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, February 28, 2005

Future of Iraq

Blue States, meet Red States:

"Where we stand right now, there can be no doubt that it is not in America's interests for the Iraqi government, the experiment in freedom and democracy, to fail . . . . So I hope that Americans understand that and that we will have as united a front as is possible in our country at this time to keep our troops safe, make sure they have everything they need and try to support this new Iraqi government."

-Hillary Clinton, Meet the Press, February 20, 2005

Allawi Op-Ed in WSJ

PM Allawi writes a fascinating op-ed for today's Wall Street Journal. I liked this dig:

"The elections were a big turning point--not just in Iraq but also internationally. In Iraq, we are relieved that the much-needed reconciliation between pro-war and antiwar powers has now been achieved. Now that the differences about the past have been confined to history, we can all focus on the needs of the future. I am delighted to see that more European countries and others are now coming forward to help us in the huge task of rebuilding our country."

Heh. He buries a finger-in-the-eye to those who sat back and watched in a paragraph thanking those countries for coming back to the table. Now that's the kind of diplomacy I like.

Syrian Involvement in Hariri Assasination?

Idle Speculation:

"Also, would it be asking too much of all our European partners--now that we're friends again--to designate the Syrian-sponsored Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (France still refuses to do so) and treat prominent members of the Syrian regime as personae non gratae by denying them entry visas and investigating their ties to money laundering and drug trafficking?

They could start with Assef Shawkat, President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law and head of Syria's military intelligence. Though Damascus denies any role, Mr. Shawkat was fingered by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah as one of the masterminds of the Hariri killing. Also on the list: Maher Assad, Bashar's brother, who is implicated in supporting Baathist terrorists in Iraq; Interior Minister Ghazi Kaanan, who we hear is close to the CIA but is also the de facto ruler of Lebanon; and former Interior Minister Ali Hammoud, who also supports the Iraq insurgency."

I've met Mr. Shawkat. It's probably best that I don't post my thoughts and impressions on the web . . .

Tough Day in Iraq

Bombing in Hilla kills at least 125:

"A suicide car bomber Monday morning drove into a crowd of Iraqis outside a government medical office in Hilla, killing at least 125 and wounding up to 200 others, Iraqi government and health officials said.

Iraqi police recruits were lining up outside the building to be given physicals, officials said."

Here's what you won't see reported in the next few days: the Iraqis will continue to line up to join the Iraqi police. The terrorists repeatedly attack police recruiting stations (usually not with this level of casulaties), and Iraqis continue to show up and stand in line to defend their country.

More IT Problems

So you folks think YOU have IT problems. My computer kicked the bucket for the third time this weekend, meaning I've been without access for a few days now. And you know how when you call the IT guys it seems like they are speaking a different language? Well my IT guys are Iraqi, and they are definitely speaking another language. Add that to intermittent power outages and it often makes for a frustrating blogging experience.

Posting will hopefully resume in a day or two . . .

Friday, February 25, 2005

Foreign Affairs Navel Gazing

Foreign Affairs is a wonderful journal for those interested in world affairs. Unfortunately it occasionally drifts into navel gazing about the values of "diplomacy." (Full Disclosure- I was rejected as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the org that publishes FA.) This is a typical example:

"The Bush strategy was tested in the Iraq war, of course, and found to be wanting. In retrospect, it seems that Washington badly underestimated the value of international support for its undertakings. But although diplomacy's stocks have risen in the past year, some in the administration remain unconvinced by Winston Churchill's dictum that it is better 'to jaw-jaw than to war-war.'

So far, then, the administration has been down on diplomacy and, in particular, on special envoys. It has ignored a powerful diplomatic instrument that has served the United States well in times of crisis. With the State Department under new management and the benefit of four years of experience, it is time for Washington to reconsider its use of special emissaries."

Huh? Does the author believe that if only Bush would have appointed a "special envoy" on Iraq that France, Germany and Russia would have joined the Coalition? All subsequent evidence points to the contrary (especially the list of recipients of Oil-for-Food largesse).

The author does nail the problem with special envoys: they are "organizational ad hockery". (Although he almost immediately attempts to minimize this concern.) The missions that "special envoys" are given are missions that someone else in the United States Government already has. Usually, it's a mission that quite a fw people already have. Adding yet another layer of bureaucracy and reporting channels does not simplify the US effort, it complicates it. The US State Department alone is a massive organization; isn't it the State Department's job to "do" diplomacy?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

More Nonsense from Buchanan

I've linked previously to some of trash that comes from Buchanan's rag. This time the failed politician pens an article himself, basically arguing against US involvement overseas. Here is his take on how we got here in Iraq:

"The 9/11 killers were over here because we are over there. We were not attacked because of who we are but because of what we do. It is not our principles they hate. It is our policies. U.S. intervention in the Middle East was the cause of the 9/11 terror. Bush believes it is the cure. Has he learned nothing from Iraq?"

Let me take a crack at this tripe. First, bin Laden is on record as opposing our principles. Did Buchanan miss the tape that came out just before the elections? Second, Buchanan is advocating the short game of international relations- let's just isolate ourselves and no one will bother us. But we know empirically that won't work. Pearl Harbor, anyone? Let's also examine bin Laden's biggest two complaints about the US: troop presence in Saudi Arabia and support for Israel. But if democracy flourishes in the Middle East, we can expect to see a diminishing US presence in both places. We've already drastically reduced troop levels in Saudi because Iraqi is no longer the threat it once was. And although I am a staunch supporter of Israel, I think we can expect to see the US not align itself with Israel as much if there were indeed other democracis in the region to align itself with. Right now the US is almost locked into its support of Israel because the alternative is to side with the autocratic regimes in the area. What Buchanan fails to see is that US policy in Iraq (and the ME in general) is actually the BEST way to disengage from the region. Look at Europe, we only station loads of troops there now because they want our economic investment. Remember the outcry from Germany when Bush announced troop reductions there?

But this article is really just a smokescreen for Buchanan's larger point: IT'S THE JOOS!! Let's listen to him:

Who is feeding the president this interventionist nonsense?

Hmmm, maybe Natan Sharansky and those darn Jews?

"Among those who have converted President Bush to the notion that without Arab democracy there can be no Mideast peace is Natan Sharansky . . . .

