Thursday, June 28, 2007


Dust from the Iraqi dessert, it’s like a khaki fog.

Aside from security, I’m also tasked with being the team’s medic. I spend most of my time treating a variety of aliments, commonly GI distress, eye infections, respiratory issues, and the occasional urinary tract infection. As part of these duties I maintain the medical locker, the trauma kits, and I also teach and train our Iraqi counterparts in trauma management.

I’ve always enjoyed medicine; found it fascinating and realized that I had a very strong aptitude for it. I think that if I ever had one regret in life it would be not going to medical school when I was younger. I considered it when I was a 23 year-old lieutenant in the Army, but chose to go into Special Forces instead. That choice was probably one of the great crossroads in my life, and the direction that I headed off in led me on a wonderful, thrilling adventure, but I will always be haunted by, “what if?”

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Water gets delivered to the villa

Because of the intense heat everyone is drinking between 3 and 4 liters of water everyday. That’s over a gallon of pure water for the metrically challenged. Everywhere you look people (westerners) have plastic water bottles close at hand and are sipping from them constantly. Subsequently the streets are littered with crushed plastic water bottles, hundreds of thousands of them along the sides of the road.

I drove past the U.S. military’s bottled water stockpile the other day. For as far as I could see there were pallets of bottled water sitting in the sun. I came to realize that the Americans must order water by the acre. On the bases there are large bins on every street corner that the Army keeps filled with chilled bottles of water so that soldiers are always within easy reach of a fresh bottle, as well as a trash bin to dispose of the old one.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Iraqis love to wash their feet. They walk around all day in sandals so I guess that it makes sense.

I’ve started to describe Iraq in terms of contradictions.

The Government is planting palm trees along the road to the airport as part of a beautification project; a road that is plagued daily by small arms fire, RPG attacks, and vehicle bombs.

Iraqi Muslims will slaughter each other by the hundreds, all in the name of a peace-loving God.

There was a graduation ceremony the other day for suicide bombers that had just completed their training.

I watched a young kitten last night devour an infant bird that had presumably fallen from its nest.

A family pulled their car into a security checkpoint. The mother and father got out of the car and walked away, detonating the bomb hidden within the trunk; their two children still strapped inside the back seat.

Mosques have become a favored target of religion-motivated bombers.

It’s 120 degrees out and women walk around in black robes, covering every inch of exposed skin.

Women will remove the robes once they safely reach their destination revealing designer jeans, high heels and gads of jewelry.

One religious ceremony has men, dressed in white, slicing open their own heads and flogging themselves with chains until covered with their own blood.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mansur Hotel Bombed

The Mansur Hotel was bombed an hour ago by a suicide vest bomber who detonated himself inside the lobby while a Sunni Arab tribal conference was taking place. Initial reports indicate that seven people are dead and the entire lobby is completely destroyed.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Distance and Daddy

Cameraman shoots the rising smoke cloud from a truck bomb in downtown Baghdad

I’m well over halfway through this trip to Iraq. My six-week stints seem embarrassingly minuscule compared to the 15 months that the U.S. soldiers are doing. I spoke with a Peruvian contract guard the other day and asked him how long he had been “in-country”, and he replied that he’d been here a year already. “How much longer do you have to go?” His answer was two…two years.

A lot is reported about the loss of life and limb that occurs here, and the western world is just now hearing about veterans returning home with various stress-related disorders. I believe that the greatest aftermath of this war is yet to be reported; the tens of thousands of broken families as a result of fathers and husbands being deployed away from their homes for so long. The ripple of countless children growing up in single parent households will be felt for two generations or more in the United States.

U.S. soldiers earn a very meager wage, often just a micron above the official poverty level. A great many of them are young, under 22 years old, and have wives, pregnant fiancées, babies and children left behind at the posts where they come from. The difficulties of keeping fledgling marriages together and healthy under normal circumstances are immense. The soldier goes away for over a year and they become insurmountable.

