army, I was going to war." Stanton adds something to our knowledge of almost every subject he covers: his narrative of the Battle of Khafji (often overlooked because it was primarily a Saudi affair) is enlightening, as are his portrayals of Iraq in wartime and the modernization of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Readers also learn, for example, that Saudi soldiers limit their training because they cannot leave their families unprotected by a male relative, and that the hostages (all male) could intimidate the Iraqis by threatening to take off their clothes. Stanton's keen eye and ready humor make this a standout in the field. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739318386
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/5/2005
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 2 cassettes, 2 hours
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Stanton is an active-duty U.S. Army colonel and author of Somalia on $5 a Day.
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Read an Excerpt



Five months later I got off the plane in Riyadh. It was a Lufthansa flight, and I noticed how the businessmen had been pounding down drinks as if they were the last they'd get in some time (they were). Being a light drinker, I stayed sober and tried to relax. I mulled over in my mind everything I had learned about Saudi Arabia in the past few months. Once I'd received the assignment, I tried to learn as much as I could. I had even gotten Arabic language tapes and earned strange looks, as I drove across the country to leave my car in Florida, talking to myself and repeating the Arabic on the tapes. I picked up quite a few facts about Saudi Arabia.

*I learned that modern Saudi Arabia was founded by Ibn Saud Abdul Aziz in 1902 and that the Al Saud had been in charge of Saudi Arabia for less than a hundred years. This came as a surprise, because I had imagined a dynasty of Saudi monarchs leading back to the beginning of Islam itself. Actually, Saudi Arabia was a younger nation (in the western sense of the word) than the United States.

*I learned that most of the people in Saudi Arabia were Sunni Moslems who followed the sect known as Wahabism, which was the strictest sect in Sunni Islam. It was the interpretations of Islam by the Wahabists rather than the faith of Islam itself that made Saudi Arabia such a religiously strict place to live. The Wahabist Sunnis dominated the population and the royal family. The only major population of Shia Moslems in Saudi Arabia was in the eastern province. The Sunni often distrusted the Shia.

*I learned that the rulers of Saudi Arabia since the death of Abdul Aziz in 1953 had been his sons: firstSaud, who was peacefully deposed by Faisel in the early 1960s, then Khalid, who replaced Faisel when he was assassinated in 1975, and finally Fahad, who replaced Khalid when he died in 1982.

*I learned that Faisel (whom most Americans remember negatively as one of the faces behind the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74) was actually a pro-western leader and the antithesis of the spoiled, thoughtless, playboy oil sheik. Rather he was a skillful leader who did more than anyone except Abdul Aziz himself to bring the Saudis into the twentieth century.

*I learned that the armed forces of Saudi Arabia were divided into two distinct elements: the Ministry of Defense and Aviation (MODA) forces, consisting of the regular army, the air force, and the navy; and the National Guard.

*I learned that women couldn't drive in Saudi Arabia but could own property, that slavery had been abolished in 1962, and that many Saudis were educated in the West.

Depending upon whom you read, the Saudis were either a totalitarian, repressive, oil-glutted monarchy whose ruling members led lives of wretched excess, or they were a responsibly conservative oligarchy trying to manage a new nation's headlong plunge into wealth and modernity as best it could. I hadn't read many books that agreed in their interpretation of the Saudis, so I didn't know what to think. The only two movies I'd ever seen about this part of the world were Lawrence of Arabia (the action took place mainly in northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan) and John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (a comedy about an off-course U2 pilot who lands in a fictional Arab country called Fawzia). I figured I would get off the plane and be greeted by either the thought police or a modern version of Omar Khayyam.

The desert beneath us was black and featureless, with only the occasional pool of electric lights from a small town or oil field to give any sign of human habitation. Eventually we got to a larger pool of lights in the blackness and landed at Riyadh a little after midnight.

I breezed through customs in a surprisingly short time, considering that my flight arrived at the same time as one carrying a planeload of Bangladeshi guest workers. My diplomatic passport helped. To my surprise, my bags were not rifled for alcohol or pornography (two big no-no's). I got just a cursory look from a customs official with a wild, frizzy beard and a set of prayer beads. He nodded and waved me through. "Shukran" (thanks), I said. I'd heard that the Saudis liked it when you tried to speak Arabic to them, and I was eager to try out mine. He smiled slightly. "Not at all, my good man," he replied, sounding exactly like Robert Morely. "Enjoy your stay."