Urging Bush not to press Israel into making peace with the Palestinians until Palestine embraces democracy is a clever way to postpone peace indefinitely and let Israel expand its settlements and consolidate its hold over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That may be in Israel’s interest. But it is not in America’s interest. Sharansky’s idealism just happens to coincide with Sharon’s agenda. Can President Bush not see this?"

I knew I'd get that one right! Buchanan's anti-Israel rants grew tiresome years ago. The least he could do is come up with some new conspiracy theories.

Syrian Intel Officers in Iraq?

This story caught my attention. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the claims, but here they are:

"Iraqi state television aired a video Wednesday showing what the U.S.-funded channel said was the confession of a captured Syrian officer who said he trained Iraqi insurgents to behead people and build car bombs to attack American and Iraqi troops.

The video also showed an Iraqi who said the insurgents practiced beheading animals to train for decapitating hostages.

. . . .

In the video, the man, identified as Lt. Anas Ahmed al-Essa of the Syrian intelligence service, said his group had been recruited to "cause chaos in Iraq … to bar America from reaching Syria."

"We received all the instructions from Syrian intelligence," al-Essa, 30, said on a video broadcast by state-run Iraqiya TV, which can be seen nationwide."

Hmmmm. Guess I should be extra careful if I return to Syria for further negotiations.

One of my friend's took this picture of the "Water Palace" at Camp Victory. This is my second-favorite palace after Saddam's palace in Tikrit. There are enormous fish swimming around in the water; in fact, they swim up to that bridge and wait for folks to throw over food.

Jaafari vs. Allawi

So now that we are down to two major candidates for Prime Minister of Iraq, let's take a peek
at some of the political maneuvering:

"'I think we have to send a message,' [current Kurdish Deputy PM Barham Salih] said. 'The parameters are very clear.' Asked if the Kurds could join Dr. Allawi in an effort to form a secular bloc within the new assembly that could put forward its own candidate for prime minister - most likely Dr. Allawi, Mr. Salih replied: 'Anything is possible. In the past, it used to be Saddam Hussein who made all the decisions for us Iraqis. But now, this is an open game, and you will see shifting alliances.'

Mr. Salih hinted that the maneuvering could include efforts to break up the Shiite alliance, luring secularists among the 140 alliance members who won assembly seats to join the Kurds and the Allawi group. 'You will see that looking at this in terms of fixed formations is a mistake,' he said.

Dr. Allawi predicted that settling the issue of who would lead the new government could take weeks, and hinted that the battle could be bitter. He said he had heard rumors that the alliance leaders had consulted with Iran's ruling ayatollahs, and had been told that Dr. Allawi, a secular Shiite with close ties to the United States that go back at least 15 years, would not be acceptable to Iran as prime minister in the new transitional government. 'I have heard that they don't want me,' he said. 'Why, God knows.'"

Let me start out by saying that I don't particularly have a dog in this fight, except that I think there is a greater chance the current Minister of Interior would stay on if Allawi emerges victorious. It looks to me like Allawi and Salih are sending signals that they already have the backing of a few blocs of delegates from Jaafari's list. And Allawi's mere mention of Iran is a clear play for Sunni, and secularist, backing.

The key player could very well turn out to be Chalabi. Yes, he dropped out of the internal race for the Shia nomination. But he is still a highly-skilled power broker, and can deliver a sizable number of delegates. Although he officially endorsed Jaafari, its conceivable that he could abandon that position for the right promises. Was Deputy PM Salih talking about Chalabi when he said "You will see shifting alliances" and "looking at this in terms of fixed formations is a mistake"?

In any event, I certainly enjoy the ringside seats.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

And Then There Where Two

ABC News:

"The office of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, confirmed that Chalabi had withdrawn his bid to be prime minister.

'Chalabi announced his withdrawal and everyone agreed on al-Jaafari. Then Chalabi declared his support to al-Jaafari,' said Haytham al Husaini, a top al-Hakim aide.

SCIRI, the main group making up the alliance, tried for days to persuade Chalabi to quit the race, some of its senior officials said.

Al-Jaafari's only other likely opponent for the post would be interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who was nominated for the job by his group. The Iraqi List got only 14 percent of the vote or 40 seats in the election."

Allawi still has a chance, albeit a small one. He would have to pick up the support of nearly all of the remaining delegates. But he can also make the case for being the compromise candidate, and is at least a known commodity among Sunnis and other secular Shias fearful of the installation of a religious Shia regime that could align itself more closely with Iran.

More Signs that the "Sunni Insurgency" is Flaming Out

From today's NYT:

"Militant Islamist groups that originated in Iraqi Kurdistan are responsible for most of the attacks now taking place in the northern insurgent stronghold of Mosul, while activity by nationalist insurgents linked to the former government has slowed there, senior Kurdish officials say.

The activities of Ansar al-Sunna and Ansar al-Islam, two jihadist groups with close ties, have recently overshadowed those of the nationalist insurgent cells in Mosul led by members of the former ruling Baath Party, the officials say. The nationalist fighters have quieted down since December, when the Americans increased the number of troops in Mosul in advance of the Jan. 30 elections, the Kurdish officials say."

I think we are truly nearing a turning point. If the Sunnis start rejecting their former methods in favor of participation, I expect to see Iraq unite to reject or crush the militant Islamists and Zarqawi's ilk. Iraq has a strong secular streak- even the hardline Shia's see the dangers of the brand of Islam Zarqawi has been pushing. Already, terrorist attacks kill many more Iraqis than Coalition members. If the Sunnis come back into the fold, there will be no place for the Islamists to hide.

Blogging in Iran

Sometimes I wonder about whether or not my blogging could ever have detrimental career consequences. ("Detrimental" being a loaded word; what are they gonna do, fire me and send me home to my warm bed where terrorists don't shoot at me?) But it's nothing compared to the risks of blogging in Iran:

"Iran is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to keep an online diary.

Web logs have become a popular forum for dissent. And the Iranian government has responded by arresting dozens of bloggers.

Some of those detained are reportedly being held in solitary confinement and tortured."

One website has asked fellow bloggers to dedicate today "FREE MOJTABA AND ARASH DAY". So now I have.

I've been stuck in Baghdad for about the last month and am starting to go a bit stir crazy. Thankfully I should be heading out again soon, which means more Blackhawk rides. One of the great joys of the those rides is being able to wave out the window to the Iraqis on the ground. Here you can make out a few farmers with their sheep and cattle. The Blackhawks usually bring all of the kids running out of their houses to wave. We fly low enough that you can actually see the excitement on the children's faces when we wave back.

