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31 July 2004

A letter from my sister

I am posting this without comment except to say: 1) I don't disagree with anything my sister says, though we are on opposite sides of the political balance point and she is a lot closer to the centre and 2) I pray for your safety every day, Cindy, just in case. So, without further ado, my little sister, retired US Army Reserve officer, from . . .

Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq

Dear Deb,
Thought I would drop you a line and let you know how I am getting along here in the infamous Green Zone. Perhaps you can post this letter to your blog and let some of your constituents read a first-hand accounting from a unaffiliated but still somewhat biased ex-military officer, American patriot turned high-paid consultant.

First things first, the food and the living conditions are pretty good. Someone makes some delicious cinnamon rolls every morning and they keep a steady supply of coffee and the makings for tea (lots of Brits here) in the main dining area in the central section of the Palace.

I guess it has been 15 or 16 months since the Coalition rolled into Baghdad and the work done here on the compound continues, as they fortify the perimeter, add portable living trailers on every available inch of ground and establish work areas and secure entrances for the new Embassy personnel that will take over this building. They say the Green Zone is almost four square miles of secure area. I believe them. Inside this area is the infamous parade grounds where Saddam’s troops would pass in review. There is also a gorgeous monument to the Unknown Iraqi Soldier. I pass those areas on my way to work each morning.

I work for a DOD contractor, assisting the Ministry of Defense with training in the various areas of their organization. I am traveling with a team of 12. All of us are either retired military or hold a PhD in something like Foreign Affairs. Two guys have worked for the CIA, many have traveled to the Middle East before. Six of us participated in Operations Enduring/Iraqi Freedom in one way or another. One of my team members, an older gentleman in his 70’s is Lebanese and speaks many languages, including Arabic. He is extremely helpful to us.

We have a team of translators, all Iraqi citizens. They literally risk their lives everyday when they travel through the checkpoints into the Convention Center to work with us. Some of them have been threatened. There is a $30,000 bounty on the head of anyone working with the American infidels. But the sad thing is that even their neighbors are shunning them and asking them to move so they won’t endanger anyone else. The conversations we have with them are fascinating, but I am sure they are the pro-Americans. They speak of the horrors under Saddam. They tell about family members who were imprisoned and killed. They tell us how bad it was to never be able to speak their minds, to never have an opinion. Learning to use computers and the internet was discouraged and only the insiders in the government had access to them. There were no cellular phones. Now half the Iraqis on the street have a cell phone in their ear.

They are eagerly awaiting the return of air travel in Iraq. The only airline flying now is from Jordan. The military flies everyday, but they make us wear an armored vest and helmet on approach and takeoffs because the incidence of firing at aircraft is daily. But when the commercial airport is reopened, the Iraqis can go to Europe and to the United States to visit relatives. Many of them have exiled relatives in places like Detroit and Phoenix. The students we have from the MOD are all highly educated. Most of them were in the Army before. Some a long time ago and some under Saddam. They appear to be interested in moving on and changing their way of doing business, but one of my translators tells me that when they think we don’t know, some speak of Saddam coming back into power, or the Baathist party rising again.

I actually think that the closest correlation to what it will take for this place to heal, is the example of racial segregation in the United States. We know how long it has taken, generations, for our wounds to heal. And some people have tried to change and get on with their lives. And some folks can’t let it go, and want to keep racism alive. People on both sides, blacks and whites. But for the most part, there is equality in educational opportunities, in the military (Colin Powell rose to be Joint Chiefs of Staff) and in the workplace. We need to look forward two or three generations and envision a society in Iraq where the memories of life under Saddam are fading and only a few misguided loyalists continue to remember the good ole days. Change will come. It has to. Because if democracy in Iraq doesn’t work, and the economy and quality of life here can’t improve, then the rest of the Middle East will circle the drain and be sucked back into failure with Iraq. So let’s hope for the best and continue to support our governments (US and British) efforts to assist.

Talk to you soon, love
Cindy

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