• Memories of Baghdad

    December 31, 2019 // 16 Comments »


    Watching events in Baghdad with sad interest. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, once the world’s largest, is now nothing except a symbol of our multi-decade failure in that country. It sounds like most of the civilians are already evacuated. There were once some 5,000 in that compound at the peak of Occupation.

    I hope the protesters don’t trample the huge green lawn we planted as a monument to our hubris. When I was in Iraq the ambassador organized lacrosse games out there. It took millions of gallons of water to keep that lawn green. What were we thinking?

    I remember that entrance way into the Baghdad Embassy you see in the videos well. When I came into the Embassy from the field as a “State Dept” person I used another way in, just for us.

    But when I came in from the field with the soldiers I was embedded with, State made us go through the gate you see on the videos being breached, the “public” gate, and submit to a full security screening. It was a way for State to say fuck you to the soldiers and assert their fake alpha male status. I remember asking the Embassy RSO security officer what the security status was, and he replied “WiFi’s down in the lounge, Iraq is pretty much the same.”

    If any of those soldiers from 2ID are watching the video, I am sure they are thinking these same things.

    The soldiers had their rifles taken away at the gate “for security” and one time a fight almost broke out when one refused to surrender his weapon at first. On that trip I also smuggled a female trooper into the Embassy beauty salon where she got her nails and hair done. She couldn’t stop laughing about how the Embassy women could go there daily, and said it was the first (and only) time she felt clean in a year.


    Ah, that street where the protesters are massed. On one visit the Embassy security goons decided the armored MRAP vehicles we arrived in had parked too long inside the Embassy and had to leave NOW. They were waiting for me, and I was running late. Embassy security told the soldiers to park outside on that street and when I arrived at the inside gatehouse they’d re-clear the vehicles into the compound, I’d jump in, and we’d return to the real war. The soldiers were in a hurry (and pissed off at how they were treated) and so called me on the only communications device we had in common, local Iraqi cell phones. They said it would take too long to re-clear and told me just to come outside the walls and board the truck. I felt like the baddest of bad asses pushing past the Embassy guards to just step out of the compound alone and walk the maybe 20 yards to the vehicle.


    I also remember those tall apartment buildings you see in the background of the videos, the ones outside the Embassy walls. They were part of the Green Zone, the huge area inside Baghdad once sealed off from the population by Saddam, then by the U.S. occupation forces. Those apartments were once gifted to Saddam’s lower-level toadies. The U.S. chased them away in 2003, and the apartments were issued to new toadies of the Iraqi puppet government (I’m guessing a decent number were the same people, toadies are pretty adaptable.)

    That area had a few small shops, and led to the naughty parts of the Green Zone, the many fortified compounds run by various “other” agencies, contractors, media organizations, British and Australian I-don’t-know-what-they-do folks, and the like. It was inside the Green Zone but outside the Embassy fortress walls, so existed as a kind of gray zone. I remember just after I arrived being driven by a contractor colleague all through the area. We even stopped at a semi-convenience store for him to buy cheap smokes and I felt like Lawrence of Fucking Arabia and Colonel Kurtz all at once. Later in my tour I’d make fun of people who thought they were cool traveling basically across the street from the Embassy but since people made fun of me once for doing the same thing it was all part of karma balancing.

    Good times.


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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    #SaveOurYazidi (in Iraq)

    August 8, 2014 // 13 Comments »

    Show of hands: anybody out there who heard much of the Yazidi in Iraq before a day or two ago? Because our president is going to re-engage in combat in Iraq to save them. Airstrikes are now authorized!

    Save Our Yazidi

    Once upon a time placing America’s service people in harm’s way, spending America’s money and laying America’s credibility on the line required at least the pretext that some national interest was at stake. Not any more. Anytime some group we don’t like threatens a group we could care not so much about, America must act to save a proud people, stop a humanitarian crisis, take down a brutal leader, put an end to genocide, whatever will briefly engage the sodden minds of the public between innings and spin up some new war fever. Some of these crisis’ get a brief moment in the #media (Save our girls!), some fizzle and fade (The Syrian people!) and some never even made sense (Somebody in the Ukraine!)

    With some irony, “freeing the Iraqi people from an evil dictator” was one of the many justifications for the 2003 invasion.

    And so this week, apparently it is the Yazidis in northern Iraq. These people consider themselves a distinct ethnic and religious group from the Kurds with whom they live in Iraq, though the Kurds consider them Kurdish. Their religion combines elements of Zoroastrianism with Sufi Islam. One of their important angels is represented on earth in peacock form, and was flung out of paradise for refusing to bow down to Adam. While the Yazidis see that as a sign of goodness, many Muslims view the figure as a fallen angel and regard the Yazidis as devil-worshippers. Fun Facts: the Yadzidi don’t eat lettuce, either, and also boast a long tradition of kidnapping their wives. The photo above shows them slaughtering a sheep, which they do eat.

    Between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians (kind of a big spread of an estimate given how important these people are now to the U.S.) are currently stranded on Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq without food and water, having been driven out of town by ISIS earlier this week.

    So, in response to this humanitarian crisis, or this genocide as the New Yorker called it, Obama’s answer is pretty much the same answer (the only answer?) to any unfolding world event, more U.S. military intervention.

    With no apparent irony, the White House spokesperson, surnamed Earnest (honestly, Orwell must be laughing in his grave) said on the same day “We can’t solve these problems for them. These problems can only be solved with Iraqi political solutions.”

    Obama also has said U.S. airstrikes on Iraq aim to protect U.S. military advisers in Iraq who one guesses are not part of that political solution by definition.

    Some Questions

    I feel for anyone suffering, and I have no doubt the Yazidis are suffering. But as we start bombing things in Iraq again, let’s invite Obama to answer a few questions; White House journalists, pens at the ready please:

    — Since this is happening in Iraq, and the U.S. spent $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army and sold it some serious weaponry, why isn’t it the Iraqis who will be doing any needed bombing? Is it because they are incompetent, or is it because the Baghdad government is either afraid to operate in Kurdish territory and/or wholly unconcerned what the hell happens up there?

    Yep, might be those things. The Yazidis have long complained that neither Iraq’s Arabs nor Kurds protect them. In 2007, in what remains one of the most lethal attacks during the American Occupation, suicide bombers driving trucks packed with explosives attacked a Yazidi village in northwestern Iraq, killing almost 800 people.

    — At the same time, since this is happening in defacto Kurdistan, and the U.S. has spent billions there since 1991 and supplied it some serious weaponry, why isn’t it the Kurds who will be doing any needed bombing to protect those they consider their own people? Hmm, just an idea, but the U.S. has recently imposed an economic oil embargo on Kurds to force them to stay with Iraq and they might be unhappy with American ‘stuff right now.

    — Outside Kurdistan/Iraq, the other major Yazidi population centers are in Turkey and Iran. So why aren’t they doing any needed bombing?

    — If indeed this Yazidi issue is a genocide, why isn’t the U.S. seeking UN action or sanction? The UN has, after all, started safely extracting small number of Yazidis. Could anyone help with that?

    — If indeed this Yazidi issue is a genocide, why aren’t any of America’s allies jumping in to assist in any needed bombing? Seriously, if all this is really so important, how come it is just the U.S. involved, always?

    — While saving the Yazidis is the stated goal, in fact any U.S. airstrikes are technically and officially acts of war on behalf of the Government of Iraq. And we’re also cool with that, yes?

    — And c’mon, isn’t this just a cynical excuse to tug on some American heartstrings, crank up the war fever and get us back into the Iraq war? ‘Cause even if that’s not the intention, it is a likely result.

    — And Obama, we’re gonna be cool announcing the loss of American life, again, in Iraq, this time to save the Yazidi? ‘Cause even though there are supposedly no boots on the ground, there is no way you are going to drop bombs near civilians you are trying to protect without Special Forces laying their boots on the ground to guide in the airstrikes. We are not Israelis, after all.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Inside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

    June 20, 2014 // 36 Comments »

    As the U.S. “relocates” personnel (it’s not an “evacuation”) out of the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, it is valuable to look at that one billion dollar monument to American hubris.

    Though likely tens of thousands of people have been inside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and a great many of them have scattered photos of the place across the social media landscape, actual official photos of the embassy have been limited to a handle of narrow views. The stated reason for all this is “security.”

    Of course a simple Google search will reveal many images; there even were 3-D model of the place online.

    Still, what has been missing is a really nice color shot of the lawn. We have that now, posted online by someone:

    There is a very interesting backstory to that nice lawn you see pictured above. If you’ve read my book about Iraq, We Meant Well, you may already know the story:

    The World’s Biggest Embassy (104 acres, 22 buildings, thousands of staff, a $116 million vehicle inventory), physically larger than the Vatican, was a sign of our commitment to Iraq, at least our commitment to excess. “Along with the Great Wall of China,” said the ambassador, Chris Hill at the time, “the Baghdad Embassy is one of those things you can see with the naked eye from outer space.” The newly-opened embassy was made up of large office buildings, the main one built around a four-story atrium, with overhead lights that resembled sails. If someone told us there was a Bath and Body Works in there, we would not have thought it odd. The embassy itself, including juicy cost overruns, cost the American taxpayer about one billion dollars.

