I spent a considerable amount of time in Mosul, throughout 2010, trying to secure oil distribution routes north through Mosul. Iraqis refine much of their oil north of Baghdad at a place called Bayji Refinery, among the largest refineries in Iraq. Trucks would then transport the refined oil up to a small city called Hamam al Alil, and then to Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, for consumption by the people of Mosul and surrounding areas. Terrorists and agents of terror regularly stopped truckers carrying oil along that route to Mosul. At gunpoint, Read the rest of this entry »
At Basra Land today it was Kids Day. I wish the one million Americans who served here over the past decade had the opportunity to see this Iraq. I am not sure we can ever say the war in Iraq was won by anyone. But if there is victory, I think it looks like Kids Day at Basra Land.
Fifteen months ago, while I served the State Department in Mosul, on the other side of Iraq, we would arrive at all
meetings in full battle rattle. A convoy of US tanks would arrive, Read the rest of this entry »
When I arrived, a client picked me up at the airport. Though I had flown in and out of Baghdad four times previously, I never had entered the civilian airport and never had been in Iraq in a civilian car, just driving around the way 30 million Iraqis do. I got in the pick-up truck and put on my seat belt. The driver immediately requested I remove the seat belt. The game of low profile travel is defined by their inability to know that I am foreign. And Iraqis do not wear seat belts.
Now, a couple of weeks later, I wear my seat belt. Based on the driving here, the risk of being out-ed as an American, often in a car careening down a road at speeds well over 80 miles per hour, pales in comparison to the risk of a car accident. So I fasten up.
But unfortunately there is no seat belt for second-hand smoke. Iraqis smoke. I believe every Iraqi man smokes. Inside. Outside. On the other side of the room. In my face. The misty haze of business meetings that disappeared from American bars and board rooms over the past few decades is very much alive here.
Many Iraqis with whom I speak yearn for a return to 1950s Iraq, politically and economically. Driving and smoking habits seem to be leading the way.
My 15 seconds of fame (15 if you read really fast): The Surge Iraq Really Needs
One thing I wish all Americans knew is the extraordinary degree of warmth and hospitality that Iraqis extend to visitors. Following a business meeting in a rural area, to humor myself and colleagues, I mentioned to a neighborhood teenager I liked his shades. So he offered them to me to try. He then refused to take them back. Visitors in Iraq should be careful. If you compliment the hosts on their clothes, their dishes, their furniture or their photos, the object of your admiration will become yours.
A minor verbal fracas ensued, and I ultimately left his shades on a window sill and ran away.
Can Iraq have a modern economy without embracing free market principles? Every few weeks over the last year, I have sat down with bankers in Mosul, where it is reported the last vestiges of the Saddamist insurgency remain. Concrete T-walls still line many parts of the city, the capital of a region known just one decade ago for providing grain to the entire nation of Iraq. What do bankers say? What do they want? What do they think of us? What do they believe is the way forward?
In my first meeting, I asked the bankers what I, new to the Mosul business community, needed to know about banks in the region. How could we help them grow and thrive? What capacities could we help build? The first banker spoke. “You should know,” he explained to me, “the first banks in the world were here, in temples, thousands of years ago.” Read the rest of this entry »
A few weeks ago a Chaldean Christian man told me the story of an Iraqi rabbi who spoke to a Chaldean priest one Saturday about 60 years ago. At that time, Iraq was an increasingly dangerous place for Jewish communities that had been here for centuries. “Our holy day is Saturday, and they are coming for us,” the rabbi reportedly said. “Don’t forget that tomorrow is your holy day.” Shortly thereafter, nearly all of Iraq’s Jewish communities fled.
Today I am Jewish in a Muslim country on Christmas. It is not an easy time to be Christian in Iraq. Every few days there are reports of attacks in this region, attempted murders or kidnappings of the Christian minority. Two months ago a dramatic attack in a Baghdad church killed over 50.
Iraqi Christians, who trace their lineage here back to the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, say that there were nearly 1.5 million Christians living peacefully in Iraq prior to 2003. Today they believe there are less than 500,000.
Please keep in your thoughts and prayers today the Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac communities of Iraq. In the face of terroristic violence and caught in the middle of ethno-religious conflict, it is unclear whether they can or will remain here.
There is no religious war in Iraq. Iraqi Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, Christian and Kurdish leaders state a clear commitment to protecting Christians against violence. We have seen numerous individual Muslim acts to protect, to honor and to mourn Christian Iraqis. They are acts that the world should see on this Christmas. It is a war of lunatic murderers, and Iraqis are uniting against it. In whatever way we can, we should join them.