Cigars in the Sand

Commentary, Notes and Pictures from my time in Iraq

My Photo
Location: Baghdad, Iraq

Farmer by genetics, Lawyer by training, currently "vacationing" in Iraq and advising the Iraqi government on border security issues. Before moving to Baghdad, I served in the White House as Deputy Counsel for the Homeland Security Council. I can be reached at opusxryanathotmaildotcom.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Interview with the Head of Iraqi Election Security

How do the Iraqis think it went? TJ and BC score an interview with the Iraqi government official in charge of the development and execution of the nationwide election security plan.

You won't find this anywhere else, folks.

Exit polling, Iraqi-style.

Can the Iraqi Election Help Unite America?

Honestly, probably not. But it is worth keeping in mind this advice from democrat Jeff Jarvis:

"Whether it's Kerry or any of these bloggers, it would be the grownup, mature, generous, humanistic, caring -- yes, dare I say, liberal -- thing to do to be glad that people who lived under tyranny are now giving birth to democracy.

Democracy isn't a right-or-left thing, folks. It's a right-and-left thing, remember?"

Tragedy and Elation Juxtaposed

Amid all the excitement yesterday was a report of a British transport plane going down:

"Straw didn't say how many troops died in Sunday's crash, but a British military expert, retired Air Vice-Marshall Tony Mason, told CNN at least nine troops aboard the plane were killed.

Britain's Press Association quoted military sources as saying 'around 10' people died and that the final toll was 'highly unlikely' to exceed 15.

Mason also said he feared the aircraft could have been shot down.

'We have a fully serviceable aircraft, we have an extremely competent crew ... (and) the first statement said the crash site covered a wide area, which suggests impact in the air rather than the ground,' Mason said.

'My concern is that at the moment it could very well be hostile action.'"

Its been an emotional rollercoaster the last 2 days. Two nights ago, one of my Embassy coworkers was killed in a mortar attack on the Embassy, and several others injured. That was followed by the pure joy of election day, later tempered by the news of yet more Coalition casualties.

I'm physically and mentally exhausted.

A few gents waiting to enter the polling station. Notice the apartments in the background: during saddam's reign, those apartments were reserved for Saddam's guards and other assorted henchmen. An Iraqi could get killed for even looking into this complex. I saw quite a few of the voters taking in the view of a part of Iraq they'd never seen before.

Thanks for all the blog love

Thanks to those around the web who got the word out yesterday on an amazing event. Special appreciation to those who helped spread the pictures I took yesterday:

Jeff Jarvis on MSNBC and
National Review Online
Mudville Gazette
Wall Street Journal Online

and many many others. If you came here looking for the pictures from yesterday, well, they are posted below under yesterday's date (imagine that). Just keep scrolling down, and also click on the archive file to the left and look for January 30th. I'll try to to post a few more pictures today.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Chris Muir gets it exactly right. His site is a must-visit.

The Choice

"Any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police."

Quoted by Natan Sharansky, Chapter One of The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.

More election coverage

My boys at I Should Have Stayed Home... are back online and posting about their election day experiences (with pictures).

Check 'em out!

Killing the New MSM Meme

I've been reading the coverage, and watching the pundits. This appears to be the new line of dissent:

"Yes, Iraqis voted today in massive numbers. But voting isn't democracy."

I agree. But that's also like saying that the best college basketball team didn't win the NCAA championship. It may be true, but they ARE wearing the rings. Wanna see my purple finger?

What's Next?

Well for tonight, I imagine it's dodging the celebratory fire. I used to drive an SUV with a 9mm round hole in the hood, courtesy of some past celebration.

After that, its back to the hard task of capturing the momentum and translating it into real political access and choice. That road will be long and difficult -- undoubtedly plagued by further violence and setbacks. Today is a new beginning, not an end.

But for right now, I'm gonna celebrate. Disney World, anyone?

Its 5 o'clock somewhere . . . HERE! Polls are officially closed, although voters in line at 5pm will still be allowed to vote. Our group of civilian advisors ferried approximately 200 Iraqis to the polls today who wouldn't have voted otherwise. Sounds like a fine time for a cigar (it is in the title of the blog, ya know)!

Amazing Turnout

Never in my wildest hopes did I think this could happen:

"Iraq's historic election day is nearing its close with the independent election commission reporting a 72 percent nationwide turnout by mid-afternoon amid attacks and threats of attacks to disrupt the vote."

On the networks for the last few days, the MSM has been navel-gazing over the question: "What turnout is necessary for a legitimate election?" Thankfully no one took the bait (that I know of). Will any dare to say that 72%, assuming that number holds up, doesn't meet their criteria for legitimacy?

The Purple Finger of Democracy

Today's greatest symbol. The terrorists are killing people, but it's not stopping the Iraqis:

"As the day progressed, at least nine deadly homicide bombings and mortar strikes shook several polling stations across Iraq. The attacks killed at least 31 people, including four policemen and two Iraqi soldiers.

Despite the attacks, turnout was brisk in some Shiite Muslim and mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhoods. Even in the small town of Askan in the so-called 'triangle of death' south of Baghdad - a mixed Sunni-Shiite area - 20 people waited in line at each of several polling centers. More walked toward the polls.

'This is democracy,' said an elderly woman in a black abaya, Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted."

The Power of the Vote

Every Iraqi who woke up this morning was faced with this calculus:

"Some voters today will, without a doubt, be killed either on their way to vote, waiting to vote, or actually voting. Will I risk my life today for democracy?"

And they Iraqi people have answered loud and clear: Yes. These men and women have been waiting their entire lives to make this kind of political statement.

I can't even begin to accurately capture the excitement in the air. When I've visited the polling station this morning (3 times, so far), I've seen nothing but smiles. And that is with the sound of bombs in the distance. Let's forget all the differences we have in the United States for one day, and celebrate the amazing resilience of the Iraqi populace.

Victory! Hanging out with some of the security detail outside the polling station, with some election posters in the background.

How bad do Iraqis want to vote? This guy had himself wheeled to the polling station, in what looks like a modified shopping cart [CORRECTION: baby carriage].

Got Ink?? The mark of the voter, shown with pride.

Voting Success

So far our team has made three round trips to the polling station. For the record, that's 63 Iraqis voting. Every busload has sang and danced the entire drive home.

After a large numbers of explosions this morning, things seem to have gotten quieter (at least in Baghdad). Let's hope it holds.

Casting the vote!

Signing in and receiving ballots.

I wasn't going to take pictures inside the polling stations, but the Iraqis insisted I take a few. I'm guessing there really won't be too many "in the polling station" pictures today, but I've got a few I'll share. Here are some gentlemen waiting to go inside the polling room and cast their votes.

So maybe the English spelling wasn't perfect, but it sure felt like a "wellcoming" place.

The best results! The Iraqis I escorted show their fingers marked with the ink that indicates they voted.