    The World’s Biggest Embassy sat in, or perhaps defined, the Green Zone. Called the Emerald City by some, the Green Zone represented the World’s Largest Public Relations Failure. In the process of deposing Saddam, we placed our new seat of power right on top of his old one, just as the ancient Sumerians built their strongholds on top of fallen ones out in the desert. In addition to the new buildings, Saddam’s old palaces in the Zone were repurposed as offices, and Saddam’s old jails became our new jails. Conveniently for Iraqis, the overlords might have changed, but the address had not. The place you went to visit political prisoners who opposed Saddam was still the place you went to look for relatives who opposed the Americans.

    The new Embassy compound isolated American leadership at first physically, and, soon after, mentally as well. The air of otherworldliness started right with the design of the place. American architects had planned for the Embassy grounds to have all sorts of trees, grassy areas and outdoor benches; the original drawings made it look like a leafy college campus. For a place in the desert, the design could not have been more impractical. But in 2003, no projection into the future was too outlandish. One building at the compound was purpose-built to be the international school to educate the diplomats’ happy children who accompanied their parents on assignment. It was now used only for offices. Each embassy apartment offered a full-size American range, refrigerator, and dishwasher, as if staffers might someday take their families to shop at a future Baghdad Safeway like they do in Seoul or Brussels. In fact, all food was trucked in directly from Kuwait, along with American office supplies, souvenir mugs, and T-shirts (“My father was assigned to Embassy Baghdad and all I got was…”, “I’d Walk a Mile for a Camel”) and embassy staff were prohibited from buying anything to eat locally. The Embassy generated its own electricity, purified its own water from the nearby Tigris and processed its own sewage, hermetically sealed off from Iraq.

    The ambassador, who fancied himself a sportsman, ordered grass to grow on the large sandy area in front of the main Embassy building, a spot at one time designated as a helicopter landing zone, since relocated. Gardeners brought in tons of dirt and planted grass seed. A nearly endless amount of water was used, but despite clear orders to do so, the grass would not grow. Huge flocks of birds arrived. The birds had never seen so much seed on the ground in one place and ate passionately. No grass grew. The ambassador would not admit defeat. He ordered sod be imported into Kuwait, and then brought by armored convoy to the embassy. No one confessed to what it cost to import, but estimates varied between two and five million dollars. The sod was put down and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were used to make it live in what was practically a crime against nature. Whole job positions existed to hydrate and tend the grass. No matter what Iraq and nature wanted, the American Embassy spent whatever it took to have green grass in the desert. Later full grown palm trees were trucked in and planted to line the grassy square.

    We made things in Iraq look the way we wanted them to look, water shortages throughout the rest of Iraq be dammed. The grass was the perfect allegory for the whole war.

    BONUS: Long-time friend of the blog Rich submitted this poem by Carl Sandburg as a coda to the green grass of the Baghdad Embassy:

    Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
    Shovel them under and let me work—
    I am the grass; I cover all.

    And pile them high at Gettysburg
    And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
    Shovel them under and let me work.
    Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

    What place is this?

    Where are we now?

    I am the grass.
    Let me work.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Whither Iraq? What’s Happening Had to Happen

    June 13, 2014 // 17 Comments »

    The events unfolding now in Iraq are inevitable. They are the latest iteration of all the good we failed to do from day one of America’s ill-fated invasion in 2003.

    Some History

    Iraq before our invasion was three separate pseudo-states held together by a powerful security apparatus under Saddam. If you like historical explanations, this disparate collection was midwifed by the British following WWI, as they drew borders in the MidEast to their own liking, with often no connection to the ground-truth of the real ethnic, religious and tribal boundaries.

    That mess held together more or less until the U.S. foolishly broke it apart in 2003 with no real understanding of what it did. As Saddam was removed, and his security regime dissolved alongside most of civilian society, the seams broke open.

    The Kurds quickly created a de facto state of their own, with its own military (the pesh merga), government and borders. U.S. money and pressure restrained them from proclaiming themselves independent, even as they waged border wars with Turkey and signed their own oil contracts.

    Sunni-Shia Rift

    The Sunni-Shia rift fueled everything that happened in Iraq, and is happening now. The U.S. never had a long game for this, but never stopped meddling in the short-term. The Surge was one example. The U.S. bought off the Sunni bulk with actual cash “salaries” to their fighters (the U.S. first called them the Orwellian “Concerned Local Citizens” and then switched to “Sons of Iraq,” which sounded like an old Bob Hope road movie title.) The U.S. then also used Special Forces to assassinate Sunni internal enemies– a favored sheik need only point at a rival, label him al-Qaeda, and the night raids happened. A lull in the killing did occur as a result of the Surge, but was only sustained as long as U.S. money flowed in. As the pay-off program was “transitioned” to the majority Shia central government, it quickly fell apart.

    The Shias got their part of the deal when, in 2010, in a rush to conclude a Prime Ministerial election that would open the door to a U.S. excuse to pack up and leave Iraq, America allowed the Iranians to broker a deal where we failed. The Sunnis were marginalized, a Shia government was falsely legitimized and set about pushing aside the Sunni minority from the political process, Iranian influence increased, the U.S. claimed victory, and then scooted our military home. Everything since then between the U.S. and Iraq– pretending Maliki was a legitimate leader, the billions in aid, the military and police training, the World’s Largest Embassy– has been pantomime.

    Post-America Iraq

    But the departure of the U.S. military, and the handing over of relations to the ever-limp fortress American embassy, left Iraq’s core problems intact. Last year’s Sunni siege of Fallujah only underscored the naughty secret that western Iraq had been and still is largely under Sunni control with very little (Shia) central government influence. That part of Iraq flows seamlessly over the artificial border with Syria, and the successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a war zone that now takes in both countries should not be a surprise.

    The titular head of Iraq now, Nuri al-Maliki, is watching it all unravel in real-time. He has become scared enough to call for U.S. airstrikes to protect his power. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. will comply, though covert strikes and some level of Special Forces action may happen behind the scenes. That won’t work of course. What the full weight of the U.S. military could not do over nine years, a few drone killings cannot do. It’s like using a can opener to try and catch fish.

    What Might Happen Next

    Things are evolving quickly in Iraq, but for now, here are some possible scenarios. The Kurds are the easy ones; they will keep on doing what they have been doing. They will fight back effectively and keep their oil flowing. They’ll see Baghdad’s influence only in the rear-view mirror.

    The Sunnis will at least retain de facto control of western Iraq, maybe more. They are unlikely to be set up to govern in any formal way, but may create some sort of informal structure to collect taxes, enforce parts of the law and chase away as many Shias as they can. Violence will continue, sometimes hot and nasty, sometimes low-level score settling.

    The Shias are the big variable. Maliki’s army seems in disarray, but if he only needs it to punish the Sunnis with violence it may prove up to that. Baghdad will not “fall.” The city is a Shia bastion now, and the militias will not give up their homes. A lot of blood may be spilled, but Baghdad will remain Shia-controlled and Maliki will remain in charge in some sort of limited way.

    The U.S. will almost certainly pour arms and money into Iraq in the same drunken fashion we always have. Special Forces will quietly arrive to train and advise. It’ll be enough to keep Maliki in power but not much more than that. Domestically we’ll have to endure a barrage of “who lost Iraq?” and the Republicans will try and blast away at Obama for not “doing enough.” United States is poised to order an evacuation of the embassy, Fox News reported, but that is unlikely. “Unessential” personnel will be withdrawn, many of those slated to join the embassy out of Washington will be delayed or canceled, but the embarrassment of closing Fort Apache down would be too much for Washington to bear. The U.S. will use airstrike and drones if necessary to protect the embassy so that there will be no Benghazi scenario.

    What is Unlikely to Happen

    The U.S. will not intervene in any big way, absent protecting the embassy. Obama has cited many times the ending of the U.S. portion of the Iraq war as one of his few foreign policy successes and he won’t throw that under the bus. The U.S. backed off from significant involvement in Syria, and has all but ignored Libya following Benghazi, and that won’t change.

    The U.S. must also be aware that intervening to save Maliki puts us on the same side in this mess as the Iranians.

    Almost none of this has to do with al Qaeda or international terrorism, though those forces always profit from chaos.

    The Turks may continue to snipe at the Kurds on their disputed border, but that conflict won’t turn hot. The U.S. will keep the pressure on to prevent that, and everyone benefits if the oil continues to flow.

