Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Welcome back all, and sorry for the slight hiatus from my updates…hopefully you have found other places on the internet to entertain you in the mean time. I had hoped to get on here sooner, but it has been a crazy past couple of weeks, and once I had a post all typed up – then our satellite went down. Ah, the trials and tribulations of modern warfare.

Also - I just want to say that I definately have the best family in the world, and the best friends. Rachel did an awesome job with the blog and I can only imagine how much time that took...I'm amazed. I'm also quite flattered by all the people who took the time to set up photos (with or without the aid of PhotoShop) and videos and get those to Rachel to post. I'm truly blessed by all the great people in my life.

And don't worry Chris - I'll be back to you soon. Though I told you that Natalie could never find out about us!!

We had kind of a little bit of a dead spell during the end of Ramadan. The three day period marking the end of a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset is a pretty big deal around these parts of the world. I think the best comparison would be like Thanksgiving in the States. It’s three days with a lot of family gatherings and a lot of food and not much else gets done the week leading up to it, or for a few days proceeding it.

All that is behind us now and I’ve been back out on the road. With the return of our Political Officer from his R&R it was decided that I will be assisting him with the preparations for the upcoming elections scheduled for January 2010. While the goal is to definitely make this an Iraqi run election – there is still much advising to be done and plenty of “before-hand” assistance to be rendered. The provincial elections earlier this year went off pretty darn well all things considered. And we are hoping to build off that success to insure that we prove to Afghanistan and Iran that, “yes, it can be done.” Working in this role will involve mainly logistical set-up for the U.S. and international monitoring teams that will be coming to our area. But there’s also the role to be played in taking notes of meetings, coordinating intelligence reporting, advising and encouraging the Iraqis along the way, etc, etc, etc…

I’ll also be at a handful of meetings that are only marginally related to the elections – and sometimes not at all just so I can get a better feel of some of the players.

This first photo you see below is one of those random extra meetings. I was here because we meet with the Provincial Counsel chair (think head state legislator) and later this woman below, before we met with the election folks. The lady below is actually in charge of coordinating media for the provincial counsel. One of the problems that we were advised of when we first arrived here was the fact that Iran (only about 45 minutes and 30 miles away) had been winning the media battle for way too long. Also shortly after arriving we picked up the gentleman pictured on the right here. He is the Public Diplomacy Officer for the PRT. His job is definitely more vague than say Economics or Agriculture, but really probably one of the busiest. His main effort has been in teaching the key leaders and influential people in the province how to get their message out there. He has done this by coordinating training for both the Iraqi media (who think just a camera and a microphone are enough) as well as for the key playmakers as well. Up until recently many of the key leaders didn’t really see the value in media attention, nor did they see how it could help assist in promoting an open and transparent government. We have even been arranging for folks to attend USAID sponsored media training in the Kurdish region. This training is both for media as well as for the people who need to use the media well.

Building on this concept, the governor and provincial counsel chairman actually held the first press conference in anyone’s memory not too long ago. We’re trying to encourage monthly press conferences…and we’re hopeful.

Here’s the photo of me listening in on a meeting with the head of media relations at the provincial counsel and Stephen.

These next couple photos are actually us at the Wasit office of the Iraqi High Electoral Committee (IHEC). This is honestly probably the only organization that I have run into where every single person seems passionate about doing their job the best they possibly can and are selfless in the mindset that they are doing everything they can for the people of Iraq and not for themselves. It’s hard to turn around half a century of the mindset that the government is supposed to provide the people with everything (thereby making them all beggars), and that it’s OK for those in the government too look out for themselves first. It’s not a horribly desperate or hopeless situation with the government here, and there are certainly bright spots along the road. But overall you’d think they all learned their governing skills from Cook County President Stroger – though some are more successful than others. The gentleman we met with was actually the deputy chairman of IHEC as the actual chairman was out for the day. As I said, these folks here are pretty good and plenty passionate about wanting a fair and effective election – run by Iraq. Overall our meeting was very positive and we came away only with issues that we have for our Embassy here in Baghdad to push with the National IHEC body. A much higher percentage of Iraqis than I expected here are registered to vote (about 97%) and there are even plans for polling stations to be set up to accommodate the special needs populations who might not be able to go out to cast their ballot easily. There are also going to be an amazing amount of election workers for these elections. Both David (the Political Officer) and myself were taken back by the number mentioned.

In all, for my first week of learning what the process is going to be like to execute this election, I am amazed. First off, I’m amazed by the complexity of the process; the interaction between the Iraqi national government, the U.S. Embassy, and the United Nations agencies that assist, advise, and oversee the process…not to mention the local level aspects that are just as complex but in different ways. I’m also just as impressed, if not more, at how organized and prepared the Iraqis themselves seem to be themselves to really run this election all on their own. There are still fears of violence, corruption, and all the other logistical elements of making this happen well. But when you think about it – we had all of that about 10 months ago in America too.

This photo below is a group photo of us and the folks at the IHEC. You have David, Mr. Hamza, myself obviously, Stephen, one of the Iraqi police boss men, some office lackey, and my translator.

Again in this photo is a close-up of me and my translator (certain family elements have expressed a desire for more photos of me). This translator is also one of the two guys that helping apply for their immigration visa to the U.S. Hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to give some good news on that front and chronicle the whole ordeal. Though at this point – I might need a book for that one.

Hopefully, this whole election process will be as interesting and pleasant as this first week was. I’m sure in reality there will be bumps in the road. However, for the sake of everyone involved on both sides, my main hope really is - that it all gets executed on time!!!

Until next time – enjoy the changing trees and the cooling weather. One of these days soon we might actually see our LAST 100+ day for a couple months at least.

Take care – and don’t forget to write!

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