Here is the entrance to the polling station. We could hear multiple explosions as we waited in line, but none of the men seemed phased at all. ALSO NOTE: That's a female election worker greeting voters! Would anyone have thought that possible 2 years ago??

Out of respect for the voting process, I didn't take any pictures of the actual voting. I did get this one of me with the head of security for the polling station (a friend of mine).

Soooo, I've decided to do my part for democracy and freedom today. I shuttled some of the Iraqis who guard our palace over to the polling station in the Green Zone. Here they are waiting to get cleared through the outer ring of security.

Thair Nakib

You might be hearing a bit from this fellow today:

"'Your participation will foil the terrorists,' said Thair al-Naqib, a spokesman for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. 'The elections are a great success for the people -- it will represent the rule of law, not the rule of violence.'"

Interesting sidenote: Thair is the brother of the Minister of Interior, Falah Nakib.


It is HOT in Baghdad right now. Polls have been open now for almost two hours. It's shaping up to be quite a busy day. I've heard at least two VBIEDs from my position, and multiple other IEDs and mortars impacting across the city. My guess is that the terorrists have decided to hit early and often to maximize the intimidation factor and make people think twice about going to the polls. Here's hoping it won't work . . .

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Embassy Attack Update


"At least two people were killed and four wounded in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Saturday evening. All casualties were Americans.

One civilian and one Navy sailor, both assigned to the embassy, were killed in the rocket attack, a military official said, on condition of anonymity.

Of the four injured Americans, two were military, one was a civilian and the fourth was as yet undetermined, the military official said. A rocket landed outside the southern edge of the palace that houses embassy employees a little past 7 p.m."

US Embassy Hit

The US Embassy just took some indirect fire. Early reports are 2 dead, 6 injured. I'll update when I know more. But I'm OK, as is everyone in my section.

Election Day Coverage

I highly recommend Friends of Democracy for all of your on-the-ground Iraqi election coverage tomorrow.

I'll also try to post throughout the day. I'll have both my still camera and my videocamera.

I Should Have Stayed Home

Not me! That's the name of the blog of a few very close friends of mine that I've mentioned before. Here's a recent post:

"Every time we lock ourselves behind the concrete walls of the green zone, or push aside civilian traffic as we rush through the streets in armored cars, we distance ourselves from the Iraqi people and harm our long term goals. If it was up to me, the State Department guys would travel in regular cars and there wouldn't be a Green Zone. And yeah, more of our guys would be killed. That's not a cold-hearted statement, as BC and I would be just a much at risk as anyone else, and trust me we've seen plenty of guys go home medevac or bodybag. But in the long term, we'd be closer to the Iraqis, which would mean we'd be doing better. We seem to have forgotten that death is part of war. The insurgents know it, and that's why several thousand ill-trained terrorists are holding a country and 150,000 coalition forces virtual hostages. If you're not willing to do everything you can to win a war, you shouldn't start it to begin with.

Which leads me to my biggest pet hate. Because of all our force protection moves, what we end up doing is 'putting the Iraqis out front.' Now yes, I know it's their country, and of course they should be out front. But Iraqi police and soldiers are dying at twice the rate of US forces- and we're creating new paramilitaries left and right - good, effective units, but hardly a harbinger for democracy - because we came without sufficient commitment to risk our lives for a cause that (I believe) is right."

I agree. I am much more sympathetic to "force protection" than TJ, but I also think our current seige mentality is hurting us. We need more interaction, not less.

This seems to be "helicopter picture week" here at Cigars in the Sand, so I thought I'd finish it up with a pic of two blackhawks flying over a palace in Saddam's hometown, Tikrit.

Tony Blair: Davos speech, 26 January 2005

Tony Blair spoke earlier this week on the subject of climate change and African policy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But he also added a few words about the President's Inaugural Address:

"President Bush's inauguration speech last week, marks a consistent evolution of US policy. He spoke of America's mission to bring freedom in place of tyranny to the world. Leave aside for a moment the odd insistence by some commentators that such a plea is evidence of the 'neo-conservative' grip on Washington - I thought progressives were all in favour of freedom rather than tyranny. The underlying features of the speech seem to me to be these. America accepts that terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. The more people live under democracy, with human liberty intact, the less inclined they or their states will be to indulge terrorism or to engage in it. This may be open to debate - though personally I agree with it - but it emphatically puts defeating the causes of terrorism alongside defeating the terrorists.

Secondly, by its very nature, such a mission cannot be accomplished alone. It is the very antithesis of isolationism; the very essence of international engagement. It requires long-term co-operation.

And it is based on enlightened self-interest. Freedom is good in itself. But it is also the best ultimate guarantee that human beings will live in sympathy with each other. The hard head has led to the warm heart."

Amazing stuff; most news outlets were emphatically NOT emphasizing these words. I think a large number of Americans assume Blair is of the same political fold as the President; a completely false assumption. I guess I will never understand the progressive opposition to the war in Iraq.

Your Service Will Not Be Forgotten

CH-53 Crash Update: "A top U.S. general said Wednesday there was severe weather at the site of a Marine Corps helicopter crash in of western Iraq and that he had no reports of enemy fire in the area. President Bush expressed sorrow at the loss of life and said he knew Americans would find the new deaths discouraging."

I Didn't See Any Ghosts When I Was There Either

Bush Doesn't See Ghosts in White House
By The Associated Press

President Bush, in an interview with Brian Lamb of C-SPAN that was released Friday, talked of life in the White House:

Lamb: "The longer you're in this White House, with all those that have gone before you, do you see ghosts of past presidents?"

Bush: "Well, I quit drinking in '86. ... It's just really hard to project back into somebody else's shoes. So, no, I guess I don't see ghosts."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Defenders of the Syrian border. Two Army officers, two Iraqi officers, and one completely-out-of-place civilian adviser hamming it up in front of one of the new Iraqi border forts not far from Syria.

Mudville Gazzette

Welcome Mudville Gazette readers! In honor of the link, I've posted my own pic of Saddam's old reviewing grounds, seen at the top of the Mudville Gazette page. I work about 100 yards from here. Feel free to look around: you'll find stories about Desert Wolves, Desert Puppies, the Great Camel War of '05 and other assorted political commentary.

For my regular readers, check out Mudville Gazette, its indispensable reading if you want to find out what's really going on in Iraq.

Smooth as a Sade groove

James Lileks:

"So there's an election in Iraq soon, I understand. I haven't been writing about this here because I'm just taking the long, long view, and haven't the time or inclination to argue with people who think "No WMD!" is the argument equivalent of a spreading a full house on the green felt table. It may seem so, but unfortunately we're playing chess. However the election goes will be one thing; how it's reported is another. The thing to watch is the position of the Damning But, the old DB. The DB will probably bob up in the first or second paragraphs of most dispatches. "The election went as planned in 95 percent of the country, but violence marred polling in the disputed Sunny D Triangle, where insurgents opposed to Tropicana Juice fired automatic weapons into an juice concentrate factory." That's one spin. "The election, long anticipated as a flashpoint for insurgent activity, went off with few delays. Despite sporadic gunfire marred the overall mood of success in several provinces, observers said that the process was 'smooth as a Sade groove,' adding that they were annoyed Sade had simply faded away instead of letting her career end with a tasteful layout in Playboy." See? No DB there. We'll see."

