October 3, 2008

American Foreign Service Association on Iraq Assignments

The following message from AFSA State VP Steve Kashkett was issued as an AFSA press release on Thursday, October 2, 2008.

It challenges the media to correct the misimpression, largely created one year ago, that it has not been possible to fill assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan through volunteers. The reality, however, is that good news rarely makes news.

Text of AFSA Announcement:

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) welcomes Secretary Rice's announcement that the Department of State has now filled all of its positions at the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan for the summer 2009 assignment cycle with qualified, willing volunteers -- as has been the case every year since those two diplomatic missions came into existence. It is a tribute to the courage and sense of duty of the people of the Foreign Service that our members, as well as a number of Civil Service colleagues, have stepped forward without hesitation every year to staff the embassies and provincial reconstruction teams in those two war zones. These are our largest diplomatic missions in the world, and they present unique dangers and challenges to the thousands of our members who have volunteered since 2003.

AFSA hopes that those journalists, media outlets, and commentators who erroneously reported last October that the Department of State had been unable to fully staff the Iraq mission will now show as much zeal in reporting that, in fact, every one of these positions in both Iraq and Afghanistan for summer 2009 has been filled more than eight months in advance. Those journalists did a great disservice to the Department of State and its employees -- who have never shied away from hardship
service in some of the most dangerous places on earth -- and we hope that these journalists will now set the record straight."

October 2, 2008

Embassy Baghdad's Deputy Chief of Mission Wins Prestigious Award

Those of us serving on PRTs are very proud that Pat Butenis, Embassy Baghdad's Deputy Chief of Mission, has been selected to receive the 2008 James A. Baker III - C. Howard Wilkins, Jr. Award for Outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission. Here are excerpts from the official announcement:

The Selection Committee chose Ms. Butenis for rebuilding Embassy Baghdad, for managing, defending, and developing its staff, and for advancing America's most important foreign policy priorities.

This award, made possible by C. Howard Wilkins, Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, is presented to an outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d'Affaires in the Ambassador's absence. The award consists of a certificate signed by the Secretary and $5,000.

The Selection Committee was chaired by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. Its members included Joyce A. Barr, Director of the East Asia/Pacific Bureau's Executive Office; Judith A. Chammas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources in the Director General's Office; Jeffrey D. Feltman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Asia Affairs; and Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asia/Pacific Affairs.

October 1, 2008

Cholera, Elections and Security Turnover

It has been a busy time in Babil the last two weeks. The cholera outbreak, which was heavily concentrated in Babil, appears to have stabilized.

On September 24, the Iraqi Council of Representatives (Parliament) passed legislation paving the way for holding provincial elections no later than January 31. In addition, preparations continue for the handover of lead responsibility for security from Coalition to the provincial authorities, which Iraqi officials expect to take place in the coming weeks.


WHO has a website with information on the cholera outbreak, which began in July and picked up in August and early September. See http://www.int/csr/don/2008_09_29c?en/index.html.

Babil accounts for 200 of the 340 confirmed cases. The outbreak appears to have stabilized and, notwithstanding all that has been written in the media about a cholera "epidemic" here, the fact remains that only two persons have died in Babil Province, and that is the most of any province in Iraq.

The WHO does not recommend restrictions on travel in the affected areas, nor does it advise mass prophylaxis.

The PRT is contributing 15 water tanks with a capacity of 5,00 liters each. The International Medical Corps has made a similar contribution. Access to clean drinking water is the critical need. The health authorities responded well on the ground to the outbreak, even if in the early stages there was little public recognition of the problem. The Iraqi Government has had sufficient chlorine tablets for sterilization of water, and patient demand has not exceeded hospital bed capacity.

The good news is that this year's outbreak is less intense than last year. Cholera has long been endemic to this part of Iraq, unfortunately.


The same day that the PRT hosted an Iftar dinner (breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan), the Parliament passed long-awaited legislation that paves the way for holding provincial elections no later than January 31, 2009.

That is a major step forward for Iraqi democracy and should make a contribution to the political reconciliation process.

The Sunnis, who are concentrated in Northern Babil and who largely boycotted the 2005 provincial elections, should gain proportionate representation in the Provincial Council. Likewise, many supporters of Moqtada Al-Sadr, are showing signs that they want to reengage in the political process and move away from armed "resistance." The Sadrist Trend, as the movement is referred to here, has long opposed coalition "occupation."

It may be that U.S. willingness to include in a draft SOFA Agrement target dates for redeployment and withdrawal of forces has given the Sadrists enough reason to reengage in the political process. The Sadrists have officially announced the demobilization of its Mahdi Army and the creation of a new cultural/social (read political) arm of the movement called Mahmehadun, while retaining a residual and smaller armed force.

How this plays out, of course, will have a big effect on the development of the political situation in the southern provinces. In any event, the election campaign is sure to be interesting and closely watched, holding the potential for changing the situation on the ground.

Security Handover

At the same time, another major development is unfolding.

Iraqi officials have announced that they expect to take lead responsibility for security in two new provinces -- Babil and Wasit. The latter is to the west of Babil and lies along the Iraqi-Iranian border.

When this takes place, the Iraqis will have the principal responsibility in all five of the provinces in the South/Central region (Wasit, Diwaniyah, Najaf, Kerbala and Babil). One-two years ago, it would have been hard to find someone willing to predict that we would be at this point.