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The Daily Iraqi Cheese Grader
December 27, 2005

Mood:  on fire
Topic: Daily Life
The fine people in the US military have created a small chapel right outside of Saddam's old presidential palace. Every day there is a catholic service, and on Sundays there are also Episcopal, Latter Day Saints, and general Christian gospel services. There is also a small Muslim prayer area just inside one of the main entrances to the Palace.

I know a Marine in Iraq who told me that he stopped going to mass shortly after he arrived in Iraq. At first he tried to keep going even though his job requires him to kill people, but he stopped going once he realized that he was attending more memorial services than church services. At that point, he decided to take a short break from religion.

And in other news . . . the Iraqis really want the Americans to start leaving their country.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:26 PM EST
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December 9, 2005

Mood:  down
Topic: Daily Life
When money is not an object, you get almost anything you want in Iraq. Last night I went to a party catered by a French chef and that included two guys running around serving people drinks. It reminded me of a lobbyist party on Capitol Hill.

Posted by alohafromtim at 1:14 AM EST
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November 18, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
I threw a small party last night. Toward the end of the evening, a bunch of personal security detachment guys (PSDs) showed up. We ended up tossed a few back and teaching this young State Department kid, who was right out of college, how we drink Iraq.

As I was cleaning up the next morning, I would a backpack with an M-16 clip inside of it. There were a few soldiers at my place, but one of the PSDs probably owned the clip. I have a feeling that finding a clip isn't a common thing outside of Iraq. Here, it is so commonplace that I didn’t even think twice about it. I simply left it on my porch for about an hour or two until someone finally came by to pick it up.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:45 AM EST
Updated: November 18, 2005 5:18 AM EST
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November 8, 2005

Mood:  spacey
Topic: Daily Life
When people leave Iraq, they generally leave things behind. People buy many things, such as stereos, blenders, clothes, and board games, which they have no intention of taking with them when they leave Iraq. Consequently, the minute someone leaves, a swarm of human vulture pick through the newly abandoned house or trailer to take whatever isn't nailed down to the ground. Through this process, I have picked up a nice surround sound stereo system and a bunch of glasses.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:17 PM EST
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November 7, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
There is rumor floating through the Green Zone right now that has almost everyone very scared – supposedly the Ambassador is going to close all the liquor stores inside the Green Zone.

One variation of the rumor places the blame on religious leaders who have directed their followers to stop bringing alcohol into the Zone. Another variation of the rumor focuses on a US drive to evict the many squatters inside the Zone, which would probably include some of the liquor stores. I have been "told" by many people that the Ambassador himself will sign the order to close the liquor stores once he returns to Baghdad.

If the story is true, the State Department will have a much harder time getting foreign service officers to come to Iraq.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:28 PM EST
Updated: November 8, 2005 11:36 AM EST
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October 13, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
A few weeks back I went to a party hosted by a British personal security detachment (PSD) company. They had lost two employees in Basrah and had decided use the party as a fundraiser to raise money for the widows.

Finding the party proved to be more difficult than I originally expected. There are no road signs in Iraq, and with tall t-walls lining every road, it is nearly impossible to see anything other than what is right in front of you. I had general directions, but once I got close, I had to ask everyone I saw in hopes that they knew where the company’s compound was located.

When I arrived at the party, I tried to remind myself that the whole purpose of the party was to raise money, but I couldn't avoid the fact that the party was very lame. It cost $10 to get into the party, and it was a cash bar. When I arrived, most of the 100 men and approximately 10 women at the party were sitting around tables playing a trivia game, lead by an Irishman asking nearly impossible questions that even a Jeopardy champion couldn't answer. After finishing the trivia game, the company had a very short and tasteful memorial service. Sadly, just as I thought that the party would get better, someone in charge decided that it was time to warm up the karaoke machine. Let me give a little piece of advice to anyone organizing parties in Iraq - listening to drunk PSDs sign karaoke song is not fun.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:35 AM EDT
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September 2, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
Near the old cafeteria inside the Palace, someone has set up chess boards. It appears that someone wanted to recreate the feel of public chess boards often found in large parks. No one was playing chess when I last walked by the boards, but hopefully people use them to help forget this place for a few minutes.

And in other news . . . it is truly surprising how much information someone can get once they file a freedom of information act request.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:33 PM EDT
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August 27, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
Even though I live in Iraq, I don't get to talk to many Iraqis. Most of my time is spent working with other Americans. The Iraqis I meet largely perform jobs, such as janitors, drivers, translators, and administrative assistants, that support my presence in Iraq.

A few weeks ago, two Iraqi women sat down next to me during lunch. Somehow, I stuck up a conversation with them. Both of them were roughly my age (mid 20's to mid 30's). The more talkative of the two spoke English with a charming British accent because she had spent a few years in England as a child. We talked about the problems facing the Americans in Iraq, and oddly she even shared my cynical sense of humor about the twisted world that the Americans have created in Iraq. After lunch, we both went our separate ways.

