Archive for November, 2008

Big Rainstorm

November 29, 2008

Unusual rainstorm in Baghdad today.  Enough thunder and lightning to make us jump.  Enough rain to flood the streets.  Wind pushing the palms around, hail piled up in the gutter.  I wish I had some pictures for you, maybe later.

Update 8 p.m.: It’s raining again.


Happy Thanksgiving

November 27, 2008


We all have so much to be thankful for, whether in Baghdad or Berkeley.

The photo is from October 10.

Review: Guests of the Sheikh

November 19, 2008

Guests of the Sheikh, by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, is an excellent introduction to rural Iraqi culture.  As a newlywed in 1956, the author moved with her anthropologist husband to a Shia tribal settlement adjoining a village in Diwaniya.  For two years, Mrs. Fernea wore the abaya and lived in purdah, secluded or veiled from all men save Mr. Fernea and a household servant.

However, she entered the society of the tribal and village women. The book, published in 1965, is a sharply-observed, simply written narrative of Mrs. Fernea’s observations and experiences.  The subtitle is “An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village,” but Mrs. Fernea omits theory and analysis.  Her matter-of-fact prose (she is a journalist) is accessible and almost flat, but ultimately quite affecting.

The date palms on the opposite bank were gray with the accumulated dust of the desert summer and the fields we passed were brown and dry.  Only the stubble of the small summer crop remained.  On each side of the road the flat, dun-colored land stretched away for miles, broken only by the cuts of small waterways carrying water to the fields and the dips of old canals, their dry hollows green with a little shrubbery nourished by some dampness remaining in the soil.  Here and there a single fellah was visible against the horizon; his dishdasha tied up around his waist to allow freedom of movement, he broke the dry ground with a hand hoe, preparing the land for autumn planting.

The book offers interesting benchmarks for present observers of conditions in Iraq’s countryside.  The village (whose population is not mentioned; 400 pupils in the boys’ primary school) has a chlorinated water system and “five or six” homes in the tribal settlement are connected.  The village’s power comes from a generator that runs when the mayor orders it – for example, to run his fan in the summer.  Soil salination is a problem and men that can no longer cultivate their land turn to sheepherding or migrant labor.  Employment as an armed guard or retainer is not unknown.

This is one of the most helpful books on Iraq that I have read, and apparently a classic of Middle Eastern ethnography.  I recommend it to anyone interested in Iraqi society.  It is in print but I could not find Mrs. Fernea’s husband’s dissertation on irrigation.

Guests of the Sheikh

Some Views on Iraq

November 16, 2008

Michael Yon, quoted at Instapundit:

The war is over and we won… There’s nothing going on. I’m with the 10th Mountain Division, and [none] of the guys I’m with [have] fired their weapons on this tour and they’ve been here eight months. And the place we’re at, South Baghdad, used to be one of the worst places in Iraq. And now there’s nothing going on. I’ve been walking my feet off and haven’t seen anything.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas): Iraq is Open For Business:

Maybe Baghdad is never going to be Paris in the spring, but it is evident that we are winning the peace to such a degree that I can honestly say no matter how you define victory, we have won the war. We have routed al-Qaeda and the terrorists.

Life in Iraq is returning to normal, and free enterprise is growing. Street markets bustle with shoppers, cars crowd the roads, and construction on several projects is moving full-steam ahead. [Fellow Representative] Mr. [Kenny] Marchant and I toured a power plant that used to be a target for terrorists. Now it reliably produces electricity for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The Gear Post

November 14, 2008

When you finally get your orders to come to Iraq, usually you have a lot to do in a few short weeks.  Not least, you have to pick up appropriate clothing and equipment for this environment.  In this post, I’ll review some equipment that has worked well – and not well – for me.

I have spent my tour(s) in the International Zone, with frequent trips outside, including several to the rural qadas of Baghdad Province.  Nothing too rough, but lots of climbing in and out of Hummers.  Most of this advice will apply to civilians more than military.

Boots. If your feet aren’t happy, you won’t be happy.  I wear a pair of Merrell hiking boots like this.

merrell-bootMerrell is a popular choice for civilians.  The soles are a trademarked material that has held up very well to a year of walking on silt and concrete.  The lining is worn though to the sole in both heels and I had to replace a lace, but otherwise the uppers and bodies have held together perfectly.  Many people wear desert combat boots, but I’m told the Merrells are a little cooler to wear.  Grade: A.


Welcome Michael Totten

November 12, 2008

Excellent news.  Michael Totten is heading back to Baghdad (via Instapundit).  We’ve featured Michael several times in Bloggers in Iraq and the Middle East. You can find his reports at Most recently, he was reporting from Kosovo and Georgia.  See for example Resisting the United Nations, The Forgotten War, and The Scorching of Georgia.

Remember the Fallen

November 11, 2008

Arlington Sunset

To us in America, the reflections of armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

Arlington Walk

November 10

November 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, United States Marine Corps.

USMC Memorial

Last year’s post here.

Off the Grid

November 7, 2008

Presentation guru Gar Reynolds writes about getting “off the grid” and points to this June post:

I talk a lot about the importance of getting away from the computer, getting off the grid and finding time alone.

A couple of times a month, I have the opportunity to get away from the office and spend time in some of the Coalition’s more outlying facilities.  (The living conditions are what online job postings call “austere.”)  The ever-present noise of of Baghdad – cars, generators, air conditioners – is gone.  Teflon Don:

The desert, though- the desert is different. The sky was clear of dust and haze- we were far past the lights of the city, and the stars shone soft and brilliant. The Milky Way stretched out overhead like a band of cotton.

Out there, I have no distractions unless I bring a book.  No computer account, no shared drive, limited phone service.  Other than programmed meetings, my time is mine.  I’m always surprised how much progress I can make thinking through a project, just sitting at a table for four hours with a pen and a stack of A4 paper.

Not only that, I get back to Baghdad rested and even-keeled.

Green Earth

November 5, 2008

Two weeks ago Last week (seems like two…) we had three or four days of on-and-off rain.  Usually the rains come in February and March.  One Iraqi told me that the last fall rains like this were in 1998 and 1984, which makes 2008 a ten-year flood for Baghdad.

Here is a break in the rain, taken October 29.

Rain Storm

This morning I took a helicopter ride.  I was astonished how green the winter vegetable crops are.  We saw the fields ready for planting about a month or six weeks ago.  Now they are lush and green.


That’s the Tigris in the background.  (Sorry for the muggy picture, it was through a window.)