To the military’s credit, it goes to herculean efforts to keep the communications channels open between soldiers and their families, counseling is made available at both ends, spouse support groups are established, all in an effort to save military families. Good intentions and great effort, but I don’t believe that it can succeed in keeping military families together under such dire conditions of prolong separation.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bad For Your Health

Graffiti on a concrete blast wall. Concertina wire casts a shadow above.

I was walking with a cameraman and a producer the other day to a meeting that they had with the U.S. military inside the Green Zone. Cars can only get so close to the meeting building so you have to walk the final 500 meters through several check points.

During the walk both of the media guys took the opportunity to light cigarettes, knowing that they wouldn’t be allowed to smoke inside the building that we were going to. As we strode onward I was contemplating asking them why they felt compelled to smoke, and reminding them that it would eventually kill them one day. At that moment I felt the weight of the ballistic vest hidden under my shirt, and looked around at blast walls, armed guards manning the check points, and the “duck and cover” bunkers along the sidewalk in case mortars start coming in. OK, maybe I shouldn’t say anything at this particular moment.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Live Life

A father and son walk home from the market.

39 Ways to Live Life

1. Love.
Perhaps the most important. Fall in love, if you aren't already. If you have, fall in love with your partner all over again. Abandon caution and let your heart be broken. Or love family members, friends, anyone -- it doesn't have to be romantic love. Love all of humanity, one person at a time.

2. Get outside. Don't let yourself be shut indoors. Go out when it's raining. Walk on the beach. Hike through the woods. Swim in a freezing lake. Bask in the sun. Play sports, or walk barefoot through grass. Pay close attention to nature.

3. Savor food. Don't just eat your food, but really enjoy it. Feel the texture, the bursts of flavors. Savor every bite. If you limit your intake of sweets, it will make the small treats you give yourself (berries or dark chocolate are my favorites) even more enjoyable. And when you do have them, really, really savor them. Slowly.

4. Create a morning ritual. Wake early and greet the day. Watch the sun rise. Out loud, tell yourself that you will not waste this day, which is a gift. You will be compassionate to your fellow human beings, and live every moment to its fullest. Stretch or meditate or exercise as part of your ritual. Enjoy some coffee.

5. Take chances. We often live our lives too cautiously, worried about what might go wrong. Be bold, risk it all. Quit your job and go to business for yourself (plan it out first!), or go up to that girl you've liked for a long time and ask her out. What do you have to lose?

6. Follow excitement. Try to find the things in life that excite you, and then go after them. Make life one exciting adventure after another (with perhaps some quiet times in between).

7. Find your passion. Similar to the above tip, this one asks you to find your calling. Make your living by doing the thing you love to do. First, think about what you really love to do. There may be many things. Find out how you can make a living doing it. It may be difficult, but you only live once.

8. Get out of your cubicle. Do you sit all day in front of computer, shuffling papers and taking phone calls and chatting on the Internet? Don't waste your days like this. Break free from the cubicle environment, and do your work on a laptop, in a coffee shop, or on a boat, or in a log cabin. This may require a change of jobs, or becoming a freelancer. It's worth it.

9. Turn off the TV. How many hours will we waste away in front of the boob tube? How many hours do we have to live? Do the math, then unplug the TV. Only plug it back in when you have a DVD of a movie you love. Otherwise, keep it off and find other stuff to do. Don't know what to do? Read further.

10. Pull away from Internet. You're reading something on the Internet right now. And, with the exception of this article, it is just more wasting away of your precious time. You cannot get these minutes back. Unplug the Internet, then get out of your office or house. Right now! And go and do something.

11. Travel. Sure, you want to travel some day. When you have vacation time, or when you're older. Well, what are you waiting for? Find a way to take a trip, if not this month, then sometime soon. You may need to sell your car or stop your cable bill and stop eating out to do it, but make it happen. You are too young to not see the world. If need be, find a way to make a living by freelancing, then work while you travel. Only work an hour or two a day. Don't check email but once a week. Then use the rest of the time to see the world.

12. Rediscover what's important. Take an hour and make a list of everything that's important to you. Add to it everything that you want to do in life. Now cut that list down to 4-5 things. Just the most important things in your life. This is your core list. This is what matters. Focus your life on these things. Make time for them.