Fort Ryan

The leader of the Desert Wolves on the Syrian border came to Baghdad this past weekend to discuss a few matters. During the visit, he informed me that his troops had decided to name one of the border forts after me. So the "castle" you see above is now "Fort Ryan". As I've said many times before, the Iraqis are an amazingly gracious and generous people; this is just another example of their kind hearts.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Sunni's Ready to Rejoin Iraq?

Another positive development, realted directly to the successful elections:

"As the Shiite majority prepared to take control of the country's first freely elected government, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands — including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution — after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote's legitimacy.

"We made a big mistake when we didn't vote," said Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative from northern Nineveh. "Our votes were very important."

. . . .

Gathering in a central Baghdad hotel, about 70 tribal leaders from the provinces of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Salaheddin, Diyala, Anbar and Nineveh, tried to devise a strategy for participation in a future government. There was an air of desperation in some quarters of the smoke-filled conference room.

"When we said that we are not going to take part, that didn't mean that we are not going to take part in the political process. We have to take part in the political process and draft the new constitution," said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Sunni Endowments in Baghdad. "

Syrian Update

If true, this allegation could prove detrimental to Zarqawi's group:

"Assassins who killed Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, travelled from Iraq through Syria to carry out the attack, according to the Beirut judge leading the inquiry into the bombing.

Rachid Mezher, the senior investigator for the Lebanese military tribunal, said that the organisers had been recruited from Islamist groups linked to Syria and operating against the US-led coalition in Iraq.

. . . .

Judge Mezher said that a video in which a fanatic called Ahmed Abu Adas said the attack was the work of "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria", an unknown group, was a genuine claim of responsibility.

Abu Adas, 23, a Palestinian Lebanese believed to have fled the country, attended two Beirut mosques known to be recruiting grounds for the Ansar al-Islam group, linked to the Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

The Iraqi people have already rejected Zarqawi. If Zarqawi is behind the assasination of Hariri, it won't do much for his backing in Lebanon.

Music in Iraq

The New York Times publishes a rather dopey article about how rap is the soundtrack of the war in Iraq. The article was plainly written by someone with limited exposure to rap and hip hop culture. It's certainly not surprising that today's soldiers are listening to and creating music that is arguably the most popular form of music today. But when I'm out with soldiers, the soundtrack skips freely between genres: hip hop one song, country the next, classic rock after that. Armed Forces radio used to play all these different types of music in the same program. For some reason now they've gone to "blocks" of the same type of music, and I've heard nothing but complaints.

At least one of the soldiers quoted in the article gets it right:

"As for the soldiers, some say the war has helped break down whatever barriers of race or taste there may have been before among the troops on questions of music. Rap, country, metal - it's all Iraq.

'I guess I don't even see the difference between rap and country anymore, except the beat,' said Specialist Richmond Shaw, 21, who grew up in Pontiac, Mich., and wrote jarring raps in Iraq. 'We're talking about the same things. We're all out here in the middle of this oven. There's nothing going on. It's desolate. We're basically stuck. Dirty, dusty, windy, blowing, miserable.'

'I might be part of the Tupac generation,' he went on, 'but we're all trying to avoid getting shot, and we're all wondering whether people will remember us and we're trying to make difference before we die. Isn't that what country music is about, too?'"

I have an iPod and a set of mini-speakers here with me. On several occasions when I've headed out the border, I've created a playlist that we can listen to when we're stuck far away from Baghdad. Here's a portion of one I prepared for a trip to Basrah:

Sweet Home Alabama- Lynyrd Skynyrd
Let's Stay Together- Al Green
Why Don't We Get Drunk- Jimmy Buffett
Regulate- Warren G and Nate Dogg
Sister Christian- Night Ranger
Overjoyed- Mary J. Blige (yes, I know it's a Stevie Wonder song)
Mountain Music- Alabama
I Want You Back- Jackson 5
You Shook Me All Night Long- AC/DC
Hotel- R Kelly
Against the Wind- Bob Seger
Why Can't This Be Love- Van Halen
Signed Sealed Delivered- Steie Wonder
Luckenbach, Texas- Waylon Jennings

And everyone seemed happy with the list. I guess my only point is that the generation fighting this war is much more comfortable jumping between different types of music than it's predecessors.

UPDATE: Cori Dauber takes down the rest of the article with her usually destructive style.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

OffTopic: Global Warming

It's Saturday, so I'm detouring away from Iraq news to express some amazement at the headline of an article I came across today: "Science: Greenhouse gases 'do warm oceans'". Wow! Some reporter was able to discuss global warming directly with "Science." I wish I had that contact info.

I won't get into the debate over global warming, I just think its preposterous for media organizations to report about the subject in this manner. Here's an interesting take from Michael Crichton ("Jurrasic Park" and "ER" fame, but also a Harvard Med School graduate):

"Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we're asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?"


"Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horsesh*t? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?"

and, most importantly

"Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it will become, unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists to aggressively separate science from policy. The late Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, said that "Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern the difference-- science and the nation will suffer." Personally, I don't worry about the nation. But I do worry about science."

Let's have an open and honest debate on this and other subjects, instead of a rejection of dialogue.

Friday, February 18, 2005

A Perfect Day

Today was absolutely amazing in Baghdad: 70 degrees with a slight breeze and bright blue skies. I took the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon cigar in front of Adnan Palace (of course, it wasn't really "perfect" -- I could hear a firefight in the distance). It's days like today that I will surely miss when I return from Iraq.

Unfortunately I expect the next few days to be filled with bad news. We are now at the muslim holiday of Ashura. I'm sure the terrorists will "celebrate" these holy days with mosque bombings and attacks on other religious sites. Pathetic.

A Company of Soldiers

I encourage everyone to tune in to PBS on February 22nd at 9pm to watch "A Company of Soldiers", which follows the men of the 8th cavalry here in Baghdad. You'll get a glimpse of what life is like here. But more importantly you'll learn about some of the real heroes that the US military produces. Even though I'm not a soldier, I too feel this sentiment:

"'You build a bond here, when you go through life-threatening things every day, when you spend all your time with the same group of people; you sleep with them, you eat with them, you clean with them, you cry with them,' says Sergeant Shane Carpenter. 'I mean, there's a bond between the men and women I work with out here that I've never felt with anyone else in my life.'"