Made my day.

Forget IEDs and car bombs, watch out for the sheep!

This is the view out the back of a CH-53 "Super Stallion", the type of helicopter that crashed a few days ago.


Damn, I've been remiss on posting photos lately and instead have been bla blah blahing about politics and the usual crap. So here is your fix for the day. My absolute favorite mode of transport in Iraq is the Blachawk. They are amazing machines. Coming back from al Kut one day, we were treated to a little of what the Blackhawk can do: namely, the "Floatie." Basically, the pilot aims the Blackhawk straight into the sky and you shoot towards the heavens. When you fianlly crest, you get a feeling of complete weightlessness (often accompanied by everything not tied down in the bird "floating" for a few seconds).

This is a pic of the bird beside of us, mid-floatie. Truly an amazing experience. Better than the best roller-coaster you've ever ridden.

Should Gonzales be Attorney General?

Thats an easy question for me to answer: YES. But if you haven't decided yet, or just want to read an excellent point/counterpoint on Judge Gonzales, the "torture memos" and US policy after 9/11 in general, check out this article. I think its enlightening to folks on all sides of this debate.

Route Irish

That's the name the military has given for the short (about 8 or so miles) road between the airport and the Green Zone. Now comes an editorial with a further description:

"The road itself is horrifyingly ugly, as most airport roads tend to be, only more so. Hastily patched craters dot the highway, paving over metal and viscera torn apart by car bombs. The scorched husk of one such vehicle lies near the airport's outermost checkpoint. Further on, flattened palm groves, which the Army bulldozed after insurgents used them as cover to launch ambushes, line the road. Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles occupy them now. Above them, Blackhawk helicopters and Apache gunships glide through the sky. Beyond all this lies a bleached landscape--cement walls, Saddam-era housing blocks, and bombers in waiting."

Yep, its certainly an ugly road. And [NOTE TO MOM: Don't read this part], having been behind the wheel a time or two on Route Irish, its no picnic for driving either. For those of you I'll see on R&R in March, remind me to show you some of the video of the route.

I agrre with the columnist that Route Irish needs to be secured immediately. It's an embarassment that it hasn't been done already. But it also gives a bit of perspective on my task: how can Iraq be expected to secure its 1400 miles of borders when the Coalition can't even secure an 8 mile stretch of road in Baghdad?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Sharansky Redux

I've written previously about Natan Sharansky and his influential book, The Case for Democracy. Newsweek weighs in with some additonal thoughts:

"Bush, in fact, has been pressing the book on aides and friends in recent weeks and urging them to read it. And it is clear that Bush's speech-as well as Sharansky's influence-could have huge consequences for America in the coming years."

One of Sharansky's most important observations in the book is: "[T]he price for "stability" inside a nondemocratic regime is terror outside of it." He continues: "Freedom's skeptics must understand that the democracy that hates you is less dangerous than the dictator who loves you." If we didn't learn these lessons from September 11th. what exactly did we learn?

All in all, its a pretty snarky article though. It basically regurgitates the "Neocons are Coming" meme, which I view pretty much as thinly vieled anti-Semitism. Its ending paragraph is particularly egregious:

"It is possible that America’s new embrace of Sharanskyism will also prove to be a recipe for eternal conflict. America will now be accused of hypocrisy every time it fails to live up to Bush’s promise “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.” In China, Russia and Taiwan, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Washington has shrunk from pursuing that policy too forthrightly, mainly because it needs friends. And Bush is unlikely to depart dramatically from this cautious course. That means, in turn, that his new statement of American policy is certain to come back to haunt him, just as Woodrow Wilson’s promise of self-determination haunted American foreign policy-makers after World War I. Especially when Natan Sharansky is out there, reminding him of his promise."

Memo to Newsweek: Maybe Bush means what he says. Haven't you been paying attention the last four years?

Its Not That Different Across the Pond

From the UK:

"Regardless of one's view of the US-UK attack on Iraq - and I speak as one sceptical about it, at best - surely one should wish the elections on Sunday to be a success. And I don't mean just want them to be, but will them to be, and certainly not help those seeking to disrupt and undermine them.
People will risk their lives going to the polls in areas of Iraq this weekend, and some parts of the media - in other countries as well as in ours, I assume - have already written off those efforts as worthless, the elections as fatally flawed."

I sincerely hope that the Iraqi election is not viewed as a referundum on British or Amerian foreign policy. Friends of democracy everywhere should be hoping for success. Those who wish desperately to "bring our troops home" must understand that there is no quicker path to doing so than Iraqi embrace of freedom.

WSJ Article

I've weighed in before on why I think Iraq is no where near deteriorating into civil war. A WSJ Op-Ed tracks my thoughts perfectly:

"Behold these elections: they are not a prelude to civil war, as some of our sages continually warn. They are the substitute for a civil war. Indeed, the remarkable thing about the Shiites has been their restraint in the face of the terror that the remnants of the old regime and the jihadists have thrown at them. It is their leaders and their mosques and their weddings and their religious gatherings that have been the steady targets of the terror. It is their faith that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his band of killers continue to dismiss as a heresy at odds with Islam's 'purity.' "

Despite yesterday's Coalition casualties, almost all of the terrorist attacks in Iraq kill mainly other Iraqis- and most of them are Shiites.

Camel War Update

The three camels taken hostage have been returned to their rightful owners in Iraq. Unfortunately, this guy wasn't so lucky (the one on the right). He was killed in the crossfire.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, scroll down to my Tuesday post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

More Patriot Act Rebuttal

Instapundit also says:

"I think that government officials who abuse their authority ought to be subject to punishment, and to lawsuits. And it's very hard for me to take "antiterrorism" legislation lacking such safeguards seriously."

Well then. Professor Reynolds should take the Patriot Act seriously. Section 223 specifically provides a cause of action against the government for overreach:

"Any person who is aggrieved by any willful violation of this chapter or of chapter 119 of this title or of sections 106(a), 305(a), or 405(a) of the Foreign Intelligence surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) may commence an action in United States District Court against the United States to recover money damages."

There's also a provision for administrative discipline, which Professor Reynolds also champions.

When I left the Administration in July, not one cause of action under these provisions had even been filed (to my knowledge).

Senator Feinstein, D-CA, wrote the ACLU and requested information about alleged abuses: "'I have never had a single abuse of the Patriot Act reported to me. My staff e-mailed the ACLU and asked them for instances of actual abuse. They e-mailed back and said they had none.' "

Let's debate the Patriot Act on the facts, not the hyperbole.

