I have yet to see the kind of dust storm in the picture and the picture is from the webpage of an earlier inhabitant of Al Asad.  I have something to look forward to. 

Even absent spectacular “Mummy-class” sandstorms, if I had to use one word to describe Al Asad it would be dust.  But I would need more than this one word to describe the dust itself.  Naturally, we have the blowing dust.   I expected the blowing-in-the-wind dust.  It is the other kinds that I find more interesting.

I had not anticipated fog-dust.  I thought that dust would have an identifiable source and would either move in the wind or settle to the ground.  Evidently not.   Night before last I thought a fog had rolled in, but it was dust.  It made the waning moon a very attractive shade of red.  The dust just hung there.   It was still there in the morning when it looked more like a haze.  This morning it was windy and it looked clear, but after I ran around a little, I found that my ears, nose and throat were full of sand.  The finer dust particles are almost invisible.

I have seen moon-dust before, but never so much.  Moon dust is the kind of dust that cannot decide whether it should float in the air or lay on the ground so it does both.  I recently was disappointed to find that what looked like a nice smooth running trail was actually moon-dust obscuring some pretty painful rocks.   Moon dust disperses when you put your foot down; it is almost viscous or liquid. Some crawls up your legs and gets in your shorts; some slithers down and gets in your socks.  It is best avoided.   I do not think the moon-dust is really indigenous to Anbar or natural in general.  The constant rolling of our heavy vehicles and machinery probably creates the moon dust.  You often find moon dust around construction sites and I think that is the process here.

Of course there is the dust that our machines kick up more immediately.  Helicopters are excellent dust creators.  This is the most painful type of dust, containing little stones thrown at high velocity, but you can hunker down and ride it out.

Dust gets on everything.   It is a great equalizer, making dark and light a homogeneous grayish-brown.  I had my sunglasses secured in a zippered pocket, but when I took them out they were covered in dust.  Most of the local dust is khaki colored.  I understand the Brits in India’s Northwest Frontier province, a place with similar soils, “invented” that uniform color after everything they owned spontaneously turned khaki anyway.  The funny thing is that the dust inside building seems whitish.  Maybe if enough of it piled up it would look khaki.  I will probably find out, since. I have to admit that daily dusting is not on my agenda.  Computers are the worst because of all the nooks and crannies in the keyboards and their dust attracting fans and electromagnetic fields.  I keep my computer fairly clean with daily effort.  I bought a bunch of Ziploc bags to put some of my other stuff.  That helps some.   

I don’t suppose it is healthy to breathe all this dust.  My throat and nose feel dry a lot, but otherwise I do not feel any worse for the wear.   If I gain weight, I can blame the dust accretion on my insides.  But the concept of dust inspires no great fear.  I lived through worse.  As a young man I worked at Medusa Cement Company loading bags all day, twelve hour shifts.  That is where I became intimate with dust.  We had the cement equivalent of moon-dust and a lot more dust churning around in whatever lethargic breeze managed to get into the warehouse.  The cement dust would stick to sweaty flesh and it was persistent because it was waterproof once it adhered and hard to wash off.  What worked (and I don’t know why) was Irish Spring soap.   I used to particularly hate the dust in my beautiful blondish hair because it would sort of set up when I got it wet.  The Lord, in his wisdom, has taken the burden of hair off my head.  Besides the Al Asad dust, for all its offensiveness, seems to be water soluble.

To My Overwrought Colleagues

Sorry to post twice in one day, but I just finished reading this article

To my vexed and overwrought colleagues, I say take a deep breath and calm down.  I personally dislike the whole idea of forced assignments, but we do have to do our jobs.  We signed up to be worldwide available.  All of us volunteered for this kind of work and we have enjoyed a pretty sweet lifestyle most of our careers.

I will not repeat what the Marines say when I bring up this subject.  I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies, but I am ashamed of my crybaby colleagues.  I will not share this article with them and I hope they do not see it. How could I explain this?
Calling Iraq a death sentence is just way over the top.  I volunteered to come here aware of the risks but confident that I will come safely home, as do the vast majority of soldiers and Marines, who have a lot riskier jobs than we FSOs do.