I was met by the guy I was replacing, Maj. Bob Sullivan, a big, friendly air defense officer several years senior to me with a Texas accent a mile wide. (I found out later that he was, in fact, from Oklahoma.) We threw my stuff in his truck and headed toward Riyadh. It was about 1:30 in the morning, so I didn't think there would be much going on. The Riyadh international airport is quite a distance from the city proper, connected by a well-lit, six-lane highway. Bob told me what was scheduled for the next few days and what my quarters would be like. I was only half listening, however, because I kept seeing groups of cars by the side of the road off in the desert. People were clustered around them and there were open fires, sort of like a Toyota pickup/BMW weenie roast. There were a few tents. Some people appeared to be sitting clustered around something that was glowing gently. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked Bob what they were doing.

He glanced over. "Oh, they're watching television," he said, completely nonplussed, obviously an old Arab hand. "They do it all the time--get the family together, drive out into the desert, have a picnic, and watch TV." Studying each little group more closely as we passed them, I could see that they all had TVs. Perplexed, I asked him where the power for the TVs came from. He looked at me with a sort of benevolent patience, like a master addressing a new apprentice. "They've all got portable generators. You won't see a Bedouin tent without some sort of TV antenna sticking up from it." He paused, noting my bewilderment. "Looks kinda crazy, doesn't it?" It did: odd and definitely out of place. I spent the rest of the drive listening to Bob and wondering what Lawrence of Arabia would have thought.

Bob dropped me off at my quarters and told me to sleep in, that he would be by to get me around noon. My house was huge for a bachelor officer's quarters, two bedrooms, a den, a large living room, a dining room, and a palatial kitchen. Whatever else this job had in store for me, there wasn't anything wrong with the digs. I spent about fifteen minutes exploring the house, then went up onto the roof. I had an excellent view of Riyadh, alien and sleeping. I felt a little out of place. (There's nothing like dropping in on a different culture at 2 a.m. to make you feel like a lost kid.) I called my family in the States to tell them I had made it to Riyadh, then I went down to the bedroom. There was a note from Bob Sullivan on the bed: "If you hear a lot of hollering and screaming at 5 a.m., don't worry, it's just prayer call." Armed with this helpful little hint, I lay down to rest, wondering just what I'd gotten myself into.

I spent the first day doing administrative in-processing. This included going to a Saudi clinic to get blood drawn in order to get a driver's license. The clinic was clean and modern, but the Saudis in their white robes and red-checkered headdresses looked out of place. Women would enter the clinic and quickly go through a door to the women's section. I thought it odd that I would have to get blood taken for a driver's license. Sullivan told me that Saudi citizens were required to give a pint of blood, but U.S. military advisors were excused from this. Later when I realized how many traffic accidents there were in Saudi Arabia, I came to see the sense in the pint-of-blood policy. For many people it was like a down payment. I got my license the next day. The in-processing schedule was leisurely, and I would not be going out to my brigade for about five days.

I borrowed a truck from the motor pool and spent the next few days familiarizing myself with Riyadh and its environs. The Saudi capital was a strange city to wander through. If I were writing travel brochures, I might be tempted to say something like, Riyadh is a city of contradictions, an exciting place where the old and the new collide. This, however, would have been gilding the lily. Riyadh was not a particularly exciting place, just strange. The old and the new did collide there, though. When I first saw Riyadh in the summer of 1989, modernization was still going on and a lot of the old souk area, with its traditional Arab open-stall markets, still existed. New public buildings (including several that looked like spaceships) rubbed elbows comfortably with the mud-and-block buildings and narrow, winding streets of an Indiana Jones movie. There were a few western-style shopping malls (where the merchandise was pricey) and a lot of souks. Some of the latter would take you right back to the Saturday afternoon serials of the 1930s: dark, cluttered alleys thronging with people, all manner of bartering and haggling going on around you, sinister faces peering out of shops as you--the outsider--wandered by. Actually, you could take this flight of fancy too far. No one comes out and grabs you and drags you into their store. Senor Ugate will not try to sell you the letters of transit (a la Casablanca), and that sinister face in the store is probably just wondering if he can off-load some of his cheaper "genuine Arab" (made in Poland) carpets on this gullible Ameriki. Oh yeah, just about everyone took MasterCard.