13. Eliminate everything else. What's going on in your life that's not on that short list? All that stuff is wasting your time, pulling your attention from what's important. As much as possible, simplify your life by eliminating the stuff that's not on your short list, or minimizing it.

14. Exercise. Get off the couch and go for a walk. Eventually try running. Or do some push ups and crunches. Or swim or bike or row. Or go for a hike. Whatever you do, get active, and you'll love it. And life will be more alive.

15. Be positive. Learn to recognize the negative thoughts you have. These are the self-doubts, the criticisms of others, the complaints, the reasons you can't do something. Then stop yourself when you have these thoughts, and replace them with positive thoughts. Solutions. You can do this!

16. Open your heart. Is your heart a closed bundle of scar tissue? Learn to open it, have it ready to receive love, to give love unconditionally. If you have a problem with this, talk to someone about it. And practice makes perfect.

17. Kiss in the rain. Seize the moment and be romantic. Raining outside? Grab your lover and give her a passionate kiss. Driving home? Stop the car and pick some wildflowers. Send her a love note. Dress sexy for him.

18. Face your fears. What are you most afraid of? What is holding you back? Whatever it is, recognize it, and face it. Do what you are most afraid of. Afraid of heights? Go to the tallest building, and look down over the edge. Only by facing our fears can we be free of them.

19. When you suffer, suffer. Life isn't all about fun and games. Suffering is an inevitable part of life. We lose our jobs. We lose our lovers. We lose our pets. We get physically injured or sick. A loved one becomes sick. A parent dies. Learn to feel the pain intensely, and really grieve. This is a part of life -- really feel the pain. And when you're done, move on, and find joy.

20. Slow down. Life moves along at such a rapid pace these days. It's not healthy, and it's not conducive to living. Practice doing everything slowly -- everything, from eating to walking to driving to working to reading. Enjoy what you do. Learn to move at a snail's pace.

21. Touch humanity. Get out of your house and manicured neighborhoods, and find those who live in worse conditions. Meet them, talk to them, understand them. Live among them. Be one of them. Give up your materialistic lifestyle.

22. Volunteer. Help at homeless soup kitchens. Learn compassion, and learn to help ease the suffering of others. Help the sick, those with disabilities, those who are dying.

23. Play with children. Children, more than anyone else, know how to live. They experience everything in the moment, fully. When they get hurt, they really cry. When they play, they really have fun. Learn from them, instead of thinking you know so much more than them. Play with them, and learn to be joyful like them.

24. Talk to old people. There is no one wiser, more experienced, more learned, than those who have lived through life. They can tell you amazing stories. Give you advice on making a marriage last or staying out of debt. Tell you about their regrets, so you can learn from them and avoid the same mistakes. They are the wisdom of our society -- take advantage of their existence while they're still around.

25. Learn new skills. Constantly improve yourself instead of standing still -- not because you're so imperfect now, but because it is gratifying and satisfying. You should accept yourself as you are, and learn to love who you are, but still try to improve -- if only because the process of improvement is life itself.

26. Find spirituality. For some, this means finding God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha. For others, this means becoming in tune with the spirits of our ancestors, or with nature. For still others, this just means an inner energy. Whatever spirituality means for you, rediscover it, and its power.

27. Take mini-retirements. Don't leave the joy of retirement until you are too old to enjoy it. Do it now, while you're young. It makes working that much more worth it. Find ways to take a year off every few years. Save up, sell your home, your possessions, and travel. Live simply, but live, without having to work. Enjoy life, then go back to work and save up enough money to do it again in a couple of years.

28. Do nothing. Despite the tip above that we should find excitement, there is value in doing nothing as well. Not doing nothing as in reading, or taking a nap, or watching TV, or meditating. Doing nothing as in sitting there, doing nothing. Just learning to be still, in silence, to hear our inner voice, to be in tune with life. Do this daily if possible.

29. Stop playing video games. They might be fun, but they can take up way too much time. If you spend a lot of time playing online games, or computer solitaire, or Wii or Gameboy or whatever, consider going a week without it. Then find something else to do, outside.

