Oh Yes..... and what in heaven's name is he doing in Baghdad you are asking. Well Helen and I are installing Legistar® for the the Iraq Council of Representatives. It is not often you get a chance to automate the Parliament of a country and contribute to the democratization process. But taking your wife you say.....???? She insisted I was not going it alone and she is the master trainer, so here we are traveling as a team once again. Yeah it is crazy, but a once in a lifetime experience.
The Baghdad international airport is not that big a place. We took our letters to a desk with our passports where they disappeared into an office for quite a while and eventaully emerged with a full page colorful visa stamped and sealed. It even sports a silver holgraphic logo so looks really high tech. In the name field they showed "Stephen" so not dealing with our last name seems a universal strategy. An Iraqi met us at immigration, collected our bags and escorted us through customs where we met or South African PSD (Personal Security Detail) team. In the parking garage we were given body armor and helmets to wear until we arrived at the Green Zone. My first potential injury was the danger is pulling a muscle in my shoulder trying to open the door of the Chevy Suburban because of the weight of all the armor plate inside.
The "Green Zone" looks more like a "Brown" or "Grey" zone based on the muddy dirt roads we frequent and the 2 story high grey reinforced concrete slabs that surround most of the compounds. Most everything here is walled in and protected by concrete with razor wire strung across the top to keep anyone from climbing over. There is a bit of green here and there. Our "Villa" (spelled compound) has planted grass and flowers and sports a couple of hearty palm trees. They have renamed the Green Zone the International Zone but the name Green Zone is what sticks. The real distinction is that anything outside of a Green zone is considered a Red zone which is unsecured and there is little security to prevent infiltation by insurgents. One green attribute that amused me is a novel recycling program with many of the speedbumps are fashioned out of tank treads from tanks destroyed during the war stretched across the roads half buried in the mud.
We are here as part of a large USAID project to strengthen the democratic Legislative process which new to Iraq. This is one of many components. Most USAID projects I have worked on or with are staffed mostly by Americans (not surprisingly) but this one has a distinctly international flavor. It also includes Australian, Canadian, British, Georgian, Kenyan, French, Palistinian, Kurdish/American and even Rudy our Filipino Cook. We are well protected by our PSD (Personal Security Detail) team which is managed by South Africans with a mix of Iraqi staff as well. Mostly life is routine with the only difference being the armored vehicles. Although I must admit that there are moments when I feel like an extra in a Rambo movie, South African PSD with pistols and AK 47s dressed in black or kakhi and occasionally camoflage fatigues. The difference is that they are polite, businesslike and exude confidence.
There will be no sightseeing, weekend getaways or strolls in downtown Baghdad. Security will not allow it. Things are quiet right now with the only gunfire from Iraqis when their national soccer team wins a match. Basic physics dictates that what goes up must come down somewhere so PSD monitors the soccer game and we go inside if necessary.
A slice of life in the Green Zone"