May 18, 2008

I am still stuck in Hillah...

... waiting for the helicopter that should take me to Baghdad. Three military helo sorties have passed through here but the Embassy-run helos are grounded due to weather. They need clear weather for non-critical missions, and moving personnel around the country for meetings is not a top priority in the bigger scheme of things. If it doesn't pick me up in the next hour, I won't travel until tomorrow.

Am going to Baghdad to attend a discussion in the Embassy on the upcoming provincial elections. A majority of the Sunni parties and also the Sadrist Trend stayed away from the 2005 provincial elections, and thus do not have elected reps on the provincial council. The Sunnis are set to run candidates, but it is not yet clear -- with only two weeks left for the registration process -- whether the Sadrists will participate or boycott.

A few days ago I obtained the release of a Sadrist detainee. We turned over the Sadrist to a sympathizer who sits on the Provincial Council and had to sign a guarantor's statement. The aim is to engage the Sadrists in a dialogue and to promote reconciliation. We have not had a dialogue with the ST in this province up till now. We are hoping that the word gets out about the release.

My helo to Baghdad tomorrow should fortunately leave in the early morning, so I will be able to avoid the highest temps of the day, which will be over 100F tomorrow.

I much prefer cold to heat, and I don't find myself changing my view. If anything a year here may reinforce it.

I am struck at how beautiful the moon is here, apparently due to the lack of humidity. One can really see a lot of detail in the seas of the moon. The dry air does not bend the light rays. There is also less ambient light from cities, especially this time of year.

There are now only a couple of hours of electricity each day in Babil and most neighboring provinces. Just two months ago it averaged eight hours per day of electricity. The demand for electricity, of course, goes up significantly with the hot weather, so two hours of voltage this time of year is the equivalent of 6 or 8 hours several months ago when air conditioning was not being used.

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