Although in any other place in the world that would have been enough of a nugget to start a friendship, Iraqis and Americans live in completely different worlds in Iraq, which makes it nearly impossible to have a friendship. Americans live inside walled communities surrounded by armed guards. Iraqis live outside of those walls and have to get home before the evening curfew - before it gets too dangerous. Our worlds rarely cross.

And in other news . . . "allas" is a new Arabic slang word coined in Iraq for a person, usually masked and paid a bounty, who leads a group of killers to a potential victim, such as a Shiite living in a Sunni neighborhood.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:50 PM EDT
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July 29, 2005

Mood:  hungry
Topic: Daily Life
An Iraqi newspaper (Azzaman) recently reported that the director of the Market Researches Center at the University of Baghdad prepared a study about cell phone usage in Iraq. The study note that Iraqis are now spending about 25-50% of their incomes on their cell-phones.

Almost every Iraqi on my compound has cell phone. It seems to have become some type of status symbol, or perhaps my coworkers are just addicted to the idea that they can purchase and use a cell phone without the fear of someone from the government spying on them.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:59 AM EDT
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June 29, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
Almost everyone stationed in Iraq dreams about the day when they will leave Iraq. It doesn't matter if someone has just begun their tour or is about to finish it. Everyone just wants to go home.

Thankfully, a bored American living inside the Green Zone made the "Baghdad Donut." The donut is simply a round chart embedded into an excel spreadsheet that calculates how much time someone has left in their tour. (I recently found out that if I hold down the F9 key while looking at my donut, it continually updates the chart to help fool me into thinking that my tour is racing by at blistering speed.)

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:39 PM EDT
Updated: June 29, 2005 11:44 PM EDT
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June 26, 2005

Mood:  chillin'
Topic: Daily Life
In the height of the summer, the thermometer in Baghdad can climb as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday, it was a toasty 112 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I didn't notice. Inside my air conditioned office building, I felt so cold that I had to put on a polar fleece.

Americans working in Iraq have bought lots of air conditioners. Even soldiers have air conditioning units. Most tents at major military bases have some type of air conditioning system and almost every military office has one too. In fact, I have even seen mobile air conditioners placed outside next to Marine checkpoints near the U.S. Embassy.

Meanwhile, Iraqi soldiers wonder why they have to melt in the heat as Americans soldier sleep inside air conditioned tents, and my Iraqi coworkers probably wonder why the Americans have the 24 hours of power needed to continually run their air conditioners while most Iraqis in Baghdad only receive 12 hours of power per day.

And in other news . . . key reconstruction statistics keep looking worse and worse.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:40 PM EDT
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June 24, 2005

Mood:  accident prone
Topic: Daily Life
A few days ago one of my Iraqi coworkers brought her daughter to work. I guess she couldn't find anyone to watch the girl that day and felt it was too dangerous to leave her at home by herself. All the same, my coworker took a big risk. A young child could easily make a mistake and tell someone that her mother works for the Americans.

Most of the Iraqis working for Americans don't tell their family what they do, and some don't even tell their spouses. As more and more people learn that someone works for the Americans, it increases the risk that one of the bad guys will find out. If an insurgent finds out . . . well . . . let's just say that the insurgent don't like anyone connected with the Americans.

And in other news, it seems that more and more newspapers are trying to answer one of the most heated questions about Iraq - is America winning or losing the war in Iraq. A critical review of what is happening in Iraq is well overdue.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:54 PM EDT
Updated: June 24, 2005 11:55 PM EDT
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June 23, 2005

Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Daily Life
I am really getting sick of the countless crickets that are crawling into my house. Over the past month or two they have gone from an occasion nuisance to a daily annoyance. Almost every day I find one or two crickets crawling around on the floor of my hardened house. At first I tried to capture them and let them loose outside of my house, but I have to admit that recently killed a few of them rather then use a more friendly capture and release tactic. I really hope I never get reincarnated as an Iraqi cricket.

And in other news . . . the U.S. and its coalition allies provided 5.4 million rounds of ammunition to the Iraqi security forces last week.

Posted by alohafromtim at 4:32 PM EDT
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June 22, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
On October 15, 2003, the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority began issuing a "new Iraqi dinar" to replace Iraq’s old currency, which were smothered with pictures of Saddam. The new Iraqi dinar also replaced the unofficial currency used in the North of Iraq, which some people affectingly called the "Swiss dinar." The Coalition Provisional Authority burned all the old currency turned in by Iraqis.

Most Americans living inside the Green Zone never use the new Iraqi dinar. Inside the Green Zone, American dollars are used at the military post exchange, Burger King, almost every local restaurant, the U.S. Embassy souvenir shop, the liquor stores, rug shops, and every bootleg DVD store. Even the British bar Ocean Cliffs, located inside a housing complex controlled by the British Embassy, accepts the American greenback.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:36 PM EDT
Updated: June 22, 2005 11:40 PM EDT
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June 2, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
Ok . . . I’m back inside the Green Zone, so let the daily grading begin again!

