"No pictures," the four heavily-armed men in the cramped waiting area demanded, pointing at the Nikon D200 slung over my shoulder.

The door opens. Another soldier comes in to retrieve us and ushers us through a painted concrete-block courtyard where security forces were lined up in units, prepared for the day’s orders.

Around them was a beehive of activity. Other soldiers were scurrying around in all directions, each with a machine gun strapped over his shoulder. My camera was definitely staying in the same position.

I whispered to Scott, "Not exactly the scene any tourists would encounter, huh?"

Inside the Provincial Commander’s headquarters the air was one of tense alertness, coupled with relaxed apathy. Some of the security officers were coldly watching our every move in precision-like efficiency that rivals that of secret service agents. Others were leaning against walls and tables, smoking cigarettes and checking their guns.

The Commander was not what one would expect. Long gray hair and a broad white smile betrayed his rugged toughness. His eyes were bright and loving. His handshake was warm and welcoming.

He was the gatekeeper into this territory. He knew our purpose and perhaps that was the reason for his positive countenance.

He gave us permission to proceed and we were on our way.

Iraqisecurity