30. Watch sunsets, daily. One of the most beautiful times of day. Make it a daily ritual to find a good spot to watch the sunset, perhaps having a light dinner while you do so.

31. Stop reading magazines. They're basically crap. And they waste your time and money. Cancel your subscriptions and walk past them at the news stands. If you have to read something, read a trashy novel or even better, read Dumb Little Man once a day and be done.

32. Break out from ruts. Do you do things the same way every day? Change it up. Try something new. Take a different route to work. Start your day out differently. Approach work from a new angle. Look at things from new perspectives.

33. Stop watching the news. It's depressing and useless. If you're a news junky, this may be difficult. I haven't watch TV news or read a newspaper regularly in about two years. It hasn't hurt me a bit. Anything important, my mom tells me about.

34. Laugh till you cry. Laughing is one of the best ways to live. Tell jokes and laugh your head off. Watch an awesome comedy. Learn to laugh at anything. Roll on the ground laughing. You'll love it.

35. Lose control. Not only control over yourself, but control over others. It's a bad habit to try to control others -- it will only lead to stress and unhappiness for yourself and those you try to control. Let others live, and live for yourself. And lose control of yourself now and then too.

36. Cry. Men, especially, tend to hold in our tears, but crying is an amazing release. Cry at sad movies. Cry at a funeral. Cry when you are hurt, or when somebody you love is hurt. It releases these emotions and allows us to cleanse ourselves.

37. Make an awesome dessert. I like to make warm, soft chocolate cake. But even berries dipped in chocolate, or crepes with ice cream and fruit, or fresh apple pie, or homemade chocolate chip cookies or brownies, are great. This isn't an every day thing, but an occasional treat thing. But it's wonderful.
38. Try something new, every week. Ask yourself: "What new thing shall I try this week?" Then be sure to do it. You don't have to learn a new language in one week, but seek new experiences. Give it a try. You might decide you want to keep it in your life.

39. Be in the moment. Instead of thinking about things you need to do, or things that have happened to you, or worrying or planning or regretting, think about what you are doing, right now. What is around you? What smells and sounds and sights and feelings are you experiencing? Learn to do this as much as possible through meditation, but also through bringing your focus back to the present as much as you can in everything you do.

- Leo Babuata

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Explosion Algorithm

What appears to be a massive car/truck bomb that has detonated near or on this bridge.

Explosions and gunfire are a normal part of the Baghdad soundscape. I’ve developed an algorithm to help me determine if I should be concerned or not. When relaxing in my room, if an explosion actually rattles the windowpanes then I know that the blast was either way too close or way too big. Anything else, I ignore.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Back to Abnormal

An American Army patrol searching for al-Qaida comes upon an old Iraqi man sitting outside his home. The Lieutenant asks if he has seen any foreign fighters in his neighborhood recently. The man stares back at the lieutenant and states that he has, just today even. The young officer excitedly asks, where? The old man just continues to stare and smiles.

The curfew has been lifted and people are once again moving about the city. The airport has resumed operations, however, the line to just get into the terminal was a two hour wait on Sunday; standing in the baking sun as temperatures creeped up to 110 degrees.

While on the subject, let me describe what it is like to simply fly out of Baghdad. Firstly, the ten-mile trip to the airport takes about an hour and twenty minutes to make, and to even move a single person to the airport requires three cars, as many drivers, and four plus security personnel. Along the way there are countless U.S. and Iraqi military checkpoints, as well as Iraqi Police security checks. Each checkpoint is different, some are just a flash of credentials, while others are a complete ‘get out of the cars, open everything up and have the dogs go through’. Weapons are loaded and unloaded several times depending on where you are in the process, airline tickets are produced for inspection, and identification documents scrutinized.

The drive takes you onto Route Irish, which has been dubbed ‘the most dangerous road in the world’. The pavement is pockmarked with scars from past car bombs, and the concrete blast walls show signs of shrapnel and small arms fire. RPGs and machine gun fire are common place, and heavily armored military vehicles routinely transit the road traveling against the traffic. Imagine flying down I-95 in the States and seeing a convoy of military vehicles coming at you in your lane with weapons trained on your car.