I wrote a post a couple days ago where I said that perhaps everyone’s talents are not best employed in Iraq.  That is still true.  But I find the sentiments expressed by some colleagues in the article deeply offensive.  What are they implying about me and my choice?  If they do not want to come, that is okay.  Personally, I would not want that sort out here with me anyway.  BUT they are not worldwide available and they might consider the type of job that does not require worldwide availability.  

We all know that few FSOs will REALLY be forced to come to Iraq anyway.  Our system really does not work like that.  This sound and fury at Foggy Bottom truly signifies nothing.  Get over it!  I do not think many people feel sorry for us and it is embarrassing for people with our privileges to wrap ourselves in the cloak of victimhood.  

We all know that the FS will step up.  Most of us want to do our duty.  We should not let ourselves be judged by the fools who cry at town hall meetings.

FSNs are Coming!

I cannot understand how any diplomatic establishment can properly function w/o FSNs (Foreign Service National) staff.   They are the ones who know the things and people we need to know.  They have the profound understanding of the place that none of us sojourning diplomat can match, even after taking the area studies course at FSI.  Here in Iraq have very competent bicultural specialists, but they often are drawn from the expat Iraqi community or from other regions.  W/o FSNs, diplomats too often go into situations nearly blind and sometimes we don’t even know it.  I do not have FSNs.  BUT we are getting some.

All I needed do was seek and I have found.  We evidently have the capacity to hire local staff; we just neglected to use it.  Actually, I suppose during the recent hostilities, security did not permit it.  But now the situation has improved and we can.  I can hire five (5) FSNs.  They are calling them locally engaged staff (LES) but what do I do care what they are called if they do the jobs I need done?  I cannot use them in my “home” office, since there is nothing at Al Asad but the base and a lot of dust.  The population centers are scattered around an AO (area of operation) the size of South Carolina.  Given my unique geographical situation, I will need to be a creative.  Fortunately, I have extensive experience in managing telecommuting from my time at IIP.  I do not have to see them every day for them to be productive. 

I figure I can hire one FSN in each of my five regions: Al Qaim, Hit, Haditha Triad, Rawah/Anah and Rutbah.  I modified a public diplomacy job description to correspond to our peculiar needs.  Essentially, this person would keep abreast of local affairs & relationships, do some translation via email and advise us on local developments.  This will help us immensely.  It will address our current problem of keeping up with written translations.  Beyond that, we just don’t know lots of simple things.  For example, I have no idea how much things really cost.  When we plan an event or consider a project, local vendors routinely quote prices that would shock customers at Whole Foods, Brooks Brothers or the Sharper Image.   A casual look around does not indicate the general prosperity that would support such aspirational prices, but I have no practical baseline.  It is like going onto the used car lot and telling the salesman that you really need a car, you have a pile of money and you will rely on his expertise to set the price.  I know we pay more because of our rigid governmental requirements and because we are rich Americans.  I can tolerate that within reason, but in this bargaining culture I doubt if we get much respect by appearing grotesquely stupid.  Local knowledge will help. FSNs will have that knowledge and then I will too.

Anyway, I am very excited about this development.  I owe most of my success at overseas posts to my FSN colleagues and I want to be successful here too.  W/o FSNs, I felt like a guy up the creek w/o a paddle.  I will get them on board quick as I can, so that they are up, trained and fully functioning by … about the time I leave. 

BTW – the picture up top has nothing at all to do with Iraq.  It is Mariza’s graduation day at UVA.  Just looking through the pictures on my computer and thinking of home.   Kids are big; UVA is green.

The Sheik’s Opinion on Iraq’s Future

When Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, the erstwhile rebels went home.  Officers kept their private side arms and horses and nobody was persecuted for what happened during the war.  These generous terms were part of the reason that the bloodiest war in American history did not result in permanent hatred or discord.  April 1865 was the month that saved America.  Such a result is rare in the history of the world. We should take the lesson. 

