About the Author: Aaron Snipe is a Foreign Service Officer who recently completed his assignment with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna, Iraq.
It’s tough to sum up a year in Iraq in one final post. The best summary of my time in Iraq actually lies in the telling of the tale. With more and more diplomats serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, my experience is not uncommon. Yet, I can’t help but feel there were, indeed, many unique aspects of my time in Muthanna. Unique because in the human terrain of our sleepy little province in the South, our team broke new ground with Iraqis.
As I cleaned out my desk on my last day in Muthanna, my colleague and friend Albert Hadi and I stood in the middle of our office gazing at the wall of photos, flyers, and articles our PRT had generated over the year — evidence of many of our public diplomacy efforts. As we reflected on the year’s accomplishments, Albert said, “You know, we win the minds of Iraqis by building things like schools, bridges, and roads, but we win their hearts by building relationships and giving them respect. We won hearts here this year.”
He was quite right.
This year we had, indeed, won hearts in Muthanna by leading with respect and engaging Iraqis as equals. We earned the admiration of our Iraqi colleagues by demonstrating a respect for their history, religion, culture, and sovereignty. At a time when Iraqis are yearning for a more normal relationship with the United States, I believe our civilian-lead engagement and assistance were critical components to building sustainable bridges, both figuratively and literally, between our two nations. Reflecting back on the year, I can’t help but feel optimistic.
With all that I’ve observed and shared this year, there were also many, many stories I was not able to blog about because Iraq is a still a land in conflict. There were Iraqis whose pictures I wanted to post — perfect images that needed little to no accompanying text — and prose I wished to write but would have put Iraqi lives — friends’ lives — in jeopardy. While I could not tell their stories on the pages of this blog, I’ve carried them back with me, and there is no doubt they made me a better diplomat and, dare I say, a better human being.
So, with Iraq physically behind me (but still very much with me intellectually and emotionally), I would be remiss in ending this blog if I didn’t extend my thanks to you — the reader. Writing about my experiences has helped me process the tumult and tempest of this year in a way that allowed me to keep my family and friends informed and to tell stories of Iraq most folks never hear. Thanks for reading my blog entries and sharing them with others.
Read more about Aaron Snipe's work with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna, Iraq.