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bush to name Negroponte intelligence chief

Looks like we'll be getting a new Ambassador over here soon:

"President Bush plans to name John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, as his choice for the newly created post of director of national intelligence, congressional sources said Thursday."

My good friend and coworker, Johann, has his own blog as well. He took this picture of Uday's lions, which used to be housed very near our offices. Check out his website for more stories and pictures.

Vegas, Baby

One month from today I will hit the ground in Las Vegas as part of my overdue vacation. Some of my friends put together an amusing Top Ten List:

Top Ten Things Likely Overheard Sitting Next to Ryan in a Bar on His Upcoming Trip to Vegas

10. Small World. The taxi driver that picked me up at the airport in Vegas is the brother of the guy that drove me to the airport in Baghdad.

9. [censored]

8. This casino's pretty nice, but it's nothing compared to the side operation I'm running out of the basement of the Adnan Palace. Those soldiers just love giving me their money, and I won my "fiancé" in a craps game.

7. If you go upstairs, don't use the bathroom. I think somebody dropped a chemical WMD in there.

6. So I said to the pit boss, "What do you mean I can't bet with these Sadaam dinars? I'm telling you, I want to put these two suitcases on black!"

5. Sorry, it's been a while since I danced with a woman, and I usually have to let the Major lead.

4. I wanted to put a bet on the new Iraqi President actually making it to the inauguration, but I'm not too thrilled with the casino's over/under.

3. [censored]

2. Am I going back? Oh, sure, I'm headed back on Monday. Ha ha ha ha ha (maniacally).

1. Yeah, that smell is me. I got so used to going three days without a shower, I just figured . . . ---- Hey baby, where you going? Don't LEAVE!

Following up on my post yesterday about Damascus, this is a picture from the ancient mosque in the middle of the Old City. There is also a tomb in the middle of the marble courtyard which allegedly holds the remains of John the Baptist.

The work schedule here in Baghdad is fairly intense, even for us civilians. Technically, our "weekend" is Friday and Saturday (Friday is the holy day in Iraq). Practically though, most folks only take Friday mornings off, and then go in to work at noon. I try to squeeze in some basketball on Friday mornings, but my game has definitely atrophied.

New Yorkers' Problem with the Iraqi Elections

An unbelievable article in New York Magazine, written by a man who "disagree[s] with the Bush administration politically, temperamentally, and ontologically most of the time":

"Like “radical chic,” a related New York specialty, “liberal guilt” once meant feeling discomfort over one’s good fortune in an unjust world. As this last U.S. election cycle began, however, a new subspecies of liberal guilt arose—over the pleasure liberals took in bad news from Iraq, which seemed sure to hurt the administration. But with Bush reelected, any shred of tacit moral rationale is gone. In other words, feel the guilt, and let it be a pang that leads to moral clarity.

Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq; either we hope for the vindication of Bush’s risky, very possibly reckless policy, or we are in a de facto alliance with the killers of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. We can be angry with Bush for bringing us to this nasty ethical crossroads, but here we are nonetheless.

I don’t mean to suggest, in the right-wing, proto-fascist rhetorical fashion, that every good American is obliged to support all American wars. But at this moment in this war, that binary choice of who you want to win is inescapable and needs to be faced squarely—just as being pro-war obliges one to admit that thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed or maimed or orphaned."

I'm fairly certain that conservatives have their toenails pulled out for expressing sentiments like this. There's more:

"And now the terrible business of judging the correct price requires as much empirical rigor and moral clarity as we can muster, the sort of careful, “reality-based” judgments that liberals pride themselves on being able to make better than loony Evangelicals and cunning neocon dreamers. It won’t do simply to default to our easy predispositions—against Bush, even against war. If partisanship makes us abandon intellectual honesty, if we oppose what our opponents say or do simply because they are the ones saying or doing it, we become mere political short-sellers, hoping for bad news because it’s good for our ideological investment."

I'm not sure I could have said it any better.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Intimidation is probably the terrorists' greatest weapon. I see the cycle repeated over and over in Iraq: a force will finally get some traction and then it's targetted by the terrorist with threats and small acts of violence (comparatively), with the threat of more to come if the forces don't immediately discontinue their work. A few examples:

1. I work daily with an Iraqi general whose 15 year old son was kidnapped because of his father's associations with the Coalition. Thankfully, the general was able to secure his son's release.

2. The Desert Wolves on the Syrian border have been repeatedly targetted. One man's son was threatened at school, and his brother-in-law was recently shot. Three more Desert Wolves were beheaded not long ago on their return from the border.

3. I spoke to a different Iraqi general last night about intimidation. He was ambushed with his son last fall as they were driving through Baghdad. He was shot several times, but thankfully his son was unharmed. I asked him last night about protective measures, and he obviously takes plenty. But he also had something else to say: "We must continue our work for Iraq. If I die defending my country, than that is simply my destiny."

These types of attacks are extremely damaging. They impact not only the men directly involved, but also the other men who witness and hear about these attacks and now must consider if they are next. Still though, Iraqis volunteer to serve their country.

I continue to be in awe of the will of the Iraqi leaders. Every one of them know that they risk not only their own lives, but the lives of their families as well. And they don't live in the Green Zone, they live out in the middle of Baghdad and other unprotected places. I'm not sure I could take those risks.

Tensions with Syria

After the assasination of former Syrian PM Rafik Hariri, US relations with Syria seem headed southward:

"The funeral comes as U.S. pressure mounts on Syria in the wake of the deadly blast in Lebanon that killed Hariri, with Washington recalling its ambassador to Syria.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday Syria was 'unfortunately on a path right now where relations are not improving, but are worsening'."

I was privileged enough to travel with an Iraqi delegation to Syria last fall. Damascus is a beautiful city, and the mosque in the middle of the "Old City" is particularly stunning. It's a shame Syria has chosen this path. It doesn't look like I'll be heading back to Syria for further negotiations anytime soon.

Six Months

I arrived in Baghdad six months ago today, on August 16th. When I was hired by the State Department as a temporary employee, they asked for a minimum six month contribution. I've now met that requirement. My guess is that I'll stay here another four months or so, then return home to Virginia for the summer to milk cows and figure out what's next. Iraqi is really not a place you want to be making grand plans about the future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

It Tastes So Good When it Hits Your Lips

Anheuser-Busch donated a very very large amount of beer to the folks over here for the Super Bowl. It arrived a little late to us, but, er, I'm not complaining!

