Chapter 17: Comings & Goings

    Sunday, February 29, 2004

    From Baghdad, Iraq

    Comings & Goings

    This has been an interesting week. Many of the people I have worked with over the past four months are rotating home. They have been here a lot longer than I have and, in spite of the fairly obvious appeal of working with me, they are choosing to go home.


    On the other hand, I met a terrific young man who has, in a real sense, come home.

    First the homecoming:

    Mustafa Kardar was born in Baghdad. When he was four years old his family moved to the Iraqi city of Kirkuk - the Iraqi equivalent of Houston - where his dad worked for the national Iraqi oil company.

    He told me the story of remembering driving down to Baghdad and, when they neared the palace in which we work. "You don't want to be passing by too many times," Mustafa told me, "you don't want to have cameras, you don't want to be looking in at the palace grounds, you don't want to stop there, it was just better to keep going as fast as you can; you don't want to have any attention."

    When he was 15 years old, in 1982, Mustafa, his parents, his younger brother and younger sister received permission to leave on a family vacation.

    They bolted.

    They landed in Switzerland for a year where Mustafa learned to speak English and French. The next year, 1983 the family moved to Boston to join his uncle.

    From there the story is typical.

    After three years of high school, he attended Resselaer Polytechnic Institute and received a degree in industrial engineering.

    After a year of working with a consulting firm he was accepted to MIT's Sloan School of Management..

    Again, the story is typical.

    While working on his MBA he found out about the Kennedy School of Government. He applied there and was accepted while he was still at MIT so he got both an Masters in Business Administration from MIT and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard in the very typical three years in 1997.

    He worked as an investment banker for about five years, during which he spent some time in Guatemala so he could learn Spanish.

    In September of 2003 he come to Iraq to see if he could help. He joined the Office of Private Sector Initiatives where he works with some other very, very smart people.

    About three weeks ago, he returned to Kirkuk for the first time in 22 years.

    He went to his old neighborhood which is on a compound owned by the national oil company.

    "The neighborhood was so clean when we lived there. It was so nice. There were hedges around every house - just like the British. If a street light burned out, my parents would call someone and it would be fixed. The soccer field was beautiful. I spent every moment I wasn't in school or asleep there. We had something that, for a child growing up, was great.

    "Now," he said, "it is so run down. So shabby. I was angry and upset that Saddam's people had let the whole place become so dilapidated."

    He went to the house he had grown up in, but the man of the house was not in and it would have been unseemly to ask the woman living there to let a strange man in to look around.

    So, what does Mustafa think about the future?

    "The key is: Iraq can only be rebuilt by Iraqis."

    He said that in a country where people were punished, put in prison or disappeared for having an opinion, people stopped having opinions. In a country where people were punished, or put in prison, or disappeared for having initiative, people stopped exhibiting initiative.

    "The psychological effect of Saddam on the people of Iraq cannot be ignored," Mustafa told me. The post-traumatic stress on the entire population is enormous, according to him.

    The people thought Saddam would never leave - his sons were relatively young and the people thought they would succeed him and continue the cycle of physical and psychological violence.

    "Democracy is not about elections," he said. "It is about making decisions which are in the interests of the collective society; for the benefit of the collective society; decided by the collective society.

    "We must rebuild one Iraq that is working for the interests of every Iraq regardless of race, religion, background, beliefs or region."

    "If we can do that," he said, "there's no stopping this place."

    Just as there has been no stopping Mustafa Kardar.


    This week a number of close friends, colleagues, and pals have bailed out on me. Up in Tikrit my favorite Psychological Operations detachment has rotated home. I was planning a trip up to see them to say goodbye, but they came down through Baghdad and I got to see them here.

    This is a group of mostly young people whose job it was to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Tikrit. They did their jobs under tremendously difficult and dangerous conditions, and they did it well.

    I was sorry to see them go, but I am thrilled they are going home safe and sound.

    A young man named Tom Basile left this week. He has been, in effect, my deputy since the first of the year and did a wonderful job helping get my little corner of the war operating on a business-like basis. Tom has been here for seven months and, after some long and difficult conversations, decided it was time to return home.

    A soldier named Mike Gilroy left this week. Mike, a Major in the US Army is a logistician and planner by trade, but a warrior by temperament.

    Here is a photo of Major Mike (on the right) and another of our colleagues, Major Rolf Watts.

    You will, perhaps, note that Major Gilroy has a bandage on his elbow. That is the result of having flipped an SUV while on a mission to the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) during which a bus pulled out in front of him and, while I was not at the scene, others maintain that it was only his excellent driving ability saved the others in the vehicle from serious injuries or worse.

    Gilroy ended up with a significant amount of the driver's side window embedded in his elbow and had bits of it chiseled out over the two months since the accident.

    The final person to leave this week was Colonel Bill Darley.

    I have mentioned Darley in the past. As the senior Public Affairs Officer in Iraq, he was responsible for putting together the press operation following the capture of Saddam this past December.

    You might remember me quoting Darley as saying that day had been "the apotheosis" of his career. I noted, at the time, that might have been the first time in the history of soldiers that someone in uniform had used the word "apotheosis" in conversation. Correctly.

    Bill Darley has been the unit's intellectual. His real job is editing a military journal, a job which he spent exactly four days at before being sent to Baghdad.

    For his extraordinary work here Darley was awarded a Bronze Star.

    It was awarded at his going-away party in The Green Room last night. It was supposed to have been awarded that morning but Darley decided to take a hike and missed it.

    This is his second Bronze Star. He has also received an Army Achievement Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, a Joint Services Commendation Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, Three Defense Meritorious Service Medals, a Distinguished Senior Service Medal and, as previously mentioned, those two Bronze Stars.

    When you meet and work with people like the Darleys, the Gilroys, the Basiles and the rest in a place like a war zone, the associations are more vivid more concentrated, and more intense than they could ever be in a normal, business setting.

    I will miss each of them.

    I will miss all of them.


    Random Green Room thoughts:

    While watching Darley being presented with his Bronze Star, I mentally recounted my personal store of awards, which is as follows:


    No, wait. That's not true. One time, in Marietta, Ohio 45750 I was awarded the 4-H club's "Big Chicken" prize for being the town personality best able to emulate a � chicken.

    Hey. Everyone has to be good at something.

    I had the opportunity this week to get my hands on a gold-plated 9mm pistol from the Saddam era. Here is Ranger Rick, the Man with the Golden Gun:

    They made me give it back. They said I looked too dangerous with such a weapon, but I think they really meant I looked like the kind of person George S. Patton said would carry a pearl-handled pistol.

    This is the kind of thing which can make me chuckle for an entire afternoon:

    I know you think it might be mildly amusing but, then, you're not in Baghdad.

    Finally, last week I noted that the "Do Not Enter" sign in Old Town Alexandria was missing an essential element: The part which said that deadly force would be authorized to enforce the rule.

    I know many of you thought I was making that up.

    I wasn't.

    Be safe.

    -- END --

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