Hello all. Today’s the day.

I’m leaving in a few hours. Some final words.

Hello all. Today’s the day. I was going to try to write something really moving and sweping about war and truth, but at the moment, I’m too concerned with getting the damn headband strapped into my ballistics helmet. (“Soldier, this helmet was designed for your head,” as the instruction book helpfully notes.) There are so many loose ends still dangling, and I know I’m going to forget something really important.
But that’s kind of the point, right? I mean, I’m entering a war zone and things will have to be a bit, ah, improvisational. But I’m heartened at the avalanche of “bon vayage”s, “good luck”s and “You crazy bastard”s I’ve received from friends, family and strangers. I’m grateful to and for them all.
To be honest, yesterday’s news of the murder of Nick Berg did not fill me with confidence. However, it should be noted that al-Zarqawi — or whoever killed him — didn’t need the excuse of Abu Ghraib to kill an American in such a way. Daniel Pearl was killed in a similar way, long before Iraq ever happened. Iraq is a dangerous place. It might be too dangerous to go. But if I do, I won’t be wandering around alone as Nick seemed to be doing. I have friends there, and the CPA knows I’m coming as a journalist.
There’s no guarantee of safety, of course, but I’ll do my best not to be stupid.
Tonight I fly out to Oslo and will be in Jordan by this weekend. After that, we’ll see what happens. You all, of course, will be kept informed via this blog.
Speaking of the blog, since I plan to be overseas for a matter of months, I’ll still be accepting donations. I can get cash over there. But I’m also going to be freelancing for some decent-sized publications, including Popular Mechanics, so I may have to give them the priority instead of the blog. One just can’t live forever overseas in a war zone on blog donations. I would if I could. But I will be updating this blog with scenes of daily life from Iraq as well as stories and features that don’t sell. Maybe you guys will be able to tell me the reason. When an article comes out, I’ll tell you all about it.
So I’m leaving in a few hours. Farewell all. For now. I promise I’ll try not to let you down.


The B2I fund is now over $10,000!

Last night’s interview on the Majority Report with Sam and Atrios was pretty good, I thought, aside from having to cut a dramatic story short. I suck when there are time constraints. You can download an MP3 version of the whole show (I’m in the first hour) at AirAmericaPlace.com. (You’ll need to register in order to download the files.)
Secondly, thanks to Swopa for pushing the B2I fund over $10,000! And thanks very much to everyone who has donated. So far, people have given $6,685.24, with the average size of the donation being $56.18. Along with my savings, the total fund is $10,185.24. I’ve already purchased the body armor and the flight to Amman is gratis thanks to a speaking engagement in Oslo. So now, any and all donations go straight into operations and newsgathering.
But I’m going to have to take a little break from blogging for a few days. I’m behind on finishing up about five freelance assignments that will add another $5,000 to $6,000 to the fund, so I need to concentrate on that for the moment. The interview with Mohammad Baqr al-Najafi should keep you interested for a while. He had some interesting stuff to say.
I hope to be back on Monday. Cheers!

“Worse than a Crime”

More Americans and Iraqis dead as violence continues in Iraq. Meanwhile, the president refuses to back off June 30 because it’s the only thing the White House can control.

The situation in Iraq has deteriorated so far in the last two days that I frankly don’t know where to begin. But seven more troops have been killed since Monday morning:

American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2004 — Four Marines with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed April 5 as a result of enemy action while conducting security and stabilization operations in Iraq’s Anbar province, a Combined Joint Task Force 7 news release reported today.

No further information on this incident was available.

Three Task Force 1st Armored Division soldiers were killed during separate attacks April 5 and today in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, according to another release.

The first soldier died of wounds received during an attack that took place at about 11 a.m. April 5. The soldier was traveling with a southbound convoy when it was attacked with small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

A second soldier died at about 9:30 p.m. April 5 when an RPG struck his vehicle during a firefight in the same area. An RPG attack at 12:30 a.m. today killed a third soldier, who was in a Bradley fighting vehicle.
The names of the Marines and soldiers are being withheld until their families are notified.