Monday, February 14, 2005

When I travel around Iraq, I'm blessed with being housed in some quality accomodations. This is the entrance to my trailer up in Mosul. Note the sign: "Rodent Bait Station Located Here." We've also been catching a lot of rats in our offices in Baghdad. And not little ones, either. Nothing like arriving to work and finding rat footprints across your desk.

Possibility of Allawi Remaining PM

While most commentary today seems convinced that Allawi is on his way out, at least one article seems to give a bit of credence to the theory I set forth yesterday:

"Iraq's first free election in more than 50 years may confirm the position of Allawi, a U.S.-backed Shiite who describes himself as secular, as a compromise to unite religious and ethnic groups, according to analysts including Josh Mandel, head of the Middle East unit at London-based Control Risks Group. Mahdi may also be able to win support from diverse groups and has the advantage of being a moderate member of the Shia list, Fuertig said."

Obviously there are still a lot of moving parts, but I certainly don't think it's a done deal that Allawi is gone as PM.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Abu on the Brain

So the New York Times finally gets around to reviewing Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy. It predictably pooh-pooh's most of the author's key ideas as idealistic and unworkable as applied. Of course, I'd argue that this book's greatest contribution is to make the case for a shift in foreign policy worldview, away from the "realist" camp of the State Department towards a more morality-based view.

It also seems some folks can't resist bringing up Abu Ghraib at very turn. [I again note my outrage at what occurred there, and the sincere hope that military commanders never permit conditions to deteriorate to that level again.] These are the final two paragraphs of the review:

"The danger now is that the beauty of his argument may become a form of blindness. He uses America's abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison mainly to laud the response of a free society to such an outrage: investigation, public debate, judgment and punishment.

But Mr. Sharansky might also have taken Abu Ghraib as an illustration of what can happen when a society becomes too certain of its mission, too giddy with its might, too negligent of constitutional safeguards of liberty and too blind to the humanity of people from another culture. Moral clarity in the name of freedom is one thing. But the slogan of freedom masquerading as moral clarity is quite another."

Some folks have Abu Ghraib on the brain. Sharansky's book mentions Abu Ghraib by name precisely once. He does speak to the larger issue of human rights thusly:

"Human rights violations can and do take place in democratic societies. But one of the things that sets democracies apart from fear societies is the way they respond to those violations." p.205

Recall that Abu Ghraib was broken by an internal DoD investigation, not by some other entity. The press only grabbed it much later. But for some people, like the NYT, Abu will always be the story of Iraq. Abu was indeed horrible (and caused tremendous damage to the US Government), but did it really convert our efforts here into "freedom masquerading as moral clarity"? The recent news that UN officials systematically targetted Congolese girls for rape, prostitution and pedophilia rings is a much more horrific story. I don't expect the Times to start using that story as a wedge to argue at every turn that the UN lacks "moral clarity" to take additional actions. [I'll leave aside for now consideration of whether the UN ever possessed moral clarity, I only point out that the mainstream media won't mention the rape and prostitution of young girls in the Congo by UN officials in every subsequent story you'll read about the UN.]

Islam as a Basis for the Iraqi Constitution?

Earlier this week, a report came out that Sistani would use Islamic law as the basis for the Iraqi Constitution if his party wins, followed by a quick denial from official Sistani representatives.

The conspiracy theorist in me says that this was a preemptive leak to lock down Sistani before the election results came in. A smooth political operator would intentionally leak "news" that Sistani was planning to embrace Islamic law so that Sistani would have to go on record as denying that plan. That promise could then be used against Sistani if his party won over 50% and he tried to introduce Islamic law in the Constitution. We'll probably never know for sure, but that's my take on what may have really happened.

Sistani Results

48.1%. I think there's a fair chance Allawi and many of the folks in the current government will retain their positions (but there will be some major shakeups).

Again, these results are preliminary and uncertified; they could change.


IECI reports 8.5 million total votes cast, well over 50% of the registered voters. I remember a lot of questions prior to the elections about predicted turnout, and at what level turnout needed to be to be considered "legitimate." Thankfully, no one took the bait to provide a hard number. But I think almost all commentators will accept 8.5 million as "legitimate."

Actually, I don't think you'll hear much about that question anymore. Instead, you'll hear naysayers micro-analyzing the results in Sunni-dominated areas to claim that the elections are illegitimate on that basis. Can you say, "Moving the Goalposts"?

Timing of New Iraqi Government

I expect the new government to be completely in place within 3 weeks or so. I think the deals have already been cut. Iraqis are sophisticated negotiators and backroom operators.

Sistani's List

The key number to look for will be what percentage Sistani's list pulls. If he pulls over 50%, look to see a Shia-dominated transnational assembly. If that list wins only a plurality, I think there is a fair chance that Allawi will retain the PM spot because I expect the Kurds to join with Allawi to prevent a Shia-dominated government. Just my guess here on the ground.

Watching the Election Results

The IECI is now holding a press conference to announce the results of the January 30th elections. They are reporting votes for all 111 lists, apparently in random order. This may take a while . . .

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Thanks, Chris!

Cartoonist Chris Muir was kind enough to mail me an autographed, full-color version of his January 30, 2005 strip on the purple finger of freedom. Thanks Chris!

Steve Chapman responds

I received an email from Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, whose recent column a criticized in the post below. His response, in its entirety:

"Mr. Ryan:

I appreciate your thoughts on my column, and you're welcome to share my response with your readers. You say that the Bush administration was not the obstacle to elections--the security situation was. But security was far less of a problem early in occupation than it is today. If security were such an impediment then, how did we manage to hold an election now, when things are far worse? You omit the other reasons Paul Bremer gave after taking over in
Iraq, which had nothing
to do with security. You also omit why the administration gave in, which was the need to appease Sistani.

You can never go wrong by disparaging Jimmy Carter, I suppose. But the most cogent objection to holding the elections now was not that it was impossible to assure adequate security to facilitate voting anywhere in the country. It was that violence and threats would suppress turnout in Sunni-dominated areas--depriving them of a voice in the new government and depriving the new government of sufficiently broad legitimacy. What we know so far about the Sunni turnout doesn't exactly refute the argument. For that matter, we don't even know how high turnout really was in other areas. I hope you're right that Iraqis came out in "massive numbers." But that has yet to be confirmed.