There are no working traffic signals inside the Green Zone. Some were damaged during the invasion of the Baghdad, and some were damaged during the excessive looting following the fall of Saddam's regime. The few lights that appear to have survived these two incidents don't work for some unknown reason. Thus, each intersection is essentially a four-way yield. To help make sure no one races through these intersections, the U.S. military installed make-shift speed bumps using tank treads, which are laid out flat across the width of the roads.

Posted by alohafromtim at 5:11 AM EDT
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April 12, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
A few days ago I played a game of basketball with one of my coworker on a makeshift eight foot hoop. A number of Iraqi working on my compound made the hoop a few months back during their free time. It is fairly impressive. They used round metal tubing to make the rim and found a large piece of plywood to serve as the backboard. The hoop sits in the middle of a large storage shed, which thankfully had a concrete floor.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:06 PM EDT
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April 2, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
Although I have a decent internet connection here in Iraq and can read online newspapers, I really miss reading an actual newspaper. And . . . sadly . . . in Iraq, I only have access to one English language newspaper - Stars and Stripes.

According to DoD Directive 5122.11, "Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community. Editorially independent of interference from outside its editorial chain of command, it provides commercially available U.S. and world news and objective staff-produced stories relevant to the military community in a balanced, fair, and accurate manner." While I do not know if the paper is truly independent, occasionally it includes stories that are semi-critical about Iraq. I even saw a few that were critical of President Bush.

On the whole, I don't think the paper is that much worse than a local newspaper in small town America. About a quarter of the paper is dedicated to sports, and about half of the paper is heavily dependent on AP wire stories, which means you generally do not get the in-depth reporting needed to truly evaluate what is happening in the world. The stories merely say, "Congress passed this" or "Bush said that" or "three soldiers died in Iraq." The stories typically aren't long enough to say much more than that.

Stars and Stripes does have its own reporters. Most of their stories are feel-good human interest stories or very positive overview of "hot issues." For example, rather than explaining the U.S. government's failure to adequately prepare Iraq's security forces, Stars and Stripes reporters wrote a piece explaining the personal sense of accomplish that one soldier felt by training an new Iraqi army battalion. The story only hinted about the bigger problems that still needed to be addressed.

And in other news . . . even though the Bush Administration set up the Coalition Provisional Authority as a quasi-nongovernmental agency so it could avoid U.S. government contracting laws and use Iraqi oil money, the Justice Department now contents that contractors that worked for the former Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq can be sued in U.S. courts under an anti-war-profiteering law. Guess they want their cake and eat it too.

Posted by alohafromtim at 10:33 PM EST
Updated: April 2, 2005 10:37 PM EST
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April 1, 2005

Mood:  loud
Topic: Daily Life
I got a hair cut yesterday at the PX near the Palace. It only cost me $3! (Thankfully the barber left enough hair on my head so I don't look like a Marine.)

Posted by alohafromtim at 10:32 PM EST
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March 30, 2005

Mood:  sharp
Topic: Daily Life
Receiving mail is the highlight of any week. Serving in Iraq is rough. You feel cut off from your family and friends, and receiving a small package or even a postcard from them makes you feel much better.

All mail in Iraq comes through the Army Post Office (APO). The APO is an extension of the U.S. postal system. When people mail things to me, it is just like mailing a letter to somewhere in the States. Sending me a letter only costs the price of a single stamp. However, it takes about two weeks for that letter to make it from the States to Iraq.

The APO is fairly reliable. I have heard stories about packages that have never made it through the system, but that is fairly rare. The system is so reliable that I even buy things through and send them to myself here in Iraq.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:27 PM EST
Updated: March 30, 2005 11:36 PM EST
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March 19, 2005

Topic: Daily Life
I hate my Iraqi cell phone. The US government gave me the phone so I could call someone if something really bad happens. Clearly, because the phone doesn't work most of the time, it was not a good investment.

According to the Azzaman Newspaper, a self declared independent Arab newspaper printed in Great Britain, "An Iraqna manager admits that there are problems with the network." No kidding! The phone only works about 25% of the time. When I try to call someone, it normally tells me that the person I am calling is out of the calling area, which is preposterous considering that they are typically less than 1/5 of a mile away from me and they are sitting right in the heart of Baghdad.

The Iraqna Telephone Company, the nice company run the network, recently discovered that there is piracy on the network that causes daily cut-offs. Service has also been interrupted because two cell phone towers were attacked by insurgent.

Let me strongly recommend that you don't by their stock on the Iraqi stock exchange.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:22 PM EST
Updated: March 19, 2005 11:26 PM EST
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