    The Iranians will not intervene any more than the Americans might. A little help to Malaki here (there are reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the fighting), some weapons there, but Iran is only interested in a secure western border and the Sunni Surge should not threaten that significantly enough to require a response. Iran also has no interest in giving the U.S. an excuse to fuss around in the area. A mild level of chaos in Iraq suits Iran’s needs just fine for now.


    There are still many fools at loose in the castle. Here’s what Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics said: “There is hope… that this really scary, dangerous moment will serve as a catalyst to bring Iraqis together, to begin the process of reconciliation.”

    Brett McGurk, the State Department’s point man on Iraq, brought out a tired trope, on Twitter no less: “The U.S. has a permanent Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq. We have suffered and bled together, and we will help in time of crisis.”

    The war in Iraq was lost as it started. There was no way for America to win it given all of the above, whether the troops stayed forever or not. The forces bubbling inside Iraq might have been contained a bit, or a bit longer, but that’s about all that could have been expected. Much of the general chaos throughout the Middle East now is related to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and how that upset multiple balances of power and uneasy relationships. The Iraq war will be seen as one of the most significant foreign policy failures of recent American history. That too is inevitable.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Iraq PRT Nostalgia

    October 12, 2013 // 1 Comment »

    I would have thought that it was a bit early for nostalgia for the halcyon days of Provincial Reconstruction Work (PRT) in Iraq, but things move quickly these days. At least no one is calling it “The Good War’ or us “The Most Recent Greatest Generation.”

    But hey, what’s past is past, right (sorry to you Iraqis who live everyday in the hell we Americans now consider “history”)?

    So for those who worked in the reconstruction program, or who did not but still want to impress the ladies on a night out, there is available now Baghdad PRT memorabilia. No, no, not the missing billions of dollars in “lost” taxpayer money or the many computers, generators and vehicles bought to grow Iraq’s democracy, but groovy t-shirts and even a logo’ed teddy bear. Snap these up folks!

    It is hopefully not necessary to add, but since this is the internet, I have nothing to do with the selling of these items and make no money from either the items or mentioning them here.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Report from Baghdad: Still Liked on Facebook

    June 5, 2013 // 8 Comments »

    Along with the odd threat or hate mail (a few people hilariously misunderstand the book’s title We Meant Well as being serious and chastise me for supporting the Iraq War), some interesting things pop up. Here’s one, a report from the front lines of freedom in Iraq:

    I work in Iraq and I’ve seen first hand the waste and abuse you chronicled so well during the “reconstruction”. I think you once called the US Mission in Iraq a ‘self-licking ice cream cone’ — a self-contained, self-aggrandizing system of little actual use to Iraqis. An apt analogy.

    Here’s something you’d appreciate:

    A couple of days ago, just minutes after a briefing on the latest death toll from sectarian violence (50 killings in one night; 520 close to 1000 total this month) in Iraq, I attended a meeting with people who were enthusiastically discussing the massive uptick in “likes” on our mission’s Facebook page.

    As journalism, I checked Facebook to find that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has some 137,000 “likes.” Their banner graphic celebrates breaking 100,000. As a comparison, retired porn star Jenna Jameson’s Facebook page as 566,703 likes. Maybe the Embassy needs to show more skin?

    So, as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains the world’s largest and most expensive diplomatic mission, we salute the brave boys and girls out there who are still more focused on their Facebook likes than Rome burning down around them. To Victory!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure (in the Middle East)

    November 16, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    Storms that knock out power for days, stripping away the veil that America’s infrastructure matches its first-world ambitions, are now common-place. Equally common, at least while there was an election on, were statements by candidates about “nation building at home” and “rebuilding America’s infrastructure.”

    Candidate Obama repeatedly assured Americans that it was time to reap a peace dividend as America’s wars wind down. Nation-building here at home should, he insisted, be put on the agenda: “What we can now do is free up some resources, to, for example, put Americans back to work, especially our veterans, rebuilding our roads, our bridges.”

    The news is that the spending process is already well underway, albeit by the Pentagon, in the Middle East. TomDispatch, in an excellent piece America Begins Nation-Building at Home (Provided Your Home is the Middle East) by Nick Turse, lays out the extent of taxpayer money being spent: The Pentagon awarded $667.2 million in contracts in 2012, and more than $1 billion during Barack Obama’s first term in office for construction projects in largely autocratic Middle Eastern nations, according to figures provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District (USACE-MED). More than $178 million in similar funding is already anticipated for 2013. These contracts represent a mix of projects, including expanding and upgrading military bases used by U.S. troops in the region, building facilities for indigenous security forces, and launching infrastructure projects meant to improve the lives of local populations.

    The figures are telling, but far from complete. They do not, for example, cover any of the billions spent on work at the more than 1,000 U.S. and coalition bases, outposts, and other facilities in Afghanistan or the thousands more manned by local forces. They also leave out construction projects undertaken in the region by other military services like the U.S. Air Force, as well as money spent at an unspecified number of bases in the Middle East that the Corps of Engineers “has no involvement with,” according to Joan Kibler, chief of the Middle East District’s public affairs office.

    But what is a picture if not worth a few million bucks? The photo above is of the $1 billion U.S. embassy in Baghdad, bad enough but at least still in partial use. Here’s a photo of just part of the U.S.-built facility at the Baghdad Airport. Everything you see was carted to Iraq with your tax dollars, put up and maintained with your tax dollars, and then simply abandoned along with your tax dollars when the Iraq War got boring for the U.S. Have a look:

    Read more at TomDispatch.com

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Social Media Fails in Baghdad (and London)

    November 8, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    One assumes that the purpose of US State Department social media is to win friends and influence enemies, build support for America, something like that.

    So WTF is this all about? The photo below was part of the US Embassy in Baghdad’s Twitter feed, and shows some unnamed white guy standing next to who? Is she famous, maybe Iraq’s version of the Gangnam guy? I don’t know much about the Middle East and all, but is it impressive to show a woman all made-up? Who are these people? And who on earth was so thrilled about this photo that he “favorited” it? It’s Instagram paid for with taxes. Oh, I feel old and out of touch.

    (Note: Almost all embassies and consulates host taxpayer-paid election night parties, around the world. Sometimes local businesses are strong-armed into “donating” food and drink. State loves these events as a chance to get all high and mighty about the wonders of democracy, even, without irony, in the many places around the world where we actively oppose local democratic movements as inconvenient to our geopolitical goals.

    Also, in the UK, the US Embassy in London hired an Elvis imitator for some reason.

    It is a tough job being a diplomat, but luckily there is alcohol.)

    Next up on the US Embassy Twitter feed parade o’ photos is this one, subtitled in English “How would you feel if your wife’s salary was higher than yours?” I am truly at a loss about what the purpose of this one is. Is it supposed to make men feel better about women working? Support bird rights in the new Iraq? Arabic speakers, is there a secret meaning hidden in the text? The woman looks a little like the Lois character from Family Guy, so maybe it is what the young people call “meta.” A commenter named “WRC” wrote “very impressive photo” underneath, but drilling down it turns out he is the CEO of a firm doing contract work for the U.S. embassy in Iraq. That may be the intended target audience of the embassy’s social media, so it would be cool then.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Follow Maliki on Twitter

    November 3, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    This has to be a sign of the Apocalypse or something worse. Iranian-backed American puppet democratic leader Iraqi strongman Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki now has a Twitter account you can follow at @IDawaParty.

    The US Embassy in Baghdad, following the Secretary of State’s clarion call into social media, has set up a Twitter account but so far nothing more than the usual happy talk generic Tweets. Probably still waiting for clearance on the first one from Washington. They “follow” the State Department Twitter account, though.

    Maliki’s Dawa party also has a wacky website, including a feature where you can email the PM. I already emailed him to see if he wants a free copy of We Meant Well, but so far no reply. The web page also includes a not-yet-functional link that would allow you to donate to the Dawa party charity, which would probably violate some sort of law. Follow the link above and send Maliki an email greeting!

    The US Embassy in Baghdad’s web site has a neat section on “hot topics,” which implies some sort of current events theme. When you click through to the hot topics for Iraq, however, the most recent posting is dated June 2011. One groovy “hot topic” quotes Secretary Clinton from 2010 congratulating Iraq, saying “Iraq’s political leaders have worked together to agree on an inclusive government that represents the will of the Iraqi people.” Oops.

    The really interesting thing is that all the web sites, Dawa included, are in English (the “Hot Topics” on the US site are also available in Arabic, but just as out of date). Kinda makes you wonder who the intended audience is.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Social Media Uber Alles: Embassy Baghdad Gets Its Head Around Twitter

    September 28, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    Taxpayers, a robust group huzzah please! The US Embassy in Baghdad has taken a bold, innovative step towards resolving all problems in Iraq, large and small: The Embassy is now paying someone with your tax dollars to Tweet!

