Living on the Banks of the Tigris

Posted by Noel Clay
October 6, 2007
Noel Clay, U.S. Embassy Press Officer in Baghdad, Iraq

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.Iraq: On the Ground -- Noel's September 26 Dipnote posting

First of all, I’d like to say hello to all my relatives and friends, among others, who found me on the State Department’s DIPNOTE site and took the time to say hello. Out here – living on the banks of the Tigris – reading these postings, much like receiving mail, is exciting. Thank you all for your support and words of encouragement. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by the response, but it was so nice to hear from everyone.

I’m wrapping up the regular work week this evening. Today (Thursday) is what I refer to as the American Friday. You see, the Sabbath here in Iraq and much of the Middle East is traditionally on Friday. Therefore, our weekend here in Baghdad is Friday/Saturday. It takes a while to get used to, but when all you do is work, you kind of feel that there is really no weekend at all. I usually spend several hours at work on Fridays and Saturdays to catch up on work I’ve neglected as a result of more pressing, immediate concerns.

It’s getting late and it is quiet now in my office, “the Green Room.” The only sounds are those of a couple of stragglers clicking away at their key boards. They’re either sending emails back to Washington where it’s mid afternoon (normally there’s an eight hour difference) or maybe they are ordering their favorite sundries from or a new pair of shoes from (mine should be in any day now). Either way, quiet is nice from time to time. During the day, the Press Office is the hub of activity. It’s loud, with approximately 25 people going about their duties in one gigantic room shouting from one end to the other, dozens of cell phones ringing, and people coming in and out. Seemingly constant ambient noise spills in from the palace rotunda through the very large open wooden doors that separates our office.

The last couple of days have been spent continuing to field calls about Blackwater and the various investigations that are being conducted as a result of the recent shooting incident. That, coupled with various officials testifying before Congress, has continued to drive the news and create a lot of work for us. Yesterday, we also were asked to respond to inquiries from the press about the Polish Ambassador to Iraq, Edward Pietrzyk, whose convoy was attacked in Baghdad. Sadly, a Polish soldier was killed. Blackwater contractors helped Medivac Ambassador Pietrzyk to the International Zone (IZ) hospital and get medical treatment for his injuries.

Because Americans are such a large part of the mission here in Iraq, the Embassy is asked to comment on most everything that happens in the country. I was talking with a coalition counterpart yesterday and that person told me they didn’t receive one press call for comment on the attack on the Polish Ambassador. We do our best to respond to inquires from the press as necessary, but we also refrain when commenting would not be appropriate and should rightfully come from another source.

With that, another day in Baghdad has ended. With the recent time change, the days are shorter. (Oh, I should mention here that it’s getting cooler now. Daily highs are about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I know that sounds hot, but it can get up to 120 F in the summer. So, 100 F is cool to us out here. It’s a dry heat!) So, it’s my “American Friday Night” and I have no plans, imagine that. Maybe, I should find the “happening” spot? But first, I’ll give my mom in West Virginia a call and check in.

Ma'a salama.



October 6, 2007

Wang in China writes:
I admire your courage to work and live in such a dangerous place, seeing conflict happening everyday and hearing the sound of firing around you. Have you ever thought of being shot and getting hurt or even being died? Is the strong feeling of duty, to report wherever, whenever and whatever is taking place, so high that make you neglect the danger around? Maybe when I have my own job in the future, I will sense the same feeling like you. I will keep on watching your blog and see what's going on in Baghdad. From your first blog I know that it's not always chaos there and sometimes quiet is also existing. Hope everyday can be the same. May you happy and safe there.

October 6, 2007

Keith writes:
Some of the comments here would be funny if they didn't hold some sad truths.

Dear State,
Please call DoD and commence bombing on these people over hear."

The job has to have it difficult and sad moments. I just wish Ms. Rice and some of the other public faces didn't give off such a... such an untrustworthy vibe.

I watch CNN and come away with the feeling that if as much time was spent on meetings that included the Palestinians as it is spent in secret meetings with Israel that the two sides might make some headway. Someone should talk to them.

As for Iran? I'm hearing nothing but the same twisted logic as we did before Iraq. If apples, then oranges must be true.

All those good things happening in Iraq? Did you know that 1/3 of all the people of Iraq have either been killed, maimed, or displaced? We aggressively invaded a sovereign nation and look what has happened to its people.

There is nothing good about it. Even if Israel and the US roll up Syria and Iran all they will have managed to do is lessen the human condition and immerse ourselves in a policy going forward that is fundamentally different, and much worse, that what America has ever stood for.

In fact, this inflicting democracy on nations is a disaster and we own it, with great expense and sorrow.

I read where we could have given every Iraqi man, woman, and child $35,000 dollar (35 years worth of their salary at the time) for what we have spent on the war so far. Doing that would have had a much more favorable impact not only on them, but on us in the future.

What on God's green earth are we going to say when the headlines tell about a nightclub bombing in NY or somewhere and the last thing heard before they pulled out the pins was "Avenge Iraq!"

Who will we blame then?

