December 6, 2009
Allahu Akbar. The Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer woke me up at 5:30 this morning. I had woken up a couple of times in the middle of the night – lot of chopper activity and dogs barking. (I discovered later from Frank Fear that he had heard some explosives followed by chopper activity). Each time I turned over and went back to sleep – I finally woke up for good at 6:30. It was still dark outside – not too cold. I walked over from my room to the villa’s kitchen – got me some coffee, which had been cooking the whole night, and returned to my room, since no one else was up.
Finally, I went down for breakfast– typical breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, juice, etc. Dodi Thapa, the young man from Nepal who I had spoken with in Hindi the previous day had made fresh coffee. Nice and strong. Finally, one by one, my cohorts showed up. We discussed the upsets and near upsets in college football – incidentally it was amazing how many apologized for OSU losing to U of O.
We got cleaned up, and our PSD showed up. Taylor, Paul, Chad, Terry and the others.
Taylor pulled out a map to show us our route and briefed us on the procedures to follow. We were to leave the IZ, so we needed protection, including our IBAs, helmets, etc., and we were headed to the University of Baghdad College of Agriculture in the Abu Ghraib district – yes, the college butts up to the infamous prison in the district.
We were to drive by Camp Victory, the multi-national force’s headquarters, a huge complex, and then on to the college campus. The drive comprised, as we did yesterday, a convoy of SUVs, with a lead vehicle followed by several SUVs carrying our group, trailed by an SUV with a medic, radio antenna, etc. We were all dressed up in coats, neckties, dress slacks, and our IBAs and helmets. It was an interesting sight to behold. Needless to say, Taylor and his colleagues were there to protect us – the ride through some desolate countryside was uneventful – Chad, as usual was vigilant, constantly scanning the area around our SUV – except for the occasional checkpoints,
along with American military vehicles with their IED detectors in the front.
We made it to campus, and discovered that our host, Dean Hamza, had been called out on an emergency, and apparently had forgotten to inform any one else about our arrival. Dr. Araji was pretty upset, to say the least. However, the assistant dean and several other individuals met with us, recovered, and gave us an overview of their college, and all of the constraints they face. These constraints are an aging infrastructure – the college was built in the 1950s with the help of the University of Arizona, and faculty who had been trained overseas that either retired or left or have died. There has been no investment since the 1980s. The equipment and laboratories and buildings are really old. Our hosts, Dr. Jawwad, Dr. Sami, and Dr. Hamid, lamented the needs in terms of books, journals, laboratory equipment, better training, etc.
The whole nation faces significant agriculutral issues related to low productivity, salinity – the water table is very high and the crops are irrigated as they have been for 5,000 years using open canals and ditches – lack of infrastructure, etc. Much of the irrigation water is lost to evaporation, and leaves the soil highly saline, making it difficult to grow crops.
Each of us gave an overview of our college’s strengths and I also gave an overview of the land grant mission of our colleges. Their persistent plea was for us to help them with the very significant issues they face. I do not think that Iraq can seek to develop much if they do not address their food and agricultural needs, and really they need to build capacity and infrastructure. The 10,000 scholarships are an effort in the right direction, but it will require a bottom up review and reinvestment in the food and agricultural enterprise.
We got a tour of the facilities – their research fields where graduate students undertake research and their livestock farms, along with some labs. The state of the facilities is decrepit; I wonder how Iraq will be able to make progress. It’s a shame that there are almost two generations of lost opportunities since the 1970s, and particularly during Saddam’s era. The Iraqi government’s work is cut out, but with their potential oil revenues, they should be able to make the investments to rebuild these colleges. At least one hopes so.
We got to meet some of the students – eager, young people interested in developing the skills. The students, in general, looked like they were very much interested – we even saw an outdoor class in progress. Some of these students are eligible for the scholarships, and I hope are given an opportunity. Although this is an Islamic country, it was interesting to see young women, wearing head scarves, walking with and talking to young men, as one might see in the States.
During our visit to campus, Taylor and his PSD group took great care to make sure we were protected. It was interesting how they parked their SUVs to surround us as we walked around, and the individuals would spread out in a perimeter, check the surroundings, keeping an eye out and scanning for any untoward surprises. It was amazing to see them work hard to make sure we were protected. As a matter of fact, in their company I felt completely protected.
The return to the IZ was uneventful. After lunch, we went to meet with Dr. Zuhair Humadi, a Southern Illinois University graduate and former professor in the US, whose brainchild it is to create the 10,000 scholarships for students to study in the US, UK, and other countries.
Dr. Humadi’s operation is located in the IZ, so we drove with Lee and Hope in the black Suburbans for the afternoon session. Zuhair, a 60-plus, energetic and visionary individual, met with us along with his assistants, Dr. Hakeem, a 70-year old recently retired professor and who had received his degrees in zoology from the University of Kansas and University of Oklahoma, and Maha, a young woman with a degree in English and who had spent a year in the US on a Fulbright. Zuhair gave us an overview of the scholarship program, and then all of us told him about our colleges and universities – again I had an opportunity to not only speak about our college and OSU, but I also gave an overview of the history of the land grant concept, and how important it has been for the development of America into the most powerful nation on earth. We all talked about our willingness to host Iraqi students, and we each provided information on admissions, English language requirements, specific majors, opportunities for graduate research and opportunities to host faculty on short term visits and sabbaticals. The afternoon included the mandatory sweet tea, following which some of their large staff members came to speak to us about our universities, rules, regulations, etc. The afternoon offered an opportunity for Dr. Humadi and his colleagues to learn more about land grants and agricultural colleges; conversely it offered us an opportunity to learn more about the scholarship program.
During the evening, we were hosted at a reception by Ambassador Christopher Hill at his home at the US Embassy complex. The complex is new and huge – it hosts nearly 1,600 Americans, with likely that many or more individuals of other nationalities – behind high, concertina topped walls, and in places with another layer of T-walls. The security guards at the perimeter are Peruvians. The food is prepared and served by South Asians. And then there are a number of others that run the day-to-day operations.
We got to speak to Amb. Hill, Gen. Hunzeker, second in command to Gen. Odierno (Gen. Hunzeker moved the Big Red One from Germany to Ft. Riley, outside Manhattan, KS, our former home, and from which we benefited, i.e., we were able to sell our house easily before our move to Purdue), Amb. Patricia Haslach, Deputy Chief of Mission and a native of Lake Oswego, Oregon, Ron Verdonk with USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, and several other USDA FAS personnel. Over wine – from California – and appetizers (samosas and grilled chicken along with chips, vegetables and dip, etc.), we got to interact with the Amb. Hill and the others. We discovered Amb. Hill and Gen. Hunzeker to be very thoughtful and knowledgeable people, and were very much interested in agricultural development in Iraq and the potential for our universities’ involvement.
Following the reception we walked over to eat dinner, courtesy of the USDA FAS colleagues, at the Embassy cafeteria, along with a number of EPRTs (Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams) who have expertise in poultry production, crop science, water issues, salinity, honey production, etc. I even got to meet Michael Gangware, an OSU soil scientist. The conversation, particularly with the EPRTs who are dispersed around the country, was about their challenges, both technical and military, in working with the local communities.
These are tough people who are really where the “rubber meets the road” as far as America being able to make a difference in helping the Iraqis with capacity building.