We went up to Al Qaim for a “reconciliations event” with local leaders and Sheiks.  Some people in the late insurgency were/are evil terrorists, but others were/are “legitimate” fighters who fought on the wrong side.  There are two options for  them.   You can hunt down and eliminate the enemy by killing them or imprisoning them, or you can eliminate the enemy by reconciling them with society.  There is a time and place for each strategy.  Reconciliation gives hope to all sides and by seeking and accepting reconciliation the former insurgent recognizes the legitimacy of the societal structures he raised his hand against and now wants to reenter as a productive member.   

In W. Al Anbar, the tribes (within the law) decide who can be brought back and who stays in the desert, whether of not the things the person has done are beyond the pale or if they can be forgiven.  The tribal leaders vouch for their prodigal members and get the agreements of leaders from other tribes.  Since tribes are very much like extended families, the reconciliation is also among the members who may have had what amounts to a blood feud based on the transgressions of particular tribal members.   Essentially the Hatfields and McCoys need to accept that further revenge is inappropriate. 

We Americans can watch it happen, but it is not our process.  It clearly is based on traditions that go back thousands of years.  But we can see from our own history (I mentioned above) the usefulness of ending bloodletting by avoiding more of the same. 

The 1865 analogy is good, but it was not mine w/o prompting  The leading Sheik of Al Qaim told me that he had studied American history as a young man.  He was especially interested in our civil war and how it ended.  Beyond that, he spoke passionately for a united Iraq and asked me to be sure that Americans understood the history of the place. He was upset that some in America were calling for a partition of his country, which he said was unnecessary and ultimately unworkable.  I asked about a more federal state, reminding him what he already knew, that the U.S. was a federal country with strong local autonomy.   I was surprised that he had little faith in the efficacy of local institutions in Iraq, even though he and his Anbari colleagues had clearly shown that they could lead the way toward a more peaceful Iraq through their local initiatives and had succeeded BEFORE and the central authorities.  

The Sheik told me that Iraq was not like the U.S. and that it needed a stronger hand and more centralization because the people of Iraq had little experience with anything else.  I disagree with his conclusions (although I certainly did not presume to dispute with him the history of his own country).  My perspective might be the triumph of hope over experience, but his is the dominance of past experience over hope for the future.  Of course, I have to take his opinion very seriously.  Not only does he have the knowledge of the country that I could never attain, he also has power to influence the future of Iraq, and so his opinion is more than an academic construction.

We also talked about Iranian influence and the long history of Persia trying to dominate Mesopotamia, but I will not go into specific detail.  Suffice to say, he was against it and blamed nefarious Iranian influence for many of Iraq’s current tribulations. 

As a practical matter all this changes little in what either of us will be doing in the near term.  We are both seeking to strengthen local institutions, improve the local economy and set Al Anbar on the road to a better future.  The bigger issues will certainly be decided above my pay grade and probably even above his.  Still, I will think hard about what this thoughtful man told me about his  country and when I meet him again I hope to have better questions to ask.

Complacency Kills

That is what it says on the wall near my can.  It is good advice, because it is amazing how quickly things become routine or “normal.”  It struck me today when I was traveling to a reconciliation event (more on that later).   I have included pictures of my rides.  The helicopter is what got me to the base, then we convoyed in.  I rode in that big truck I am standing next to in the picture.  It is called an Mrap.  It gives one the bumpiest rides possible, but supposedly it can withstand most any roadside bomb attack.  The bottom is shaped like the bottom of a boat, so that the force of the explosion is directed outward.

Anyway, at first I was very aware of being around and in these odd machines, but now I do not pay much attention.   I know that there is potential danger, but so far I have neither directly seen nor heard any indications of enemy activity, hence the danger of complacency. 

Al Qaeda threatened to make Ramadan this year very difficult and bloody.   They were unable to carry out this threat, probably because the Marines are rolling them up so effectively and the local population has turned against them.  Now we hear about a post-Ramadan offensive.  Nobody really believes this will happen, hence the danger of complacency. 