Patriot Act Rollback? Let's Hope Not links to this column, and quotes Walter Williams:

Government officials have always wanted open access to our financial records; the war against terrorism gives them the cover to do so. Here's what might be proof: How about an amendment to the Patriot Act whereby any information gathered under its provisions cannot be used in a court of law unless it can be tied to terrorist activity? I'm guessing that few politicians and law enforcement authorities would agree to such an amendment.

Sorry Glenn and Walt, but there are a few problems with this approach:

1. Plenty of the Patriot Act provisions already were generally applied to other crimes, they were just explicitly extended in the Patriot Act. One example is the mis-labeled "sneak and peak" provision. That provision explicitly allows for delayed-notice search warrants, a tool that has been used in other cases for a few decades. A second set of examples are the wiretap provisions, which were already available for mail fraud, tax evasion and other cases.

2. We "catch" a lot of terrorists not on their terrorist activities, but on their other ancillary crimes that are easy to prove. This is nothing new. Everyone remembers that Al Capone was sent away for tax evasion. That didn't make him any less of a mobster.

3. The Patriot Act's provisions have already yielded siginficant results in other areas, including child abduction and child pornography. A few examples from this report:

++ In 2003, the Indiana State Police was informed that child pornography portraying a 13-year-old girl from Southern Indiana had been posted to an Internet website. After an initial investigation, investigators suspected the father of the victim as being the offender partially visible in one of the photographs. As a result, taking advantage of the authority provided by section 210 of the USA PATRIOT Act, grand jury subpoenas were issued requesting relevant Internet subscriber
information. This information confirmed investigators’ suspicion that the victim’s father was the perpetrator. Consequently, ten days after the initial report to the Indiana State Police and using the information obtained by the subpoena to the Internet company, a search warrant was executed at the father’s home, and numerous items of child pornography were seized. The girl was interviewed and admitted that she was being sexually abused by her father on an ongoing basis and that he was filming and photographing these sexual acts. The father was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to five counts of producing child
pornography. He was sentenced earlier this year to a prison term of approximately 10 years. By using the authority contained in section 210, Indiana State Police investigators were able to speed up significantly their investigation, thus enabling the girl to be removed from her family’s house more quickly and preventing future molestations by her father.
p. 19

++ In Kentucky, a multi-agency task force of local, state, and federal law enforcement used section 210 of the USA PATRIOT Act in its investigation of an individual linked to several sexual assaults of children at public libraries and local parks. Just before the individual in question became the primary suspect in the case, he attempted to rape and abduct a six- year-old girl at a playground in Boone County, Kentucky. Once the man was identified as the primary suspect, an informant provided the investigating officers with some information about the suspect. Investigators then used section 210 to subpoena additional key information from an Internet service provider. Within 20 minutes of receipt of the subpoena, the investigative team obtained information that was ultimately a pivotal part of a search warrant affidavit that led to a search of the suspect’s
residence. Without the information that was obtained pursuant to section 210, it is unlikely that sufficient information would have been available to obtain the search warrant. Evidence located in the house was then used to arrest the suspect and his wife within 24 hours of obtaining the information from the subpoena. The couple was prosecuted pursuant to a 100-count federal indictment for the receipt and possession of child pornography.
p. 20

++ A man, armed with a sawed-off shotgun, abducted his estranged wife and sexually assaulted her. Then, after releasing his wife, he fled West Virginia in a stolen car to avoid capture. While in flight, he continued to contact cooperating individuals by e- mail using an Internet service provider located in California. Using the authority provided by section 220, investigators in West Virginia were able to obtain an order quickly from a federal court in West Virginia for the disclosure of
information regarding the armed fugitive’s e- mail account, rather than wasting additional time obtaining such an order from a California court.

++ Section 212 has further proven to be extremely useful in cases involving abducted or missing children. The provision, for instance, was instrumental in quickly rescuing a 13- year-old girl from Western Pennsylvania who had been lured from her home and was being held captive by a 38- year-old man she had met online . . . . With the information provided in response to that request, agents were able to locate the perpetrator. They immediately went to his residence in Herndon, Virginia, and rescued the child victim. The suspect subsequently was arrested, pleaded guilty to charges of travel with intent to engage in sexual activity with a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor, and was sentenced to a prison term of over 19 years. p. 27-28

Why am I so familiar with this report? I edited/wrote parts of it.

Are these really the types of crimes we don't want to pursue, just because a Patriot Act tool was used?


This a CH-53, coming in for a landing.

Helicopter Crash Update

I'm now hearing that it was a CH-53 that crashed, which is worse because they hold a lot more folks. I'm hearing that there may be as many as 18 dead . . .

I also understand that they may have been flying a mission in support of my guys, the Desert Wolves. Ugh.

UPDATE: CNN is now reporting at least 31 confirmed dead. I'm sure I knew some these guys.

FURTHER UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that everyone on board was killed.


MANPADs are man-portable air defense systems (SA-7s, SA-14s, Stinger missiles), and pose one of the greatest terrorist threats to the United States. Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned that "no threat is more serious to aviation" than MANPADs. They actually have legitimate military use, but are particularly worrisome when they fall into the hands of terrorists.

The US government has been actively exploring ways to counter the threat posed to aircraft by MANPADs. Now comes a RAND study confirming what I had guessed already: it would be way too costly to outfit the US commercial fleet with appropriate anti-missile technology, and likely would be overcome by terrorist modifications anyway.

One of the best ways to counter the MANPADs threat is to teach pilots how to evade them:

"Successful evasion is a low-cost, near-term solution to the threat. A trained pilot can be very effective in evading missiles. Thus, a relatively low-cost and efficient near-term response to the missile threat is to provide pilots and air controllers with training regarding evasion procedures."

Anyone who has flown in or out of Baghdad can tell you what a pleasant experience being on a plane taking evasive maneuvers from MANPADs can be. Basically take the most exciting, hair-rasing roller coaster that you've ever ridden, and throw in longer and bigger dips, bobs, and weaves and you'll get the idea.

One final note: the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 contains a provision that dramatically increases the penalty for possession, use, import or acquisition of MANPADs and their components. Believe it or not, prior to this legislation the US code treated possesion of a MANPAD as a violation of the firearms laws, with a shockingly low penalty. There is no legitimate reason for a private citizen to possess a MANPAD, and now any individual who does so will be punished appropriately.

I've posted it before, but here is what a CH-46 looks like.

US transport helicopter crashes in Iraq

I'm tracking this story closely:

"A search and rescue operation is under way in Iraq after a US Marine transport helicopter crashed in the west of the country.
The US military said the crash happened shortly after midnight in the western desert close to the Jordanian border. No more details were released. "

I know nothing beyond what is reported in the above story. But I am certain that this is one of the CH-46s that I've routinely flown (and pictured on this website) when heading out to border. I'll update you as I know more . . .

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq

Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

Educate yourself about the Iraqi elections!