    Sorry neigh sayers, it is true. We all know that social media is the key to public diplomacy at the State Department and now the machine is alive in Iraq.

    Because of the obvious crazy high start up costs and the complexity of using Twitter, the one mission that just couldn’t seem to get Tweeting was the World’s Largest Embassy (c), Baghdad, still without a first Tweet until just August 27. They have been prioritized for a robust MySpace and used up all the electrons in Iraq there, though Baghdad does have a nice Facebook page for study in the US (a lot of Iraqis would like to get on that train; almost all of the postings are asking for visas, scholarships or for someone to answer their emailed requests for visas and scholarships) and a YouTube channel. This blog even did its patriotic duty by suggesting some Tweets for the diplowarriors to begin with, but never mind, here is the real thing:

    Of the 3,000 some employees the State Department has in Iraq, one (maybe more; no one at State can write anything without two other people to supervise and clear it) is now staffing the Tweets. And look at the things you’ll see there:

    First Tweet (8/27): Generic repeat of State worldwide Tweet on absentee voting

    8/29 Generic repeats of State worldwide Tweets on para-Olympics (NOTE: Relevant, given how many people lost limbs in the US invasion! FTW)

    9/5 (Took a few days off) First Tweet in Arabic, which many speak in Iraq, and it is… it is… a link to a CNN article about Facebook.

    And so on. See for yourself.

    May Allah please help these people. They are pathetic. No doubt some State Department person will be promoted for resuscitating the Twitter account, written up as “Robustly enhancing the social media outreach of Embassy Baghdad, dramatically increasing interactive outflow metrics with the Iraqi people. And world peace.”

    But really, this is just sad. With State Department Director of PT Barnum Affairs Alec Ross popping up worldwide to announce how innovative the State Department is, you’d think the world’s largest embassy staff could come up with something, anything better than generic propaganda Tweets and links to CNN articles. Maybe something unique to Iraq? Of interest to Iraqis?

    Your tax dollars at work Americans!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    State Department Twitter Overload

    July 6, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    Woooo, too much at once, like eating ice cream too fast and getting that brain freeze. So, no time to rest, here are the Tweets, now let’s break them down:

    To begin: HUZZAH! Thanks to the tireless efforts of America’s diplomats, St. Lucia has become the 100th state to endorse the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). PSI participants interdict illicit transfers of weapons of mass destruction and missile-related items, and strengthen legal authorities to conduct interdictions. Now the fact that St. Lucia is a tiny island country in the Caribbean of only 238 square miles with a population of 174,000 is irrelevant. They will not be acquiring WMDs, and thus it will be unnecessary to invade them. Scratch one off the “To Do” list. And you all thought those Caribbean embassies didn’t do any work. Shame.

    Slipped in between self-love Tweets by State is a note that the US has no freaking clue whatsoever about what is going on in Iraq. Though the State Department Twitterers failed to touch on the subject, the linked article notes “Despite the massive US Embassy in Baghdad, US government personnel have minimal freedom of movement due to security concerns and skyrocketing Iraqi government suspicion of any foreign information-gathering activities… US intelligence agencies in Iraq have also found themselves unable to maintain relations with the prickly and increasingly powerful civilian intelligence agencies in the country.” Oops, sorry ’bout them nine years of war and occupation Iraqis, but Happy July 4th!

    But the best is always last, another round of Hillary Clinton declaring Internet freedom for everyone. Clinton must have an alarm set on her smartphone to issue such a declaration every two weeks. Even as the US summons the Hawk Men to find and render Julian Assange, Hillary can’t stop her own self-loving, claiming “The free flow of news and information is under threat in countries around the world.”

    Wait, that is actually true. OK, here’s the ironical bit: “The United States was proud to work with the main sponsor, Sweden… to stand with our partners to address challenges to online freedom, and to ensure that human rights are protected in the public square of the 21st century.” Hah hah uninformed people, it’s funny because Sweden is trying to snare Assange for the US.

    Meanwhile, Hillary’s running dog Alex “The Innovator” Ross is burping out positive vibe Tweets with the hash tag #netfreedom in support. We’ll add a few choice comments to the feed with that same hashtag to keep things in balance later this morning.

    Whew, there you have it, one blast of Tweets to ruin your whole day. Anything new on Tom and Katie’s divorce by the way?

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    McGurk’s Wife Resigns from Wall Street Journal

    June 12, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    USA Today reports that Gina Chon, the most recent wife of Brett McGurk, ambassador-to-wanna-be-but-it-ain’t-gonna be nominee for Iraq has “been forced out of her job at the Wall Street Journal,” just days after saucy emails between her and her McGurk appeared on the Internet.

    USA Today politely adds that “The e-mails are also threatening to upend former White House adviser Brett McGurk’s nomination to the Baghdad post.”

    In a statement, the paper said that Gina Chon, a former Baghdad correspondent for the Journal, failed to notify her editor of her relationship with McGurk after the two became involved in 2008, and violated the company’s policy by sharing unpublished news articles with McGurk, then a member of the U.S. National Security Council in Iraq.

    “In 2008 Ms. Chon entered into a personal relationship with Mr. McGurk, which she failed to disclose to her editor,” the paper said in a statement. “At this time the Journal has found no evidence that her coverage was tainted by her relationship with Mr. McGurk.” A spokeswoman for the Journal declined to disclose details about the articles shared with McGurk.

    Well, at least she didn’t use that time-honored excuse of resigning to spend more time with her family.

    Now, it is time for McGurk to also do the honorable thing and bow out.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, HuffPo has a good article explaining how the most clear outcome of the US invasion of Iraq was to recreate the country as the newest ally of Iran, further hurting US efforts in the Middle East. McGurk should think himself lucky not to be ever-more tied to what is becoming one of the worst slow motion foreign policy train wrecks in American history.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    McGurk Senate Confirmation Hearing: Do the Emails Matter?

    June 6, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    US ambassadors in Iraq (and Afghanistan, and Pakistan…) seem to have the lifespan of Spinal Tap drummers.

    Our current man in Baghdad, James Jeffrey, is packing now and of the 220 million people in the US population, the only one the State Department can seem to come up with as a replacement is Brett McGurk. McGurk has his Senate confirmation hearing today.

    Linked In

    So let’s look at the resume of the guy America wants as the new ambassador to its pile of failed foreign policy doo doo, Brett McGurk:

    After law school and clerking, McGurk was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

    Advisor to the last three US Ambassadors to Iraq: Jim Jeffrey, Christopher Hill and good ol’ Ryan Crocker.

    National Security Council, director for Iraq and later as senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Lead negotiator for the 2008 US-Iraq security agreement that extended the U.S. troop presence there until the end of 2011 and leader of the failed negotiations in 2011 to extend the US troop presence in Iraq even longer. On this last point Senator McCain has voiced concerns over McGurk’s nomination. Asked if he would try to block the nomination, McCain said, “I have to see what happens in his hearing.”

    McGurk is 38 years old and has never done any job other than help muck up Iraq on behalf of the United States. Dude only graduated in 1999. Despite essentially doing nothing but Iraq stuff his entire adult life, McGurk has also avoided learning any Arabic. You’d kind of think that maybe that wouldn’t be the resume for the next guy in charge of cleaning up some of his own mistakes, like maybe you’d want someone who had some… depth or experience or broad knowledge or understanding of something other than failure in that God-forsaken country. Normally when you are a hand maiden to failure you don’t get promoted, but then again, this is the State Department. This is almost as good as Harriet Miers.

    How could this possibly not work out?

    Well, it seems McGurk is not as popular at the State Department as he would probably like to believe. The objections among the voiceless unwashed at State are that he is associated with pretty much everything that went wrong since 2003 and not in line with the “new beginning” meme State is still trying to sell, and he is so close to divisive Iraqi Prime Minister Malaki that it will be even harder for State to engage across the political spectrum in the “new” Iraq.

    The leaks out of Foggy Bottom have not been kind to McGurk. Some have claimed he is party to a sex tape filmed on the Republican Palace roof (I haven’t seen it, so don’t write in).

    The Alleged Emails from 2008

    Now, the latest leak shows the intrepid McGurk in his own words, or actually what purport to be his romantic-y emails from Baghdad in 2008 (I didn’t post them, I don’t know where they came from, don’t write in). The messages, to a reporter some have linked romantically to McGurk, are full of references to “blue balls” and “exercises” to relieve same, and plans for the two to meet up if McGurk can shake his security “goons.”

    If these emails are authentic, and I have no way to verify them (let’s ask State!), they raise questions about McGurk’s relationship with a reporter covering the news McGurk was creating, as well as his discretion and judgment. These emails would also raise questions about why the State Department would seek to withhold information that might be of interest to the Senate in assessing McGurk’s suitability to be ambassador to Iraq.

