Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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IRAQ: Cool water even in the desert, Saladin style

August 13, 2008 |  2:43 pm


Saladin, the 12th-century Kurd who rallied Arab armies during the Crusades and recaptured Jerusalem, has long been a favorite of military men. His innovative tactics, leadership and chivalry are widely admired.

The German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, ordered a wreath laid at Saladin's tomb in Damascus. Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser used some of Saladin's symbology in his pan-Arab campaign. Saddam Hussein portrayed himself as a latter-day Saladin, claiming (falsely) that he, too, was born in Tikrit.

Even the British Army, forgiving Saladin for thwarting Richard the Lionheart, has a six-wheeled armored vehicle called the Saladin.

U.S. Marine Col. Patrick Malay has his own homage to Saladin. After reading that Saladin, even during brutally hot summers, kept ice for cool drinks by storing iceblocks from the mountains, Malay decided to follow suit.

When he arrived in January as commander of the 5th Marine Regiment in Anbar province, Malay ordered that every Marine would have access to cool water to drink. Under Operation Joe Cool, diesel-driven freezers were distributed even at farflung outposts.

Seven months later, Malay is declaring Saladin-like success. His proof: the regiment has not had a single case of heat exhaustion, which has bedeviled troops in the past.

— Tony Perry, in San Diego

Illustration credit: Bettman/CORBIS