Reports from Baghdad
Excerpts from the Diary of James Holbrook '66
I’ve been in-country for one day. I’m jet-lagged and overwhelmed by the complexity of my 24-hour experience in the Green Zone in Baghdad: the omnipresent armed guards, the ubiquitous dust in the air, the monochromatic landscape (no color, especially no green), and the incomprehensible mission.
Yesterday we had workmen come to the house to look at the water pump on the roof. In the afternoon we noticed a leak in one bedroom on the second floor and we had no idea where it was coming from. Last night we discovered water dripping through the air conditioner in another bedroom on the second floor (the air conditioner had not been turned on). We suspected something was leaking on the roof. Because it was dark, I suggested we use my Maglite flashlight (which I brought like a good Boy Scout for just such an unplanned need). When I opened the drawer in my bedroom where I thought I put it, the Maglite was gone, as was the bag of connectors, chargers, and a digital voice recorder.
I had been in country less than 24 hours and I had been ripped off! I felt violated and betrayed by the people I came to Iraq to help. I still had my camera, but it would fast become useless because the charger for it was gone.
Fortunately, my panicked anger turned out to be unnecessary, because when I later opened a different drawer, looking for something else, I found my Maglite flashlight, the bag of connectors and chargers, and the digital voice recorder, which had only gone missing from my befuddled memory.
I was both deeply embarrassed and greatly relieved. I had not imagined the amount of extreme disorientation I had from my first day in-country, and how it affected my ability to remember and think clearly.
10 March 2009
We met with a member of the Council of Representatives’ (COR) Members Affairs and Parliamentary Development Committee. He said that the COR is not going to move any controversial legislation this year, prior to national elections at the end of the year. He said that voter participation in the recent January elections was down (36% of Iraqis did not participate in the elections) because Iraqis are less preoccupied by violence and because the sectarian parties whose candidates were elected in 2005 have not fulfilled their promises to deliver public services. Some Iraqis did not vote because they felt their vote would not change things, or because there are no effective state institutions that are serving people’s needs. In this regard, he said it is important that revenue from Iraq’s resources (principally the sale of oil) be seen as going to benefit the Iraqi people. He said it also is important that the upcoming elections are perceived to be fair and honest.
In the afternoon, we went to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) compound which is surrounded by very high “T-walls” (high concrete walls thick at the base, which in profile look like inverted Ts). We met with several UNAMI officials who began by saying the Iraqi 12th Army Division is in the north of the country close to the Kurdistan border. At the moment, things are quite tense between Iraqi Arabs and the Kurds there, and even an inadvertent incident could provoke war. UNAMI had considered asking the two sides to pull back and sit down and talk, but even such a request could be seen by both parties as unacceptably provocative.
12 March 2009
We met for lunch with the Dean of the Baghdad University College of Law, which was founded in 1908 and is the oldest law school in the Middle East. Its graduates include Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani and Chief Justice Medhat Mahmood.
More than 80 Baghdad University faculty members have been murdered by extremists since 2003. Here, being a professor comes with a very high price, indeed.
13 March 2009
Last evening as I was leaving the DFAC (dining facility) of Sabre International (our “life support contractor”), I saw several flashes in the sky and a moment later heard several almost simultaneous loud noises. I was startled, stopped for a few seconds, and then walked back to Utah House across the street. I thought to myself that the flashes and loud noises seemed awfully like mortar and rocket attacks I experienced in Vietnam forty years ago.
This morning I read in the New York Times online that the IZ did receive rocket fire last night.
Welcome to Baghdad.
17 March 2009
Sabre International, our life support contractor and landlord, emails us a daily security brief about incidents around the country. Two items today struck me as noteworthy for different reasons: On March 16 gunmen in Dohuk kidnapped a young man and took him to Mosul City. The unknown gunmen have demanded US$30,000 from his relatives for his release. The level of kidnap and ransom incidents are increasing in line with a poor domestic economy and a subsequent increase in crime to finance both the insurgency and criminal ends.