Steve Chapman"

Let me first state that I sincerely appreciate Mr. Chapman taking the time to respond. To me, the greatest contribution of the blogosphere has been to make journalism and news more interactive. Constructive dialogue on the issues of the day advances not only coverage of the news, but the general population's understanding of them. I also think that Mr. Chapman's response is measured and raises important arguments that should be addressed.

But my original beef with Mr. Chapman's column was not our disagreement concerning the facts on the ground. My disagreement was with his tone and his assertions that the Iraqi elections were really no big deal, and his downplaying of the significance of what occurred on January 30th. Mr. Chapman, in my view, insults the Iraqis who braved mortars and risked their lives by comparing them to beer drinkers finding a bar (not to mention the religious undertones of comparing observant Shia's to the town drunk). Mr. Chapman does not respond to those points.

As to his actual response:

1. Yes, the security situation was better earlier in the occupation. But elections where not possible at that point because the Iraqis were not yet in a position to run the elections themselves. The IECI was barely in a position to hold those elections on January 30th, not just because of the security situation, but also because of the logistical nightmares involved in running an election. Sure, the
US could have pushed for earlier elections. But those elections would have had to have been done under Coalition planning and supervision, not Iraqi. And the Iraqis would have claimed that those elections were illegitimate. And they would have been right.

2. Sistani's group definitely played a part in the timing of the elections. I certainly agree with that assertion. I also agree that there are other legitimate reasons for not holding the elections immediately: without the establishment and development of Iraqi institutions capable of supporting and sustaining a democracy, Iraqi elections would be a certain failure. The exact timing of the elections was a result of many different factors, some of which supported earlier elections and some that favored delaying the elections. I just think it's disingenuous to argue that the "chief obstacle" to elections was the Bush administration.

3. The IECI has not yet released turnout numbers. But even the Arab press has deemed these elections successful by any measure. I don't think we need to wait for the final number to come back to make that judgment.

4. As to Jimmy Carter, yes, he's an easy target. But it turns out even Jimmy Carter was able to muster more excitement than Mr. Chapman:

"Former President Jimmy Carter, who predicted that elections in Iraq would fail and in the past year described the Bush administration's policy there as a quagmire, this week ended 10 days of silence to declare the historic Iraqi vote 'a very successful effort.'

'I hope that we'll have every success in Iraq,' Mr. Carter said in a CNN interview. 'And that election, I think, was a surprisingly good step forward.' "

So now even Jimmy Carter is on record as now declaring the elections both surprising and a success. Maybe there's some hope for Mr. Chapman as well.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


The Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman weighs in this morning with a column about the recent Iraqi elections (I've linked to the version on RealClearPolitics for those without a Trib subscription). The basic gist: the Iraqi elections were interesting, but their success should come as no surprise. His larger point seems to be that Republicans have nothing to pat themselves on the back about.

I'll give Steve that some on the right have been a little too self-laudatory. But that's a fair point to make without insulting the Iraqis and what was accomplished on January 30th. A few additional responses are in order:

"But what did the elections prove that comes as any surprise?"

I seem to recall that Jimmy Carter and a whole host of other pundits claimed that holding elections in January would be impossible given the security situation. I also recall that many of those same folks claimed the results would not be accepted as "legitimate" by Iraqis. Both those claims proved false. More importantly, the elections proved for the first time that Iraqis really and truly are ready to stand up and reject the terrorists. I know a lot of folks doubted the Iraqis resolve on this point, and I myself was a little nervous on that count as well. When I stood in Baghdad on election morning and could here multiple bombs and mortars detonating not too far away, I questioned whether Iraqis would brave those bombs to come out and vote. And they did, in massive numbers.

"In fact, since the 2003 invasion, the chief obstacle to elections in Iraq was the Bush administration."

Umm, no. Probably the most laughable line in the entire column. The security situation in Iraq was the chief obstacle to elections, in case Chapman wasn't paying attention to all of his naysayer brethren already mentioned above. January 30th was about the earliest possible time these elections could possibly be held, given the facts on the ground here. I seem to also distinctly remember that it was the Administration's critics who previously argued that these elections were not "Iraqi elections", but rather elections forced upon them by Bush et al. So how was Bush the "chief obstacle" again?

"For all the triumphal pronouncements, no one knows yet what the actual turnout was. But it would not be a surprise if Iraq's Shiites and Kurds turned out in force, any more than it would be a surprise to find beer drinkers at a bar."

The most insulting line of the column, on several levels (let's leave aside the complete non sequitur). I had to re-read this line a few times before I could believe it was actually printed. Would Mr. Chapman be surprised to find beer drinkers in a bar if those beer drinkers were threatened with death for going to the bar? if some of their fellow drinkers wouldn't make it to the bar because they were assasinated on the way there? And did Chapman really just compare the staunchly religious Shiites (who he early warns about potentially imposing an Iranian-style Islamic regime) to beer drinkers in a bar?? I've been trying to think of a comparable slight, but I seem to be coming up empty.

And finally:

"The election was an inspiring spectacle, but an assessment of its effect on the fate of Iraq will have to wait. The self-congratulation should wait as well."

Ah yes, an "inspiring spectacle". What Mr. Chapman misses in his attempts to backhand those engaged in self-congratulation is that those folks were also -- primarily -- congratulating the Iraqi people on an amazing achievement. Even al-Jazeera covered the event as a watershed moment in Iraqi, and Middle Eastern, history, but a Chicago Tribune columnist doesn't get it? Very sad.

Chapman opened this mess with the following line: "It's a good time to be an orthopedic surgeon in a red state, because lots of Republicans have dislocated their shoulders patting themselves on the back." Very clever. May I suggest that Chapman at least give the Iraqis a few pats on the back for standing up to terror, for at least one day? Or at least that he pull his head out of his nether regions and give the Iraqis credit where its due? I promise to cover his orthopedic surgeon bill.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

There seems to be quite a bit of discussion these days about the appropriate time for US withdrawal from Iraq. Senator Kennedy called for, basically, immediate withdrawal. You won't be surprised to learn that I disagree. I've also seen a lot of spculation that the Bush Administration is looking for a quick exit strategy. I think that would be a mistake for many reasons, summed up nicely in this article. An excerpt:

"That is why the president is more right than he knows to reject calls for an arbitrary departure date. The price of liberty in Iraq will be, if not eternal vigilance on the part of the United States, then certainly 10 years' vigilance. "

Here's another interesting tidbit when I was at Camp Victory the other day (near the airport), Iraqis were pouring concrete for sidewalks within the camp. Not exactly something a departing force would undertake.