Complacency is an interesting concept.  Is it complacent accurately to assess that the threat level is decreased?   Is it complacent to make assessments about the RELATIVE risk of various courses of action?  Not everything can be a top priority. The Marines talk about the tyranny of the single incident.  In this politically charged, CNN image saturated world, one incident can make the policy.  Our convoys, body armor and redundant procedures are designed to avoid that single incident. That very bumpy and expensive Mrap I rode in is another result.

Body armor is very heavy because it includes lots of add-ons, each in anticipation of a particular incident.  (BTW – in the picture I do not have on my usual stuff) We have the front and the back plates, makes sense.  Then we have two side plates and a special groin protection.  There is a throat protector and some people have kind of wings that protect the upper arms.  I even carry a special little hooked knife to cut myself out of tangled straps.  You keep on accreting new responses to specific threats.  Any one of these things might save your life.  I am reminded about what Mark Twain said about stoves, cats and lessons learned. 

And there is a cost.  All this stuff is heavy, bulky and threatening looking to Iraqi civilians.   Beyond that, although Marines are generally excellent marksmen, the armor makes it more difficult for them to hit what they are shooting at since it restricts their movements and vision.  And when we meet a group of friendly Iraqis in their civilian clothes, us wearing our dreadnought armor, what does that say about us and them?

I think it depends on your assessment of risk.  Every one of life’s activities is risky.  Each year nearly 50,000 Americans are killed in automobile accidents.  These are always gruesome and often hit the young and healthy the hardest.   Yet we all continue to drive and we have become very complacent about it.  Forestry in Alaska has an annual death rate of 175 per 10000 workers.  You have a greater chance of death or injury working in the forests of Alaska than serving in Iraq, but when the tree falls on somebody in the woods; it does not make a sound loud enough to for the national media to hear.  I am not saying we should give up the armor or the convoys or the vigilance.   But we should also not be held prisoner to the single occurrence.

I believe the greatest threat to my life is not AQI bombs or insurgent bullets, but simple accidents.  Flying around in helicopters is just a risky business.  I do not think that the armor makes me safer.  On the contrary, it seems to me that if we hit the ground hard, wearing 50lbs of metal would exacerbate the shock and impede a quick escape.   God forbid we land in the river.  I used to be a good swimmer, but I do not think I could handle the drag.  Maybe I am getting complacent, but that is what I think. 

Flying the Osprey

I  was in Ramadi, Camp Blue Diamond.  The CIA called Ramadi the most violent city in the world back in January this year.  Today it is like the rest of Anbar, fairly peaceful. 

BTW – Up top is a picture of the Osprey I describe below. 

Camp Blue Diamond is located on one of Saddam’s old summer camps.  This is the place where the recent war began.  We tried to bomb Saddam in a meeting with some of his leading supporters.  He was not there, but we destroyed a building.  The rest of the complex was left pretty much undamaged.  (Bombs are fairly accurate these days.)  It is green and pleasant.  In fact, everyplace I go is nicer than Al Asad.  It is beginning to dawn on me that my base is perhaps more highly ranked among the dusty sh*t holes of Iraq than I had been led to believe.  But it is my home and I look forward to getting back. 

This is the street in Blue Diamond. Notice green.

We share Blue Diamond with our valiant Iraqis allies, or more correctly they share it with us since it is, after all, their country.  We pass them on the road and say saalam.  They all look sort of alike, with their uniforms and mustaches.  Of course we present a much greater variety with our short hair and uniforms.  The Iraqi soldiers appear neat and organized.  It is a good thing, since they will soon be doing most of the security work.  Coalition strength in Anbar will drop by around half, as our troops come home and Iraqi forces take their places.  We are in the process of giving Blue Diamond back to the Iraqis and it is a little sad. It is easy to get a table at the chow hall, since each day fewer people turn up to chow down.  They may close it down entirely just after Thanksgiving.  I understand that they physically dismantle the whole chow hall and move it away.  There is always need for a good chow hall.  On the plus side, the Iraqis will take care of their own business and we will need to do less.  It was interesting today watching some U.S. soldiers trying to teach Iraqis to throw what we call a football.  A few steps away were some Iraqis trying to teach Americans how to kick what they call a football.   It is hard for both sides to learn these new tricks.