On March 15 an Iraqi soccer player was shot dead by a spectator as he was about to score the equalizing goal during a soccer match in Hillah. The shooting occurred in the last few minutes of the game between two rival local sides. According to a local security source, the striker was shot in the head during the match between Sinjar and Buhayra. The suspected killer was immediately arrested and is being held in custody while Iraqi police carry out an investigation of the incident. This killing is unlikely to be related to anything more than an overzealous supporter overreacting. The U.S. Embassy is warning its personnel that the kidnapping threat is increasing in the International Zone as the Zone changes from Green to “Orange” (i.e., more Red), and the checkpoints are being taken over by the Iraqi military and more vehicles from the Red Zone will be entering the Green Zone over time. Because of these changes, the Embassy provides its personnel with kidnapping threat recognition and survival training which we intend to take.
At lunch we met with the head of the State Shura Council, which dates back to 1933 and acts as an administrative court, and vets draft legislation to ensure constitutionality and compliance with existing laws. He is a tall, thin, elegant man who has practiced law in Baghdad for nearly 50 years. He has a wonderful sense of humor (he said, for example, that, if an Iraqi falls on the ground, he will strike one of three things: oil, water, or ancient artifacts). He is an engaging storyteller who uses stories to convey important points. For example, he told a story about King Faisal II who needed to have eye surgery in 1932, but his doctor told him that the surgery could not be done in Iraq. To go to Sweden and pay for the surgery, the King requested 500 Iraqi dinars from the Iraqi Parliament. The Parliament reviewed the King’s request and decided not to grant him the money, because there was no legal basis for doing so. His point was that as far back as 1932 the law in Iraq has prevailed, and all are equal in the eyes of the law.
Today after lunch was the monthly meeting of the Anti-Corruption Working Group at the U.S. Embassy.
When I attend long meetings like this in the U.S. Embassy, I sometimes doze off momentarily. When I snap to, I often forget that I am in Iraq, and instead feel like I am in a government office building in Washington, D.C. This is very discombobulating.
* * * *
[This was another 16-hour day; how can I explain why I often work this hard?]
19 March 2009
I’m now convinced that our work with Iraqi leaders should be conducted in Arabic by American Arabic speakers because translation creates two different problems.
First, when Arabic legal terms are translated into English, often several different English synonyms are used by translators for the same Arabic term. This creates either confusion or the appearance of differences that do not actually exist. This happens again in the other direction when English legal terms are translated into Arabic.
The second problem is that the translation process is very inefficient and truncated. The Iraqi speaker may talk for several minutes, but the translator then gives a ten-second summary that leaves out a lot of detail. If the translator interrupts the Iraqi speaker to translate every sentence, the process is very disjointed and time-consuming. And there is little opportunity as in a typical conversation for the Iraqi and American speakers to ask simple clarifying questions that increase mutual understanding.
20 March 2009
Today (Friday) is the first day of the Iraqi weekend (the work week here is from Sunday through Thursday). I’m sitting at a computer in the big conference room typing this report. Other members of the Project are sitting at their respective computers working on their own reports. We typically work seven days a week, often more than 10 to 12 hours a day even on weekends.
The following notes are from a presentation made recently about the near-term future of the International Zone where we live and work: Main Message: Calm down, don’t freak out; we’re working hand-in-hand with the Iraqis as they gradually take back the IZ; but changes are afoot, so remain vigilant!
Security Changes: We are currently coordinating with the GOI [Government of Iraq] via the Security Sub-Committee, a joint GOI-USG [U.S. Government] coordination committee called for in the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement]. It is important to the GOI, and notably the Prime Minister, to show that the IZ is transitioning to Iraqi control, however gradually. They want Iraqis at all IZ checkpoints, and eventually they want Iraqis to provide all IZ security. But calm down: this won’t happen for some time.
