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From all the above you might deduce (as would I) that the Iraqi Army and police are some kind of Marx Brothers operation. There are certainly many reasons to think so. But maybe, just maybe, I am starting to see a tiny change in things. The sheer enthusiasm of these guys as they go tearing around, the way they mindlessly congregate in large groups and stand around chattering the better to be killed by suicide bombers, is quite awe-inspiring. In spite of the untold number of deaths among these men, they keep enlisting in numbers that defy comprehension. Can it be only the money they are enlisting for? The pay is terrible but admittedly it’s better than being unemployed. I am beginning to think that perhaps there is a bit more than the money. Perhaps these guys are enlisting partly for the money, but partly for some hope that maybe Iraq can make its own way to a better future. And if they, rather than the U.S. Army, achieve this, they will have something they can be proud of.
4. If you were to check the CNN website at this moment you would see a reference to a huge car bomb exploding right near the gate to Baghdad International Airport. Actually, almost in the same spot where we almost got hit by the mortar shell a month and half ago. When this happened today, Khattab was about 30 yards behind the car bomb. It did some concussion damage to his car, but the worst part of the blast was deflected by a truck in front of him. The truck, it turned out, belonged to the security company across the street from us. The blast caved in the front windshield in a way that demonstrated not so much how powerful car bombs are, but how good the windshields of modern day cars are. The driver was very lucky because a piece of shrapnel about eight inches in diameter came right through the windshield and went out the back of his cab at a point less than ten inches to the right of his head.
The shrapnel was eventually found buried in the cargo someplace. I saw it and I must say that it would have rearranged everything in that poor man’s body.
5. There is a very friendly routine I (and everyone) go through with guards, soldiers, and others as we come and go. This applies anywhere in the city. I always wave, give a thumbs up, smile — anything that acknowledges their presence, tries to reassure them I am not all wired up with bombs, and recognizes the fact that they have the authority to let me through the potential bottleneck they are manning. Iraqis are a very friendly bunch of people and invariably they wave or smile back.
American soldiers all wear nametags that are usually quite visible even if they are wearing body armor. It is thus easy to say, “Hi Martin, howya doing today?” or “Sgt. Rodriguez, you look pretty mean this morning!” They seem to appreciate you looked at the nametag.
Recently the Georgian guards were particularly friendly the day that the President was visiting Georgia. The troops here, at least, told me they were very pleased and very proud that a U.S. president would take the time to visit their country.
The guards from all countries, and there are really very many, are uniformly very courteous, friendly, and affable. Many want me to put my hand out the window of the car to shake it. When heavy traffic slows things down, they like to practice their English on me. Some speak it remarkably well.p>The Pershmerga guards in our compound are very fond of Americans. They shake hands with me every day and profess great love for George Bush. It is also a habit, at least in our company, that everyone shakes hands with everyone else in the morning. I don’t know if it happens all over br> Iraq. /p>
6. There has been an important positive development in Iraq. I have neither seen it nor heard it mentioned at all in Western media. Iraqi Airways started flying the other day between several major Iraqi cities. For many months IA was flying only international flights in a pretty modern fleet of passenger jets donated, I understand, by some U.S. airlines.
The importance of this development is that in theory, at least, Iraqis will once again be able to move around this country and avoid some of the dangers of road travel. It also means that it is safe enough in the vicinity of airports for commercial air traffic to take off and land. That, folks, is very important news! I will wait apprehensively to see if there are any attempts to shoot down one of these planes. I will wait patiently for the day when I see this reported in one of the many newspapers of record around the world.
7. Another thing you won’t see receiving much analysis in the press, is the state of electric power in Iraq. You do hear that nothing here works and that the power is off a good deal of the time. And that is very true.
I heard the U.S. Ambassador speak the other day and he pointed out some interesting statistics such as the fact that since the end of the war, electric power generation has increased by over 80% compared to prewar levels. That is a pretty fantastic accomplishment! And still there are blackout conditions all over the place a good deal of the time. The problem is that the Iraqi economy has started to rev up so much that electric demand has risen by nearly 100%. So, there is still a shortage of power.
In a sense, things are so good here that electric power simply can’t keep up with the demand even though it is growing at a pretty amazing rate. Since our company (through RFP’s) gets a preview of what will be happening down the road with Iraqi electrical facilities, I was telling someone the other day that one day in 2007 or 2008, all Iraqis will wake up one morning and have electric power they never dreamed possible. And, they will have the most modern electric system in the world. The reason is they started from so far back as a result of the losses caused by Saddam and the wars, that all the equipment had to be replaced. In 2008 everything here will be brand new! Pretty much the same happened in Japan and Western Europe after WWII.
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