Dinner with Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Apostolou

This article makes me long for a night of food, wine and strong opinions. Boy would I have loved to have attended that dinner! My favorite liberal (Hitchens) AND a man at the forefront of pushing democratic concepts worldwide (Apostolou). I'm just not sure I could keep up with the guests at this table. It's worth a full read. I heartily agree with this part:

"Friendly Arabs are the easiest people to bond with I've ever met. It takes no time at all to forge friendship if they're willing - and they so often are. Despite our spat with the Iraqis (and who knows, perhaps in part because of that fight) I felt like those of us at the table were like old friends. Thank God and Allah for that. It gave me hope for the future, not only for our individual countries, but also hope for a future Iraqi-American alliance untainted by any distorted neo-imperial arrangement.

I respected them more, too, because they stood up to me and Christopher Hitchens. They are not servile people. They will never, ever, be anyone's puppets. They are gentle and decent, and at the same time fierce and formidable. You really do not want to mess with them. And they're great to have on your side. "

Maybe I'll have to hit up Mr. Apostolou for a dinner (I'll pay) when I'm home next month on R&R.

When travelling on Route Irish to the airport, most folks end up in this, the appropriately named "Rhinobus." Nothing like the protection of a fully armored bus to ease the nerves of a weary traveller. Of course, this thing also screams "TARGET."

As most of you know, I frequently travel out to the borders to make sure Iraq's 16 official points of entry are operating smoothly. Usually we head through the crossing point to talk to the guards from the other country, and ask them how things are progressing. For some reason, the Iraqis don't often talk to their brethren on the other side of the border. You can imagine the problems this creates. But on a visit to the Safwan point of entry with Kuwait, I was able to snap this shot: the Kuwaiti and Iraqi border commanders holding hands (fyi- Iraqi men are often seen holing hands with their close male friends). How far this country has come since the time when it considered Kuwait the 19th province!

Off-Topic: Congrats Duke

Duke beats UNC 71-70. Duke stills owns Carolina. We won't gt any W's in Cameron until we get past the psychological barrier of thinking we can win. Down one with 18 seconds left and the ball, I expected UNC to turn the ball over. Of course, UNC just dribbled out the clock. A new way to lose!

I watched the game on my computer in a little 1 1/2 screen. Luckily I'll be home on R&R for the mext match-up . . .

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Baghdad on the Bayou

'Nuff Said.

Off-Topic: UNC vs. Duke

This pretty much sums up my feelings on the big college basketball game tonight too:

"Now I realize that school spirit is a pretty goofy thing to some people, and we don't really have a reason to hate other institutions of higher learning, but I'll tell you something -- I hate Duke with an infernal passion undying. I hate every leaf of every tree of that sickening campus. I hate every fake cherub 1930s Gothic piece of crap that litters the buildings like hemorrhoidal testaments to their imagined superiority. When I see those Dookie boneheads shoe-polishing their faces navy blue on national television, squandering their parents' money with their fratty elitist bad sportsmanship antics and Saab stories, I want to puke all over Durham."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Mardi Gras in Baghdad

So I ordered a supply of beads from my trusty supplier and had them delivered to Baghdad. After my meeting this morning with 3 Iraqi generals, I proceeded to give them beads and attampted to explain to them the concept of Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday and the like.

Have you ever tried to explain to someone what Mardi Gras is? Have you ever tried to do that with folks who don't speak English and aren't Christian? It was not an easy task. But the generals seemed appreciative, and proudly donned their beads as they left the building.

[No flashing was involved.]

Disturbing Poll

CNN recently conducted a poll regarding the Iraqi elections. There are a lot of intersting numbers in it. But this result disturbed me:

"57 percent, said it should be a high or top U.S. priority to support the growth of democratic governments. Forty-two percent said it should be a low priority or not one at all."

Only 57%?? The strangest thing I've learned over here is the following: I came all the way over to Iraq to help "win the peace." But you know what? We won't win the peace in Iraq. We can only win it at home, through the support of the American people. Sometmes I think I'd be better off at home writing op-eds and speaking about the needs of Iraq than doing all of the things I do here on the ground. Sad but true.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Election Threats to the Iraqis

My boys at I Should Have Stayed Home... posted the text of an intimidation flyer found in Tikrit in November:

"It's an evil step due to buildup of an infidel country that will be an agent for the western countries. It will help the occupation because it will not be honest and it'll assign the people who work for the occupational force's benefit. It will be a big obstacle in front of building a country run by the law of the God. It will make Iraq a base for the infidel occupational force that helps them to invade other Muslim countries and destroy Islam. To support our religion we will not take part in this election and we'll do anything to make it fail.

All the poll stations will be targets for Al-Mujahideen, and they will not be a safe place. Here we are warning people who got cheated by the democratic lie. We are warning the innocent people (don't go to the election). Otherwise we will not treat you as innocent because you choose to support the infidel's side which it doesn't have any beliefs, and you took the infidel occupationer's side and his agents.

Anyone who will sell his vote and his honor to any of the agent parties, like Kurdish parties or Ayad Alawi's party, will execute himself and he chooses to be with infidels.


Would you have gone to the polls under these conditions?

I neglected to mention one other group of heros from the election: my Desert Wolves out on the Syrian and Jordanian borders. As many of you know, the al Anbar province is Iraq's most dangerous area (it includes Fallujah and Ramadi). The security plan drawn up for the elections called for rings of Iraqi police and national guard to protect the polling stations. In western Anbar, those groups are either tiny or nonexistent. So the Desert Wolves stepped in. They developed and implemented a security plan in under a week to provide protection for four polling stations, with no reported incidents. Congratulations guys; you deserve it.

Hey, Iraq, it's Mardi Gras

This article describes a part of US life in Iraq you don't often hear about:

"Louisiana soldiers donned purple, green and gold and climbed onto Army trucks transformed into floats for an early Mardi Gras celebration Sunday, parading through this base west of Baghdad and pelting troops with colorful beads, coins and candies in true New Orleans style."