Why our Iraqi policy decreases the need to use force elsewhere

Victor Davis Hanson kes the case for why US intervention in Iraq increases our non-military options elsewhere:

"There are lessons here for those who claim that American flexibility has become increasingly constricted and American choices all but foreclosed. In fact, as Iraq comes slowly under control, the opposite prognosis is at least as likely to be the case. Precisely because of proven American resolve in Iraq, the United States now commands both military and diplomatic options - well short of another Iraq-style invasion - that were not at its disposal previously."

We've already seen some of those results (Libya, Pakistan), and I expect we will see even more in the future.

Wonders Never Cease- The Guardian publishes a pro-Iraqi elections piece

Kudos to the Guardian for publishing this op-ed asking a very serious question: Where is the European support for Iraqi elections?

Also interesting is this part:

"Although al-Jazeera broadcasts poison, Iraqi domestic television is now among the freest in the region. There are more than 20 licensed local TV stations, and 65% of the population are thought to have satellite dishes, banned until the fall of Saddam."

I'd estimate satellite saturation even higher. I've travelled to some of the most remote parts of Iraq, and satellite dishes are everywhere. It looks like West Virginia! When I fly over towns, I usually see multiple satellite dishes on rooftops. I even saw a satellite dish outside a building near Trebil (the Jordanian/Iraqi crossing point) that didn't have all 4 walls or windows. Iraqis are invested in educating themselves about the future of their government.

Successful Iraqi Elections

Despite what you may be reading, I expect the January 30th elections to be a big success. I define "success" as high participation resulting in the formation of a new Iraqi government with representation from almost all Iraqi interests. The Shia's will undoubedly be the big winners, with the Kurds also making a strong showing. Neither group, however, is going to establish a government that ecludes the other voices. They can't; both groups know that the security situation is too tenuous to start picking fights with the opposition at this early stage.

As for participation, here is where we are today:

"IRI conducted the poll Dec. 26 to Jan. 7 in 16 (of 18) Iraqi provinces. It shows that 'anticipated participation numbers among Iraqis remain consistent [with previous polls], with over 80 percent stating that they are very likely or somewhat likely to vote on Jan. 30.'
Contrast that 80 percent turnout with our own 60 percent turnout last November - America's highest since 1968. "

Even the unstable parts of Iraq should show promising results:

"The survey also indicates that more than half of all Iraqis living in the troubled Sunni areas — and nearly half of the Sunnis, themselves — are "likely" or "somewhat likely" to vote."

Will the elections be perfect? No way. Will there be attacks on election day? Undoubtedly. But Iraqis are ready to go to the polls. And they will go- just wait and see.

The Great Camel War of '05

Remember these guys?? They are a few of the camels that roam around the al Waleed Point of Entry on the Syrian border. They played a prominent role in my latest trip out to the borders.

One evening I was meeting with the commander of the Iraqi forces in his headquarters when my radio squawked a report from the Marines that there was "heavy fire" coming from the Iraq camp towards the Syrians. After some investigation, here's what we were able to put together: The above 3 camels and one of their brothers escaped the confines of the Point of Entry. The owner decided to send out a 5 man search party to recover the camels. The search party inexplicable decides that if they walk directly on top of the berm separating Syria and Iraq, they will be able to see on both sides and have a better chance at locating the camels. Of course, the Syrians - who are located much closer to the berm than the Iraqi camp on the other side - see the outline of 5 strange men on the berm (it's very dark at this point), and pop off a few rounds from their AKs. The Iraqis in the camp see AK fire coming over the berm from Syria and think the Syrians are engaging them. They immediately "unleash hell", but with PKCs instead of wimpy AKs. I can only imagine what the Syrians thought when they saw the return fire.

We were able to calm things down before anybody got hurt. One of the camels, however, didn't fare so well. He was taken out, and his 3 humped brethren were captured by the Syrians. We are in the process of setting up a meeting to facilitate greater cross border communication, and to make those camel-stealin' Syrians return them to their rightful owner.

There is no way I could possibly make up a story this amusing- although its probably not too amusing to the camels.

Off Topic: ACC BasketBlog

A few of my law school friends have started ACC BasketBlog, a blog about, duh, ACC basketball.

Of course, looking to a bunch of lawyers to analyze ACC basketball is like looking to a bunch of journalists to analyze Iraqi politics . . . except I think my boys might be more qualified. A few of them actually played hoops in college.

Media Coverage of the Election Frustration

This CNN story basically posits that Fallujah residents could care less about the elections. I must say that CNN is digging deep to find the negative story in Fallujah right now.

Fallujah was a terrorists den about 2 months ago. Terrorists had turned Fallujah into their base of operations for most of the country. When the Coalition finally took down Fallujah, they found multiple execution rooms and other horrors. On Sunday, residents of Fallujah wll have the opportunity to vote. And CNN scraped to find some residents to complain about getting the opportunity to vote. And where did they find these folks? Waiting in line to receive humanitarian aid being handed out by US Marines. That means this reporter had to walk past the good story of actually having elections in Fallujah, and past the good story of the Marines distributing aid, to get to a story with some negative spin.

If only we just had to fight the terrorists over here . . .

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Minister of Interior

As most of you know, I am technically an Embassy employee in Baghdad. But my mission is a bit different than most Embassy employees. As an advisor to the Iraqi Minister of Interior, my job is to advise him what is best for Iraq regarding border issues (which can differ from what is best for the United States).

So in some ways, I work for the Iraqi Minister of Interior. Here's a CNN story that includes a picture of the Minister, Falah al-Nakib.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

I mean, seriously, what is the world coming to?

Protesters force Army recruiters off campus as part of Bush protest. I just don't get it. I know plenty of folks in the military who oppose President Bush, think our Iraq policy is flawed, etc (although obviously most are pro-Bush). I just can't understand how forcing an army recruiter from his space at a community college is a protest of President Bush.

As General MacArthur noted in his famous speech:

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.

Duty, Honor, Country. Is that what those folks in Seattle were protesting?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Media Criticism of Inaugural Speech

I flicked on the television and watched some commentary on both BBC World and CNN World. Commentators on both stations noted with smirks that Bush failed to mention Iraq, as if the President was somehow too embarassed to mention the ongoing conflict. I don't think that's a fair criticism. Inaugural speeches are not State of the Union addresses; they need to reach high rhetorically and stand the test of time. I went back and re-read the Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy. Guess what? He never mentioned the Soviet Union in his speech. Actually, if you read his speech side by side with the one just delivered by Bush, you'll find a lot of thematic similarities.

I did find this interesting passage: "And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God." I doubt President Kennedy took much flak for envoking "God" in this context.

Amazing Speech

An amazing address from the President:

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary . . . . America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause."

Many pundits thought that the so-called "Bush Doctrine" was being scaled back in the wake of the situation in Iraq. Yesterday, the President erased those doubts (or hopes, depending on the political persuasion of the pundit). In case some folks couldn't quite get the gist of the above words, the President put it in even plainer words:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Syria, Iran, North Korea, Saudia Arabia and others: Take Notice.

