18-Oct-2012 -- I set out with my colleague reporter Prashant Rao, his photographer Aḥmad al-Rubay`, and video reporter Nāfi` `Abdu l-Jabbār at 6 AM from Baġdād. Our destination is the Badra oil field, about 200+ km from Baġdād, where Russian oil company Gazprom has been working under contract with the Iraqi government since 2010 to develop the field and bring it on stream. It's one of the rare oil fields in Iraq where I've never been before and I needed to get an update on the progress of work as I do on all other fields in the country. I have been eyeing confluence 33N 46E for some time due to the fact that the area is relatively safe and not too far from Baġdād, although being so close to the Iranian border I wasn't totally sure about the state of minefields in the area. Discussing my plans with Prashant, he immediately saw an opportunity to report on the oil field developments for AFP as well as on the whole project of confluence hunting in this unlikely country.
Heading out on the Baġdād - al-Kūt road, we turned northeast after `Azīziyya taking a shortcut to avoid entering al-Kūt and headed towards Jaṣṣān, and then northwards to Badra town, then on the road towards the border crossing of Zarbatiyya and to the entrance of Gazprom camp just a few kilometres before the border with Iran. A quick briefing with the engineers in charge then off we departed to the drilling site, stopping briefly at the first - now ancient – oil well drilled in Badra in 1978 for a photo op. After the rig visit and lunch, we set off to look for the Confluence after making sure it's not within the field borders and confirmation from the engineers that the area would not be prone to old landmines from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's. Engineer Ḥasan tried to negotiate with the border police to get us clearance to take a shortcut through the oilfield but the officer didn't seem to appreciate that we needed to cross over to look for a point on the map. "Is there oil there?" he asked. The conversation was going nowhere.
So we set off around 2 PM on the road back to Badra then Jaṣṣān taking a left turn from Jaṣṣān towards Qal`at Muzaybila, a small village of mud and brick houses amid the arid desert. But the area according to locals is rich in Sumerian antiquities and artifacts. The road from Qal`at Muzaybila eastwards in the direction of the border with Iran looked mostly ok but we had a few big potholes to engage. The roads ends with the checkpoint near the southern tip of the Badra oilfield and with the attitude of that officer, it's unlikely it's used for much else than police patrols. We stopped the cars once almost perpendicular to our confluence point on the 46E, but the last leg of the trip had to be done on foot. Prashant, Aḥmad, Nāfi`, and myself set off on the walk northwards towards our point, leaving our drivers and guards waiting in three cars on the road, both Aḥmad and Nāfi` shooting photo and video of our joint adventure. My Garmin marine GPS battery decided to die at the wrong time, so my backup Citynav GPS had to be used instead. A quick check before setting off showed the same data on both, giving me confidence that the Citynav is quite reliable. The software stated a margin of error of 10 meters which is acceptable.
The walk of about 1 km in the dusty powdery sand was as smooth as it can be with the October weather providing bearable temperature. It took a bit of turning in circles to zero the longitude and latitude but once obtained, the signal was easy to stabilize. With GPS on the dusty ground, all four of us were peering over it taking photo and video while shading the screen with our bodies against the sun glare. More pictures of the empty north, the work camps on Badra oil field about 5 km in the east, our cars hardly visible on the road to our south, and more empty desert east towards Qal`at Muzaybila, and a few photos of ourselves, we headed back to the amazed looks on the drivers' and guards' faces and my three companions excited at their first confluence visit.
The 180-km drive back to Baġdād took us just over a couple of hours. With my 6th primary confluence in Iraq concluded, the whole southeast is now covered. Next is the more challenging North and West of the country.