    I myself could care less what two adults agree to do, married or not, but State has disciplined its own Foreign Service Officers for extra marital affairs, and cautions against using official email for too-personal correspondence. Always want to keep an eye on double-standards so they don’t negatively influence morale among the troops.

    In the end, I’m sure that Iraq will just keep on being all it can be, as long as America sends her its best.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Hey, Remember Iraq?

    May 29, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    In honor of Memorial Day, just checking in on America’s 51st state seeing how things are going there. You’ll recall that the State Department has been busy as beavers training Iraqi police (until they quit) and Baghdad still boasts America’s/World’s Largest Embassy (I thought the Chinese were going to build a bigger one in Dubai, just to show off?) Once upon a time over 4484 Americans died in Iraq, which was the most important foreign policy thingee of the US ever. Until we quit.

    Anyway, over on the US Embassy Baghdad webpage, the featured item is a “How to Do Business in Iraq Guide.” Things are getting better all the time!

    Business aside, it has been another week of success in Iraq, so let’s just jump to the headlines:

    Explosive charge blast targets oil tank in Mosul
    5/20/2012 9:51 PM

    3 runaway prisoners nabbed in Basra
    5/20/2012 9:28 PM

    Remains of 69 Karbala residents found in Anbar
    5/20/2012 8:54 PM

    Six wounded in two explosions in Mosul
    5/20/2012 12:23 PM

    A soldier killed, another wounded north of Mosul
    5/18/2012 4:19 PM

    5 killed, 35 wounded in several explosions in Baghdad
    5/18/2012 2:08 PM

    Gunmen in police uniform attack house of Anbar media councilor
    5/17/2012 6:32 PM

    Shootout between Kurds, Turkomen leaves casualties in Touz Khourmato
    5/17/2012 4:08 PM

    Gunmen kidnap Kurd, wanted men arrested in Kirkuk
    5/17/2012 2:49 PM

    20 suspects detained in Wassit
    5/16/2012 12:43 PM

    2 sound bombs wound cop in Kirkuk
    5/16/2012 11:45 AM

    2 car bombs defused in Mosul
    5/15/2012 10:30 PM

    Mosul Qadha Council member assassinated
    5/15/2012 4:03 PM

    Cop killed in east Mosul
    5/15/2012 4:00 PM

    5 mortars land on RIF facility in Tikrit
    5/14/2012 10:59 PM

    Curfew lifted on Falluja
    5/14/2012 7:32 PM

    17 wanted arrested for terrorism west Mosul
    5/14/2012 6:01 PM

    3 civilians wounded as 3rd car bomb goes off
    5/14/2012 3:00 PM

    Anbar attacks not considered security escalation –interior ministry
    5/14/2012 2:57 PM

    Car bomb leaves 8 casualties in Falluja
    5/14/2012 2:48 PM

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Why Peace: Occupying Iraq, State Department-style

    May 13, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    I was very happy to contribute an essay, “Occupying Iraq, State Department-style” to the new book edited by Marc Guttman, Why Peace. My essay deals with the increasing narrow gap between the actions of the Department of Defense and the Department of State abroad, and the implications for America of a foreign policy devoted only to hostility.

    This book is an exploration of aggression, and of the evolutionary (and revolutionary) process to peace. Through the insights of men and women, from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives, Why Peace presents stories of wars, invasions, and political repressions—down to the most basic levels of authoritarianism. These individuals share mind-opening and inspiring personal experiences with state violence: North Korean gulag prisoners, exiled journalists, soldiers at war (and some who refused to go back), Colombian campesinos displaced by drug war fumigations, people violently displaced by their government for private corporate interests in the Amazon, families run over by war, victims of cluster bombs in Southeast Asia, Guantánamo prisoners, a Cuban student denied the rights to speak and organize, and much more.

    Read a review here or here to learn more.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Embassy to Nowhere

    April 27, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The American Conservative nails the symbolism:

    It would be too easy to say the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is a metaphor for the arrested development of our highly anticipated new “strategic partnership” with Iraq, but in many ways it is the most poignant symbol we have.

    But in case you missed it:

    Even neoconservative hawks saw this as a monumental mistake. “I think it’s ridiculous,” Michael Rubin, senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, told this reporter five years ago. “You should have put the [the embassy] on the edge of the city, where it does not disrupt the main business districts of the city. The symbolism is this is not an embassy, but a palace.”

    But it is OK, really, if we do say say ourselves:

    “We have a robust diplomatic presence,” assured Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides in a Feb. 8 briefing. “We have been fully and completely engaged on all of the political aspects” as well as training police, assisting with economic development, and working with the Iraq military through the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC). “We’re doing a better than fine job at accomplishing the goals we set out.”


    As for interacting with the Iraqi government, Nides said, “there hasn’t been a reduction in direct engagements, in fact I would argue it’s the reverse—our movements have been increasing over the last couple of years.” Official diplomatic “movements” have increased from 900 per month in the last quarter of 2011 to 1,200 in January of this year, he said. To get to that number, however, the department includes diplomats shuttling to and from the ministry buildings inside the International Zone, the spokesman admitted.

    And I get a chance to weigh in:

    Designed in 2003 as a symbol of America the Conqueror, the Baghdad embassy included buildings for an international school that never opened. A lawn was planted to beautify the embassy, outdoor water-misters installed to cool the air. Even the stark reality of the desert was not allowed to interfere with our plans. Instead, our failure to resolve the demons unleashed by the fall of Saddam crushed us, Van Buren added.

    Read the entire story now online at The American Conservative.

    And for a kind of companion piece, have a look at The irrelevance of America’s withdrawal from Iraq at Foreign Policy, which argues, well, that America’s presence in Iraq is irrelevant.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Viral BJ (BJ=Basic Justice, not that other thing)

    April 20, 2012 // Comments Off on Viral BJ (BJ=Basic Justice, not that other thing)

    If you are one of the few people who missed the story about an “alleged” sex tape that includes an “alleged” State Department VIP having “alleged” sex on the roof of the old US Embassy building in Baghdad, well, it must be for lack of interest, because the story seems to be popping up everywhere.

    Meanwhile, the State Department has yet to issue a denial, a curious thing. You can read the daily press briefing here to check.

    While the story has not made it to Doha yet, it is in the UK and another in the UK, India, Poland, and Nigeria. The Week, which include the story as item number three in “Five scandals that could undo Obama’s re-election bid.”

    Basic Justice

    “BJ” in this context stands for “basic justice,” not the naughty thing you were thinking of, shame. My point in raising all this fuss is to mark the way the State Department turns on charges of “poor judgment” against me for blogging (I am being fired due to my book and this blog, long before any sex tapes raised their, er, head) while turning its back on any number of instances of questionable behavior when the persons involved are not bloggers that they are looking for an excuse to fire.

    Here’s one of the actual charges:

    Which referred to this:

    For those who don’t recall, that photo of Ms. Bachmann (of questionable judgment of its own) appeared on thousands of web sites; try this Google search to see. And yes, everyone from Colbert to Leno to the guy in your car pool (and me) made the same joke about it.

    Childish? A bit. Snarky. Yes. Maybe even rude, funny, immature, naughty, bad taste, whatever. But a firing offense? Seems a stretch, especially since the photo appeared briefly on my blog in October 2011 and here we are firing me in late April 2012, some six months of festering “poor judgement” later. Now that seems a bit, well, childish. Or maybe vengeful.

    Keeping State Secrets

    I met recently with a group of young professionals in Washington interested in foreign affairs, several of whom expressed some interest in joining the State Department. The question of security clearances came up, and the point I made was that more and more the secrets you will be asked to keep are not matters of national security as much as matters of embarrassment.

    Instead of keeping vital info from the Chinese, you are instead expected to remain silent when your boss has sex on the roof above you. Instead of keeping information secret to protect the President, you instead must learn to keep silent when his Secret Service agents bring whores back to their Government-paid hotel rooms abroad.

    Those are the secrets you must keep. Anything else is poor judgment.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Happy Ninth Anniversary Iraq Invasion!

    April 1, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    (This article originally appeared on Huffington Post)

    Just like with my own wedding anniversary, I’m a few days late recognizing the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, but sincere in marking the occasion none the less.

    As with wedding anniversaries (I am really sorry honey, I thought you liked Denny’s and yes, in retrospect, a gift card for flowers is not the same as flowers ), another year having past is a good time to pause and take stock. Following the US invasion of March 2003, we cycled through excuses for the war like gluttonous Mr. Creosote, never really satisfied as we passed through no WMDs, blood for oil, ridding the world of yet another evil dictator (while supporting so many others in Yemen, Egypt, and at that time Syria and Libya), stopping terrorism and all the rest. As the clock ran out in Iraq, we settled on “creating a 1) stable, 2) democratic Iraq that is an 3) ally of the US.” And even that was like, whatever, two out of three maybe.