David Gergen, former Clinton advisor:

"'[It's] historically significant because I think he's revealed to us today his strategy to win the war on terrorism is far more ambitious than we ever imagined,' Gergen said. 'It's not simply going after Iraq and getting rid of Saddam [Hussein], nor is it simply going after al Qaeda. It is rather to expand and extend liberty across much of the world.
'No other American president has ever committed himself in an inaugural as fully as this to that kind of aggressive, foreign policy.'"

A CH-53 delivering a load to a Marine base in the Anbar province.

The Desert Pups, Sampson and Delilah, are getting bigger. They still sleep all of the time though.

Is there a fate worse than being a grazing animal in the middle of the desert? None of these sheep looked all that happy to be foraging around for a stray blade of grass.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Today is the first day of Eid-ul-Adha:

"Eid-ul-Adha celebrates the occasion when Allah appeared to Ibrahim in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son Isma'il as an act of obedience to God. The devil tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey Allah and spare his son. As Ibrahim was about to kill his son, Allah intervened: instead Allah provided a lamb as the sacrifice. This is why today all over the world Muslims who have the means to, sacrifice a sheep (alternatively a goat or cow can be used), as a reminder of Ibrahim's obedience to Allah. They usually share out the meat with family and friends, as well as the poorer members of the community."

The Minister of Interior gave me a great Cuban cigar to commemorate Eid. I plan on enjoying it tonight.

What else I'm working on

Besides the Desert Wolves, I'm also working on border issues relating to the elections. CNN says:

"In advance of the election, Iraq's leadership plans to seal the nation's borders to thwart any plans to disrupt voting. Closing Iraq's perimeter January 29 to 31 is one of the latest efforts to reduce risks to people planning to cast ballots for a 275-member transitional national assembly."

This article also notes that "Intelligence sources estimate 150 car bombings and 250 suicide attacks are planned ahead of Iraq elections at the end of the month." There were 4 car bombs in Iraq just yesterday (glad I got delayed an extra day).

Enjoying some quality time with a few of the Desert Wolves.

Here are some of the Desert Wolves, posing with a few members of the Army Support Team who have been instrumental in the success of the unit. Notice how happy these guys look!

U.S. Building Forts On Iraq Border

The reporter who filed this story was with us at the Syrian border the last few days. Its a pretty fair story, accurately capturing the spirit of the Desert Wolves (the new special border force on the Syrian border).

The creation, development and mentoring of the Desert Wolves has been my sole focus for the last two months. I've been involved in every aspect of the plan, from recruiting the men in Tikrit to setting up the border positions to naming them the "Desert Wolves." It's been an amazing experience. But for those of you who are always asking, "What exactly do you do?", the Desert Wolves provides you with part of an answer.

The title of the article is a little deceptive though- the US is paying for the forts, but we aren't building them. They are contracted to local Iraqis living in the area. This is where we actually get extra bang for our reconstruction bucks. At the end of the day, the Iraqis get new border forts. But in the interim, we are also pumping money into the nearby economy and providing desperately needed jobs for the locals.

I'm back

Back safe and sound to Baghdad. Posts and pictures forthcoming . . .

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Heading Back Out

I'll be trolling the borders again for the next few days; posts will resume when I return.

Desert Wolves

What I do:

"AL ASAD, Iraq - U.S. military officials in Anbar province are reporting progress in one of their most difficult missions: securing Iraq's porous borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and turning over complete responsibility for the job to Iraqi forces.
Over the last three months, Marines under the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit have built - or rebuilt - more than two dozen border forts and recruited more than 1,000 specially trained Iraqi border security forces."

I wouldn't say the Marines have done this on their own, but they were a part of the mission since it's in their area of operations. Most of the credit goes to my comrades here in Baghdad from the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT). Of course, this is what I've been working on too.

We were also the ones in Baghdad who came up with the name "Desert Wolves" for this new unit.

I'll say this for Iraq: they sure do have some cute puppies walking around. These little guys live in the bushes in front of Adnan Palace. And yes, I shaved my head.

The natives are getting restless

Since I returned from the border, it has actually been pretty quiet inside the Green Zone. I think the bad guys are saving up their mortars until closer to the election.

Then about 20 minutes ago we got 2 big booms that shook the palace pretty well- sounded like mortars. But they weren't close enough to blow out any windows, and everyone here is OK.

Friday, January 14, 2005

"War Created Haven, CIA Advisers Report" if you believe the Washington Post

But if you actually read the report, you'll see it says nothing of the sort. In fact, the 123 page report says little at all about Iraq. Iraq is only mentioned 8 times in the entire report.

The report does not claim that the war is creating new terrorists. Rather it simply points out the obvious: while the terrorists of the past were battle-hardened in Afghanistan, the terrorist leaders of the future will have been battle-hardened in Iraq (if they weren't killed- a point the report makes). This is not an A1 Washington Post story.

The report does not even tackle the question of whether or not the war in Iraq has, on net, added to or subtracted from the total number of terrorists. I would argue that the report is most newsworthy for its lack of attention to Iraq. But again, that doesn't fit with the narrative the Post is trying to sell.

How do I know they have a narrative? Look at the sub-headline: "War Created Haven, CIA Advisers Report". The word "haven" does not appear once in the report. A haven is a shelter serving as a place of safety or sanctuary. No honest reading of the report can conclude that the authors are arguing that Iraq is now a safe place for terrorists. The whole point of the report is to predict what things will look like in 2020 anyway, so they'd have no reason to analyze the current state of Iraq.

The tone of the report actually supports the current efforts in Iraq:

A counterterrorism strategy that approaches the problem on multiple fronts offers the greatest chance of containing—and ultimately reducing—the terrorist threat. The development of more open political systems and representation, broader economic opportunities, and empowerment of Muslim reformers would be viewed positively by the broad Muslim communities who do not support the radical agenda of Islamic extremists.

Somehow that part didn't make the Post.

UPDATE: Fixed links.

I Should Have Stayed Home...

Check out the following blog, by two of my friends: I Should Have Stayed Home....

As most of you know, when I'm in Baghdad I work at Adnan Palace, which is just down the road from the Republican Palace (now converted into the US Embassy- thansk Saddam!) Adnan is a much smaller facility, but it is, ya know, still a palace. This is a picture of the ceiling of the foyer in Adnan Palace.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Why America has to "win" in Iraq

A great article on the future of the Bush Doctrine, including this wisdom:

"The despots tyrannizing these countries all know perfectly well that an American failure in Iraq would rule out the use of military force against them. They know that it would rob other, non-military measures of any real effectiveness. And they know that it would put a halt to the wave of reformist talk that has been sweeping through the region since the promulgation of the Bush Doctrine and that poses an unprecedented threat to their own hold on political power, just as it does to the religious and cultural power of the radical Islamists."

As I'm sure you all know, there are plenty of tough guys over here in Iraq. But there are some tough ladies too! This one is barely 5 feet tall, and strapped for business.

