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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Back in Iraq . . . But Not For Long

So . . . I'm safely back in Iraq after a much-needed R&R trip to the States. I had a wonderful break, including stops in DC, Chicago, Las Vegas and the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.

Unfortunately the day after I arrived home my father was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. I have returned to Iraq for about 3 weeks to wrap things up here and make sure there is a smooth transition with my replacement. I will be returning to the farm just outside Winchester, Virginia to help my Dad's brothers with running the dairy farm, and of course assisting in the care of my father. It is with great sadness that I will be leaving my brothers and sisters here in Iraq. But there has been a time in my life when I've needed to be a lawyer, a time when I've needed to be a "diplomat"- but right now I need to be a son.

As for Cigars in the Sand, I will resume posting again this summer from the farm, commenting on US foreign policy towards the Middle East and US homeland security issues. I also plan on doing some freelance writing. If the right offer comes, I may affiliate with a think tank in DC to further my research into a few additional areas that interest me.

Thank you all for your amazing support and the links. Your emails, care packages and prayers have helped me make it through the tough times. I hope you have found my insight and pictures interesting and/or enlightening.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


It's time for my long overdue R&R break back to the States. I may post while I'm gone, but it's likely that regular posting won't resume until my return in late March. Thanks for all the visits so far- I'v had 35,000 visitors in the last 2 months. I am reachable by the above email address, and for those of you who have my Chicago cell phone number, it should be operable again Monday night.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Not much of a party going on here anymore- the aftermath of a JDAM strike on Ba'ath Party headquarters.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Lightning Strikes

Living in war zone tends to dull the senses- you get used to explosions and the like. Still, a lightning strike less than 500 feet from our office (with our door open) is enough to make you jump out of your seat. Holy crap. I'm still jittery.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

NYT Gets It Right

Today's Gray Lady:

"Liberal democratic societies have commonly been defended by conservative military establishments, whose members often lack the sensitivities and social graces of the elites whom they protect. As much as the military wants to help the downtrodden, it is not the Peace Corps. To wit, I have spent many months embedded with marines in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and West Africa, watching them fight, rebuild schools, operate medical clinics and mentor soldiers of fledgling democracies. I've learned that marines swear all the time out of habit, and love to be in on a fight, or otherwise they would not have joined the Marine Corps.

Yet those same swearing marines are capable of a self-discipline and humanitarian compassion - drawn, often, from an absolute belief in the Almighty - that would stun the average civilian. In Iraq, there was nothing more natural for marines (and soldiers, too) than to go from close-quarters urban combat to providing food and medicine, and back again."

I've always been rather "pro-military." But even I've been shocked at the compassion and humanitarian side of our military forces of our forces in Iraq. I know combat medics who have left the protection of their units to triage and treat Iraqi car bomb victims, even going so far as to ride in the unarmored ambulance to the Iraqi hospital. And the Marines of Anbar province (home of Fallujah and Ramadi) spend unbeliavable amounts of time rebuilding Iraq. It's not like those guys just ride out everday looking for terrorists to kill (although I wouldn't want to be one that they stumble across in their daily work).


Even the Guardian is having second thoughts:

"This leaves opponents of the Iraq war in a tricky position, even if the PM is not about to rub our faces in the fact. Not only did we set our face against a military adventure which seems, even if indirectly, to have triggered a series of potentially welcome side effects; we also stood against the wider world-view that George Bush represented. What should we say now?

First, we ought to admit that the dark cloud of the Iraq war may have carried a silver lining. We can still argue that the war was wrong-headed, illegal, deceitful and too costly of human lives - and that its most important gain, the removal of Saddam, could have been achieved by other means. But we should be big enough to concede that it could yet have at least one good outcome.

Second, we have to say that the call for freedom throughout the Arab and Muslim world is a sound and just one - even if it is a Bush slogan and arguably code for the installation of malleable regimes. Put starkly, we cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of opposing democracy in the Middle East simply because Bush and Blair are calling for it. Sometimes your enemy's enemy is not your friend."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Intel Reform

An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal on the failures of the CIA and the possible shortcomings of the "intelligence reform" in the wake of the 9/11 Commission. This is the key part, in my opinion:

"To put the matter at its simplest, American elites have become increasingly discomfited over the last decades by the very existence of a clandestine intelligence service in a democratic society. Beginning with the Church Committee hearings in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and with the collapse of the anticommunist consensus, the CIA has thus come under regular assault from both Congress and the media for real and alleged transgressions of its mandate. At times, the White House has weighed in with strictures (and purges) of its own.