    Sad to say even after 4480 American deaths, 100,000+ dead Iraqis, trillions of greenbacks and all the rest, for most Americans wars are just another sporting event. We watch while it is going on, lose interest near the end and afterwards just declare it a victory (or a tie, we never lose) and change the channel to Syria.

    But before we do that, today at least in honor of the anniversary, let’s just have a quick look at Iraq.

    Tuesday morning, at least 16 near-simultaneous explosions struck cities and towns (Baghdad+Karbala+Kirkuk+Ramadi+Mosul+Hilla+Tikrit+TuzKhurmatu+Daquq+Baiji+Dibis+AlDhuluiyah+Samarra+Baquba+Mahmudiyah) across Iraq, killing at least 45 people and wounding more than 200, despite a massive security clampdown ahead of next week’s Arab League summit. It was Iraq’s deadliest day in nearly a month, and the breadth of coordinated bombs showed an apparent determination by insurgents to prove that the government cannot keep the country safe ahead of the summit.

    Malaki still holds some senior cabinet positions for himself, and still has an arrest warrant out for his own VP, who is in hiding in Kurdistan where Baghdad’s law does not apply. On Monday, a million loyalists of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rallied in south Iraq Monday decrying poor services and rampant graft. Demonstrators shouted: “Yes to rights! Yes to humanity! No to injustice! No to poverty! No to corruption!”

    Some protesters held aloft electrical cables, water canisters and shovels to symbolise the poor services that plague Iraq. Others carried empty coffins with words plastered on them such as “democracy”, “electricity,” “education” and “services”. Iraq suffers from electricity shortages, with power cuts multiplying during the boiling summer, poor clean water provision, widespread corruption and high unemployment. This is despite the US spending $44 billion on reconstruction in Iraq, the failure of which was the subject of my book, We Meant Well.

    Ally of the US
    Syria, America’s itch up its butt de jeur in the Middle East, is suddenly full of bad people (we used to support; in 2003 when the Iraq invasion started we were still rendering prisoners to Syria to torture on our behalf) and yet another regime America has unilaterally decided must change. OK, well enough, except that reports indicate that Iranian weapons are flowing through ally Iraq into Syria, and Iraq tells the US it won’t stop them. What are friends for, am I right?

    The ties between Iraq and Iran continue to strengthen, with Iraq serving as a money laundering stopover for sanctioned Iran, even as Iran sells electricity to Iraq (that darned failed reconstruction again). Indeed, with Iran now able to meddle in Iraq in ways it never could have with Saddam Hussein in power, the country will be more able to contest US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. The grim irony, notes Ted Galen Carpenter of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute in an op-ed for the Washington Post, is that by invading Iraq in 2003, “the United States has paid a terrible cost – some $850 billion and more than 4,400 dead American soldiers – to make Iran the most influential power in Iraq.”

    Happy Anniversary honey, and I’ll be sure to remember it on the right day next year! After all, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, what’s the point, right? We’ll do something special next year, like maybe a trip to Tehran? Love ya’!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    New Ambassador to Iraq Done Little with Life But Iraq Mistakes

    March 28, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    Rule No. 1: When you find yourself in a hole, first thing to do is stop digging it deeper.

    So, with all the good news in Iraq these days (didn’t you see, Disney is buying up land for an oil-based water park), you’d think that some new thinking might be just the thing.

    Looking back on events since 2003 (looting, dissolution of civil society, disbanding the army and police, losing trillions of dollars, Sunni-Shia-Kurd slaughter, civil war, Stalingrad on the Tigris in Falluja, more civil war, Abu Ghraid, failed reconstruction, failed US base strategy, failed US elections strategy, failed US oil strategy, failed US Kurd reconciliation strategy, World’s Largest and Most Expensive White Elephant Embassy, Iran-sympathetic autocracy emerging, etc) it sure seems that the US has made its share of mistakes.

    So let’s look at the resume of the guy Obama wants as the new American Ambassador to this pile of failed foreign policy doo doo, Brett McGurk:

    After law school and clerking, McGurk was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

    Advisor to the last three US Ambassadors to Iraq: Jim Jeffries, Ryan Crocker, and Christopher Hill.

    National Security Council, director for Iraq and later as senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Lead negotiator for the 2008 US-Iraq security agreement that extended the U.S. troop presence there until the end of 2011 and leader of the failed negotiations in 2011 to extend the US troop presence in Iraq even longer.

    McGurk is 38 years old and has never done any job other than help fuck up Iraq on behalf of the United States. Dude only graduated in 1999. Despite essentially doing nothing but Iraq stuff his entire adult life, McGurk has also avoided learning any Arabic. You’d kind of think that maybe that wouldn’t be the resume for the next guy in charge of cleaning up some of his own mistakes, like maybe you’d want someone who had some… depth or experience or broad knowledge or understanding of something other than failure in that God-forsaken country. Normally when you are a hand maiden to failure you don’t get promoted, but then again, this is the State Department. This is almost as good as Harriet Miers.

    How could this possibly not work out?

    Oh yeah, a lot of Iraqis don’t like McGurk because he is seen as a toady for Prime Minister Malaki, our brother freedom fighter in Baghdad. “Many Iraqi players outside Maliki’s circle view McGurk as an advocate for the prime minister. That may not be a fair characterization, but the perceptions are there on the ground. There’s the possibility that this sentiment could undermine our perception of neutrality and therefore our ability to effectively mediate disputes between all Iraqi factions,” one expert said.

    Also, Gordon Gecko called and wants his hairstyle back. Party on, McGurk!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    From the PRT Diaspora: A New Hope

    February 25, 2012 // Comments Off on From the PRT Diaspora: A New Hope

    An email from a former PRT member…

    Before I worked with the PRT program I thought the foreign service was full of brilliant diplomats and that all the policies were in good hands. Now I’m not so sure and feel unsettled anytime I hear the DOS is in charge of doing something important.

    Your book brought back so many memories as I was reading it I was struck by how common the experience was that we shared. I did 2.5 years on two PRTs in [Iraq]. As hopeless and ineffective as the program was though, it was also the best job I’ve ever had, just like the Peace Corps but with money. Maybe we didn’t accomplish much but a few of us did learn a great deal. And I will never forget all those great soldiers and a few of the civilians I worked with. Seriously, I did learn a lot there and hope to use the skills and knowledge to actually have a positive impact on Iraq in the coming years. I am currently in Baghdad about to launch a consulting firm to help companies operate and set up shop here.

    Despite all the incompetence that you accurately describe, I do see things going in a good direction in Iraq, at least as far as the economy goes. The commitment of the U.S. to stay despite all the losses we took deserves some of the credit for that. I set up a page on Facebook to follow economic developments.

    Please check it out, as the news is not all bad and I will be posting at least a few positive stories here and there.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    My New York Times Mini Op-Ed

    February 11, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    (This piece appeared originally in the New York Times on February 9, 2012)

    The State Department’s reduction of staff in Iraq is the final act of the American invasion. The war is now really over.

    The U.S. has finally acknowledged that Iraq is not its most important foreign policy story.
    Designed as a symbol of America the Conqueror, the United States Embassy in Baghdad included buildings for an international school that never opened. It featured apartments stocked with American-size refrigerators waiting for the first Baghdad Safeway. A lawn was planted to beautify the embassy, outdoor water misters installed to cool the air so even the stark reality of the desert was not allowed to interfere with plans.

    Instead, the debris of failure to resolve the demons unleashed by the fall of Saddam crushed the U.S. Literally only days after the U.S. military withdrawal, the world’s largest embassy watched helplessly as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki tried to arrest his own vice president, who fled to Kurdistan where Iraqi government forces are powerless to intervene. Sectarian violence came back on the boil, returning if not with 2007’s vengeance, then at least with its purpose.

    The U.S. has finally acknowledged that Iraq is not its most important foreign policy story, and that America’s diplomats cannot survive on their own in the middle of a civil war. The embassy will eventually shrink to the small-to-medium scale that Iraq requires (think Turkey or Jordan). America’s relationship will wither into the same uneasy state of half-antagonistic, half-opportunistic status that we enjoy with the other autocrats in the Middle East. Maliki will continue to expertly play the U.S. off the Iranians and vice versa. U.S. military sales and oil purchases will assure him the soft landing someday of a medical visa to the United States à la Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, and not the sanctioned disposal awaiting Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

    My book about the failed occupation and reconstruction of Iraq is called “We Meant Well.” Given the recent events, my next volume will be entitled “I Told You So.”

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    US Embassy Helo Hella Fail in Baghdad

    January 27, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The World’s Largest Most Expensive Embassy (c) maintains its own air force, several dozen helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The aircraft ferry personnel in and out of Iraq (commercial air transport is considered unsafe so State Department personnel roll private from Amman or Kuwait into Baghdad), and move people around inside the country.

