Noel Clay is a Press Officer and works in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. He is temporarily posted to the Embassy and will return to Washington, DC after his assignment where he will continue his Press Officer responsibilities in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Morning started today for me like many other mornings in middle “Mesopotamia”; I rise and shine at 7 a.m., even though work in the Public Affairs Section of Embassy Baghdad doesn’t officially start until 9 a.m., and in spite of living just a couple hundred yards from my office. Had yet another restless night of sleep due to the drone of helicopters flying overhead all night.
After making myself presentable, I begin my walk to work from my half of a yellow trailer (yes trailer, but smaller then one may think -- my side is only 11 by 15 feet). En route, I pass two very large Saddam Hussein busts which used to adorn the top of the former Republican Palace (now part of the Embassy compound). I begin to think about what is in store for me when I walk into the Press Office. What will the press focus on today? Bombings in Baqouba and Basra, Blackwater, al-Qaida in Iraq, or maybe the Iraq/Iran boarder crossing closures? As I soon find out, all of the above.
It’s busy, but not as busy as it had been the week before. Last week our office was inundated with inquiries from the press about the shooting incident involving Blackwater security personnel. The press devoted a lot of “ink” to the story, and the issue continues to simmer. Focus is likely to return to the story soon as the Iraq/U.S. and State Department investigations come to completion.
While making the eight-minute trek to the office, past the occasional palm and large eucalyptus tree, a good amount of time is spent thinking about my personal safety -- why wouldn’t it? Everyone here is very conscious of this. It’s no secret that the International Zone, like Iraq as a whole, is a dangerous place. The IZ, as we call it, is targeted from time to time by those who feel Americans, as well as our fellow Coalition members, do not belong here. There have been mortar and rocket attacks within the IZ that have been a little to close for comfort and have left me and many others extremely concerned.
As a person who, prior to coming to Iraq, was not accustomed to the whistling sound of rockets overhead, or being jolted out of bed by the sound and reverberation of a car bomb exploding outside the IZ, or the hail of celebratory gunfire raining down after a televised soccer match, I have conditioned myself to take each day however it may come. I also remind myself of the voluntary commitment I made to serve my country and to the commitment we made to the Iraqi people who need our continued help and support. Yes, the process is slow and frustrating at times, but I believe we owe it to the Iraqi people as they work toward building a more secure and stable Iraq.
While sitting today at my cluttered desk, amid the vast mint-colored “Green Room” with a soaring 30-foot ceiling -- a place that I’ve called home for the past 15 months -- I begin to read through our daily press clips in order to keep up on the latest news on Iraq. I usually try to read a good majority of the daily clips, but depending on the day, it’d be like trying to tear through War and Peace in one sitting. Moving through the day, I also work on a couple of regular internal documents that are intended to inform Embassy staff, as well as others personnel in Iraq, on what the White House, State Department, and Embassy are saying about topics and events that may have a direct impact on their official duties.
As the workday draws to a close, (we work far into the evening, at night, and on weekends) I’m looking forward to our office “Happy Hour.” No, we’re not going down to the local pub – there isn’t one. We’ve invited some of our Embassy colleagues and friends to join us here in the Green Room for a little socializing and group therapy. It’s one of the very few ways of relaxing and forgetting, even for a brief moment, that you’re so far away from home and so far from the comforts that come with it. Cheers!