We briefed a couple of generals about the PRTs in Anbar, what we need and what we are doing.  They always try to be helpful.  More interesting to me was Eliot Cohen, who came with them as a special advisor to State.  Cohen wrote a book I read a few years ago called “Supreme Command”.   Fortunately, I did not have a chance to talk to him very long.  I find it disappointing to talk to well-know authors, most of whom seem to know LESS than they have written in their books.  I suppose that when writing the books they have ready access to materials and notes.  When they write, it is a sort of open book test, but when you surprise them with questions it is more like a pop-quiz.  Beyond that, many authors are by nature (unsurprisingly) bookish.  The arts of writing ideas and expressing them orally are related but certainly not completely synonymous.

I flew in on the Osprey.  It is the new Marine fixed wing plane that can do a vertical takeoff.  It is a goofy looking thing when it is on the ground, perhaps a better name would be albatross.  Anyway, it is not very comfortable.  You actually have less room to sit than in one of the bigger Chinooks.  It is faster, however, and flies at a higher altitude, so it is less likely to be hit by small arms fire from the ground, which is a plus.   The propellers turn up on takeoff and landing.  A sign on one of he buildings says that the wind from the downdraft can reach 175 mph.  This is important when opening the door to watch the Osprey land or take off.  Evidently the wind took the door off the hinges on at least one occasion.   A sergeant complained the downdraft knocked the satellite dish off his hooch, turning into a taco shaped piece of tin and rendering it unable to receive the porno stations to which he had become accustomed.

Traveling today was a nightmare.  The Osprey came FROM Al Asad to Blue Diamond already full of Marines in full kit.  It then made the backward circle.  They took some of the Marines someplace else and loaded up some cargo and some new Marines.  We all crushed together in the front.  The next stop they took off the cargo and everybody got off except me.  Then a new group came on board, it was not as cramped, but not good.  The flight took more than two hours and combined two of the three biggest phobias people have.   We packed in like sardines (claustrophobia) and at the same time you could see out the rear how high (and tilted) you were (fear of heights).  All they needed do was throw in a couple of snakes and we would have had the fear factor trifecta.  The height doesn’t bother me, although I enjoy the roller coaster motion less as I get older.  I really do not care for the cramped situation.  I admit that I did feel a tinge of claustrophobia when I could not move more than a few inches.

When the general asked about our biggest challenge, I mentioned travel.   It is just hard to get around  and not much fun.   Makes you want to stay at home.  

A Man Can Dream

I met two of my chief deputies, who had been on leave when I arrived.  This will be the start of some beautiful collaboration.   We have at our priorities aligned.  I also got a new team member who did his PhD work on the soils of Iraq.  How much better can you get?

My two deputies already know the county and the region.   We talked about making a lasting impact.   Among the projects we discussed are internet hot spots and a solar village.   These dreams seem far fetched for the Iraqi desert, but they are no mirage.  My colleagues have been talking to local authorities about projects of mutual interest.   I asked them to talk harder and find the places for these projects. 

Re solar – energy is expensive in Anbar, but this fact is obscured by the ostensibly nearby pools of black gold and Texas tea.  Oil, however, has a world price.  It does not matter if it is locally plentiful.  A barrel of oil here costs around $80 in direct and opportunity costs just as it does everywhere else.  In fact, in Anbar it costs more because of the problems with delivering the fuel.   Some of the communities here are perfect for solar.  They are isolated from the fuel distribution lines and the sun shines here just about all day, every day.  I have been tacking on solar to other projects, but now the team will actively seek a demonstration project where we can solarize an entire small village.  When it works, it will encourage imitation.  I think it will be sustainable because it is fairly easy to maintain AND they have opened a vocational school in Al Qaim which is training electricians.

The Internet hot spot sounds even more hare brained, but also make sense.  There are many Internet cafes and a pent up demand.  Some of the local people have the skills to run such an operation. We do not want to compete with the private sector Internet café providers.  Working with them, we can help provide wide area coverage for a densely populated downtown.  We already have a village in mind for this.  The progressive mayor has identified the problem.  We hope to work with him to provide a solution.

