The Iraqi Donut Man / Umm Qasr, Iraq

Day 82 On the Maersk Arkansas

A couple weeks ago we started service to Umm Qasr, Iraq or as I like to call it “things that make you go hmmmmm Qasr”. Umm Qasr is said to have been where Alexander the Great landed in Mesopotamia in 325BC. Because of Umm Qasr’s position as a major port for the Iraqi navy and access to the Persian Gulf, it played a major role in the lead up to the 1st Gulf War. The waterway leading to Umm Qasr was the center of an ownership dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. It was traditional Arab understanding that the territory from Baghdad south to the Gulf and including modern day Kuwait was a part of Iraq. Colonial power England awarded land tucked in the northwest corner of the Persian Gulf to the al Sabah family and this became Kuwait. Iraq finally recognized Kuwait as a nation in the 1960s but still disputed the border. Umm Qasr became more important after the war with Iran because Iraq’s only other access to the Persian Gulf was shared with Iran and blocked with sunken ships. You can think of this as the Hatfields and Mcoys having the same driveway as access to their homes.

A Blackhawk flying over Umm Qasr, Iraq

Post war Umm Qasr. Click the picture to see pre-war Umm Qasr

When the UN ruled against Iraq and awarded Kuwait access to the Khawr abd Allah (the water way leading to Umm Qasr) and also part of this port city it enraged Daddy Hussein who pleaded to OPEC and the Arab League. Iraq also accused Kuwait of “slant drilling” into their oil fields (later found to be true). After amassing troops on the border, Saddam made his case to the US and the ambassador to Iraq said to Saddam “we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border dispute with Kuwait”, less than a month later he invaded Kuwait and we know the rest. I am not defending the guy because he did plenty to deserve the noose he ended up wearing but if the City of Palm Beach Gardens awarded my downstairs bathroom to my neighbor I am sure I would make moves to stop him from stinking up my place. Please note my solution would not be anything as aggressive as Hussein’s as I am sure kicking down my neighbor’s door, raping his wife and setting his house on fire would end in a long jail term. In addition, whether he really had rights to Kuwait can be disputed as well.

Sunken Iraqi oil tankers from the first Gulf War

There are many not so subtle clues of the area’s violent past, like the half submerged Iraqi oil tankers along the river that were sank by US warplanes during the 1st Gulf War, the armed convoys that make their way from the port towards the hinterland and mangled steel as the backdrop to the port itself. Umm Qasr is making steps in a positive direction and Camp Bucca, a detention center that once held 30,000 insurgents closed last month and had not seen any attacks since June 2008.

Tha Dogg Pound (clockwise from bottom left, Snoop, The Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg, Warren G)

The area is not completely void of violence as there are packs of dogs that fight over prime begging real estate on the dock daily. The three weeks that we have come here, a group of four dogs that I have named the “Dogg Pound” have been holding it down. Snoop (realized he was the alpha when the others backed away and let him eat first when food was thrown on the dock) Nate Dogg, Warren G and The Lady of Rage sit on the dock near the house of the ship knowing that crew will see them and toss food down. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, dogs know how to put on their best puppy face for food. Snoop runs the gang with an iron paw and whenever an outside dog comes around Snoop, Nate Dogg and Warren G immediately attack. Despite her name, Lady of Rage isn’t much help in the fighting business as she is the most submissive dog I have ever seen. She even rolled over on her back for a truck that got to close to her.

The Iraqi Donut Man and I

Knowing that we would not be able to leave the ship in Iraq for obvious safety reasons, I figured I would not be able to taste any local food. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a man walking down the dock with a large tray over his shoulder and the longshoremen making their way down the gangway towards him. I didn’t know what he was selling and it’s generally not the best I idea to eat food being sold on the dock but I figured I should check it out as it would probably be my only chance to eat something from Iraq. When I got to him I saw it was a tray of brown donuts that looked like churros in an “O” shape. Trying to ignore the fact that his hands looked like he had been walking on them, I gave him a few bucks and grabbed a few. I rationalized buying food from a man with dirt caked hands with the fact that the trucks on the dock had kicked up so much dirt that I had already eaten enough Iraqi sand to choke a camel anyway.

Throwing caution into the desert, I bit down on the pastry which had a crunchy exterior not found in any donut I have tasted unless it was way past its prime but this donut was not stale. The crisp exterior gave way to a soft and sweet inside. Overall it was different than any donut I have had but pretty tasty. I wish I could say more about how it was made or what was in it but there was a slight language barrier between myself and Ahmed “The Donut Man”. I hope that in the next few weeks I will be able to try more Iraqi food, risking my own personal health for your entertainment.


Ships working cargo at Umm Qasr

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5 Comments on “The Iraqi Donut Man / Umm Qasr, Iraq”

  1. Neisha
    December 4, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    I really like how you provide a little history along with your food escapades (forget the dirty hands, you hugged the man for a picture, anyhoo!). However well we may know the issues of desert storm it’s definitely more interesting peered through the eye of a donut hole! And the pics are spectacular. Can you bring me home lady rage?

    • Toriano's "La Buena Vida"
      December 4, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

      Well the good thing is donut tasted better than he smelled. I wish I could bring the Lady of Rage home. She is too soft for these Iraqi roughneck thug dogs. But you know how the ladies love them badboys.

  2. November 14, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Reblogged this on La Buena Vida and commented:

    Three years ago I had a chance to visit the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr while working on a containership owned by Maersk. At the time, Maersk was just returning service to this war torn area and I didn’t quite know what to expect. Over the next 1-2 months I would visit this port every week and built a relationship with faces that became familiar. Three years after visiting an area that was struggling to get back on its feet it seems like Umm Qasr continues to distance itself from a violent past. I recently read that the Maersk has just opened up an office at the port which seemed to dangerous to do in the past.

    So take a look back too 2009 when I was introduced to Iraq through a donut hole.


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