The GOI intends to open a major highway through the IZ, an important symbolic milestone that will, it is hoped, finally allow Iraqis to move freely through the IZ and will be an important practical solution to the intense traffic situation within the IZ. This highway will include what is referred to as “the sunken road,” which has been closed since our invasion. It’s dilapidated, unpaved (or barely paved), and in need of major repairs before being used as a highway. Repairs on this part of the expected highway won’t be complete until May 15th at the earliest.
The most important consequence of this “sunken” highway involves the Al-Rashid Hotel, which will be separated from the rest of the IZ by this road. However, the GOI and USG have agreed that the hotel will remain within the IZ, and that security accommodations will be arranged to ensure that it remains a safe place to frequent. Despite rumours, the July 14th Bridge is not expected to re-open anytime soon; it will need significant repairs and advance preparation before opening.
Though there has been a significant drop in “significant security incidents” in the past year, there has been a recent up-tick. But this is thought to be a temporary hick-up; and the downward trend is expected to continue.
Small/petty crime remains a threat within the IZ. Use the buddy system! Including when you are in a vehicle.
Bottom line: the IZ is safer than the rest of Baghdad, but not safe. Remain vigilant.
21 March 2009
Today I went with three people from the Anti-Corruption Office in the U.S. Embassy in a three-car, up-armored Embassy PSD (Personal Security Detail) convoy to the Hotel Al-Massour in the Red Zone for a workshop.
In Utah House we have two sets of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) consisting of vest-like body armor and a Kevlar helmet (one set is black and the other is desert-sand). When we go into the Red Zone in an Embassy convoy, we must wear PPE, which is fairly heavy (it’s been 40 years since I wore a flak jacket and steel helmet in Vietnam, and I was much younger and in much better shape then than now).
Once we arrived at the hotel, two of our PSD came in with us and served as our openly-armed bodyguards, sitting in the back of the conference room during the meeting, and accompanying me to the men’s room during a rest break.
The workshop dealt with bribery in Iraq, which is endemic. Bribery occurs in every Ministry. Bribery goes by a variety of names: gift, tip, facilitation fee, etc. Bribery is very difficult to prove because it occurs in secret, citizens are cynical or uninformed, and citizens are afraid to make a complaint, afraid that the person to whom they report bribery is himself corrupt, and afraid to testify in court.
23 March 2009
We have a new Iraqi member of staff here, Zahir, who started today as a translator and interpreter. We will have another Iraqi interpreter and translator, Ali, starting in a couple of weeks. Ali will be our principal interpreter (he has been for five years the interpreter for the British Ambassador to Iraq in the British Embassy here).
This morning our Iraqi office manager, Linda, asked me what I saw as the future of Iraq. I said I thought Iraq was poised on a knife’s edge. On one side is the possibility of peace, stability, unity, and prosperity. The other side has renewed sectarian violence, instability, disunity, and perhaps fighting between the Kurds and Iraqi Arabs. I said, “Which side Iraq chooses is for Iraqis to decide.”
I immediately realized I had misspoken: no one really makes such a decision. Things like that happen because of forces no one person decides or controls. I felt worse than a fraud, because Linda is expecting her third child in August, and she wanted a real answer.
24 March 2009
The power was out at Utah House for over three hours in the middle of the day, which prevented our access to the Internet and email. Fortunately, power outages here usually last only a few minutes, and don’t happen every day.
This morning I went to kidnapping threat awareness and hostage survival training at the U.S. Embassy. Kidnappings have evolved from terrorist kidnappings a few years (which often ended in the beheading of victims), to more criminal gang-related kidnappings-for-ransom today. (Today, however, criminal gangs sometimes do sell their hostages to al Qaeda-in-Iraq insurgents.)
26 March 2009
The central dilemma of the Iraqi state is, on the one hand, the whole constitutional system is based on the premise that the country is a federal state, but at the same time, the system is deadlocked on eminently federal problems: who owns the country’s oil and gas; internal boundary disputes; regional and sectarian militias, etc., etc. The tools of democratic federalism theoretically can solve these outstanding problems institutionally, rather than by force. However, almost no one thinks Iraq is going to evolve into a peaceful federalist democratic republic anytime soon.