The soils guy was also inspiring.  I talked to him about the legacy of the CCC and WPA and told him that in 80 years I wanted our contributions to still be creating value and beauty.   We may be able to provide solar powered irrigation pumps.  This is also a great place for solar.  The need for pumping is important, but never urgent.  It can be done when the sun is shining.  He also mentioned the efficacy of French drains in countering salinization of the soils.  He told me that such low cost and low tech improvements could probably sustainable double the productivity of some fields.  I was also surprised to learn that, while it took centuries to ruin the soil, proper treatments can restore it to acceptable form in only three years – providing there IS soil.  Some places it has eroded away.

One thing we need to do this week is help get seeds to farmers who will plant them.  Farmers here are not like those in the U.S.  They have to learn to be more self sufficient.  In Saddam’s time they were told what to do, so they still do not have the resources to go it alone.  The wheat season is already started.  They know what to do; they want to do it.  They need seed.  They will not get a harvest unless they get something in the ground soon.  The seasons do not wait for our bureaucracy.  I believe our flattening some obstructions will help at least some people get a harvest in the spring.  I made that our new Ag guy’s most urgent priority.

We also talked about date palms.  Like John the Translator, he knew about dates.  He told me that Iraqi dates are know worldwide for their sweetness.  It results from particular combinations of soil and climate.   One of the things the coalition did that I do not like is that they knocked down many date palm plantations.  They had good reason.  Insurgents hide among their dense vegetation.  But now that most insurgents have either gone to ground or are below it, I think we need to make up for that.  We can help restore not only roads and buildings, but also the living landscape.  We can help make it better than before.

There is no other job I can think of (at least not one I could get) where we can dream such dreams and have a reasonable chance of making them a reality.   We have access to quite a pile of money.  We either use it for sustainable projects, or we do the popular ephemeral things like picking up garbage, OR the money gets wasted someplace far off.  We need to do some of the ephemeral things too in order to support today’s quality of life.  I funded the creation of eight soccer fields for example, but I want to think farther into the future.   I am a forestry lover after all who knows that the last generation planted for us and it is our turn now.

Will all this work?  Probably not all of it, but dreams drive behavior and I think we will make some of them reality.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?  Those who want to laugh at my windmill tilting plans can do so now.  I enjoy the dreaming and I will post pictures after some of the projects are in place and working.

Another Beautiful Day in Baghdad

I mean that seriously.  This morning is sunny and pleasantly cool.  This afternoon will be sunny and pleasantly warm.   This evening will be warm with low humidity.  There is a sign over some dust that says “stay off the grass.”  I thought it was a cruel hoax, but now I see that grass is starting to come up.   Birds have returned in great numbers.   At night, bats scoop up insects.   The place is coming alive. 

In Wisconsin, life hunkers down over the winter and burst forth in spring.  You just stay inside and wait it out.  Here it is the opposite.  Fall is spring around here.
I can’t complain.  I hope to leave today to go back to Anbar, where it is as nice, but I expect the weather will be similar (a little cooler).

I got promoted today.   This is a good thing.  I am a little surprised.  I assessed my chances at 15%.  On the plus side, I will get better treatment with transportation and helicopters.  My new rank has a protocol equivalent of a brigadier general.  The Marines take rank very seriously, so unlike Rodney Dangerfield, I will get some respect.

BTW – it was also a beautiful day in Baghdad before I got the news about the promotion.  I wrote the first paragraphs before I opened email, so my assessment of Baghdad’s charms was not influenced by my personal mood.   It is a nice day here.

So …WaddaIdo?

I have been talking a lot about events w/o ever addressing the existential question, such as why am I here?  What am I supposed to do in Iraq?  Let me give my quick explanation.

First I suggest you look at the new publication AID put out re PRTs.  If  you look at the map, my PRT is called West Anbar. 

