Chapter 18: TAL Me a Tale

    Sunday, March 14, 2004

    From Baghdad, Iraq

    TAL me a Tale

    Dear Mr. Mullings:
    What is today's date?
    The Ladies' Bowling League of Norfolk, VA

    Um. Is this a trick question? It's March 14 or 3/14 which, by the way, according to the "Word-of-the-Day" folks, is also known as "Pi Day" because it can be written 3.14. Pretty amusing, huh? My friend Don Hamilton pointed that out to me.

    We are all giggles. And what was the date of your last Travelogue?

    That would have been February 29 which was, as you know Leap Day. Did you know that not every year divisible by 4 is a leap year? From the website:

    1. Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year.
    2. But every year divisible by 100 is NOT a leap year
    3. Unless the year is also divisible by 400, then it is still a leap year.

    This means that year 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are NOT leap years, while year 2000 and 2400 are leap years.

    Enough! You win this one, but we expect a Travelogue each and every week, not just when you feel like it, little mister.

    I have a very good excuse for not writing a Mullings last week. It was the Iraqis' fault.


    Here was the story:

    The United States, as of today, owns Iraq. We don't want it. We, in fact, want to give it back. We intend to do that at about midnight on June 30, 2004.

    One of the issues regarding the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people has been: What will be the form of government when they take control and under what law will the leaders rule?

    To at least partially solve this issue, the Iraqis have been working on writing what is called the "Transitional Administrative Law" or "TAL" to guide them while they figure out the details of how the country will be governed moving forward.

    When I returned from my Ranger Rick adventure in Washington, DC everyone was talking about the "towel." Everything was "towel" this and the "towel" that.

    I kept nodding and smiling and offering excellent suggestions, but I had no earthly idea what the devil the "towel" was.

    Everyone was saying "TAL," which I finally figured out after about four days. But when you've lived in Dallas and gone to the health club and heard the attendant ask you if you want a white thing with which to dry yourself off after you've showered you, too, would think that a "TAL" and a "towel" were the same thing.

    Well, maybe you wouldn't. But I did.

    The senior governmental officials in Iraq are called the "Iraqi Governing Council," IGC or just the GC for short.

    These 25 people are reflective of the population of Iraq as a whole: Kurds, Sunni Muslims and Shi'a Muslims.

    The Iraqis - along with the US Administrator of Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, worked for months on the TAL aiming at a February 28th deadline.

    As is always the case, the serious negotiations didn't get under way until about a week out with the intensity - and hours - increasing day by day as they worked toward a final document.

    Without, in any way, trying to leave the impression that I had anything whatsoever to do with this document - and this is not just an atypical example of modesty - I was at the Governing Council building about 12 hours before they put the final touches on the document and one of the negotiators told me, approximately this:

    We are used to bargaining for days over a penny. And at the end, either you have the penny or I have the penny.

    We have been bargaining over concepts. And at the end I have something and you have something.

    This is very new to us. Very new.

    He was justifiably proud of what they were producing - not just proud of the document but of entering the modern world of governing.

    The document was finished at about 4:30 on a Monday morning. Plans were immediately put in place to have the official signing ceremony take place on Wednesday.

    On Tuesday - a religious holiday - the bad guys set off multiple bombs in Baghdad and 60 miles south in the holy city of Karbala killing about 200 people.

    A three-day mourning period was proclaimed putting the signing ceremony off until Friday.

    On Friday, all was in place: The press was there. Invited guests were there. The document was there. The table was there. The chair was there. The pens were there.

    All that was missing was the Iraqi Governing Council.

    Two o'clock drifted into four o'clock.

    Three of us decided to run across the street to grab a bite to eat. We shocked ourselves when we saw what we were all wearing. Dallas Lawence, Sam Whitfield, and I staged this photo, but only to the extent that we were pretending, at this moment, to be using our cell phones:

    Four became seven.

    The US spokesman, Dan Senor, came out to say there were some last minute concerns but that this was the nature of democracy. He pointed out that anyone who has ever worked on Capitol Hill in Washington knows that at the tail end of a long negotiation there are always some final issues which need cleaning up.

    Seven became nine and the Iraqi briefer showed up to explain what was going on:

    At 11:30 pm the word came down that there would be no signing and the table, pens, and everything else were put away.

    The reason I'm spending so much time telling you this was because I was going to write about the TAL and what a swell document it was, but until it was signed it was only a prospective swell document.

    It turned out that the Shi'as (also known as Shi'ites) were objecting to a technical aspect of the document which, they said, might give the Kurds (from the Northern portion of Iraq) effective veto power over a permanent constitution and they wanted the weekend to talk about it.

    On Sunday they said they would show up on Monday to sign it.

    But, this being Iraq and all, I didn't want to take the chance on another snag by writing in advance, so I thought I'd write this column on Monday following the signing, only a day late which in Iraq is about three days early.

    On Monday everything was put back into place, the chair, the table (which was King Faisal's table someone said) the pens and the document and, at the appointed hour, the members of the Iraqi Governing Council indeed filed in, took their seats and the ceremony began.

    After a prayer and a few speeches, the members were called up one-by-one, and one-by-one they signed their names.

    A great cheer went up from the gathered crowd and, to tell the truth, a little celebration took place back at the old Palace to congratulate the Coalition Provisional Authority folks who had worked - literally - day and night to get this accomplished.

    Dear Mr. Mullings.
    IF this is all true, then you are forgiven. But they're not going to be signing a TAL every week, so we fully expect another Mullings next Sunday.
    The LBLofN,Va

    The TAL is quite a document. To see some of the more extraordinary protections granted Iraqi citizens click on the Iraqi TAL Factsheet and see for yourself.

    I truly believe that when we look back ten years down the road, the day the TAL was signed will go down as one of the most important days in Middle East history.


    This 'n That.

    You know I live for the little ironies which face us each and every day. This is one which I don't know how I missed until now. Our toilet paper is called, "Smile."

    I asked one of our translators what the Arabic said. She looked at me like I was the ignorant American I am and said, "smile."

    I've been chuckling over the slogan on the bottom: "Another Fine Product," but having read the side of the package I now see that this particular brand of toilet paper is manufactured by the Fine Hygienic Paper Company of Amman, Jordon.

    Now I think it's funny because someone named their hygienic paper company after a couple of the Three Stooges.

    This sign is about 40 feet from my trailer. Do you think I need to be worried? To be truthful, I haven't seen any effect;lk=09sdoiufgpoi f&*&(8723-psdj2q so far.

    One of the neat things you get to do is to participate in events which, in the grand scheme of things don't seem that important, but to the people involved are as important as can be. I was invited to attend the re-enlistment ceremony of Staff Sergeant Dennis Relyea who has been a good friend and a guide to me since I got here. His commander, Major Mike Whalen, administered the oath while several Iraqi translators held an American flag behind him:

    SSG Relyea is one of the many, many patriots who are here doing their jobs keeping us safe at home.

    I was home for Valentine's Day and missed some of the festivities here in The War Zone. One of the nice things which happened was teachers had their kids make Valentines for the soldiers and Marines. This was one of my favorites:

    Me too. Marty. Me too.

    Be safe.

    -- END --

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