    The helicopters are also used by some of the 5,500 mercenaries hired to protect the Embassy, for observation and armed search and rescue missions when a diplo convoy gets ambushed along some freedom highway in Iraq.

    So it is a developing story that one of State’s merc helos went down inside Baghdad today and had to be rescued itself, eventually hauled back in shame into the Green Zone on a flatbed trailer with the Iraqi Army in support. Agence France-Presse on Twitter is the only outlet that even seems vaguely interested in a story that would represent a major diplomatic incident had it occurred in any other country.

    The Embassy states it was an “emergency landing” with no one hurt, but refuses further comment. Oh well, Iraq is a special place.

    For me, I tried as hard as possible to always fly Army while I was in Iraq. As recounted in We Meant Well, the closest I came to getting killed was when a State Department helicopter idiotically took off with me still standing next to it, the tail rotor swishing just over my head and the head of the bewildered crew chief the pilot accidentally left on the ground with me. The door was wasn’t closed and so the pilot also lost an unsecured weapon and some other items in his haste to depart. Army radios couldn’t contact the State helo radio, so we had to make a phone call to the Embassy to call the mercs to radio the helicopter to recall the helicopter.

    Until we know more about the downed helicopter, Embassy staffers are advised to buckle their seatbelts when in flight– it may be a bumpy ride.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    4479 Reasons the Iraq War was a Waste

    January 23, 2012 // Comments Off on 4479 Reasons the Iraq War was a Waste

    In December 2011, President Obama paid tribute to the more than one million Americans who served in Iraq, the 4,479 fallen Americans and thousands wounded, as well as Iraqis who gave their lives. “They are the reason that we can stand here today and we owe it to every single one of them, we have a moral obligation to all of them, to build a future worthy of their sacrifice,” he said.

    He lied.

    As the war drums beat again (Iran this time), we must remember how little politicians actually value our lives. Let us start making a list in relation to what Iraq has become:

    4479: General Qassim Sulaimani, head of the Iranian Qods force for Iraq and scenic Lebanon, saying “Iraq is under the will of Tehran.”

    David Hickman, 23, of Greensboro was the last of the 4479 Americans killed during the Iraq War and Occupation. According to an Associated Press analysis of casualty data, the average age of Americans who died in Iraq was 26. Nearly 1,300 were 22 or younger, but middle-aged people fought and died as well: some 511 were older than 35.

    “I used to watch all the war stories on TV, you know,” said Needham, Hickman’s old coach. “But since this happened to David, I can’t watch that stuff anymore. I just think: That’s how he died.”

    4478: 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent, 25, of Mesquite, Texas, died November 3, 2011.
    No statement denying the Qods statement from the Iraqi Government.

    4477: Sgt. 1st Class David G. Robinson, 28, of Winthrop Harbor, Ill., died October 25.
    Iraq is falling back into authoritarianism and headed towards becoming a police state, despite US claims that it has helped establish democracy in the country, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

    4476: Capt. Shawn P. T. Charles, 40, of Hickory, N.C., died October 23.
    Iraq cracked down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating and detaining activists, demonstrators and journalists.

    4475: Pfc. Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., died October 21. Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, that women’s rights remain poor and civilians have paid a heavy toll in bomb attacks.

    4474: Staff Sgt. James R. Leep Jr., 44, of Richmond, Va., died October 17.
    Human Rights Watch discovered a secret prison run by forces controlled by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office, the same troops who ran Camp Honour, another facility where detainees were tortured.

    4473: Spc. Adrian G. Mills, 23, of Newnan, Ga., died September 29.
    Prime Minister Maliki’s security services have locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties over the past several months, detaining many of them in secret locations with no access to legal counsel and using “brutal torture” to extract confessions, his chief political rival, Ayad Allawi, has charged.

    4472: Sgt. Andy C. Morales, 32, of Longwood, Fla., died September 22.
    Iraq remains consumed by violence.

    4471: Staff Sgt. Estevan Altamirano, 30, of Edcouch, Texas, died September 18.
    Even the State Department thinks “violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist [in Iraq] and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions.”

    4470: Cmdr. James K. Crawford, 50, of East Concord, N.Y., died September 7.
    Security remains a primary concern nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion, with bombings a daily occurrence, and most foreign companies hire personal security teams. Bank HSBC spends around $3,000-$6,000 a day on security. Ground Works Inc, an engineering, construction and logistics firm, said security for housing and business compounds can run at $14,000-$18,000 a month, while a local bodyguard costs $1,500 a month and a foreign guard $4,000 per month. Electricity is intermittent and having a generator is a necessity. Businessmen say fuel for generators can cost around $3,000-$8,000 a month.

    4469: Sgt. Mark A. Cofield, 25, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died July 17.
    A scandal unfolding in Denmark over the transfer of Iraqi prisoners by Danish forces to Iraq authorities, even as they knew they would be tortured, threatens to implicate the current Secretary General of NATO.

    4468: Spc. Daniel L. Elliott, 21, of Youngsville, N.C., died July 15.
    On the day the last US combat troops left the country, Maliki turned against his vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, accusing him of what he has himself long been suspected of – ordering the bombings and assassinations of his political opponents. Mr Hashimi was not just a leading Sunni Muslim in a Shia-dominated government. He was the linchpin of the political deal stitched together by the US last year, under which the Iraqiya coalition, which won the largest number of votes in the last election, agreed to participate in government. Hashimi fled to the relative safety of Kurdistan, before denouncing the charges as a coup, but he joins a growing list of internal exiles – all of them Sunni.

    4467: pc. Marcos A. Cintron, 32, of Orlando, Fla., died June 16.
    At least 30 people connected to the leader of Iraqiya, Ayad Allawi, had been arrested in recent weeks by security forces under Mr Maliki’s personal control.

    4466: Sgt. Steven L. Talamantez, 34, of Laredo, Texas, died July 10.
    For five years Iraq was the most important item on policy-makers’ agenda. That meant we allowed China to steal a march on the United States. It gained economically, militarily and perhaps even diplomatically as the United States demonstrated it was not the unquestionable superpower that many believed it was at the start of 2000s.

    4465: Spc. Nathan R. Beyers, 24, of Littleton, Colo. died July 7.
    Iraq likely played a role in the export of banned US-made internet surveillance equipment to Syria.

    4464: Spc. Nicholas W. Newby, 20, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, also died July 7.
    The State Department continues to refuse to cooperate in an audit of its multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.

    4463: Capt. David E. Van Camp, 29, of Wheeling, W.Va. died June 29.
    Even though they often are housed on-base at Department of Defense facilities and within secure perimeters for embassies operated by the State Department, many of these [third country national] TCN workers live in sub-human conditions, are subjected to sexual abuse and even prostitution, have wages stolen by subcontractors, and have passports stolen in order to prevent them from leaving,” said Gerry Connolly (D-VA) referring to widespread human trafficking committed by US government contractors in Iraq.

    4462: Capt. Matthew G. Nielson, 27, of Jefferson, Iowa also died June 29.
    Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17%; in 2011: 50%

    4461: Spc. Robert G. Tenney Jr., 29, Warner Robins, Ga. also died June 29.
    Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175.

    To be continued, and repeated…

    (All names of the deceased and the dates of their deaths are from Antiwar.com)

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Cartoon: Sectarianism is Iraq’s Future

    December 25, 2011 // Comments Off on Cartoon: Sectarianism is Iraq’s Future

    A cartoon from Baghdad’s Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper on how sectarianism (the big man) is grabbing Iraq’s future (the little boy).

    (Cartoon courtesy of Twitter’s @Kassakhoon, a guy worth following for up-to-date info on Iraq)

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    More Iraq Violence

    December 11, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    A nice, steady drumbeat of violence marking the end of the US military’s time in Iraq continues with nine killed Saturday.

    — In Kirkuk, a Shiite Turkman chemicals specialist for the state-owned North Oil Company was killed by a magnetic “sticky bomb” attached to his car.

    — Also in Kirkuk, a civilian was killed in a gun attack.

    — In Baghdad, a Sunni Sahwa member was killed and a policeman was wounded by a gun attack on a checkpoint in Saidiyah.

    — In Babil province a civilian was killed by gunmen.

    — In a separate incident in Babil, three people were wounded by two katyusha rockets that had been intended for a nearby US military base.

    — Two men were also killed in Diyala.

    — In Mosul, police said a taxi driver was killed by gunmen.

    — Also, in Mosul, a lawyer was gunned down as he left the courthouse.

    — A cop was killed in the same city, with witnesses stating that the deceased “had many shots in his body, which was thrown on the side of the street.”

    — Four Water Resources Department employees were kidnapped in Samarra.