Most Saudi men wore the same thing: a thobe, which is like an ankle-length all-white nightshirt with a Nehru collar, and their traditional headdress, called a gutrah, which looks like a miniature checkered tablecloth from an Italian restaurant. A few of the more rebellious-looking teenagers cruising Hardees and Baskin-Robbins wore Pirate-label blue jeans and Fido Dido T-shirts. (I never did figure out what Fido Dido was.) For the most part, though, it was mostly thobes and gutrahs. You were supposed to be able to tell whether or not a man was rich by the quality of his thobe. I never could. I could, however, deduce that the man in the white thobe who was getting into the brand-new Jaguar was probably richer than I was.

Women were another matter entirely. All Saudi women wore the abayah, which humorist P. J. O'Rourke once called a "one-girl pup tent." It's as good a description as any. The abayah is a complete, head-to-toe black body covering that is supposed to hide a woman's every feature. There were slight variations: a sort of racier version with a vision slit for the eyes that would let a woman actually see. Other versions had a muslin veil that covered the entire face and left its wearer in a state of perpetual overcast. The Saudi women wore their abayahs whenever they left their house. The first time I saw them, I thought they looked like the ghosts from Pac-Man gliding down the sidewalk. It was strange to see them in stores. They sort of hovered over the merchandise they were interested in. Then a hand snaked out from under the abayah, picked up the item, and took it under the veil for closer perusal. Another technique was to lift the veil over the item like a Civil War photographer with his big camera on a tripod. Walking into a department store full of women shoppers was like watching feeding outer-space black jellyfish being photographed by a bunch of miniature Matthew Bradys. Some of the more conservative women even wore gloves so they would not have to expose any skin when they reached out from under their veils.

This face-covering practice applied only to Saudi women. Western women in Riyadh were allowed more leeway. They could wear either extremely conservative, skin-covering western clothes (for that schoolmarm-from-hell look) or an abayah that covered everything but their head. As a result, most western women in Riyadh looked like your mean aunt Sophie or as though they got lost on the way to commencement.

I wondered how the Saudi women could travel around without bumping into things. The truth was, sometimes they didn't. I learned later that if you sat in the Al-Kariyah mall long enough, you'd eventually see one fall on the escalator or misjudge and walk into a post. I suspected that there was a small percentage of Saudi women who never got the knack of seeing through the veil and as a result had multiple bruises and flattened noses.

What was unsettling to me in those first few days was that a society could choose such a bizarre way to dress and act. I could well imagine the women seething beneath their veils. I was at a loss as to why they put up with it. I later found out that I couldn't have been more mistaken. Talking to expatriate nurses who worked in various hospitals in Riyadh, I discovered that most Saudi women positively clung to their veils. In fact, they would wear them into their hospital beds and sometimes into the delivery room. Whenever just women were around, they would pull up the veils and chatter away, but as soon as a man came into the room the women would pull down the veils instantly. I was told that to be veiled at all times in public was their show of respectability, and only a tramp would let the world in general see her face.

Most of the stores in the souks were basically the same. Seemingly hundreds of rug stores all sold attractive, Arab-pattern rugs that were usually machine made in Eastern Europe. Genuine handwoven Arab or Persian rugs of much finer quality were also available but very expensive. I later found out that the Saudis used the mass-produced rugs in much the same way as we use indoor-outdoor carpeting. Every tent had a floor made up of rugs laid down and interlaced with one another. Open-air wedding parties would have several hundred rugs covering a football field-sized area, along with dozens of couches and chairs all arranged in a square facing inward. The other big seller in rugs was the Afghan "war rug." Some of the more expensive ones were authentic Afghan rugs with little Russian tanks, helicopters, grenades, and AK-47s woven into them. Most were imitations made in Eastern Europe.

From the Hardcover edition.
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