December 9, 2009

Homeward Bound

I don’t know if it was the fact that we were to be ready by 7:15 to head to the airport for our return trip home or the Muezzin’s call or the dogs barking or the choppers flying low, I woke up at 5:15.  I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but I was completely awake.  As I lay there, I relived the last few days of our trip to Iraq.

The Iraqis we met truly want to move on to a more peaceful life for themselves – they are tired of all the violence that’s been going on for nearly 30 years.  The system is broken completely.  Just in terms of food and agriculture – the country imports well over 85% of its food.  Environmentally, it’s a disaster.  Sustainability – forget it.  Water – they have plenty of it, at least for now, but the way it is used for Agriculture results in terrible salinity.  The colleges and universities have highly inbred faculty; the ones who had been trained overseas are retired, dead, or have left the country.  The facilities are decrepit.  The only positives are the population is young and eager; the sex ratio is skewed towards females, as a large number of men have either died in the wars or have been killed; and there is a realization on the part of the ministries and administrators they need to shape up, in terms of their capacity and infrastructure.  The Americans I met, whether at the Embassy or people like Dr. Araji, Lee, and Hope, they want to help the Iraqis.  The Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Hondurans just want to earn a living and help their people back home.  The PSDs – former soldiers from America, the UK, Canada, Ireland – want to earn a good living in a short time (I discovered that a PSD earns six to seven times as much as he did when he served as an active soldier), knowing full well the risks involved.  When we think of America spending almost a trillion dollars on the war effort in Iraq since the invasion, I reckon more than 85% of the amount is on all of the logistical needs of our armed forces – the contractors, the providers of food and water and gasoline and other necessities, the people that keep the armed forces fed, the multi-national security guards at the various installations, the PSDs that protect visitors such as ourselves (I discovered for example that the round trip from the IZ to the University of Baghdad College of Agriculture cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 for the PSD detail assigned to us).  It goes on and on and on.

During my entire stay in Iraq, I was never afraid, although violence outside the IZ is boiling just under the surface – at least that’s the sense I got from the events of the previous day of the coordinated multiple bombings, and the needless death of tens of innocent people.  (I discovered that the Pentagon called our respective families to say that we were all safe).  Saying that these acts are senseless doesn’t cut it.  The perpetrators – terrorists, insurgents, killers – are bent upon causing chaos because they want control. They want power.  The innocents get caught in the middle.  It’s always the innocents.  It was a strange series of thoughts that went through my mind and the fact that being in the IZ one is divorced from the reality of the life outside – and then I thought of what my cohorts and I could do to help the Iraqis achieve their dreams.  The only thing I know is the Land Grant System, which has helped America become America – the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the World.  An adaptation of it has helped India.  Hopefully, we could help develop a program that could indeed help the Iraqis as well.

I finally got up, cleaned up, and got ready – ate a quick breakfast, and said goodbye to Thapa, our Nepali waiter with whom I spoke in Hindi.  I said goodbye to the Honduran guards with whom I spoke in Spanish – they thought I was Brazilian the way I spoke Spanish!  I said goodbye to Lee and Hope.

Our usual PSDs – Taylor, Chad, Alex, Ahmed aka Cesar, Paul, and the others were off to Suleimaniyah on a six-day trip with another group of American contractors.  Instead, we had Mark and Ash, both Brits, and others, who were to take us to the airport for a 9:30 flight to Istanbul and onwards to our respective hometowns.


Our drive to the airport took us out of the IZ – at the entrance to which in the opposite direction we could see the Iraqis entering the IZ for their chores of the day, and each having to step out of their automobiles, open the trunk and hood and all of the doors for inspection, be frisked from head to toe, before they are allowed in – not just for entering into the IZ but all over.  This is necessitated because of the car bombings (VIEDs in military parlance – Vehicle-Improvised Explosive Device).


With all these checkpoints and other efforts, you wonder how anyone can get close to various buildings to car bomb them – the speculation in Baghdad was that the Iraqis at the checkpoints must be paid off.  That still is a lot of individuals to be paid off, as one has to go through multiple checkpoints.

At the airport the drill was a series of security checks, starting with leaving our luggage behind the omnipresent T-walls to be sniffed for bombs or whatever, then through multiple scanners, checking in, and then to the gate.  We talked about next steps, and bid goodbyes and boarded our flight to Istanbul where we split up.  My flight ends in Eugene via Munich and San Francisco, and then the drive back to Corvallis.

The trip to Iraq has been good, albeit shorter than we had anticipated, in part because of cancelations of visits to some sections of Iraq.  Uneventful.  I promised my cohorts I would craft a draft report and recommendations for them to comment on before we send them to our hosts – Paul Brinkley, Ahmed Araji, and the others – in charge of the Expeditionary Business Task Force for Business & Stability Operations in Iraq.  We hope that we can indeed make a difference in the lives of Iraqis.

Until the next steps in Iraq.



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