More checkpoints and searches, and finally into the airport, which by this time one assumes is fairly safe. Heavy body armor is kept on until the very last second in case a mortar attack begins or there are snipers in the area.

At the terminal there is plenty of space for curbside unloading because people don’t screw around saying 'good-bye'. They roll up, kick the passenger and luggage out, and get away again, lest they become a target for a car bomb, mortar or sniper attack.

Once inside the terminal, the process of checks and searches starts all over again. It can take almost two hours of waiting in line to finally be called forward to your gate to immediately board the plane.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Bit Stir Crazy

We continue to wait for the curfew to be lifted. Everyone in the villa is getting antsy. Correspondents are waiting for flights home, while others are stuck in Amman trying to get in. The Iraqi staff that we use to cook and clean hasn’t been able to get into work; laundry is piling up and meals are getting pretty tiresome. The guard force has been doing 12 on/12 off, living in the same small room for four days, sleeping on mattresses laid out on the floor.

The Iraqi government is saying that the curfew will remain in effect until tomorrow morning, when we expect a backlog of services. It will take a week or so for the city to return to some semblance of stasis.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Curfew Continues

The live shot position moved to the garden to avoid snipers on the roofs.

Following the bombing of the Samarra mosque Baghdad is under it’s fourth day of curfew. We had planed to make a run to the airport, along with the rest of the city’s population, but no planes are flying due to problems with the airport’s fuel supply and the on-going curfew. I can’t imagine what the issue is with the fuel as no planes have taken off for three days.

Technically military and security elements are allowed to move through the city during the curfew, but those security teams that rely on blending into the normal traffic flow as a tactic (low-profile) are at a huge disadvantage. Moving around during a curfew highlights the fact that you're a security team and not just an average Iraqi going about his business, so we sit tight and wait.

We did take a short trip yesterday and I was struck at how deserted the streets were. To me it looked like a scene out of the old Clint Eastwood movies where he walks down an empty Mexican street, the only movement is a dust cloud and the mangy dog trotting up the sidewalk.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tense Calm

One of a handful of bridges that spans the Tigris river and connects eastern and western Baghdad

This morning the city remains quiet, but under a curfew. The normal sounds of the morning rush hour are absent; no sirens, car horns, or gunfire. The airport is closed which means that there should be no traffic transiting the airport road, also known as Route Irish. What few people there are on the streets are walking to work. It’s all very surreal, while at the same time, still tense.

The militants continue to attack bridges in and around Baghdad. They’ve destroyed four bridges or overpasses in as many days. I’m unsure of the reasoning behind targeting bridges other than it may isolate Sadr City from the western side of the city, which is where the Green Zone and the airport are located. This would give the Sadr-ists valuable choke points from which the Madhi Army could control access into their neighborhoods.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

Normally we do our live shots from a position on the roof looking out across the city skyline. In the background is a very picturesque mosque and some palm trees, all very Baghdad-like.

Today, because of an active sniper threat, we had to move the position down to the relative safety of the villa garden. It’s still very nice, but doesn’t afford the great skyline shot that the viewers have grown accustom to.

It’s been a very active day today. Following the bombing of the Samarra mosque the city instituted a curfew in an attempt to head off Shi’a reprisals. Active firefights broke out throughout the city, one just a little too close for my liking. Reports flowed in from Iraqi sources that mosques were being burned and the retaliative murders had begun. At one point it seemed as if we were caught (stranded?) in the middle of an all or nothing civil war. Iraqis remembered well the last time this mosque was attacked. People were pulled off buses and shot in the street by angry mobs; thousands of innocents lost their lives.

Pending Doom

Two minarets of the much-revered Shi’ite mosque in Samarra were badly damaged this morning in an attack. This was the same mosque that was attacked and terribly damaged last year, which sparked a wave of sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Baghdad will implement a curfew starting at 3:00 p.m. local time, just slightly more than one hour from now. The entire city is bracing itself for the inevitable reprisals by the Shi’a faithful.