I laughed when I saw some CNN footage during the inauguration of a few protesters saying things like: "How can you drink your champagne? soldiers are dying in Iraq!" Yes, people are killed here every day. Some of them are my colleagues, and I consider all of them my brothers, even the Iraqis (and sisters, for the PC crowd). But that doesn't mean that those of us living over here have decided to live in a somber, dreary atmosphere for up to a year of our lives. If you don't come over here with a sense of humor and the ability to have a little fun even in the middle of a war zone, you won't last very long.

Authentic Pizza Oven in Baghdad

Yes, the wine was good. But it didn't touch the pizza. The Italians built a real, honest to goodness pizza oven in their compound. They make the pizzas from scratch and distribute to their friends.

On a side note, I met and spoke with the Italian ambassador to Iraq. He's everything you'd expect in an Italian ambassador: impeccably dressed, friendly and gregarious. The Italians have this diplomacy thing down, in my opinion. The US could certainly learn some lessons from this guy.

The Italians really know how to throw a great party. They've built a remarkable compound that includes this outdoor gathering area (complete with overhead mortar protection). It was the first time I've had a decent glass of wine in 6 months.

The Revolution Was Blogged

My polling center access card. The organization listed? "Cigars in the Sand". Take that, MSM.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Computer Difficulties

I've been hamstrung by computer difficulties lately; regular posting should resume shortly.

It is amazing what you can learn to grow accustomed to over here though. I have no landline phone. I use a cell phone which has no voicemail. My computer is down as often as it is up. My printer goes on the fritz daily. I have limited if any access to copiers and fax machines. Yet still we get substantial work done.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Seen in the chow hall parking lot . . .

The inside of BIAP has a distinctly 70s sorta vibe. Somehow I think James Lileks would approve.

I'm getting back into the normal swing of work. This morning I had to go out to the airport, affectionately known here as BIAP. Of course, going to BIAP means two trips on the airport road, Route Irish. The trip out to the airport was uneventful; but we did take some small arms fire on the way back. Its the first time I can recall actually having a round hit the vehicle I was travelling in. Luckily we were in a fully armored Suburban (as I always am on that road). Still, not exactly how you want to start your morning . . .

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Happy Groundhog Day

"This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather." -Groundhog Day (Hat tip: NRO)

I've remarked to my friends many times that Baghdad often resembles the movie Groundhog Day; it seems like every day you wake up and find yourself dealing with the same problems you thought you solved the day before (only unlike the movie, if you get killed in Baghdad, you don't get to wake up again and do it over). And sometimes you ask yourself, like Murray in the movie, What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

But somehow this Groundhog Day seems different. I can't really explain it; it's just a feeling that something remarkable DID happen on Sunday -- Iraq may finally have broken free of the wheel-spinning and can make meaningful forward progress. Like Bill Murray, I'm not sure television really captured it. But unlike Murray, I'm completely serious.

A few more fingers for your purple finger collage . . . apparently the guy on the left is a Brazilian soccer fan: check out the "Ronaldo" cap.

This Would Be Funny if it Weren't So Sad

Not much political commentary shocks me these days, but this article titled "Iraq: Images vs. Reality" had me a little flumoxed. An excerpt:

"That image of a freely elected Iraqi government, fully empowered to take charge and determined to implement the will of the people who elected it, would indeed be worthy of celebration by those of who cherish democracy -- in Iraq and in the United States.

Until it is produced, however, the rational reaction to the latest set of images from Iraq is a skepticism that the Bush administration -- and too much of the American political class and media -- still seems to be incapable of mustering. "

I feel comfortable stating that this guy is most assuredly NOT writing these words from Iraq. Yet he apparently has the power to tell us what the "reality" of the situation is on the ground. Well guess what Mr. Nichols? I'm here, and you're wrong.

Not one single person I've spoken with -- be they Iraqi, American or other -- has claimed that Sunday was somehow a magical elixir that has cured all of Iraq's ills. But it does feel like a turning point here. Iraqis are telling me the same thing. The election provided Iraqis a mechanism to visibly demonstrate that they are ready and willing to stand up to the terrorists.

It absolutely boggles my mind that someone can view the images of Sunday and claim the "rational" reaction is skepticism. The images I took and posted below don't even begin to capture the power of the event. Mr. Nichols is lucky he wasn't here on Sunday, he might have imploded.

Since Mr. Nichols has no basis for telling us what the "reality" of Iraqi is, I'm going to suggest a new title for his article, drawn straight from the text: "Yes, of course, it is good that Iraqis are voting. But".

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


"...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom" ”- A. Lincoln, 1863

Memorial services were held this morning for LCDR Keith Taylor (USNR) and civilian Ms. Barbara Heald, both killed in the missile attack the night before the elections. May God watch over them.

UPDATE: COL Kamena receives the Joint Service Award and Bronze Star, second oak leaf cluster for his outstanding service. DUTY FIRST!

A Tribute to COL Kamena

Today is a difficult day for me; my colleague COL Gene Kamena has finished his tour and is heading home. It's his last day.

For those of you that know me, you know that I am a "take no prisoners" kind of guy; someone who prefers to lead rather than follow. But when I got over to Iraq I met COL Kamena, who was just arriving in my section to take over the lead role for manning, training and equipping all Iraqi Security Forces. That's no small task. Yet COL Kamena jumped right in. And for probably the first time in my life, I decided it was my role to follow (even if technically we were co-equals).

I have never before seen leadership like this; and will likely never see it again in my lifetime. COL Kamena never once asked the Iraqis to do something that he himself wouldn't do; or, as it turned out, didn't do. When we deployed Iraqi forces to the Syrian border to man one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq, he was there. And he didn't live behind the wire in the comforts of the Marine base. Instead, he lived with the Iraqis. When we sent them to that area in unarmored buses, he didn't ride under the protection of the armored humvees, he rode on the bus. Whe we were under attack at the Iraqi base, he jumped out of bed, and -- still in his underwear -- grabbed his weapons and went out into the darkness to find the terrorists attacking us. If only I possessed that my courage and leadership.

When you here about the successes of Iraqi police, border guards, commandos and the like, it's COL Kamena we all have to thank. I know that the coalition will fill his position with another fine officer. But he will never be "replaced." I miss him already.

Iraq, the United States, and Kurdistan. A victory for all of us.