They tell me that the PRT concept originated in Afghanistan, where we realized that just chasing away the bad guys would not ensure success if we did not leave behind a viable civil structure that would allow for peaceful development.   It seems to me the concept is a lot older than that.  Everything from a Roman aqueduct in Spain to a WPA shelter or the pine trees planted by the CCC in one of our National Forests are monuments by “provincial reconstruction teams.” 

Prosperity cannot come before security.  This is a step you cannot skip no matter how enthusiastically you sing the song of peace.  And security must be established by force and violence.   Coalition forces have established reasonable security in Anbar.  This is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for progress.  Now it is the time for us of the softer hands to do our part.

It just makes sense that if you address a problem but leave in place the conditions that created it, you have not addressed the problem.  I have no delusions of grandeur that my small team can solve the problems of Iraq, Anbar or even one of the provincial cities, but I figure if we all do our small parts, eventually – through mere accretion if nothing else – something big may result.

The heartbreak of Iraq is not that it is poor and disorganized.  The real tragedy is that it does not have to be that way. Everybody knows it has oil, but it is also rich in terms of water, agricultural potential and people.   Saddam mismanaged and misappropriated Iraq’s wealth for more than 25 years and leadership was not all that good before either.  Iraq’s misfortune results from more than mismanagement and it cannot be addressed by replacing bad guys with good ones (if that were even possible).   The problem was/is systemic.  Iraq was run as a centralized state.  Decisions and resources came from Baghdad with virtually no consideration for or from the people affected.  This was exacerbated by the “curse of oil”.   The government floated on oil.  It did not need to get the consent of the governed to raise revenue.  Instead it could make all Iraqis dependent on the oil financed “largess” of the central authority.  That, coupled with the real danger of taking any action that might anger the central power and what they tell me is an ancient Mesopotamian pessimism, made the population very passive. 

So maybe our PRTs are peeing the ocean and waiting for the flood, but it seems to me that the recent events in Iraq have created conditions for radical change.  The coalition military has bought the opportunity.  It is the direction of the change that is in flux.  If left on its own, the tyranny pattern of the past will reassert itself.   At this time of maximum leverage, maybe our little pushes will help make the future different from the past.

My team, and the others like mine, is working with the local people: tribes, municipal government, private sector initiatives and other to overcome the over centralization of the past.   I am personally excited about the new push in agriculture.   I just (yesterday) got a new staff member, a guy from Department of Agriculture who has experience rebuilding soils that have been ruined by the salinization that comes with too much irrigation for too long.  I think we can do some good here.  It certainly is worth the trouble of trying.

Wasting Away Again in Baghdad

I am stuck in Baghdad.  My flight was “rolled” a day, but now I learn that I will not go back to AA right away.  Instead I have to go to another city to meet a delegation from mother State Dept.  Following good OPSEC (operations security), I will say no more.  The Marines tell me that every time someone violates OPSEC, God kills a kitten.

Baghdad is nicer than AA anyway.  You could forget you are in a war zone if not for the choppers flying overhead and the odd bang heard off in the distance. We have not suffered any attacks on the compound for around three months. Good.  Those who were here in the bad times tell me that it was no fun.  Most of the injuries were from people ducking and covering with too much enthusiasm, but a couple people were killed.  This is an experience I do not need. 

I had supper near the pool.  You can see what it looks like from the picture above.  The picture is a little misleading.  The surface that looks like grass is actually just dust, but in general it is pretty. The cans (below) are located among the palms.  It is sort of like Florida with sandbags.  (The sandbags, BTW, are covered with tarps because they are made of an eco-friendly substance that decomposes in the sun.)  You see, I am doing my part to entice colleagues to come to beautiful Baghdad.  There is a lot of stress and a lot of work, but it is not all terrible all the time.  You can find places & moments of significant beauty and tranquility.  It is important to enjoy them.

Take a look at this from “The Onion” Not So Horrible Thing Happens In Iraq, for some reference.

The problem (besides the war) is that there is no place to go.  I walked around the Green Zone.  The picture below is the nicest, most normal, place I found.  Actually Baghdad is like a Club Med in that you are essentially on an island and you cannot leave w/o flying.