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Emails From Iraq (2)

This is my third draft of this issue. In the first draft, I ended with what seemed a logical afterthought. Soon after writing it, I received a list of questions from a friend and the afterthought became a purposeful forethought. Two of the questions provoked thought and meditation. One question was, "What surprised you the most?" The other was, "What scares you the most?" Interestingly, the answer to both questions is, "Reality." The third draft was necessary after learning where I am being sent and what restrictions there are on my words.

As an alumnus of Bosnia, I thought my experience as a civilian contractor in a war zone prepared me for this. The truth is working in a war zone 4 years after a war offers little preparation for working in an active war zone. I experienced the war more than once this week, including explosions and smoke, warning and all-clear sirens, orders to get inside, gunfire, and incoming and outgoing shells, in addition to the 24/7 roar of military helicopters directly overhead. As in the past, nothing hit our camp but there is little more to say than "Wow!" We are advised to find ways to deal with stress, and days like these are the reason why. I have so much to learn.

I originally started this report with the intention of providing a few details about the project only to learn that constraints on disseminating information are very, very strict. So until I learn exactly what I can and cannot say, I will refrain from offering much about where I am, what I am doing and how it is getting done. Some of my friends think I work for the CIA. Sexy idea but untrue! The real reason is to protect everyone's ability to work in Iraq safely.

If you want to read an informative, published report about the project please go to http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr185.html - particularly pages 6-7. I am a member of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) - Governance (RTI - contractor). This is part of President Bush's "New Way Forward." Without revealing my views of our president, I am allowing my perspective on Iraq to crystallize independently of US media - a personal objective. I can tell you the optimism here is as strong as the pessimism there. I learned in other developing countries, and it is certainly true here, that progress is measured in millimeters. In a broad sense, are we making a difference? Yes. Are we making mistakes? Yes. Is this expensive? Yes. Is money being wasted? Only as artists waste raw materials. Should we pull out or set a date for withdrawal? No. Should we have come here in the first place? I don't know. All the effort, cost and waste could have been avoided if we had never come here in the first place, regardless the arguments about WMD's. Having been part of reform of the former Soviet Union, however, I will not agree that coming here was a mistake - at least not now.

I learned today where I will be stationed, and I also received clear direction about what can and cannot be reported. If you did not read the cover email carefully, please do so. My ability to continue sending these reports depends entirely on your conformity to the rules. My assignment is in Anbar Province, the largest province (yet sparsely populated) to the west of Baghdad. Anbar is predominantly Sunni and borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and is home to Fallujah, Ramadi and Abu Ghraib, among other less notable locations. The good news is I will live on a Marine Base in Ramadi. Anbar is where much of the surge is taking place, the latest attempt to restrict the insurgency. I understand a goal of this surge is to bring peace and stability to a predominantly Sunni area as balance to the Shia dominance. You can learn more about Anbar Province by looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Anbar_Governorate. More on this later.

I read in an online newspaper this morning about fighting yesterday in a city south of Baghdad. This must have been what we heard. We are 8 hours ahead of the east coast.

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