The net effect has been to create a climate inside the agency in which employees at all levels, and particularly in management positions, have become fearful of aggressively performing their jobs. After all, the price of stepping over the line in the service of one's country could now mean not only the end of one's career but being hauled before a congressional committee or, as happened in the Iran-contra fiasco, indicted by a criminal court."

My only critique of this analysis is that I would amend "American elites" to include a much more expansive group of regular citizens as well. America today is nowhere near resolving what actions are and are not appropriate for our clandestine services. I haven't fully resolved those issues myself, although in an age of non-state actors engaged in systematic attacks against civilian populations I tend to fall on the side of favoring a robust intelligence unit. I'm just not sure the American public has yet to fully reckon with the almost inherent conflict between aggressive intelligence operations on one hand, and democratic society and preventitive measures on the other. What results is the spectacle of the same people complaining about our failure to take out bin Laden pre-9/11 and our aggressive actions against Iraq.

Iraq's version of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I drive past this every morning on my way to work.

As most of you know, I often spend my evenings by Saddam's pool with a cigar. Not a bad view, eh?

Terrorism Protests in Iraq

Yahoo! News:

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - More than 2,000 people demonstrated Tuesday at the site of a car bombing south of Baghdad that killed 125 people, chanting 'No to terrorism!'"

If 2000 Iraqis gathered in the streets to protest the Coalition, what kind of attention do you think this story would receive?

Return of the Baghdad Alarm Clock

The Green Zone and Baghdad had been fairly quiet for the last few weeks, at least until the Hilla car bomb the other day. Attacks seem to be picking up again (based on anecdotal evidence only) after the lull. The Green Zone took a few mortar rounds last night, although I don't think they caused any damage. This morning I was awoken by the sound of a car bomb, followed by small arms fire. For a while back in the late fall, I would almost wake up every morning to the sound of bombs or mortars in the distance. I hope this doesn't become a pattern again.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Cowboy President

I heard this quote last night:

"Terror is not a legitimate system of government. And to those who commit the atrocities I say, we will no longer tolerate, we will no longer negotiate, and we will no longer be afraid. It's your turn to be afraid."

Of course, it was Harrison Ford delivering the line in the movie "Air Force One." The movie depicted that speech as a long overdue and principled stand by the President. How times have changed. And it kinda makes the "axis of evil" speech seem tame, eh?

bin Laden Strategy for Iraq

TigerHawk agrees with my earlier assessment of the bin Laden directive (request?):

"It is tough to see how an order (or request) that Zarqawi focus on America reflects strategic strength."

Of course, as he also notes, the big caveat is the accuracy of the intelligence that generated this report.

Terrible News from Chicago

This mortified me this morning:

"U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow found her husband and mother shot dead in the basement of her home Monday night, less than a year after white supremacist Matthew Hale was convicted of trying to have her murdered for holding him in contempt of court."

I am certain that the Chicago legal community is grieving for this loss. Judge Lefkow is one of the most kind, caring judges I ever had the opportunity to apear before. I was also lucky enough to attend the wedding of two of my friends in New Hampshire where she officiated. (The bride was a former law clerk for Judge Lefkow.) I met her husband and one of her daughters at the wedding.

My deepest sympathies go out to Judge Lefkow and the rest of her family.

Sunset over the Desert Wolves Camp.

Target practice for the Desert Wolves along the Syrian border.

The crooked smile is getting bigger as my R&R approaches . . . (Taken inside a Ukranian BTR; not so comfy for a guy my size.)

bin Laden Declares Defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq

That's my interpretation of this news:

"Intelligence reports circulating in the US government claim that the al-Qaeda leadership has called upon Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to launch attacks in the US.

Officials have told the BBC that the group's leadership is reaching out to Iraq's most-wanted Islamic militant.

US intelligence says it has uncovered a communication from a top lieutenant of Osama Bin Laden destined for Zarqawi.

The organisation is said to have asked Zarqawi to expand his operations to include strikes inside the US."

If bin Laden is indeed directing Zarqawi to concentrate on attacks against the US, that's a plain sign that bin Laden has given up the fight in Iraq. Oh, I'm sure al Qaeda will continue to carry out attacks across Iraq, but even bin Laden has recognized by now that Zarqawi's fighters will not prevent the ultimate establishment of a legitimate Iraqi government. By directing Zarqawi to turn his attention elsewhere, bin Laden is effectively writing off al Qaeda operations in Iraq. Indeed, recent events in Iraq (including the capture of additional close Zarqawi associates) suggest the noose may be tightening. I think perhaps bin Laden sees this, and wants Zarqawi to dispatch some operatives to the United States before al Qaeda is thoroughly dismantled in Iraq.

Of course, one never knows the accuracy of reports on intercepted communications.