The atmosphere reminds me the hurricane warnings that we used to get in Miami. People knew something potentially bad was heading their way and would begin to take the preplanned steps to protect themselves. It’s a mood of anxiousness coupled with pending doom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Singing in Baghdad

Crooning an Iraqi ballad

I attended a performance of an Iraqi folkloric musical troop over at NPRs villas this morning. Like and idiot, I didn’t bring my Marantz digital audio recorder. Various media crews were there shooting video and stills as well as NPR recording the audio. I’ll link to the story when NPR publishes it.

The troop consisted of two older men singing while fingering prayer beads in between verses, and three younger musicians on various percussion instruments. In recompense for the performance NPR hosted a huge traditional Iraqi lunch. Everyone eats from a common platter with his or her fingers.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Iraq’s 7-Elevens

A little girl stands outside a roadside store with money in her hand getting ready to buy something.

Tiny, roadside stores are opening up all over the city. People carve out a little spot on the side of the street, throw up tarp, and sell imported goods from Turkey, Jordan, etc… You can generally buy drinks, fruit, vegetables, bread, soap, chips, cookies; whatever they can get their hands on. I guess these tarp-stores are Baghdad’s answer to convenience stores in the States. They are micro- or cottage- industries, however, that are a leading indicator of the recovering economy and an improved security situation. Something not to be taken lightly.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


A crippled father sits next to his daughter outside their villa. There is a distance between them.

I ventured outside the secure villa that we stay in and went for a short photowalk down the street. Flanked by two armed guards I got a chance to take some photographs of our neighborhood. People were friendly albeit curious. The guards were less than enthused about having to escort me down the street and back, but hey, I’m their boss.
Baghdad, like many ancient cities, is divided into neighborhoods, and within these are the ancestral homes of the families that make up the city. A person is known now and forever by the neighborhood that he or she grew up in; it defines them, empowers them, and even limits them.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Atop The Mansur Hotel

The beginning of Haifa Street, until recently one of the most dangerous areas in the city.

I got a chance to climb up onto the roof of the Mansur Hotel and get a good look at the Baghdad skyline from a few different perspectives. Haze hangs over the city like a brown cloud, mixing seamlessly with the khaki landscape of the city. There is very little color; the occasional green of grove of palm trees, the splash of heavily watered lawn, even the river runs brown.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

You Can't Eat Them...

One of the newborn kittens that lives at the villa.

I’m not new to teams and their pets. Special Forces teams are notorious for the pets that they adopt. In the past I’ve shared team rooms with pythons, nocturnal monkeys, baby parrots, tarantulas, and of course dogs.

At the moment we’re awash with cats. The media team has decided to set up what amounts to a Lebanon-style refugee camp for all of Baghdad’s lost cats, both Sunni and Shi’a. We have three separate generations of cats living on the villa grounds, with distant relatives showing up every day as the word spreads throughout the Muslim cat community. Of course these cats aren’t living strictly by the Koran, because there seems to be quite a bit of out of wedlock partnering going on, which of course begets more…cats.

We tried a dog, but ended up sending him away to a pleasant little farm in the Baghdad countryside because he kept getting very aggressive with anyone that he could reach. I don’t blame him really, being surrounded by…cats all day long will make anyone cranky.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

All Tucked In On The Roof

Old Iraqi woman who consented to having her photo taken. I wish that I had been able to get closer. I like her eyes.

Shooting photos during the day is proving difficult. I’m either working and supposed to have my mind on what I’m doing, or it’s un-godly hot outside. I end up climbing up onto the villa roof in the evening when the light has softened a bit, and so have the temperatures.

Iraqi’s sleep on their roofs in the summertime. Beds, blankets, pillows are all hauled up onto the roof as extended families try to escape the heat. To see it, it looks like a sleepover at a friend’s house.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What I've Noted

Little Iraqi girl stares at the camera before disappearing inside.

Things I’ve noticed about Iraq.