I’m on deadline again and can’t really give a complete rundown of the news, but check out Juan Cole, Billmon and Josh Marshall for some excellent roundups.

But If I can take a moment to be frank: I cannot begin to explain how angry I am at how Iraq has been handled. Arrogance, heads-in-the-sandness and a complete lack of understanding of the culture, people and history of the country has been the hallmark of Washington’s policy toward Iraq. The original plan called for 30,000 troops in August as happy natives bought Coca-Cola and waved little American flags. Such arrogance. Now the Pentagon is mulling extra troops. “There’s no history of ethnic violence in Iraq,” we were told by Iraqi exiles and Paul Wolfowitz. Well, maybe that’s because the Iraqis have been ruled by an iron fist for a long, long time. Tom Friedman once noted that by removing Saddam, we would find out if Iraq was the way it was because of Saddam or if Saddam was the way he was because of Iraq. I think we can now say it’s the latter. Saddam was brutal and — yes — evil, but when pro-American Iraqi bloggers say Iraqis “deserve” Saddam, that’s a sign that the ballgame is almost over.

I have to admit that until now I have never longed for the days of Saddam, but now I’m not so sure. If we need a person like Saddam to keep those rabid dogs at bay then be it. Put Saddam back in power and after he fills a couple hundred more mass graves with those criminals they can start wailing and crying again for liberation. What a laugh we will have then. Then they can shove their filthy Hawza and marji’iya up somewhere else. I am so dissapointed in Iraqis and I hate myself for thinking this way. We are not worth your trouble, take back your billions of dollars and give us Saddam again. We truly ‘deserve’ leaders like Saddam.

Iraqis were glad to be rid of Saddam, make no mistake. But they had and still have a very complicated stew of feelings as to the way it happened. But if even that glimmer of goodwill and gratitude is fading, what else is there? If they’re no longer even glad for that, then why the hell is the United States there?

And why this desperate clinging to June 30? It smacks of a security blanket, of a childish administration so at a loss as to what to do that the only thing left is to cling to the one thing it has control over: the date when sovereignty will be returned. But returned to … who? The IGC is reviled on the street. The interim constitution is rejected by most Shi’a. The Kurds just want to retreat to their mountains and the Sunnis are scared to death of everyone.

And it’s not like the U.S. is going anywhere. Large bases in al-Taji and elsewhere indicate that the U.S. is planning on a long stay. The Pentagon will still have control over the $18 billion “gift” to Iraq from the people of the United States — except the Iraqis don’t actually get the money or or have a say in how it’s spent. The country’s armed forces will still answer to the U.S. military. A reporter buddy who was in Iraq in December and January said — and I agree — that the CPA has spent a lot of time convincing a lot of Iraqis — educated and uneducated alike — that on July 1, the Americans will be gone. When Iraqis wake up and the Americans are still there, that will be a rude awakening for everybody.

The White House is “playing poker and has been bluffing for a long time with a pair of twos,” my reporter friend said.

And speaking of Americans, millions are so angry at the waste of lives, money, prestige. So very angry at the incompetence on the part of America’s leaders in the foreign policy sphere. How can anyone look at facts — real facts — and not see that what passes for “moral clarity” and “steely resolve” and “resolute leadership” is actually stubbornness, incuriosity and dangerous isolation from contrary views. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. President. Your act doesn’t fool me. Your self-puffery doesn’t hide your lack of imagination and your disastrous policy choices made because you’re easily swayed by powerful viziers. Your lack of engagement has killed 624 Americans as of this writing, 59 British troops and 44 other members of your coalition. God knows how many Iraqis have died. Your generals don’t bother to keep track.

You should never be forgiven for these death — you should be held accountable. Come November, I hope that you will be, because your Iraq policy and, frankly, your entire administration is what Talleyrand said of Napoleon’s 1804 execution of the Duc d’Enghien: “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.”

