Letter # 8
From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Monday, February 09, 2004 2:52 AM
Subject: Baghdad Rag #8
Family and Friends
Right after I sent out last week's edition, we had two suicide bombs in Irbil, which is in northern Iraq. There were over 100 people killed, many of them members of the two Kurdish parties. This could have significant repercussions to our efforts here. CPA has been negotiating with the Iraqi Governing Council on the selection process for members of the new Iraqi government. Each of the three factions has different preferences to select officials to gain the upper hand over the others. It has been a delicate balancing act and these explosions could be a big setback. We are concerned that the Kurds could decide to go their own way and set up a separate government. This would lead to civil war and undo everything we have accomplished over the past 9 months. Our leaders have been traveling to Irbil to keep the lid on the situation.
We continue to have rocket and mortar attacks either against the Green Zone or at the Baghdad airport. Last Thursday alone, we had 13 attacks just within Baghdad. And when we don't have rockets, we have car bombs. We have been averaging 2 car bombs a week throughout Iraq. The Bad Guys are determined to impede coalition efforts and destabilize Iraq. And we are just as determined not to let them succeed. We are confident that we will be able to stabilize the security situation here but it will take time.
There was a Memorial Service for the victims of the car bombing at Assassins Gate. This occurred about 10 days ago in which 25 Iraqi people who work in the Green Zone were killed by a suicide bomber at the main checkpoint. It was a Muslim service and the auditorium was full of relatives and CPA members. We wanted to show solidarity with the Iraqis and offer some encouragement that we share in their loss. As I have said in earlier Rags, a lot of the Iraqis working for us are scared due to the threats against them and their families. We are trying to mitigate this as best we can but it does complicate our efforts at nation building. We are looking at other measures of protection for these people as well.
We had a lot of rain earlier in the week. When it rains here, the water does not absorb very quickly into the ground. This turns everything into a sea of mud. And it stays muddy for days. It is that soft, thick mud that you would sink in above your ankles. We had a big rainfall on Monday and it is still very muddy. We had to find wooden planks and pallets to make a path from the trailer camps to the Palace. And the Baghdad airport grounds are a swamp. Part of the area is flooded and the ground is completely saturated. It doesn't make for fun working conditions. The temperature drops to the low 40s at night. It gets pretty chilly here; I've been wearing my parka every night. The Marine guards who have the night shift are bundled up in parkas, gloves and thermal clothes. My deputy makes hot chocolate for them as we leave for the evening. So to all of you who sent chocolate mix in our care packages, a big thank you. It has gone to good use and the young kids standing guard appreciate it very much. That is winter here in Iraq: wet, muddy and chilly at night. On the days that it doesn't rain, there is a fine brown dust that covers everything. It's much finer than sand and it is everywhere. You clean off your desk and computer screen and within a day everything is covered again. You never feel clean here. And you breathe in the dust. Everyone has developed a dry cough that we call the Baghdad crud. That is why we ask for things like hand wipes in care packages. It helps us at least clean up a bit.
My office has been involved in two major activities this week: supporting the UN team and the transition to a new embassy. We have been providing airlift support for the UN team here. Over an eight-day period, we have planned six air missions for the team to travel around Iraq. It has been tough as their requirements change frequently. But we understand the importance and provide the air support requested. The other is planning for the standup of the new American embassy. We had a joint Department of State/Defense team visit us this week to lay the groundwork for the new embassy. A new Chief of Mission will be appointed by the President who will be in charge of all American activities here in Iraq once the new government is established and we have formal diplomatic relations. A new embassy building within the Green Zone will be refurbished to house the Chief of Missions and staff. It's been decided to use Saddam's Palace, and where the Coalitional Provisional Authority is today, as an embassy annex. Our job is to start the planning to convert the Palace into the embassy annex. We are looking at what organizations will work in the Palace and ensure they have the proper office space and equipment. There are certain areas of the Palace that will have to modify to handle communications and security. Some of the organizations and people in the Palace today won't be part of the embassy. So we have to find other buildings for them to work within the Green Zone and move them. We are getting a lot of attention, and help, from Washington DC. It's a tough job made even more challenging due to the short time we have before the transition. It makes for long hours. But it is interesting to be part of building a new embassy from scratch. The effort will be worth it when it is complete. We just have to remind ourselves of that after 15-16 hour days.
We have received a number of care packages from different people and I want to thank everyone for these. Each box was filled with things we needed to help bring a little bit of America here. All the snacks, goodies, coffee, chocolate, and other things have been a hit. We use the hot chocolate and coffee to give to our young Marine guards, as well as ourselves, to take the chill out. We have movie night periodically and watch movies on our computer. The snacks have come in handy on these occasions and the late nights. We thank everyone for all the packages, but I wanted to especially thank the students of Norwalk High School. They have sent 3 boxes of paperback books and magazines for us. I have distributed these to different people in the Green Zone. Some of the magazines that have a lot of pictures I have shown to the Iraqi workers here. They have enjoyed them and taken some to their homes to show their families. The other magazines have been taken by people here in the Palace. The Chaplain has established a library for the soldiers and I have taken the paperback books there. Once we leave I believe the Chaplain will donate these to the Iraqi school system. So these have been a big hit and we thank you for these.
Again, thanks to everyone for their words of support and encouragement. It helps us get through this time of separation from family and friends. Until next week.
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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