BAGHDAD, April 16 (UPI) -- "Osama, I'm bored," I complained to my translator and close friend Friday afternoon. "Why don't you put on a scarf and claim to be from al-Qaida so I can interview you?"
"Hey man, I'm already named Osama. What do you want to do, get me sent to Guantanamo Bay?"
It's an old joke between us, but after spending 80 hours a week for the last two months together, at this point all we have is old, unfunny, jokes.
We had just spent several hours of the morning driving around some of the rougher neighborhoods of Baghdad looking for some action with nothing but lamb sandwiches to show for it. Friday -- being the holy day -- in Iraq means that there's no officials to interview, and with most of the attention poised on Fallujah an hour to the west or Najaf more than three hours to the south, it meant that Baghdad was preternaturally quiet.
And because Fallujah and Najaf have been sealed by the U.S. military and are filled with people who like to kidnap and kill foreign visitors, we had decided to cruise for something else to do.
After trying our hand at looking for news anywhere in Baghdad, we returned to my hotel in a neighborhood that rarely sees much action.
We found the main street blocked off by bored Iraqi police -- maybe a little unusual -- but hardly interesting. Because these police know our car and recognize us, they wave us through the roadblock without so much as a comment.
As we get out of the car in front of my hotel, an Iraqi tells Osama what the roadblock is about; it seems there's a huge bomb in the road in front of our hotel.
"Hey," Osama yells with a grin. "Want to go look for the bomb?"
I shrug and grab my cameras, and we walk back out on to the road, which of course is deserted of cars but has significant pedestrian traffic, which means hordes of little kids playing up and down the block.
Osama asks one boy of about 10 where the bomb is, and the kid nonchalantly points down the street toward a traffic circle some 500 meters away, where the Iraqi police are set up. So we begin to walk in that direction.
About 100 meters down, while talking on my mobile phone with a source, Osama stops and begins to talk with some Kurdish militia members who are set up down one of the side streets.
"Hey man," Osama interrupts my phone call. "I found the bomb."
Being on the phone, I motion for him to wait, until I see he's pointing to an artillery shell embedded in concrete five feet away from us. It's huge -- a 155 mm artillery shell -- and there are wires and a homemade detonator sticking out the back.
"Uhhh, I have to call you back," I say into the phone.
The Kurds are laughing hysterically at us at this point, oblivious to the fact that they themselves are only 30 feet away and will live only a nanosecond longer than Osama and me should it explode.
I take some quick pictures, while both Osama and I try to play it cool for the Kurds. Being an Arab, he can't run for cover in front of Kurds, and I figure it's too late for us if this thing's going off anytime soon. So we move away from the bomb, which can easily kill or wound anyone within 100 yards should it go off. Just as we get to the street, a U.S. military Humvee comes tearing down the road full of members of the 1st Armored Division.
As these are the intended targets of the bomb in the first place -- and having seen the remote detonator -- my cool evaporates as I wave them off. Luckily the 1st Armored guys have been in Iraq for a year and quickly figures out why I'm waving. Rookie troops would have likely pulled over and asked me for my credentials.
They set up a roadblock of their own a few hundred meters down the street, and Osama and I walk down to them. Along the way we encounter a bunch of Iraqi families who have come out for the show. Little kids are now running everywhere around the deadly device, and Osama tries to tell them to clear out. But the families tell him the bomb has been there for 24 hours and hasn't gone off yet, so what's the worry? A very typical Iraqi response to danger.
The soldiers ask me if I've seen the bomb, or in Iraq parlance, an Improvised Explosive Device.
"You got a location on the IED?" one asks. When informed I can show him a picture, we retire to the shade of his armored Humvee to show an officer and sergeant.
When they see picture on the small screen on the back of my digital camera, the sergeant starts yelling obscenities at me and in general.
"Holy (expletive) (expletive) that's a huge one," he shouts. "What the (expletive) were you (expletive) morons doing that close to a (expletive) IED?"
I explain that we didn't actually know where the bomb was when we almost stepped on it.
Now the soldiers are laughing and thanking us for finding it. One suggests that I might want to change my trousers.
As we stand a marginally safe distance away, one soldier explains that the Iraqis take a different approach to disposal of bombs than the Americans.
"When these guys find a bomb or a (rocket propelled grenade) they carry it to our base," one says. "We'll walk outside to talk to them and they'll be swinging a huge shell out of the back of truck all proud that they helped. We freak out every time."
As we talk about such matters, as if on cue, two Kurdish militiamen walk up to the bomb, as we watch incredulously. They poke it a few times and then actually try to pick it up.
"If he gets that thing up and walks this way with it, so help me God I will shoot him," says one infantryman. "What we should do is just put a bullet in that beast from here and set it off."
Through an interpreter, a Kurdish leader explains that they tried that.
"We've been shooting at it all morning, but it won't go off," explains the Kurd.
We just laugh at this point. It's just another morning in Baghdad.