March 29, 2008

Mental conditioning...

Barbara recommends an article she read in Men's Mental Health magazine on what makes the US Navy SEALS so brave. It starts with a description of Katyusha rockets exploding in Iraq...

March 28, 2008

Current situation.

I know that you must be reading about southern Iraq going to hell in a hand basket, and there is a bit of that going on, but I wanted you to know that I am fine. In fact, the more dangerous things become on the outside, the more we hunker down on our base. If one does not travel around, you can't be hit by an IED or have an EFP tear up your car. So the paradox is: the more dangerous it is, the more safe I am.

Drama comes naturally here and of course, there is a bit of drama to what is playing out.

Meanwhile, from the US Embassy in Baghdad:

Warden Message: Personal Protective Equipment and Hardened Structures

March 27, 2008

This is to notify all U.S. citizens in Iraq that the U.S. Embassy has announced that, until further notice, all personnel under the authority of the Chief of Mission are required to wear body armor, helmet and protective eyewear anytime they are outside of building structures in the International Zone. In addition, Chief of Mission personnel in the International Zone have been advised to remain inside of hardened structures at all times, except for mission essential movements.

March 27, 2008

Reality check...update:

Some of the latest news:

ISF contain violence in Hillah

Many killed by U.S. strike in Iraq's Hilla: sources

Reality check.

One of the first American diplomats in a while was killed yesterday in Baghdad. Paul Converse, who had earlier served here in Hillah, was a victim of the shelling that has hit the IZ (International Zone) hard recently. We have gunfire just 1 kilometer away, and some militants tried to seize a Police checkpoint I passed through this afternoon on the way to meet with the Governor and provincial security officials. Never a dull moment.

The fighting yesterday here in Hillah kept some of our staff from going home last night. There aren't any US journalists in this province, so the news here won't make it to the western media, except if the Katyusha rockets manage to land on our compound.

March 26, 2008

We have had to stay in the hotel this evening...

... unable to go to the DFAC (dining facility) or our SHUs (Single Housing Units or home trailers), because of fighting nearby. It's been nearly a week since my last journal entry, so this gives me a chance to write one.

Yesterday saw the imposition of a dawn to dusk curfew in Babil, which continued through today in an effort to tamp down outbreaks of violence. Most of this has come from disaffected Jaysh Al-Mahdi (JAM) elements (the Mahdi Army, also known as the Mahdi Militia). I met with the Governor and his key advisors today about this.

We are fortunate that our situation is better than that in Basrah. Babil's very competent SWAT forces have regional responsibilities, although they were quite engaged here in Hillah last evening. Prime Minister Maliki is directing the effort to reestablish government control in and around Basrah. That southern border is an area through which Iranian weapons are smuggled into Iraq. The events in Baghdad and Basrah, of course, have reverberations throughout the Shia community in the south, and tensions here are high.

Met two Polish soldiers this week up from their neighboring area. The province in which the Polish forces are based has seen lots of JAM activity this last week.

On a local note, yesterday was the day Shia celebrate the Prophet's birthday, while the Sunnis commemorated his birthday on March 20.

Last Thursday, I attended the opening festivities at the Babylonian ruins celebrating Babil's designation as Iraq's cultural capital. PM Maliki was there with the Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Minister of Culture. He gave an inspiring speech about the importance of freedom and how it has reshaped the country. I was taped being introduced to the PM, and was mistaken by some viewers as an Iranian diplomat, according to one of the PRT staff, because of my beard and dark suit. Barbara used to say that a beard made me look like a European socialist, something that didn't have much of an impact on me. But an Iranian diplomat?

The heat has arrived in the last two days...

I believe it got to 100F today, but it is much less painful than a Washington or Warsaw 100F. It is of course, much drier. Now I may have a different perspective on 130-140F.

We had no chaplain visit on Easter Sunday, so we had no Easter Service. Worked all day long. Everybody here works 7 days a week.

Awul stuff happens.

I did not know Paul Converse, the US Embassy employee who was killed during the Easter Sunday attack of the Green Zone in Baghdad, but some of our staff here did. He served in Hillah prior to Baghdad.

There is a 24-hour curfew in effect after the fighting here yesterday, but today has not seen the same level of violence. We had to provide shelter to some, because of the security situation -- fighting in the downtown area.