Saturday, January 31, 2009

Election Day

I did this myself just three months ago back at home; it was significantly different here. The elections in Mosul, currently the hottest spot in Iraq, had all the makings of an exciting day but from everything I saw and heard, the day has been a peaceful one.

Our escort for the day was a squad of Texas based MPs in the Army Reserve and I must say that they were the most pleasant MPs I have worked with. OK, so every other time I associated with MPs they were writing me a ticket, but these guys were true professionals. They were more than courteous and are a fine example of the men and women that wear our nation's uniforms. Speaking of women, I don't work with them much in the Special Forces so I found it quite a novelty to hear our driver squeal, "Oh, that blond baby is so cute!"

I was stuffed in the back of an MRAP and heading out the gate at first light for a one hour drive east of Mosul. The anticipation was thick because we knew we were about to observe another historic election. The ride was smooth and much of it was on fresh asphalt. We passed countless shops and stores with only a few open and also a large open air market with nothing but a couple of donkeys present. The vehicle curfew made the election a holiday.

The first polling station we visited was at a school in a small village. The building was a concrete and block structure that was scarred from years of use, dirt, insects, and little maintenance. The building and its condition was nothing new to me; most of the world attends school or lives in buildings just like this. They gave me a shock when I first saw them in Uganda back in '92 but now I accept it for the way it is and only occasionally sigh and hope that someday things will be different.

As international observers, we received a warm welcome and were given a guided tour by the site manager. We first passed a perimeter of integrated Iraqi and Peshmerga forces and then through an Iraqi Police check point were all voters were searched. A sign on the wall clearly indicated that weapons, cameras, cell phones, and smoking were prohibited beyond that point.

Inside, white cordon tape with blue writing directed voters to a series of classrooms. It became evident that the village was divided into precincts and each precinct had a separate room to vote in. Each of these rooms had someone to check IDs against a voter list, another used a stamp to validate a ballot and issue it to the voter, and two or three cardboard stands about 5 ½ feet tall for the voter to stand behind while marking the ballot. Once the ballot was marked, the voter approached a table with a large, clear plastic bin, dipped their finger in a bottle of purple ink – to ensure they didn't vote again – and dropped their ballot in a slot in the top of the bin. Meanwhile, a collection of representatives from interested political parties observed the process. Some rooms had more than a dozen political observers.

Each of the locations we visited was very similar with only a few exceptions. Each had women with children clinging tightly to their mother's hands staring apprehensively at the large crowds. Each had voters enter with confused looks being directed by poll workers who, while early in the day also looked a little confused, soon became confident and helpful. One poll worker pointed proudly to a name on his list and said, "This man was born in 1914, and today, he voted for the first time in his life."

While I finish this, the polls are about to close and I have still not heard of any attacks at any of the polling stations. The crowds could almost be called festive with the only exception some displaced Iraqis who did not have the proper identification or were not on the registered voter lists. If the area they call the hottest spot in Iraq is any indication of what is happening throughout the rest of the county, they will have a record turnout with all ethnic groups and regions participating and Iraq will have its first government that truly represents the people.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Elections in Iraq

It is day 9 of A New Hope and someone forgot to tell the rest of the world. AQI definitely doesn't seem to care.

"BAGHDAD (AFP) – Al-Qaeda remains a threat to this weekend's elections in Iraq, a senior army commander warned on Tuesday, as his American counterpart said violence could erupt when the results are announced."

The rest of that here.

Meanwhile, in the region I am working this week, they are not exactly expecting peace and plenty.

The streets of Baghdad were wallpapered in campaign signs when I left there the other day and this looks like the first election that has the support of all major ethnic groups so the results should provide a proper balance of political power that reflects the actual population. We'll just have to wait and see how the details play out. Stick around and I'll let you know.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

I just love this man!

Be warned! Put down the drinks and empty your mouth before playing the embedded video. I cannot be held liable for any damage you may cause to your monitor or keyboard.

Now, enjoy!


Saturday, January 03, 2009


De Oppresso Liber. The motto of the United States Army Special Forces; it is Latin for liberators of the oppressed. For me, it means much more than freedom from tyrannical governments, much more. Liber is obviously the root for our word liberty and, to the Romans, also means free, independent, unrestricted, and book. Book becomes obvious when you understand that true knowledge is necessary for freedom. The real surprise came when I learned that liber also means child. This definition baffled me for a long time until one day, while I was riding my motorcycle to work, an observation made it perfectly clear. I was approaching an intersection that had an overhead walkway that connected a residential neighborhood to an elementary school on the other side of a major traffic artery. On that walkway was a single child; not walking but skipping just a couple dozen feet about a dangerous highway. At that moment, in a world of difficulty and danger, that child was the freest person on Earth.

The observation brought to mind a personal struggle I had just a few months before. I had been in a motorcycle accident that shattered my left ankle and left me unable to walk or work for many months. The morning after I remember asking the nurse to open the window shades in my hospital room so I could watch the sunrise; a sunrise I came very close to not seeing with my mortal eyes. I felt immense gratitude that morning for the opportunity to have survived to see a new day however; the severity of the accident caused many to recommend that I never buy another motorcycle. At first, I agreed.

As time progressed I found my eyes following anything on two wheels. I was even rubber-necking at scooters. My wife must have noticed my sad puppy dog eyes, or she also missed our occasional rides together, and one day suggested that we look at some good looking bikes she had seen on Grant Road. She had never shown much interest in bikes before and I'm pretty sure she didn't know what brand of bikes were sold on Grant Road but just stated that they had some nice looking blue bikes. I knew exactly who had a dealership on Grant Road and agreed immediately to the opportunity to look at Harley Davidsons. I walked right by the pretty bikes she had seen from the street – a color I later learned was called Cobalt Blue – and found a still gorgeous but more masculine Black Pearl. I looked at a number of bikes and even sat on a few, and then I sat on The Bike. It was a Road King with fuel injection, hard bags, and a windshield. It immediately gave me a shot of dopamine, an exhilaration that had been absent for far too long. On that day I learned that, although I had survived the accident, I had not been living.

To the child on the walkway overhead, living had nothing to do with waking up to a new day; it meant finding enjoyment in life. A fellow Special Forces soldier on the PGR forums has a tag line that I would like to steal. It reads, "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty, well preserved body, BUT rather to SKID IN BROADSIDE, completely used up, totally worn out, and SCREAMING 'WOW---WHAT A RIDE!!'" What could be more liberating than dying without regrets?

Now, whenever occasion permits, I back the bike out of the garage and feel its rumble penetrate my lungs while the wind tries to rip the hair out of my head and my butt steers 800 pounds of highly chromed steel around the corners. Meanwhile, everyone behind me can see my license plate yell, "LIBER." Then, about the time I'm leaning the bike toward the driveway, the thought crosses my mind, "Wow, what a ride!"

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