This is probably my closest friend in Iraq, Major Kevin Reiswitz.

Google Search: natan sharansky wrong

I was just looking through my site statistics and realized someone found Cigars in the Sand by googling natan sharansky wrong. Ha! I bet they weren't expecting a spirited defense of him . . .

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Top Ten Perks of Being Stationed in Iraq

October 16, 2003 Top Ten List, presented live from Baghdad.
An oldie but a goodie, especially:

"5. When the C.O. isn't looking, I like to tiptoe around the presidential palace and play dictator for a while"

Not that I've ever done that . . .

Enemies splintering?

If true, this would be good news:

"'We have concrete information that a sharp division is now broiling between' Iraqis waging a nationalist war and foreign Arabs spurred by militant Islam, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. 'They are more divided than ever.'

Al-Rubaie said one reason was the perception among Iraqis that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whom bin Laden endorsed as his deputy in Iraq, was of little help during the American onslaught on the Iraqi insurgent hotbed of Falluja in November."

The Cos still has it

Bill Cosby knows what's goin' on:

"Parent power! Proper education has to begin at home. We must demand that our youth have an understanding of spoken and written English, math and science. We must transform our communities with a renewed commitment to our children, and that means parents must show that they value education. We don't need another federal commission to study the problem.
What we need now is parents sitting down with children, overseeing homework, sending children off to school in the morning well fed, clothed, rested and ready to learn. "

As many of you know, I've always had an intense interest in the politics of race. Cosby got into some trouble last year when he made some comments about parental responsibility; its good to see he's not backing off.

I also like that he uses the term "black" instead of African-American. "African-American" can be appropriate when heritage is actually known, but its not a synonym for black. I work with a black Iraqi colonel, and I swear I heard somebody over here refer to him as African-American the other day. Well, lets see. He's not African, he's Iraqi. And he's most definitely not American (although he'd love to be).

I don't agree with all of Cosby's politics, but I applaud his emphasis on personal responsibility. That's something we could all use more of.

How to Interrogate Terrorists

Heather MacDonald writes that the problem with our interrogations to date is that we have done too little, not too much:

"The need for rethinking interrogation doctrine in the war on terror will not go away, however. The Islamist enemy is unlike any the military has encountered in the past. If current wisdom on the rules of war prohibits making any distinction between a terrorist and a lawful combatant, then that orthodoxy needs to change."

I certainly agree with that assessment. But so does the US in general. The US has never ratified the proposed Geneva Protocol that would have extended the other portions of the Geneva Conventions to terrorists explicitly.

I pass along the article not because I agree with all of it, but because I think it provides an enlightening discussion on interrogation techniques in general-- a useful primer to a meaningful discussion about preserving human rights during interrogations as we move beyond archaic cold war conceptions of the battlefield.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Ahhhhh, nothing like having a flat tire in the middle of the desert. At least we were outside of a border fort when it occurred.

Sqeezing in a little impromptu international relations with the Syrians at the border. You can see the Syrian border position in the background. These guys didn't seem too enthused that we were waving them over for a chat from the berm, but they came anyway.

Great Sharansky Op-Ed in today's WSJ

There is a great op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by Natan Sharansky on democracy on the Middle East (and the Palestinians in particular). I'll post a link if I can find one. I wrote previously on this man's extraordinary book, The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. I highly recommend it.

In fact, when I travelled to Saudia Arabia for border negotiations with the Saudis, I carried a copy of it with me. I staged my own silent protest of Saudi opposition to democracy by reading the book during the negotiations sessions. Hopefully they got the point. Just my own little contribution to world politics.

UPDATE: Here's the article.

Monday, January 10, 2005

During my last trip, we spent one night actually in an Iraqi border fort. No electricity (or windows- that's why the cardboard is covering the window hole), but we did have the warm glow of kerosene.

"Conservative" Crap

The penalty you all pay for looking at my pics is that occasionally you have to sift through my political commentary.

Lest folks think I only have strong words for the left, here's my thoughts on this poorly reasoned and researched article. As someone who considers himself "conservative" on many issues, this one insults me -- especially since its under the banner of a "Conservative" publication.

Line by line, 'til I'm exhausted:

"We were rushed into the war in Iraq by the assertion that little, poor, remote Iraq was at the point of attacking mighty America"

Eh. I must have missed this one. or maybe no one ever claimed Iraq was on the verge on attacking the US. Furthermore, the WMD argument was only one of the justifications, and even that argument was about proliferation and supplying WMD to terrorists, not about imminent direct Iraqi attacks on the US.

"When I was the member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East"

Ahh yes, if only we'd listened to the State Dept! This is the "tell" that crap is forthcoming.

"American soldiers, often not knowing why they are in Iraq but only that they are getting shot at in 50 to 100 attacks each day, are fearful. Against an indistinguishable enemy, who fades into the general population, their fear turns into general hatred."

Sorry, I haven't run across too many "fearful" soldiers over here. And while I'm sure there may be some "hatred", I beg to differ that the average GI hates Iraqis.

"To GIs, the natives are “ragheads,” just as in Vietnam they were “gooks.” "

Methinks the gentleman has watched "Three Kings" too many times. I don't hear too much slang to describe the Iraqis, but when I do, its Haji, not raghead. Haji is the term used to describe someone who has made the pilgrimage to Saudi. Not exactly the same as "gook."

"Hatred of the enemy appeared in a film made by NBC News inside a mosque in Fallujah showing a Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi."

The mosque shooting has already been dissected. We will probably soon know whether or not is what legally justified. But we already know that the Marine who pulled the trigger had faced a similar enemy the day before who was covering a grenade that took out some of his countrymen.

"Thus, even when, as in the Fallujah battle, the insurgents were outnumbered at least 20:1, and it was obvious that they could not win against a phalanx of helicopters, gunships, fighter-bombers, tanks, and artillery, they fought to become martyrs for their cause and thus to inspire others to take up their mission."

I wish the terrorists would have all stayed to become "martyrs" in Fallujah. But really, most of them fled prior to the US going in.

"Guerrilla warfare is not new."

True. But the terrorists are not generally engaging on guerilla war, which is defined as attacks by soldiers without uniforms on uniformed forces. Most Iraqi attacks target civilians, as the staggering death toll of Iraqis clearly demonstrates.

"Saddam Hussein’s regime was certainly evil, but Iraq was not a terrorist state. It had no significant relationship with any terrorist organization as the American, British, and Israeli intelligence agencies knew."

Argh. I've really tired of shooting this one down over and over again. Iraq openly harbored terrorists, including al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Zarqawi. And the actual findings of the 9/11 Commission report describe discussions between al Qaeda and Saddam, although no formal agreement was ever reached (does al Qaeda sign agrements?). As for the mention of Israel in this context, well, I'll leave that to you folks for why this gent is mentioning Israel at this juncture . . . . (Hint: it's the Zionist war!)