October 8, 2007

J.F. in Hong Kong writes:
Hello. I just happened on this posting, and was wondering where in WV you are from? I am a native of Charleston.

I am in Hong Kong as a writer, and I wonder how much you actually get to see of what is happening on the ground there?

United States
October 8, 2007

Brian in U.S.A. writes:
There are a lot of tragic things taking place in Iraq today - the entire affair is one great, big tragedy as far as I'm concerned - and this one is pretty trivial, but it's somewhat tragic nonetheless:
- Countless intelligent, dedicated, committed and talented foreign service officers and employees stuck attempting to make some sense out of the Bush Administration's horrendously misguided policies in Iraq.

It's a big reason why I didn't go in to the foreign service myself, though I'd intended to do so after college. I couldn't stand the prospect of being forced to try and implement the flawed policies this administration formulates.

As State Dept. personnel try and salvage that which can not be salvaged in Iraq and make the most out of the sad and sorry situation the Bush administration has gotten us in to, I can't help but wonder what could have been if Bush, his cronies, and the neoconservative war hawks had listened to foreign service officers and career diplomats who likely had, at the very least, a realistic and accurate view of the country and region and whose wisdom could have kept us out of this unnecessary war in the first place.

Oregon, USA
October 8, 2007

Roy in Oregon writes:
Has it occurred to anyone that negative comments to this blog identify you as a candidate for "extraordinary rendition?"

October 8, 2007

Erwin in German writes:
How stillted is the language of this. It appears the only "bloggers" on here talk in diplospeak, parroting the policy of the U.S. Administration. I know from many of my friends in Iraq that the rosy picture painted here is not what is happening on the street. How sad the Americans who have failed in Iraq take yet another page from "1984" to put their self newspeak on he world.

I will never look at this false blog again.

United States
October 8, 2007

Lyn in U.S. writes:
I admire your bravery, stay safe, stay honest.

Piero C.
October 8, 2007

Piero in India writes:
You are a young man, and as all young people must have some ideals.
I wonder how you feel to be there in Iraq that by international consensus has been one of the biggest failure in American foreign policy. The reasons why the American Army went there have been found without any resanable doubt unsustainable: no WMD and no Al Qaida was there previous to the American invasion. Moreover is obvious that the major beneficiary of this war is Iran and finally Al Qaeda has appeared.
I dont want to have a State Department precook answer, i would like to know something that comes from your own intelligenge.
Please kindly reply.

Louisiana, USA
October 8, 2007

C.T. in Louisiana writes:
What is your stance on Roe v. Wade?

Alabama, USA
October 9, 2007

Malen in Alabama writes:
Good things, Yes there have been good things. I was there for almost a year and saw the Department of State make a very good effort in rebuilding the Fire Service all across Iraq.
This effort was in rebuilding of Fire Stations, in the resupply of equipment (from Engines to SCBAs) to the training of Fireman in Bahrain.
I can say from seeing it for myself that our goverment has made an effort to do good for the people of Iraq.

North Carolina, USA
October 9, 2007

Brenda in North Carolina writes:
Hi Noel,

Your a vital person and I get the impression that you know what the variables are in the liason aspect of information, and that you are one that keeps people up to date as expeditiously as possible.

I hope you and the others there have a great day.

United States
October 11, 2007

Ron writes:
What is your purpose? Are you supposed to make Americans believe you're havin' freewheelin' fun under the sun in beautiful Baghdad? Hardly. Tell Jane Stillwater I said, "Hello." Tell her ron corvus emailed you with a smartass comment and question. She's a "citizen journalist" in the Green Zone.

Iraqis are generally friendly folks; yet when polled, the majority of Iraqis want Americans out yesterday, of course. How do you feel knowing the majority of Iraqis want the U.S. military out of Iraq? Better yet, how do you feel knowing 72% of U.S. troops in Iraq polled by Zogby Intl' said the U.S. should withdraw by the end of the year - 2006!
Google Zogby, international 72% troops

And another thing: I wonder what a Geiger counter would read there in DU land. I read about someone getting a 1000+ rem reading.

Be careful out there, r o n

October 11, 2007

Ralph in Greece writes:
Noel, I enjoyed your thoughts on your time in Iraq.

I was impressed to read in news reports that Ambassador Crocker has assembled a real "dream team" of diplomats, one of which is our former U.S. Ambassador in Greece (Charles Ries). You are truly fortunate to be working at one of the most important U.S. missions in the world. God bless and God speed...

California, USA
October 11, 2007

Catherine in California writes:
Hi Noel,
Thank you for your service to our country. I was wondering how often you hear explosions from enemy bombs or other munitions. Is it fairly safe where you work?

I also wonder about Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where the Mujahadeen e-Khalq live under America protection. This group, which the State Department has classified as terrorists, is part of a large Iranian resistance group that wants to overthrow the current Iranian regime. I have two questions about the MEK situation.

1. How much does the United States rely on MEK intelligence taken from inside Iran? And will the United States consider removing the terrorist designation because the MEK has given us bankable intelligence on such things as the Iranian nuclear program?

2. What will happen to the MEK when the United States leaves Iraq.

I hope that you remain safe and I look forward to a response.


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