The concept of federalism for Iraq emerged from the Iraqi opposition-in-exile group in London more than 15 years ago and was first publicly discussed at a conference in London in 1992. After Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003, the United Nations supported the concept of federalism for Iraq in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 (8 June 2004). Article 1 of the Iraqi Constitution adopted in 2005 explicitly talks about Iraq as a federal republic, and federalism is found in a number of other constitutional articles, including Article 65 which calls for the creation of a Federation Council “to include representatives from the regions and the governorates that are not organized in a region.” The Federation Council is intended to be a counter-majoritarian body of the Iraqi Parliament (like the U.S. Senate) to give the regions a strong voice in the central government in Baghdad. However, the Iraqi Council of Representatives (like the U.S. House of Representatives) in the past four years has not yet enacted legislation creating the Federation Council.
One alternative to a federal republic is bloody civil wars (one between the Sunnis and the Shi’i and the other between the Kurds and Iraqi Arabs are possible). I have no idea what the Iraqis are going to do to one other once American forces leave their country at the end of 2011, or even before then, for that matter.
27 March 2009
Today I drove along the Tigris on a road on top of a dike separating the river from a manmade lake originally built for Saddam Hussein’s murderous son, Uday.
Because today is Friday (the first day of the weekend here) there was virtually no traffic. I parked the car and walked along the road for 10 minutes. There were bulrushes along both sides of the Tigris and Uday’s lake. This was the most green I’ve seen since arriving in Baghdad three weeks ago.
6 April 2009
Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post reported that “A series of six car bombs struck markets, a police convoy and a gaggle of workers in Shiite Muslim neighborhoods Monday, killing 32 people and wounding more than 120 in one of the most violent days in the capital in months.” There is some suggestion that sectarian violence is going to increase in Baghdad because the government is no longer paying the Sunni “Sons of Iraq” (al-Sahwa) to fight insurgents rather than the central government.
Sahwa fighters, who numbered as many as 100,000 across Iraq, were backed and paid by U.S. forces until the government took over the program beginning in October 2008. Without a process of formal reconciliation with the Shi’i majority, Sunni leaders may decide they have to rejoin the insurgency.
7 April 2009
I was scheduled to go to Baghdad University and travel in a U.S. Embassy PSD convoy through the Red Zone. Early in the morning I got an email from the Embassy saying that the PSD convoy had been cancelled and therefore the trip to Baghdad University College of Law to meet with the Dean would have to be rescheduled. Only later did I learn that President Obama was in Baghdad at Camp Victory on the military side of the Baghdad International Airport, which obviously was why the convoy was cancelled.
One of my friends at the U.S. Embassy later sent me a heads-up email about the possibility of IDF (“indirect fire,” i.e., rockets and mortars) on Easter Sunday: Bearing in mind that last Easter was a day where we took a lot of incoming, and in light of the recent uptick in violence in Baghdad, I would like to advise you of at least the possibility of incoming rounds on that day. Please check with Sabre on this as well. In the past we have seen attacks during our Christian holidays and despite the fact that Sadr City isn’t the Wild West anymore, a reasonable person might take precautions and be warned.
9 April 2009
Last night and until mid-morning there was a fairly good rain which Baghdad desperately needs. This morning when the clouds cleared, the temperature went up quickly, but we could see blue sky because the rain had cleared the dust from the air, at least for a short time.
During the day we had about a dozen brief power outages, some lasting just a few seconds. When that happens, it bumps everyone off the Internet and disrupts email on some PC computers even after the power comes back on.
Today is Baghdad Liberation Day (i.e., the city was liberated six years ago on 9 April 2003), which is an Iraqi holiday, so our Iraqi staff is liberated for the day.
12 April 2009
I attended Easter Mass in the chapel at Forward Operating Base Prosperity. Father Dave (who is a Lt. Col. in the Chaplains Corp in the Army Reserve in Omaha) conducted. There was a Filipino rock band and choir that provided enthusiastic music for the service. The celebrants included Americans, Brits, Colombians, Fijians, Peruvians, Poles, Ugandans, etc., etc., etc. Who knew this war would create such an international celebration of the death of the Prince of Peace?