"Iraq has changed under American blows so that it is now a prime recruiting ground and justification for terrorism."

Wait, I thought he said a few paras before that "have mistakenly acted as though terrorism was a thing or a group against which one can fight." So how can it be a recruiting ground for a mere "tactic"?

"The first option has been called “staying the course.” In practice, that means continued fighting. France “stayed the course” in Algeria in the 1950s as America did in Vietnam in the 1960s and as the Israelis are now doing in occupied Palestine. It has never worked anywhere."

Er, other than Germany, Japan, etc. And looky looky, "occupied Palestine"! Yes, if only those damn Israelis would stop fighting the Palestinians. What? Israel offered Arafat a Palestinian state in exchange for shutting down the terrorist groups there? Don't remind me.

"After four decades of warfare against the Palestinians, the Israelis have achieved neither peace nor security."

See above.

"Both sides commit atrocities."

Moral ambivalency alert! The difference is, the Coalition "atrocities" are mistakes or abherations, the terrorist atrocities were planned to be, well, atrocities.

"Viewing the devastation of Fallujah, one correspondent wrote, “Even the dogs have started to die, their corpses strewn among twisted metal and shattered concrete in a city that looks like it forgot to breathe … The city smelled like dust, ash—and death.” Viewing the same scene, the deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said, “This is what we do … This is what we do well.” This is not new or unique; it is classic. "

Ah yes, the out-of-context juxtaposition. I'm fairly certain the MEF commander wasn't referring to dogs dying. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was talking about the dead terrorists ("corpses", in the writer's flowery description).

"Much has been made also of the constitution we wrote for the Iraqis."

Umm, the Iraqis are going to write their own constitution; that will be the primary function of the assembly set for election on January 30th. I think he is referring to the Transition Administrative Law, a quasi-constitutional document that, among other things, spells out the timeline towards Iraqis creating their own permanent constitution.

"The second step, more difficult, is to make a truce and pull back its forces. If President Bush could be as courageous as Gen. Charles de Gaulle was in Algeria when he called for a “peace of the brave,” fighting would quickly die down."

So the writer's solution is a prompt withdrawal. And step 2 is to make a truce. I spit out my coke when I read that. Oh yes, lets make a truce with the terrorists, that will definitely work. Maybe we can even propose an elaborate signing ceremony with Zarqawi, the Baathists, the Syrian fighters and the Iranian fighters. I'm sure that "fighting would quickly die down."

"A UN multinational peacekeeping force would be easier, cheaper, and safer."

Yes but first we'd have to convince the UN to return to Iraq in significant numbers and force. Hmmmm. Maybe after the fighting quickly dies down. But then why would we need peacekeeping forces? I'll have to think about that one some more.

There's more of course; but its Monday and I'm already depressed reading this "conservative" argument for giving up.

Back soon to your regularly scheduled programming . . .

I will say this for the Syrian border, there are some absolutely spectacular sunrises!

Two of the previously pictured pups took up residence at the Iraqi border camp: Sampson & Delilah. Here I am with Sampson during a lunch break.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Duty, Honor, Family

Although this story is somewhat unique, you could write a story every day on those who are actively seeking deployment to Iraq:

"Nearly four decades later, the retired master gunnery sergeant felt the same anguish when his oldest son, Chris, was deployed in 2003 for the Iraq war. As he shed his own tears, the schoolteacher swore he would convince the Marine Reserves to take him back and allow him to fight by his son's side.

'I'm a father and a Marine. I can't separate the two,' said Phelps, 57, a clarinet player who runs the music program for Silver Lake's schools. 'I need to be there with Chris.'

On Friday, Kendall Phelps will get his wish."

I personally know one over-60 lawyer who volunteered to come to Iraq and oversee the new Iraqi Ministry of Justice. His son works with the Corps of Engineers about an hour north of him.

I also know many many folks who left Iraq, and then volunteered to come back. Why? I think when you see up closee and personal what is being done here, and what still remains to be done, you feel a sense of duty to finish the job.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Surrender the Booty! On the coalition side, we've adopted the pirate theme for our border forces, complete with flags and hats. We flew this flag over our camp on the Syrian border.

One of the things I won't miss about Iraq

I definitely won't miss checking under my vehicle every time before I start it up.

As others have pointed out, I don't know why Reuters calls this guy a "suspected insurgent." I mean, he was caught planting bombs under civilian vehicles. In my book, that makes him a terrorist.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The new Iraqi Homeland Secuirty Advisory System!

[Click for a larger readable image.]

An Abu Ghraib Quiz

I follow this stuff pretty closely, and even I missed a few. It's a useful refresher on the facts of the Abu Ghraib case, particularly in light of the confirmation battle over Judge Gonzales.

[Hat tip: Instapundit.]

I'm also glad to be back to a place where I can enjoy real food (albeit food prepared for the masses). At the camp, we ate MREs for lunch, and heated up T-rats on this fire in the evening. Dinner was usually our time for socializing and fun. Here we are enjoying storytelling from LTC Jones. Even in the middle of the desert, you've gotta have a little fun. Those of you who know me know I'm in agreement with PJ O'Rourke's assessment: "Seriousness is stupidity sent to college."

Here is the one you've all been waiting for . . . me hanging with a camel! I've seen surprisingly few camels; I don't think they like hanging out in Baghdad. In fact, our Iraqi interpreter claimed that this was only the second time he'd seen a camel in person. These guys were actually wandering around inside the point of entry from Syria to Iraq. Not exactly what you'd expect to find at an international crossing point!

Heating Up in Baghdad

As I'm sure many of you have read in the press, things are definitely heating up here in Baghdad. It seems every night when I leave my office I can hear the steady clack-clack of small arms fire. The car bomb at the Commando Compound over a mile away blew out some of the windows in our palace. And yesterday an IED that hit a US convoy was so powerful that it flipped over a 50,000 lb Bradley fighting vehicle. The terrorists are attacking hot and heavy to justify a delay of the January 30th elections. Lets hope they don't succeed.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Here we are on a berm establishing defensive positions when we encountered some folks during a border patrol. It turns out they were good guys, so we didn't need to take further action.

One of the benefits of staying out in the field is the ability to spend some time on the range. I just acquired a Benelli M-90 tactical shotgun, and this my first chance to try it out. It's the perfect weapon for me- all I need to do is just point it in the general direction of the bad guys and pull the trigger. I'm also getting fairly proficient with my Glock. I still need more work with the long guns though.

Thanks Frank! Here is a picture of the guys (and one lady) enjoying some of the cigars Frank Seltzer sent for me to distribute. Frank sent a big pile of cigars; I gave them to these folks and the Marines stationed out at the al Waleed Point of Entry. It was a good way to celebrate the new year!

I'm back

I just returned last night from spending 9 days out at the Syrian border. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience. I'll fill you all in shortly, with pictures. But in the meantime, I'm still savoring my first shower in 10 days. Ahhhhhh . . .