Blogger killed in Iraq

Ex-Marine Bob Zangas, a civilian worker for the CPA in Iraq and a prolific blogger, was killed last week in a roadside ambush along with Fern Holland, a lawyer working for women’s rights.

Ex-Marine Bob Zangas, a civilian worker for the CPA in Iraq and a prolific blogger, was killed last week in a roadside ambush along with Fern Holland, a lawyer working for women’s rights.
Zangas’ last post is moving and heartfelt. You may post condolences to the family here.

Now She Tells Us

Condi Rice admits to being having no head for long-term planning, the guys in the Baghdad are all ideologues and my best friend has been mobilized. Yeah, no good news today.

Well, this kind of explains a lot, no? In an upcoming interview with _Reader’s Digest_, National Security Advisor “Condoleezza Rice”:http://www.warstories.cc/person/?personId=17 admits that, “There’s nothing I am worse at than long-term planning. I have never run my life that way. I believe that _serendipity or fate or divine intervention_ has led me to a series of wholly implausible steps in my life. And I’ve been open to those twists and turns because I didn’t have a long-term plan.” (Emphasis added.)
Oy. And this woman is in charge of the United States’ Iraq policy? Granted, the question was about her running for office some day, but as we’ve seen, traits in one’s personal life often have a way of manifesting themselves in one’s professional life.
Oh, and don’t miss a great _Washington Monthly_ piece by “Joshua Micah Marshall”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com, Laura Rozen, and Colin Soloway on the “ideologues in Baghdad”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0312.whoswho.html running the Coalition Provisional Authority. To wit:

When the history of the occupation of Iraq is written, there will be many factors to point to when explaining the post-conquest descent into chaos and disorder, from the melting away of Saddam’s army to the Pentagon’s failure to make adequate plans for the occupation. But historians will also consider the lack of experience and abundant political connections of the hundreds of American bureaucrats sent to Baghdad to run Iraq through the Coalition Provisional Authority.

In their place, the architects of the war chose card-carrying Republicans — operatives, flacks, policy-wonks and lobbyists — for almost every key assignment in the country. Some marquee examples include U.S. civil administrator Paul Bremer’s senior advisor and liaison to Capitol Hill, Tom Korologos, one of the most powerful GOP lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Then there’s the man in charge of privatizing Iraq’s 200-odd state owned companies, Tom Foley, a venture capitalist and high-flying GOP fundraiser. Foley was one of the Bob Dole’s top-ten career donors, Connecticut finance chair for Bush 2000 and a classmate of the president’s from Harvard Business School.

CPA officials say that the older GOP functionaries do a reasonable job keeping their partisanship publicly under wraps. But the younger Republicans in Iraq spend much of their time plotting against the Democrats. “Everything is seen in the context of the election, and how they will screw the Democrats,” said one CPA official. “It was really pretty shocking to hear them talk.”
“They are all on the campaign trail,” said another official. “They see this as a stepping stone to a better job in the next Bush administration.”

And on a personal note, I found out today that my best friend, a lieutenant in the Army Reserve, has been mobilized. He has a wife and two small children to leave behind. When he signed up a few years ago, he said he wanted to serve his country. I have tried to convince him that there’s no dishonor in disobeying orders and fleeing an unjust war waged by an unelected commander-in-chief. To his credit, while he has been as critical of this war as I have, he still says he has to serve out his commitment. (He’s a lifelong Democrat, by the way.) I wish he would reconsider, consider a flight to a neutral country, but I know he won’t. He has a sense of honor and duty that should shame his “commander in chief”:http://www.warstories.cc/person/?personId=1, who went AWOL in Vietnam after he got airlifted by his father’s influence into a cushy Texas Air National Guard spot.
I admire my friend a lot for his sense of patriotism and duty, even though he knows he will be missing 18 months of his daughters’ lives, even though he believes Iraq is a colossal screw-up and a mistake of mammoth proportions. He would never say a disrespectful thing about George Bush while mobilized, but I can: To hell with Bush and to hell with this war.
Anyway, this has made it all the more imperative that I go back and, as I joke with him, make sure nothing happens to him.