Unfortunately, I missed a letter in the series. Luckily, Felipe was kind enough to take the time and send the missing letter my direction. The letter was written prior to the one I posted earlier, but most of the events take place well after the charming story at the school.

Needless to say, this letter paints a picture in stark contrast to opening a school for Assyrian Christians. Reading the two letters together offers a more nuanced picture than most people hear about Iraq. It’s isn’t all bombs and skirmishes, but it isn’t all rebuilding either. Felipe’s vantage point on the ground in Iraq is decidedly different from ours sitting at computers in the states (whether that makes Felipe’s perspective more or less informed, I will leave to post-modern epistemologists to decide).

(I started writing this over 10 days ago, at the time trying to ease my own mind by painting for you all the best picture I could of life here. Everything that follows is true, but context is important. Last night our front gate was hit with a rocket attack, early this morning 2 bombs went off outside our North wall and, as I write, I can hear the sound of a firefight just outside the base that’s been running for at least 20 minutes.)

There’s a weird beauty about my new home, not too surprising considering that we’re located on one of Saadam’s old palace compounds. The base is about the size of a small college campus, and sits just east of the Tigris River. It’s a hilly campus, at the center of which is the main palace structure (complete with outdoor columns, marble everything, and murals of Saadam doing heroic stuff), and with palace annexes sprinkled throughout. The rest of the space we’ve taken over with shipping containers, tents, trailers (where we live) and parking lots of humvees, tanks, and helicopters.

This part of the country is beautiful, and the weather is not horrible either. Instead of flat brown as far as the eye can see and side-ways sand, there are rolling hills surrounding the city, trees all around, and the occasional flower bed. The days are still hot, but nights and mornings are refreshingly cool.

Living conditions are a definite upgrade from the last place, too. We all live in a little housing complex of modified trailers, complete with AC, real doors and floors, and little mini-fridges. There’s no bathrooms in the trailers, but just a few feet away there are the toilet and shower trailers, both of which feature hot and cold running water. And, again, the chow-halls are shockingly good, considering we’re in a war zone. Our first night here they served lobster tail, this morning I had a delicious made-to-order omelet. For dinner I’m thinking, hmmm, maybe a personal pizza. Of course, I’ve got to staying in fighting shape, so after dinner I’ll probably hit the gym (located in the main palace annex.) Damn it if somedays I don’t just want to send dirty love letters to Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Root.

The Civil Military Operations Center (the CMOC), our office, is located in yet another palace annex. This is where we spend our days, doing decidedly un-Army things like having meetings with the headmasters of vocational schools, sending e-mails to the local Red Cresent head, or doing putting in phone calls to various government agencies for information. We can’t do everything hunkered down here, though, so we’re out on missions at least a few days a week. Anytime we leave the compound, to assess a project or meet with a local leader, we go into GI mode- everyone with helmet, goggles, vest, rifle, handgun (“full battle rattle”), and a few machine guns spread throughout the group for extra firepower.

While I was originally slated to be part of the elections team here, the state department and pentagon have decided to run that out of Baghdad, so I’ve been placed on the Economic Development team. Our list of projects reads like a policy school course catalog, and our current projects include developing a microfinance program, setting up agricultural co-operatives, and re-training mid-level loan officers on financial projection rather than collateral based lending policies (exciting, i know). One of my new pet projects is working with USAID and the University of Mosul to develop and implement a survey of economic indicators for Ninevah Province (the “state” in which we’re located), establishing a baseline against which we can actually measure future progress. My statistics professors would be proud.

That’s pretty much it for life in Northern Iraq. I’ve already got a couple of good stories for you all, but I’ll save those for next time. In the meantime, here are a couple of shameless pitches:

Send mail. We’ve, honestly, got all the cookies/ candies/ brownies/ pork rinds we can eat. What I would love from each of you is a picture, a postcard of some beautiful place you’ve been or are currently at, or a simple, handwritten letter.

Here’s the shameless part. Take those $10, $25, or $50 you would have otherwise spent on postage and donate it to the Kerry campaign. I’ll make it easy for you:


Then, take those 2 or 3 hours you’ve saved by not going to the store for brownie mix, baking up a storm, cleaning up the big chocolatey mess you made, and packaging the goodies all up for a trip halfway ’round the world, and volunteer on the campaign, knock on some doors, make some phone calls, hit up other friends for money, and get a thinking man into the White House.

Do whatever you can to defeat George W. Bush. My detailed strategic analysis of this mess is, again, the subject of another e-mail, but this much I know- President Bush is clueless, or he’s in denial, because, from where I’m standing, when I hear another car bomb go off, or when I hear of another Iraqi employee of ours getting murdered for “collaborating with the western imperialists”, I don’t think “I’m sure glad the American people and the citizens of Iraq are SOOO much safer now that we’ve got Saadam in a jail cell.”

much love,

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