Farewell to Baghdad

Farewell to Baghdad

‘Our’ correspondent in Iraq, a contract advisor in economic development who has requested anonymity, is apparently leaving for good now:

Orhan Pamuk cites some unknown (at least to me) Turkish poet in one of his novels: “Drunk on the wine of hazard. You are thirsty like a buzzard.” That is not me. I am sated on the wine of hazard. This time I’m outta here for good (maybe), though I will miss this place and especially its people.

Meanwhile, Kurt Vonnegut had the bad taste to die yesterday. I will miss him. And Kilgour Trout. One of my favorite Trout stories – I hope I remember it right – involves someone who comes to earth from another planet to cure cancer and warn of a massive impending disaster. On his planet, people communicate by tap dancing and farting. As he frantically tries to deliver his message to the first person on earth he sees, the person looks at him quizzically then brains him with a golf club.

Several of you noted a Vonnegut-like anger and bitterness creeping – or perhaps galloping – into my reports. It is true. My increasing frustration has partly fed on the disconnect between the situation here and the happy-talk I see on the news.

In answer to an email a couple of days ago, I looked at an internal report by the Department of State to Congress. It listed the number of troops here. We are used to hearing of 130,000 or so, but here is a fact or two. There are even more contractors – read mercenaries – than soldiers in the field. They are performing military tasks, such as guarding, that soldiers historically have done everywhere. This is not the multi-national force. They either are included in the American numbers or make a trivial addition to them. In fact, these mercenaries are paid to do what military does not want to do – kind of like migrant laborers in California. (You know from my past reports that no Americans guard the Iraqi Parliament building where Friday the Thirteenth occurred Thursday – only Chileans, Peruvians, Ugandans, Georgians, Colombians, et al. — English is not required.)

But wait, there’s more. We forgot the 130+ companies (okay, some of them were included above) providing security coverage for convoys supplying the military – forget about protecting us, that is not a military function, even though we are working for State. We do not have a clue how many folks work for these private security contractors. Sandi is a small company and it probably has 120 here right now, plus others in convoys, etc. DynCorps numbers are almost not countable. So, what does that come to? I figure that, not including private security contractors, the total is about 475,000 troops (less than 30% are US military, though of course we are sending bombers now). What does it say about who’s really fighting? What does it say about the surge as a marginal increase in the total force? What does this say about whether we are winning or losing? Our administration does not need a timetable, it needs an abacus.

The security situation on the ground has created continual moving targets and more frustration for me. Our work has taken me farther and farther from the reasons I came back, and the murders and kidnappings have murdered the project that meant most to me and my hope for making a dent here. And finally, I have become frustrated with my own lack of courage to quit or to try to do what I came to do despite the challenges and changes, and to take the contracting and other consequences for doing so.

But there was a point at which things moved me up a notch on the real anger scale. Now that I am leaving, I can admit this. It happened about a month and a half ago, two weeks before I moved to a new room. The reason for the move was that I had been more or less Katusha’d, and so I commandeered one of the safer rooms in the compound. At the moment of the attack it became easy to decide that this “challenge to die for” was not worth dying for. My statements about the safety of our compound did not start out as a lie, but they became one. I am sorry for perpetuating it.

Actually, it was not my room that was hit, but Tamra’s next door and across the hall, maybe 20 feet away. Our “hotel” literally is built like a brick. It has interwoven 1″ rebar in a foot thick cement roof/ceiling that slowed the rocket’s penetration. Its walls are 9″ thick and composed of solid brick sandwiched between hefty slices of cement. If the building had been built like, say, the World Trade Center. …

Tamra was in Dubai. That is the only reason she is not now the hole that her chair became. Because of ordinance set off by the rocket’s red glare, a grenade and some magazines went off, and CS gas (kept here illegally of course) got loose through the buildingl. Then there was the fire department ‘s water . Yes, there is a Baghdad fire dept., and, boy, are they busy. The fire and water “edited” much of our hard copy research, criticized our deliverables, and commented on almost all of our equipment. My computer still panics when it sees a large hose. My room smelled like a combination tobacco growers’ convention and feed lot lagoon, an probably still does. We cleaned up, salvaged, recovered quickly, and met all our deadlines. Luckily for recordkeeping, this is the electronic age. In the end, nobody was even slightly injured – a miracle given that we had no evacuation plan (despite my complaints and others’ too). The explosion, which, by the way, managed to meet the criterion of a window rattler, happened too fast for me to get scared and had its humorous elements. But you had to be there.

Our incident (reported by Aljazeera as an attack on a Mosad/CIA compound) was the third of such “Iraqis’ Greatest Hits” here over a period of a week or so. One of the other two caused two deaths and some injuries, 150 meters or so from us. And while I can guess at reasons for the attacks, the reasons do not matter. Our good guys finally got the rocketeer a couple of weeks later, but not before he hit the International [or Green] Zone, or the Tigris between us and the IZ, five or six more times. The IZ is hit a lot and missed a lot, and we can never be sure where things originate unless we are outside and hear the whistle. Two people died in the IZ the day before yesterday. It was a beautiful day, so while the Parliament was exploding we ate lunch outside by Saddam’s old – and now the Embassy’s – grand pool, about ten meters from where the mortar hit them. Twenty meters or so on the other side, the debris rained on the roof of a friend. She says that since our last visit a week ago, she no longer can sleep. She is going home in early May. We have Humvees in our “yard” fairly regularly, and from time to time American soldiers sandbagged into a cozy nest on the roof of the building – former home to the hapless Bulgarian Embassy – that I used to climb with Joker to watch sunset on the Tigris. Going away from here is good.

Sort of good. As before, our team met and surpassed performance expectations, but fell short of what we wanted to do and what I expected from myself. People here need a lot. We have taken a lot from them and they have multiplied our theft by taking lives and dignity from each other. As I leave I cannot suppress the guilt I feel for what I failed to do, and yet how glad I am to get out anyway. No matter what you hear on TV, and no matter how valient and dedicated our soldiers are, there are no heroes here. Only a sickening scar on our national character that I believe no amount of political and media plastic surgery will beautify. Where is Ice-Nine when you need it?

See you after May Day or Karl Marx’s birthday.

By | 2007-04-18T12:07:00-04:00 April 18th, 2007|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. CIBR April 19, 2007 at 1:40 am - Reply

    I wrote this in my review on Stumble Upon: “This is an American contractor’s perspective on working in Iraq, and as you can read it is not a pretty picture. Although he has concealed his identity, he tells you what is really going on “on the ground” – including the stunning number of private security contractors. This essay has him struggling with the decision to leave Iraq, and as anyone who has ever worked overseas knows is not easy even in good circumstances. More than anything I have read about this long war, this leaves me with the feeling that we have lost. If Americans can’t work or travel in that country anymore, than by what definition could anyone call this a victory?”

    Rob Gordon


Leave A Comment