17 April 2009
We met with a senior adviser in one of sections of the U.S. Embassy. She has been in Iraq for five years and knows a great deal, but is frustrated with the pace of change in Iraq. She finds the laws I am reviewing (concerning commercial arbitration and foreign ownership of real estate) to be “nice,” but ultimately pointless in the absence of implementing regulations and coordination among Ministries. She said it is great to say that a foreigner can own real estate legally, but when the Ministries cannot agree with each other on how to make that a reality, there can be no implementation and thus no foreign investment where foreign ownership of land is required.
I wondered why she chooses to stay here year after year.
19 April 2009
Last night two rockets were fired from eastern Baghdad across the Tigris River and impacted in the Green Zone. I did not hear the explosions, although one of my friends, who lives at the U.S. Embassy, said he did. According to Brian Murphy, reporting for the Associated Press, “The Green Zone was last targeted by rockets or mortars on Jan. 15.” [What about March 13th, Mr. Murphy?]
24 April 2009
This was the first Friday in a long time that felt sort of like a weekend (which it is here). Several of us drove to Forward Operating Base Prosperity and ate at the DFAC there and then had coffee at the Green Beans shack near the PX. It was fun to sit and talk and watch people. We concluded that there seem to be more contractors than soldiers, and probably more foreigners than Americans. This war is truly a multi-national experience.
Last night and this morning we had a sand storm. A window on the first floor of Utah House was left open and the air in the rooms on the first floor was filled with dust as fine as tan talcum powder. The housekeepers cleaned my desk at about 8:00 am and two hours later enough dust had fallen from the air that it was possible to write my name in the new dust on my desk. The guards outside our gate wore surgical masks all day.
At about 9:30 this morning the IDF siren inside our perimeter wall came on and then went off after less than a minute. Hours later I heard a large explosion in the distance (which I learned was the controlled demolition of an unexploded rocket that landed inside the U.S. Embassy compound).
The number of suicide-bomber attacks in the Red Zone has been increasing recently. Yesterday in Muqdadiya, a town in Diyala Province, 56 Iranian Shi’i pilgrims were killed by a suicide bomber, and in Baghdad a woman with a child blew herself up and killed more than 20 people. Today outside Baghdad’s most revered Shi’i mosque, twin suicide bombers killed at least 60 Iranian Shi’i pilgrims.
I cannot comprehend this wilful Muslim-on-Muslim violence. The indiscriminate killing and maiming of innocent Iraqi and devout Iranian Shi’i by other Muslims is clearly irreligious, but no Sunni has issued a fatwa against it. Why?
I am often too busy to reflect on what is happening here, what we are doing, what the Iraqis endure every day, and where this is all headed. When I have a reflective moment, I can only repeat a childlike prayer, “God, bless these people and grant them peace.”
30 April 2009
Our translator Ali and I met today with representatives from the State Shura Council.
One reminds me so much of the late George Dibble (the University of Utah art professor and renowned Utah watercolorist who was my next door neighbor for 10 years): tall, thin, balding, with a clipped moustache, gleaming eyes, and a winsome smile. He has worked at the Iraqi Shura Council for 47 years. We met in the lobby of the Al-Rashid Hotel and many people came up to him to say hello; he is obviously a much beloved figure in Baghdad professional society.
We talked generally about the role of the Shura Council as a politically-neutral institution, which technically vets legislation initiated either by the executive branch or the Parliament. We talked more specifically about recent bills drafted to attempt to encourage foreign investment and promote economic development in Iraq. We agreed that, although new legislation is important, far more important is creating a culture of collaboration and “customer service” among and within the GOI institutions that have responsibilities for encouraging and facilitating investment and development.