- Iraq does not smell of urine like the rest of the Third World.
- American soldiers love kids, mostly because they’re kids themselves.
- The country is a study of the color brown.
- There is no trust…anywhere.
- Men are embarrassed about sexuality, but women are curious
- Hijab one minute, designer jeans the next
- There is no art
- Kids laugh and smile, no matter where they are
- Sadam scarred this country for the next two generations
- Iraqis only respond to authoritarian figures
- There are disproportionately more cats than dogs on the streets
- If it moves, an Iraqi will drive it
- There seems to be one satellite dish per inhabitant of Baghdad
- The American air strikes were unbelievably accurate
- There is contradiction everywhere
- Many of the mullahs are illiterate
- Islam is being hijacked by self-centered, power seekers
- The violence will get worse long before it gets better
- Some of the best bread in the world, but the fruit is terrible
- Hope exists

Monday, June 4, 2007

There's the Third World, and then there's Baghdad

Prayer beads wrapped around a taxi's gearshift. Not a comforting combination.

I’ve driven countless places in the Third World, but Baghdad drivers are among the very worst. Yes, even worse than Miami. I was stuck today in a traffic jam, three lanes going each way with a median between. Traffic jams are a normal thing in the city, but when it’s 120 degrees and occasional gunfire, there’s bound to be drama. I watched, not one but several, drivers trying to make their way up the wrong side of the street; forcing their way through a sea of static cars going the other way! I’ve seen cars drive down medians or break down lanes, but never try to go up a choked off street against traffic. I was simply amazed.

There are special challenges driving security vehicles here. The first of which is that the windows don’t roll down. That, coupled with the fact that you’re wearing 30 lbs of body armor and it’s 120 degrees outside makes for some interesting times. I once estimated that if the car’s air conditioner ever quit that we would have about ten minutes to get to somewhere safe before we baked like a muffin inside the car.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Free Time

The mosque used as the backdrop for both CNN and Fox News' live shots: the most recognized mosque in Baghdad.

It was slow today in the bureau, and a lot of the team spent their time watching the third season of Entourage on DVD. It can be difficult for some people when there's not a lot of newsworthy activity going on. After growing up in a small town in Maine I can always find ways to fill up my time.

Here’s how I spent my day:
- I got to sleep in a bit because I was escorting some of the bureau staff to an event at another news agency last night. We didn’t get in until well after 1:00 a.m.
- Breakfast of arabic bread, known as naan, strawberry jam, and Nescafe.
- Normal security checks and review of last night’s activities
- Morning planning meeting with the security team and review of latest intelligence picture for Baghdad and Iraq.
- Watched some of the US-feed, late night news in the news room
- Ran 6 miles on the treadmill followed by 30 minutes of yoga, then zazen.
- Lunch
- Watched the Moto GP race on TV
- More security checks
- Medical review with some Iraqi contract guards
- Read A Thousand Splendid Suns
- Surfed Internet
- Dinner
- Nightly bureau meeting, followed by security team planning meting
- More zazen
- Free time and bed

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Future of Security in Iraq

Contract Iraqi security guard

All of the western security companies are using contracted Iraqis, in one manner or another, to augment their security operations. The day is soon coming when private security will be turned over to Iraqi run companies, or western companies using a majority of Iraqi personnel. The gold rush days of western private security operators coming to Iraq and earning $500-$800 a day are quickly coming to a close. Contracts are becoming fewer and fewer, while the pool of willing, and quasi-qualified westerners, continues to grow. Congress will eventually structure US Government contracts to mandate the hiring of local Iraqis instead of expensive westerners; all part of the politically planned withdrawal. Currently PSDs are scrambling for a seat, because the music will soon stop.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Slow And Steady

The intense heat, and dust gives the Baghdad skyline a ghostly look to it.

Reconstruction continues in Iraq. While not wanting to use the clichĂ©, it truly is two steps forward, one step back. The ‘one step back’ is normally quite sensational and garners the vast majority of media attention; a bomb in a marketplace, a kidnapping of an official. The forward steps are the slow, but meaningful increments of progress; often not terribly newsworthy and subsequently going unnoticed by the international audience. There are however, children walking through the streets to school, public water and sewage, Internet service, traffic lights being adhered to, and most importantly smiles and laughter. Don’t count Iraq out just yet. There's a long, long way to go; years even decades, but there is visible progress. You can see it everyday, even through the haze.