    Otherwise, all full speed ahead towards democracy.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Future of Iraq is Now

    December 5, 2011 // Comments Off on Future of Iraq is Now

    The post below wonders what might the future hold for Iraq. Answer: More of the Present.

    A series of bombs tore through crowds of Shiite pilgrims celebrating a major ritual across Iraq on Monday, killing at least 32 people, mostly women and children, and wounding scores more, local police and witnesses said. The attacks took place at the height of Ashura, which commemorates the death of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein and defines Shiite Islam.

    In Baghdad, at least 11 people were killed and 38 more wounded by roadside bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims in three different neighborhoods, police and hospital sources said. On the outskirts of Baghdad, gunmen using hand grenades attacked Shiite pilgrims marching to the holy city of Karbala, killing two and wounding four in Latifiya, police said.

    Such attacks are designed not only to kill Shiites, but also to piss them off. These are provocative attacks, sirens of war.

    More to come. Thanks America!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Calling BS on Biden in Iraq

    December 1, 2011 // Comments Off on Calling BS on Biden in Iraq

    Biden’s trip to Iraq had several components to it, all worth examining for their overflowing levels of bullshit.

    Victory Lap

    This is perhaps the slimiest part of the trip, as Biden sought to assign credit for the US military withdrawal from Iraq to his boss. Obama famously campaigned saying he would end the war in Iraq, and Biden said he did, carefully ignoring that the White House begged and pleaded Iraq to allow our troops to stay, and that the withdrawal took place only after talks over immunity broke down. The military got asked to leave more than anything. In addition, Biden’s claim that Obama kept his promise ignores the 16,000 person State Department occupation team which will replace the military. No victory lap, Joe, sorry.

    We Won/Accomplished Something

    Biden soft-played this, as well he should have. The US won not much, accomplished not much and even any meager gains that a meth-crazed neocon can come up with have to be weighed against the loss of lives and tremendous costs. Seeing vets without legs wheeling around Walmart having to use food stamps for Hamburger Helper does not represent any victory. Like all other VIPs, Biden had to sneak into Iraq unannounced and at night to avoid being killed. And, to drive home the irony, two separate attacks in northeastern Iraq killed 17 people on Thursday, the third day of Biden’s visit.

    US Defense Contractors Made Out

    Joe’s only sincere moments came when he pimped for US defense contractors to make even more money.

    US Ambassador Jeffrey in Baghdad said that “We have about $8 billion, give or take some, of active (foreign military sales) cases with Iraq. That’s not counting the new one that just came out for the F-16s. That will send it up by a number of additional billions of dollars. This is one of the biggest programmes in the world.”

    Biden talked military sales to Iraq, and some 200 uniformed military will remain in Iraq to oversee the sales and training.

    Honoring the Iraq Army

    Biden’s final point in Iraq is the most awkward stretch of reality to fit the US meme.

    He and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki addressed about 120 U.S. service members and 100 Iraqi troops gathered at al-Faw Palace, Saddam’s old crib. Biden thanked the troops and recognized their “achievements” over the past eight+ years. “This palace, a grotesque monument to a dictator’s greed, is today filled with American and Iraqi warriors, bound together by shared sacrifice in service to their countries. Here in Iraq you became partners… and friends… and now, undeniably, you are brothers-in-arms.”

    Few American troops see things that way, and even fewer Iraqis do. The US invaded Iraq in 2003, heartily killing Iraqi soldiers who picked no fight with America. We then kicked off a civil war that included mucho Iraqi-on-US violence. Now that we’re bored with Iraq as a battleground, we are leaving that mess for the Iraqis to clean up, mislabeling some coerced cooperation and staged joint ops into being brothers-in-arms.

    Nobody but maybe Joe Biden believes that. Ask any American soldier if s/he would ever turn his back on an armed Iraqi, or walk into an Iraqi military compound unarmed voluntarily. Nobody did that when I was in Iraq and nobody would do that now. Even as Joe warbled at the palace, at joint training facilities like the former FOB Hammer/Besmiyah range, US personnel live on their own compound surrounded by their own security.

    Hey, but if Joe Biden really believes what he says, let’s have him fly into Iraq on an announced visit, in the daytime, and spend a day without American security with some Iraqi soldiers.

    Yeah, I didn’t think so. I call bullshit Joe.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Iraq: Car Bomb Inside Green Zone is Bad News

    November 28, 2011 // Comments Off on Iraq: Car Bomb Inside Green Zone is Bad News

    Of the two large explosions (so far) today in Iraq, it is the one that killed fewer people that is the most significant.

    The more deadly blast took place when a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle near the main entrance of Hout prison in Taji north of Baghdad as family members gathered to visit inmates. An interior ministry official said 13 people were killed and 28 wounded by the blast.

    It is generally a bad thing when bad guys can get an explosive-laden car that close to a government facility… which is why the second attack matters more.

    An Iraqi member of parliament was wounded and at least two other people were killed in an explosion near parliament in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. A defence ministry official said three people were killed and four wounded by an explosion in a parliament parking area, but said that “it is not clear if it was a car bomb or a mortar shell.”

    Liz Sly, a long-time Baghdad veteran reporter for the Washington Post, confirmed via Twitter that it was a car bomb.

    The importance of the event is that a car bomber made it into the Green Zone, bypassing whatever passes for Iraqi security there these days. Hot times to come for the World’s Largest Embassy (c) there in the Zone.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    US Mission to Iraq: 16,000 Personnel?

    November 14, 2011 // 5 Comments »

    Iraq, acting so so cute when it tries to seem like a real grownup sovereign nation, actually has asked the US to explain who all the 16,000 personnel that will make up the State Department’s mission in Iraq are.

    A member of the al-Iraqiya Bloc in the Iraqi Parliament has demanded the Iraqi government carry out an accounting of the people at the World’s Largest Embassy (c), including the estimated 5000 security contractors in charge of protecting the Embassy.

    “Iraq of 2012 shall be different than the previous years, as its doors are no longer open before whoever wishes to enter the country, under any name, and without knowing the foreign intelligence agency he belongs to and who had sent him and who he it would protect,” the Parliamentarian said. “It is necessary to carry out a complete counting for the contractors, in charge for the protection of the US Embassy in Baghdad, along with the total number of the Embassy’s staff, in order to know the real size of the Embassy and whether Iraq’s regulations allow the establishment of an embassy with such a large size.”

    So really, what are 16,000 people going to do everyday in Iraq on behalf of the US government?

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    Andy Rooney Goes to Baghdad

    November 11, 2011 // Comments Off on Andy Rooney Goes to Baghdad

    (Originally published on the Huffington Post)

    Andy Rooney, who we’ll all admit became kind of a pain in the ass at the end, died this weekend. He did write something interesting:

    Having gotten into the war, all America wanted to consider itself a winner was to get out. Unable to make things the way it wanted, but unwilling to accept defeat, it merely changed what it wanted and got out.

    Andy wrote that about America and the war in Vietnam.

    Meanwhile, in Iraq, Sunday was greeted by a triple bombing in central Baghdad. At least 10 people were killed and 26 wounded when three bomb blasts rocked a busy market in Iraq’s capital where people were shopping for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. The blasts occurred in Shurja, an important commercial district in central Baghdad where shop owners and vendors sell clothes, electronics, textiles, food and other goods.

    “I can see fire and black smoke rising and a large number of fire engines, ambulances and police patrols rushing to the market,” a Reuters witness close to Shurja market said.

    The market isn’t all that far from the World’s Largest Embassy (c), the US State Department palace snug inside the Green Zone. Sunday mornings there start late with free made-to-order omelets at the DFAC chow hall before work. For security’s sake, most of the Embassy office windows look into the Embassy compound, not out onto Baghdad, so they may not have seen the smoke column from today’s Shurja market blast. The blasts would have been heard, a few heads rising at the waffle station, but those sounds were out there and the waffling was in here.

    A few days earlier in Iraq, 25-year-old 1st Lt. Dustin Vincent was killed when whoever the hell are the “enemy forces” attacked his unit in northern Iraq. He was killed by small arms fire while dismounted from his vehicle in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk Province during a patrol. Vincent joined the Army in June 2009 as an artillery officer. There being not much use for arty in Iraq, Dustin was on foot patrol. This was his first deployment. His platoon spent 12 hours a day roaming the streets of Kirkuk, “gathering information about possible threats and providing a visible presence in an effort to deter violence against U.S. forces and the people of Kirkuk province” some eight years after the US invasion ended Saddam’s reign.

    1st Lieutenant Dustin Vincent might end up the last American soldier to die in Iraq, but more than likely will just be the eighth from the last one, or something similarly irrelevant to everyone in America but the people who knew him in Kansas when he was just plain Dustin. We remember the first a bit heroically, and mourn the last bitterly, but goddammit 4484 Americans died in between in Iraq.

    Wonder what Andy Rooney would have had to say about all this.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq