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December 16, 2005

Mood:  chatty
Topic: Scary Stuff
In contrast to the January elections, yesterday’s vote was much, much calmer. In Baghdad, I only heard sporadic fire.

The only real "scary" moment for those of us living inside the Green Zone came early in the morning. At roughly 7am in the morning, the security officer advised us that it would be a good idea to wear body armor due to the treat of indirect fire. About five minutes after the warning, the bad guys lobbed a mortar round at the Zone. Thankfully, it didn't kill anyone. It wounded a few people and destroyed a water truck. I don't want to think about what would have happened if that truck was filled with something flammable. After the attack, the security officer on my compound made us wear body armor for the rest of the day.

Posted by alohafromtim at 1:51 AM EST
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December 10, 2005

Mood:  vegas lucky
Topic: Scary Stuff
Last night, about every hour or so I heard small gunfights erupt at the nearby checkpoints and across the river. It would start off with small arms fire and eventually the firefights would escalate. After the US military started responding with 50 caliber machine guns, the bad guys would give up.

A little after 10pm, as I was sitting around a fire with about ten friends, the sound of gun fire began to ring out through the night air. In less than a minute, I began to see tracers filling the night sky. At that moment, I saw a red tracer coming from the other side of river fly toward my compound. As I saw it fly over my head, one of my buddies shouted out an expletive. I leap up from my chair and shouted, "Everyone run for the house!" My house was a short ten second sprint from the fire.

Four people ran into my house. Two leapt behind a nearby concrete wall. Two other dashed off to another house. At least one hid behind the backside of a house. I don’t know where everyone else went. From our various hiding places, we all took occasional glances at the night sky. For twenty minutes, the sky was filled red and the occasional green tracer. It reminded me of watching a distant fireworks show or the grainy green images from the first Gulf War of the Iraqi military trying to protect itself from the American air campaign against Baghdad.

As soon as I reached the safety of my concrete house, I reached for my radio and called up my compound’s security officer to let him know that a few rounds had landed inside my compound. We had seen tracers flying toward us, and someone told me that they heard the pinging sound of rounds hop-skipping off the concrete. My security officer calmly advised everyone to stay indoors and away from windows. He told us the 20 minute barrage of bullets began due to soccer game. I know that the Iraqis like "celebratory fire," but I had never seen anything that excessive in my 11 months in Iraq.

Toward the end of the firefight, I decided to buck up the spirits of my friends tapped outside by blaring Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries" and the Rolling Stone's "Paint it Black" on loud speaker outside my house. As soon as they heard it, they shouted, "Turn it up!"

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:46 PM EST
Updated: December 10, 2005 11:55 PM EST
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December 3, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
I received a nice warning the other day from a security advisor who wrote that he did "not want to take on any chance here, please take note. A new brand of whiskey is on the market. [The bad guys] have entered GRAND WHISKEY to compete with top brands only this desert blend will not only scorch the back of you throat but will have you begging for a swift end. $70 will get you a case of 12 bottles laced with the finest rat poison and other ingredients designed to do you harm. DO NOT CONSUME and please pass on."

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:26 PM EST
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November 10, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
Last night, a pack of my friends went over to the Palace to crash a goodbye party. As that party was winding down, we decide to split and have a mini-party at my place. As we were on our way home, we heard the news of what happened in Amman. Everyone quickly grew very grim. All of us have spent time in the hotels that were attacked. We realized that if we were on way out of Iraq for a break or a training class, we might have been killed. For a few minutes, everyone realized how dangerous it is to be in Iraq, and we were reminded that when we cross the borders, we are still not totally safe.

I turned on upbeat music and strongly encouraged everyone to drink in hope that the attacks would fade into the background of their minds. Iraq is a grim place, and dark thoughts about dying always reside in the near background. Everyone on my compound always viewed Amman as a semi-safe place - a refuge from the crazy dangerous world of Iraq. Clearly, we can no longer fool ourselves that Amman is our safe refuge in the Middle East.

The attacks were designed to punish Jordon for its alliance with America and were planned to kill some of the many Americans passing through Jordan on their way to support the American occupation of Iraq.



Posted by alohafromtim at 2:22 AM EST
Updated: November 10, 2005 2:25 AM EST
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October 26, 2005

Mood:  blue
Topic: Scary Stuff
An Iraqi that works in my department is quitting. He decided that things had simply gotten way too dangerous in Baghdad.

He decided to quit shortly after his brother was shot. His brother worked for an American contractor. A number of fellow Iraqis who worked at the same company were very jealous of him because he spoke very good English and received a number of promotions within a short period of time. It appears that a number of Iraqis who worked for the company decided it was time to take their coworker "down a notch." An unknown man shot him in the leg and then told him to quit. Because no one trusts the police, no one could do anything about it.

After the attack, my coworker decided that the semi-lawless nature of Baghdad had simply gone too far. He is moving up north with his wife and newborn child.

And in other news . . . insurgents have continued to attack American and Iraqi forces at roughly the same pace - about 85 times a day for the past year.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:39 AM EDT
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October 25, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
Yesterday evening, three large car bombs exploded at a hotel across the river from my compound. Many reporters and western contractors live in that hotel because it was considered one of the safest hotels in the Red Zone.

After the first explosion, the security officer at my compound told everyone that they had nothing to worry about because the bomb exploded outside of the Green Zone. I was sitting inside my office building with a friend and we were both slightly concerned that the explosion was much, much closer because it sounded very loud. When the second bombed exploded, the security officer again advised us that there was no threat to the Green Zone. When the third one exploded, it was very loud and shook my building. The bad guys had filled a cement truck with explosives, which created a massive fireball visible from my side of the river. That is when the big "voice of god" warmed everyone on my compound to "duck and cover." The shear size of the bomb was so unusual that the security officer believed that the bad guys may have used a rocket. One of my friends, who was standing outside when the last car bomb exploded, felt the shockwave even though the hotel is about half a mile from my compound and on the other side of the river.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:44 AM EDT
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September 4, 2005

Mood:  blue
Topic: Scary Stuff
I can't remember all the details about this story, so those of you who know the facts, please forgive me.

A few days ago an Iraqi working for the Americans found out that the bad guys were looking for him. They were driving around in cars telling everyone that they knew he was working for the Americans and if they got their hands on him, they would kill him and his family. Thankfully, somehow he caught wind of what was happening. He quickly grabbed his family and started driving throughout Baghdad calling family and friends on his cell phone to try to figure out what he should do. He didn't even know if he could go to the Green Zone, which is far safer than the Red Zone, because he didn't have the necessary identification. All of his identification badges were in his house, and he knew that he couldn't go back to his house. Without identification badges, getting into the Green Zone would be very difficult and returning to work would be nearly impossible. I heard an American tell me that she would do whatever she could to help him, but most Americans here have extremely limited resources and are powerless to help people who have been identified by the insurgents.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:18 AM EDT
Updated: September 4, 2005 12:22 AM EDT
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August 12, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
A few days ago, the insurgent killed a profile Iraqi who worked for the Americans. I don't know what happen, but this individual's death so deemed so significant that the Regional Security Officer discussed the issue at the senior staff meeting and the State Department sent out a notice about how to deal with the grief associated with losing someone special. I believe that U.S. government officials are especially worried that this killing will affect the morale of Iraqi employees and ultimately convince a number of Iraqis quit rather than continue to take the risks associated with working for the U.S.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:17 PM EDT
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July 29, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
About two months ago, the Regional Security Office on my compound sent out an email warning that "the small alcohol store close to [checkpoint 3], of the International Zone, is being targeted. The owner was threatened a short time ago by a group of unidentified Local Nationals. It is highly recommended that you avoid this venue and use caution in the area and other areas that sell alcohol."

Almost immediately, the people on my compound began emailing her to find out if the liquor store in question was the White House, which is probably the most popular liquor store in the Green Zone. Oddly, she didn’t know exactly which store had been targeted. Without any specific information from the security officer, most people ignored her warning.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:36 PM EDT
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June 20, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
Two days ago, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest at the popular Ibn Zanbour restaurant, which is a few hundred yards from a heavily guarded Green Zone checkpoint, and unsettlingly close to my compound. Although the attack technically happened out in Red Zone, the effects of the bombing were felt inside the Green Zone. The explosion rattled windows, and frustrated police officers who arrived on the scene after the attack and saw dead colleagues laying twisted in pieces on the street decided to relive their frustration by firing rounds into the air. Some of those rounds landed inside the Green Zone.

From the safe confines of my compound's new bunker-like office building, I didn't hear anything. Although warning sirens went off inside my compound and I wondered what was happening, I was told that I was safe inside the nifty, new office building. The engineers who built the structure designed it to protect me from "distractions" such as this.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:39 PM EDT
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June 14, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
Just as my driver pulled out the front gate of my compound, cryptic messages started to squawk across my radio. Two security officers had something very important that they wanted to talk about. Over the next few minutes, I learned that the security office had just heard that a car bomber might be driving around inside the Green Zone. Oddly, even though the security officers knew all of this as I left my compound, one of them still smiled and waved at me as I drove through the front gate. (Thankfully, no car bomb blew up inside the Green Zone that day.)

And in other news . . . senior American military officers are growing more pessimistic about the war. Now, some are openly admitting that they can't win militarily.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:35 PM EDT
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June 4, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
I was sitting in a friend's house watching High Fidelity when we heard a loud thud. My buddy said, "Wow, that seemed pretty close." About thirty seconds later we heard a much, much louder thud that shook the windows of his house. A rocket had landed perhaps 100 yards from where we were sitting.

Everyone in the house quickly jumped up and made a dash for the bathroom, which is considered to be the safest room in the house. As we sat there huddled around the radio waiting for instructions explaining what we should do next, we listened to the security officers try to figure out what had happened. Information was coming in from lots of different sources, but it took perhaps five minutes for someone to finally make an accurate assessment of what had happened.

Late fall, rocket and mortar attacks against the Green Zone were a daily occurrence. Now they happen perhaps one time per week. The attacks are very ineffective, largely because the bad guys have to take quick shots and then run away before the Americans arrive with their heavy firepower. The bad guys even have to hide their rocket launchers in trash cans, donkey carts, and other unsuspecting locations in an effort to get the launchers close enough that the rockets and mortars are within effective range of the Green Zone.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:38 PM EDT
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May 6, 2005

Mood:  sad
Topic: Scary Stuff
An Iraqi working on my compound died the other day. She worked in the financial management office. I didn't know her very well. I just know that was seemed to smile a lot and was very helpful to anyone who needed help fixing a payroll problem.

Unlike a lot of bad things that happen here in Iraq, she wasn't killed by one of the countless car bombs or improvised explosives you hear so much about. The bullet that landed in the back of her neck wasn't even directly aimed it her. The security officials believe that it was simply a stray bullet that missed its target and flew aimlessly through the air for a great distance before it finally connected with her. As most people like to say here, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot of people in Iraq are in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it never gets reported in the news. It doesn't change the fact that they are dead.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:25 PM EDT
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May 1, 2005

Mood:  blue
Topic: Scary Stuff
There are rumors that the bad guys are trying to brew up chemical weapons. That is why all US government employees posted inside the Green Zone are given Quick2000, "a one-size-fits-all chemical biological escape hood respirator." They are small enough to fit in a book bag and very easy to use, but, sadly, they a are only good for perhaps 30 minutes. So, if people near the attack site can't get away quickly enough, it will eventually start to affect them. I was told that the Green Zone is big enough that you can always get far enough away from an attack site, but I'm not a 100% sure. Getting away from an attack may be harder than the State Department Regional Security Office might think. Lots of roads are blocked off and there are t-walls everywhere.

Posted by alohafromtim at 10:50 PM EDT
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March 21, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
I was sitting outside with my friends on the porch of one of the hardened houses in my compound. Two of buddies had just finished playing chess, and another was trying to explain how the U.S. can never bring about the societal-level changes that the neo-cons want to bring about in Iraq. We sat outside enjoying the mild weather, drinking red wine, and listing to music. The confining walls of the International Zone had seemed to melt away, even if just for a few moments.

Then . . . boom, boom, boom, boom . . . boom, boom. The insurgents have fired a few mortar rounds at the International Zone. One person in our group calmly got up and went inside the hardened house, but the rest of us didn't move. The rounds weren't that close. There were almost a mile away. After a few weeks in the Zone, almost everyone grows slightly cavilers about indirect fire attacks. If it isn't close, generally it is not a real threat. Most people also say that unlike indirect fire attack, you can't do much about mortar or rocket attacks. It almost becomes background noise to everything that is happening here. (When attacks are close, people do take it seriously.)

The security office clearly doesn't agree with the attitude that most people have developed. Shortly after the rounds landed, the compound's security officer recommended that everyone stay in "hard cover" to the extent possible for the rest of the evening and limit all movements outside of hardened buildings.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:30 PM EST
Updated: March 21, 2005 11:34 PM EST
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March 16, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
The New York Times had an interesting little article about the new Iraqi government. A reporter interviewed an Iraqi who was upset because the Kurds and the Shia have been unable to strike a political deal regarding the shape of the new government. She said, "A state without a government is like sheep without a shepherd, and in such a situation the wolves can play very easily. . . . Not having a government is causing a great deal of harm to the Iraqi people and to the interests of Iraq."

If the new Iraqi politicians needed any help understanding this point, yesterday's mortar attack inside the International Zone should have helped drive that point home. As I sat under my desk waiting to make sure the mortar attacks weren't going to hit my compound, I wondered when the Iraqi government and the Americans would start getting serious about what needs to be done to make this country safe once again.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:27 PM EST
Updated: March 16, 2005 11:28 PM EST
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February 28, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
After nearly two months inside the International Zone (Green Zone), I went out into what is affectingly called the Red Zone. The Red Zone, in general terms, is anything outside of the Green Zone. I leave it up to you to figure out why we call it the Red Zone.

While I would love to share my opinions about the security procedures used to keep me safe, I can't. I don't want the "bad guys" to learn about the procedures used to make sure my head stays firmly attached to my body. If you want to find out what happens when US civilians head out into the Red Zone, you will have to wait until I get home and then try to get me drunk. Needless to say, the security guys took their job very, very seriously. Their job is to keep me in one piece; they succeeded.

During the drive to and from the reconstruction site that I visited, I finally had a few glimpses of the real Baghdad. Despite everything that is happening in this country, people are continuing to live their lives. I zipped by a street markets filled with people, looked at large traffic jams, watched children walking around with nothing to do, and marveled at street vendors that appeared willing to sell anything that would bring them a few dinars. All in all, Baghdad looked like any poor, developing country, except for the guns.

I saw guns everywhere. People in my convoy obviously had guns. I saw US soldiers with guns. I passed by a security detail that casually walked around with AK-47's slung over their shoulders. The police officers controlling traffic at busy intersections carried AK-47s, and I even saw what appeared to be a plain clothed police officer who was carrying a handgun, which he used to wave traffic through a busy intersection. The Iraqis don't seem phased by the weapons any more. Some Iraqis didn't even show any interest when my hard-to-ignore security convoy raced by them. After nearly two years of a low-level war, they have grown as desensitized as teenagers who play violent video games - except here people die.



Posted by alohafromtim at 11:24 PM EST
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February 15, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
It was a typical morning in Baghdad. Pop, pop, pop. Rat, tat, tat, tat. A small arms gun battle on the other side of the river ran on for almost 45 minutes. I couldn't see any of it, but I could play it out in my mind. In the streets of Baghdad a pack of insurgents dashed through crowded streets with AK-47s after their improvised explosive device (IED) failed to go off. Because they didn't have adequate training and were using weapons that weren't very accurate at great distances, they sprayed bullets all over the crowded street. The small US convoy quickly jumped out of their humvees and laid down suppressing fire. They called in for support, which arrived within a few minutes. Perhaps a few Iraqi soldiers even arrived to offer some token help. The battle continued with everyone hiding behind whatever protection they could find. At the end of the fight, a few bad guys were dead, a few civilians were wounded, and an American soldier ha to take a helicopter to the American military hospital inside the International Zone. Of course, I didn't see any of it. I could only hear the sounds coming for the other side of the river. Maybe it was worse, or maybe it wasn't that bad. I just know that something happened on the other side of the river that will probably never get reported in the news. After staying in Iraq for a few weeks, you learn to tune it out and you eventually don't even care that it doesn't show up in the news. Most people on the compound probably didn't even pay attention to the sound of distant gun fire. Like I said, it was just another typical morning in Baghdad.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:17 PM EST
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February 8, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
I have heard that people found bullets buried into the ground of our compound. There is a chance some of them came from Haifa Street, which is just a little north of where I live. Even though AK-47s only have an effective range of 400 meters, bullets can travel for a long time before they finally hit something and come to a stop.

The daily security reports mention Haifa Street almost every single day. I can also hear occasional gunfire from that direction. To give you a sense of what that place is like, it is commonly referred to as "Death Street" because it is so dangerous. It is so bad that when the US military decided to set up a small outpost on one end of the street, it had to conduct a nighttime operation, which was interrupted by a short gunfight. If the US and the local government cannot get control of this Sunni neighborhood right in the middle of the capital, how can it get control of the cities out to the west?

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:27 PM EST
Updated: February 9, 2005 12:03 AM EST
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January 28, 2005

Topic: Scary Stuff
All day, all I heard was the sound of Apache helicopters swinging over the compound then drifting off in the direction of Sadr City, which has been surprisingly quiet over the past few months. Plus, I think a few mortars might have landed near the International Zone (of course they might have been bombs) and sounds of machine guns filled the night. Things got so bad last night that the security officer told everyone to stay inside their hardened houses. Even from inside the walls of the International Zone, I get the sense that making the elections safe is a challenge beyond the ability of "multi national forces." In an effort to help control the situation, most Iraqis that work inside the International Zone have been told to stay home. Of course, they didn't have much choice in the matter. The Interim Iraqi Government declared a three day national holiday, which could be more accurately described as a country-wide lockdown. The government felt it had to establish a lockdown to have any hope of protecting the polling places from the rebels. The rebels are using classic guerilla tactics, and if that wasn't hard enough to defeat, some of these guys are willing to blow themselves up. Holding elections in unstable countries is always hard, but the challenges here seem like some of the most difficult that I've ever heard of in my life. I wonder how these elections compare to elections in Columbia.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:27 PM EST
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