Best Regards from Baghdad

My One Year in Iraq

Mike's Notes - A New Year, A New Contributor

A couple of years before 9/11, I wrote an article about my State Department Foreign Service orientation class, commonly known as "A-100" for its previous Foreign Service Institute (FSI) course designation.  I made no claim that my class was special; on the contrary, I supposed that we were a representative group at the midway point of our careers.  At the time, we were about the average age and rank for federal government employees generally, and were likely to spend half our careers in the 20th century and half in the 21st.  Not unlike the State Department as a whole, however, we were somewhat adrift, unsure of what the future might hold.  Perhaps because of the article's slightly negative tone, The Foreign Service Journal declined to publish it.


"Baghdad Anne" and I were in that A-100 class.  One member of our cohort is already an ambassador, but the most well-known classmate undoubtedly is John Naland, two-time president of the American Foreign Service Association, AFSA.  John's sharp comments to Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas during an October 31, 2007, town hall meeting regarding "directed assignments" to Iraq were widely reported in the media.  (A search on John's name will retrieve an amazing number of blogs commenting on the meeting, most generally critical of the reported reaction from members of the audience.)


In the aftermath of 9/11, my class's uncertainty over our roles and mission has certainly evaporated.  Another State Department colleague, appearing in an Embassy Baghdad-produced video, noted that Iraq was his generation's "war," and he was partly in Baghdad because, in 30 years time, he didn't want to say that he had remained on the sidelines during a historic event.  My A-100 classmates and I are on the back end of our careers, with many of us (including myself) eligible to retire, but, like Anne and my other colleague, I wanted to make a direct contribution to USG (U.S. government) efforts in Iraq.  I volunteered for an assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and will be there from August 2008 to August 2009.


In addition to my desire to make a contribution, I saw service in Baghdad as an opportunity to develop my expertise and build on my past experience in countries going through a nation-building process.  I served in the Philippines after the fall of Marcos, Indonesia after the fall of Suharto, and Ukraine after the Orange Revolution.  In all three countries, I witnessed the difficulties of creating robust institutions of government, a viable civil society, and combating corruption.  In addition, during an early assignment in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I developed an understanding of the incredible difficulty of promoting inter-community reconciliation.  In my previous assignments, however, the "revolutions" had really just resulted in a transfer of power between elites.  Iraq will be my first experience where the government, and state, is being created from the ground up.  I should learn if the process in Iraq, as an extreme case, is qualitatively different from my previous experience in other countries.


Although I have never had a blog before, I have a blogger's instincts.  Anne has done an incredible job and created a valuable resource with this website.  (Two different instructors during an FSI Iraq orientation course directed us to it, with complimentary comments.)  I realized that Anne's website already contained much of what I might report back to my family and friends and I thought that, rather than going over the same ground, I would ask Anne if I could provide updates to her website.  She agreed, so you will be seeing my entries here.


The big change, as Anne noted, will be the move into the new embassy, which is still not occupied.  If everything works out, inshallah, I will certainly report on the event and will provide updates on other changes.  I also hope to augment Anne's website by reporting my experiences based on a different perspective that I will have of life at U.S. Embassy Baghdad.  Anne, however, has provided a detailed description of her personal emotional journey, so I will probably not go into that area, especially since each individual's reactions will be different.  Finally, I will try to provide more details on topics that Anne did not have the opportunity to describe.  My views are my own, certainly not U.S. government or U.S. Embassy Baghdad policy, and I take full responsibility for any factual errors.  While I appreciate Anne "hosting" me, my entries on this website do not mean that she has endorsed my views or bears any responsibility for them.