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Emails From Iraq (1)

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An American contractor on his arrival in Iraq in 2007 to work for a company with a contract to mentor small businesses owned by Iraqis {bottom quote}

Did you know you can still get commercial flights into Iraq? And did you know the politically correct way to land an airplane in Baghdad ends with a flush ... an extremely steep, downward spiral from 15,000 feet directly over the airport so not to attract gunfire? We flew Royal Jordanian Airlines so ours was a royal flush. Welcome to Iraq!

Some of you joined me from Almaty to Zagreb, from Bishkek to Banja Luka and Bansk. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares with Iraq. I cannot do justice after only a few days, but my objective is to give you a first person, on-the-ground perspective of this country. At the very least, this will be educational. I fully expect my opinions to change and stories to conflict, but that's the way things are: fluid and unpredictable. I also expect and hope that what I tell you will differ vastly from what you are seeing on the US news. We all know of the US bias; these reports will give you perspective on the biases. Truth is a matter of interpretation and yours is as good as anyone's.

There are things I cannot say much about, mostly to do with security. What I suggest if you think of the most exciting action film you ever saw and begin there. My daily gear includes an armored vest and helmet, and moving from point A to point B requires extensive planning and preparation, including multiple guards and armored vehicles. I am learning to follow orders which will be a pleasant surprise to my wife. For the ladies, this is a haven of hunks: young, dashing men in excellent physical condition.

My story starts in neighboring Amman, Jordan, a diamond in the ruff, a rose among thorns. People walk the streets of Amman as if things are normal. If you look at a map, however, you will see Jordan is surrounded by lands where walking streets is not a privilege taken lightly. Our stay here is brief, overnight only. In the morning we board a plane for Baghdad but are instructed to go back to waiting because of "bad weather" in Baghdad, the first sign of unpredictability. Later, after flying over a sand storm on the way to Baghdad (it is mostly desert between Amman and Baghdad) and finding beautiful weather upon arrival, we are unsure what the real cause of the delay was.

After more delays in passport control (one of our party was deported back to Amman because he did not have the right paperwork), the other member of my team and I met our security detail, a guy from France and another from Australia, and we donned protective gear and received a briefing about what we could expect on our five-mile trip from the airport to the International Zone (IZ, formerly called the Green Zone). This stretch of highway has been called the 'most dangerous road in the world' and our security personnel is accustomed to navigating assorted threats. The ride was directly from the movies and we arrived, as expected, safely.

I haven't said much about my job because it is not entirely clear to me. I am a civilian contractor, and working for the US government requires skills nobody should ever seek. I'll fill you in as this unfolds. By the way, I turned a huge corner today. Boarding an airplane to Iraq for the first time produces anxiety by itself. Knowing you will spiral steeply toward a target is equally troubling, not just because of the dangerous maneuver but also because of the reason for it. So as I nestled fitfully into my seat and tugged the seatbelt tighter than usual, and only then learned the pilot was a woman, I had two choices. The choice I made was to refresh my amazement of the 'fairer' gender. It seems women really can do anything!

Feel free to contact me if you want to give me orders. I am listening very well right now.

Originally published: Sunday, May 06, 2007; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 16, 2019