After this meeting, we met with a law professor at Baghdad University College of Law, who chairs the Shura Council’s drafting committee on international arbitration. The drafting committee is contemplating an arbitration statute that would create an international commercial arbitration center in Iraq, similar to ones in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states. I suggested that this will not increase the confidence of American or European investors who are comfortable with arbitration administered in Paris or London or Brussels. I encouraged the drafting committee to use the UN’s UNCITRAL model arbitration act as a template for writing the Iraqi statute on international commercial arbitration; I learned this will not happen.
Afterward, I recognized that the most gratifying part of my work here is interacting often with dedicated GOI professionals and daily with our resilient Iraqi staff members (office administrators, interpreters, and translators).
Our Iraqi staffers are wonderful people who give their best at work and at home, with studied patience in the face of traffic jams, power outages, and the demonstrable threat of unpredictable, life-destroying violence. I feel blessed that they are willing to share parts of their familial and inner lives as my teachers. Each of them has multiple stories of courage and fear and suffering and loss. Their humor, borne of unimaginably horrendous experience, is quick and penetrating and ironic. Their laughter at what can only be called the Kafkaesque conditions that comprise everyday Baghdad life is liberating and inspiring.
Ali told me at lunch today that, in spite of all the risks he and his young family face in the future, it is better now than before, because now at least there is hope, when before there was none. I pray their hope is warranted and that it protects Ali and his family from all the very real evils that surround them every moment of every day. [I learned in December that Ali and his family are emigrating to Scotland in January 2010.]
I love these people—helplessly and unconditionally.
1 May 2009
Our translator Zahir had the following post on his blog in March 2007 and photo of a Baghdadi sky in January 2006. I thank Zahir for his permission to share these:
Baghdad . . . Baghdad . . .
Days pass, and here I am, sitting alone, under the light of my laptop screen, when there is no electricity, as I hear nostalgic songs about Baghdad.
I have to admit that, being away from home on and off for the past couple of years, and for longer periods recently, is a factor in this nostalgia; and perhaps getting to know more Baghdadis residing in Sulaimaniya is the main reason for this. Every time we meet, we speak about Baghdad, and how we used to spend the evenings here and there, and how we used to walk around, looking at shops, eating sandwiches or ice-cream; back when there was a night life in the greatest city in Iraq.
Baghdad is now divided within us. There is a little Baghdad in each of us. Baghdad, to whom I’d love to refer as “she” instead of “it”, is verily like a beautiful woman, that is so dear to every one who really knows her; but now, she is suffering from an illness which has a rare cure; a cure that is difficult to get.
This is how we Baghdadis feel. We cannot do anything but pray for the safety of our loved ones who are still there, and pray for Baghdad’s well-being. And here we are; crying, smoking, or both, whenever that bittersweet memories of Baghdad are recalled. The worst, heart-mangling feeling in the world is when you see someone you really love, fading away before your eyes, and you can do nothing to save them, but pray.
It is like an 18th Century love story, where one cannot see his beloved, except when she goes out in the morning to bring water from the spring or river; and when she doesn’t come on time, he worries and worries, until he is told later that she is gravely ill.
Many of us, exiled or self-exiled Baghdadis, are unfortunately unable to visit Baghdad the beloved, for one reason or the other; but our spirits fly there, with every dove as the day breaks, kissing every palm tree, eating pastry and cream for breakfast at street corners, and embracing the sweetness of cardamom flavored hot tea cups.
“Our city is beautiful, Her name is Baghdad
She is a bride sent from Heaven to Earth, I haven’t seen anyone as beautiful as her
* * * *
O, city of Peace, O, you paradise, O, you with the most beautiful eyes,
Our city is beautiful, Her name is Baghdad, She is a bride sent from Heaven to Earth”
Baghdad, I will love you forever.
2 May 2009
Last night I met with Dr. Peter Bartu who has served as a senior political adviser on disputed internal boundaries (DIBs) in Iraq to UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, head of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI). Peter helped write the UNAMI DIBs report, including about the highly contentious areas in and around the oil city of Kirkuk in north-central Iraq. At the moment, the draft has been distributed only to Iraq’s highest political leaders for their comments.
Kirkuk is a special case among disputed areas. It is the center of the Iraq’s petroleum industry. The Kurdish Democratic Party wants to make Kirkuk the political capital of Kurdistan. Iraq’s minority Turkmen claim Kirkuk as their ancestral home. Many Arabs live there today as a result of the Saddam regime’s Arabization policy which displaced Kurds and Turkmen and resettled Arabs in Kirkuk in the 1980s and 1990s.
I met with Peter (who is leaving Iraq this week to rejoin his family in Berkeley, California) because I would like Peter to serve as a special adviser to our Project on issues within his unique expertise.
Why is he so special and unique?
Peter is a former Australian Special Air Service officer who as a young Captain was an adviser in the early 1990s to Lt. Gen. John Sanderson, the Australian military commander of the UN Transitional Administration in Cambodia following the Vietnamese occupation of that country. Peter got this extraordinary opportunity because he had studied Cambodian culture and history as an undergraduate and, as he says, “I was one of four Australians at the time who knew how to speak Khmer.”
Peter also served as a political adviser with the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor in the late 1990s. He served briefly in 2001 as a security adviser to the Australian government but resigned over his disagreement with its treatment of asylum seekers.
From 2001 to 2003, he was a political adviser to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the Middle East Peace Process. In December 2002, Peter was one of 60 international UN staff members in Gaza who called on Israel “to hold its military to account and protect all UN and other aid workers operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) from harm, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.” Their “call for justice” followed the death of a UN worker, Iain Hook, who was shot by an Israeli sniper on 22 November 2002. The Israeli military refused to permit an ambulance in to assist Mr Hook and he bled to death.
Peter has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. He wrote his dissertation on the history of the UN peacekeeping operations in Cambodia between 1991 and 1993. Peter is married to the Cambodian scholar, Penny Edwards, author of Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860-1945. They met when they were both in Cambodia in the early 1990s. They are the parents of three children. For fun, Peter is an open-water, long-distance swimmer who has competed in the Alcatraz to San Francisco race.
7 May 2009
This morning one of our group asked if I had heard the explosion at 5:00 am. I had not. I slept through it. This may be a function of my loss of hearing (from age and artillery fire in Vietnam 40 years ago) but more likely is due to my use of air conditioning here. At night I crank the air conditioning in my bedroom down as low as it goes and sleep under a blanket. The white noise of the air conditioner covers the prayer call of the muezzin at 4:00 in the morning (and also the sound of a 5:00 am explosion), the dogs barking at intervals during the night, and the rooster-crowing from the little farm next door (which, by the way, got a small camel during the past week).
10 May 2009
Happy Mother’s Day from the Emerald City!
Like everything else in life, “timing” with respect to the Iraqi constitutional amendment process “is everything.” Two months ago knowledgeable folks were saying that proposed constitutional amendments were “dead” and would not even be considered by Parliament this year. This has changed abruptly in the past few weeks. The newly elected Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament was one of the three principal leaders of the constitutional revision committee, and he intends to try to move “his” amendments through Parliament before the end of the year. Yesterday the Prime Minister publicly stated that he too supports the constitutional amendment process in Parliament this legislative term.
11 May 2009
The Red Zone Rocket Man woke me up about 5:45 this morning despite the fact that my in-room air conditioner was cranked down to “Arctic” and was furiously pumping out cold air. From the loud sound of the explosion, I knew the point of impact had to be within a mile of Utah House. The IDF warning siren started blaring about a minute after the attack, and the all-clear signal (imagine the sound of a London ambulance siren) was given about a minute later. For the past few months, rockets into the Green Zone have been fired one at a time, on average of one per week. They have all been 107-millimeter rockets (about four inches in diameter and about four-feet in length) fired off home-made “rails” (a shallow metal trough into which the rocket sits before it is fired; the direction in which the rail points determines the direction of the rocket’s path, and the vertical angle of the rail determines the rocket’s altitude and therefore distance) (visualize a right-angle triangle with the rocket lying on the hypotenuse). These rockets are not “smart” weapons that can be targeted to hit a specific building, but rather are designed to be fired many at a time to saturate a “box” (like a neighborhood).
Here in the Green Zone, whether you are in the wrong part of the wrong box at the wrong time is a matter of luck—bad luck.
14 May 2009
At 4:06 am yesterday there was a 107-mm rocket fired into the IZ, the fifth in seven days.
15 May 2009
Today and every day this week the high temperature has been 100+. Baghdadis have said that we have had a mild spring, but now we are heading into summer. On Tuesday it is supposed to be 43 degrees C. (109 degrees F.). I asked one of our translators how hot it gets here in the summer and she said 50 degrees C. (122 degrees F.) is not unusual. She said Baghdadis have an expression that, in August, “it gets hot enough to melt the nails in the [house] doors.” It could be worse, she said. We could be in Basra, where it is not only this hot but also very humid.
16 May 2009
Today is a very special first for the Project. Our lawn was mowed for the first time! We have been urging, pleading, and cajoling our landlord for a lawn since February. In March, Sabre’s gardener raked the dirt, planted grass seed, and has been watering the dirt twice a day since then. At first, we thought the birds had eaten all the seed, because they were there helping themselves every morning. However, over time, new grass grew until this morning it was about 10” tall. One of our Nepalese guards used a push-mower to cut the grass while the Iraqi gardener put the cut grass into a wheelbarrow and carted it off (to a new compost pile?).
The lawn is not perfect. The grass is just a thin, fragile (but green) carpet. There are still bare spots, but even there sprouts of grass are beginning to grow. In a few more months, we should be able to put our lawn furniture on our “lawn” and enjoy the warm desert air outside at night.
Oh, that our lawn may presage the future of Iraq!
During lunch today, a rocket exploded in the road about a block and a half away, seconds before the IDF attack siren came on. The rocket “did not have my name on it” (as I used to joke in Vietnam 40 years ago).
17 May 2009
Our translator Ali and I attended a conference on attracting foreign investment in Iraq at the Al-Rashid Hotel. During the morning break, Ali and I talked with the head of the State Shura Council about international commercial arbitration. I gave him a handout I prepared which Ali translated into Arabic recommending three things Iraq could do to improve foreign investor confidence in international commercial dispute resolution:
- Enact the UNCITRAL Model Act for International Commercial Arbitration;
- Ratify the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards; and
- Empower a specialized Iraqi court with arbitration law expertise to stay litigation, compel arbitration, and enforce foreign arbitral awards.
He said that the Shura Council had approved the New York Convention years ago, but a long succession of Iraqi governments has refused to ratify it.
Afterward, Ali and I met in a breakout session on the legal framework for foreign investment, including dispute resolution. There were about a dozen Iraqis (more than half of whom were law professors). I asked Ali to make the arbitration presentation to the group in Arabic, and his presentation provoked a lively discussion. (I told him that law professors universally insist on having the last word.) He was very pleased when I told him that, despite not being an expert in arbitration, he gave a much better presentation in Arabic than I could have done in English by means of his translation.
18 May 2009
In the category of “you’ve got to be kidding,” the International Zone Badging Office, which was recently moved to Forward Operating Base Prosperity, is now open. The name of the new office is “The Meadowlands.” The old office was called “Ocean Beach” and had plenty of beach but no ocean. The new office has plenty of surrounding (sand-covered) lands but no meadow.
There must be a young US Army officer who is a bored liberal-arts college graduate who makes up these names for his private amusement.
21 May 2009
Today I left Iraq to begin the two-day trip home to Utah.
Two 107-mm rockets landed at about 7:00 am at Baghdad International Airport. At about 8:30 in the evening, a 107-mm rocket hit the front gate of the high-rise apartments across the street from the U.S. Embassy. Also, an American contractor was abducted and stabbed to death in the Green Zone that same evening.
I still cannot explain “bad luck.”
This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009.