Thursday, November 27, 2008

Comfort of Creatures

The New Embassy Compound (“NEC”) – a few over one-hundred acres - has more than nine hundred Chief of Mission (COM) personnel in residence, and hundreds of additional folks employed on the compound. And four dogs and three cats. One of the dogs, Arturo, is a white and tan Iraqi street dog adopted by the Peruvian guards. The guards built Arturo a large, grand dog house with his name painted over the doorway, “Arturo”.

Here, we talk of our animals. We’ve left our pets stateside under the care of family and friends. One woman left her cats with her husband, another left her dog with her parents, a man his dog with his brother (me, my cats - Billson Brewster, left, and MoPie, below - with my sister and neighbor). We miss our animal friends as much as family members. Our sentiments of longing for interspecies contact fosters the bond between us. My informal survey suggests having pets here would be the first thing many of us would change if we were "Ambassador for a Day".

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Love in the Time of Cholera created a woman who, while collecting a menagerie of domestic and wild animals, is incapable of relating to her family members. In the biography Tatania: The biography of Izak Dinezen (1967), author Judith Thurman describes Dinezen’s mother’s as having had a frosty demeanor with her children yet cooed over her animals.

Over-involvement with animals, at the expense of, or as a substitute for, relationships with people can be pathological. For me, interacting with animals is a way to express my maternal instincts, a chance to touch, hold and bury my face in the coat of a creature warm, soft, and loving.

At times, to play. I anthropomorphize cats. A few of my influences:

The Three Lives of Thomasina
DVD Cover (1964)

A young Scottish girl's cat, Thomasina, apparently
dies at the hands of her widowed veterinarian father.
The strained relationship between the girl and her
father is eventually repaired with the return of Thomasina
and the aid of a beautiful and mysterious "witch" who
seems to have powers to revive and heal animals.

Old Possum’s Practical Book of Cats
T.S. Eliot (1939) original review copy


So I went looking for animals.

I found a cat by the warehouse. He’s crooked when he walks, as if his front half goes one direction, north, and his hind half goes the other direction, south. His coat is scruffy, his white paws stained gray from life on the street yet his face and ears are clean. He’s orange and white (“orange tabby with a white chest, white paws”), and probably less than one year old. The guards provide food and water, and a scrappy, wobbly cardboard box for sleeping. The strength and coordination he’s missing in his hind parts suggest neurological damage (spinal cord injury? Lasting effects of an illness?).

“Atropine, a tropane alkaloid, is extracted from deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), jimsonweed (Datura stramonium), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) and other plants of the family Solanaceae. It is a competitive antagonist for the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor and is classified as an anticholinergic drug.

“By blocking the action of acetylcholine at muscarinic receptors, atropine also serves as an antidote for poisoning by organophosphate insecticides and nerve gases, such as Tbun (GA), Sarin (GB), Soman (GD) and VX. Troops who are likely to be attacked with chemical weapons often carry autoinjectors with atropine and obidoxime which can be quickly injected into the thigh. . . . derives its name from Atropos, one of the three Fates who, according to Greek mythology, chose how a person was to die.”

Nearly everyone to deploy to Iraq gets training on chemical-biological weapons, how to don and properly seal a gas mask, and where to find the atropine injectors. (The kits are ubiquitous, frightening to contemplate, yet it's reassuring to know shold they be required we're prepared.)

So one of the guards named him “Atropina.”

Ten days ago I wrote his name on an old towel in black magic marker and strolled over to place it in his box as his bed. When I got to the place where he hangs around, I got scared because his little scrappy box was gone. Where was Atropina? A guard pointed out a capacious, sturdy hp computer box with a commanding presence beside the chain link fence. Someone had commandeered the cardboard box and placed it atop a wood pallet. Several layers of plasticized burlap were tucked between the cement and the pallet (insulation). Inside, original styrofoam lined the bottom with a thin layer of packing material. A flattened box lay width-wise across the top creating the effect of a Dutch roof. An arched cat door had been cut in the side of the box and written over the doorway “This box is the cat’s house.”

The guard called the “gato.” In moments we heard rustling, saw a paw and then a nose at the doorway, Antonio lazily and luxuriously squeezing and stretching his way through his entry.

(Watch out, Arturo, the cats are keeping up.) I placed the towel on top of the thin layer of packing material. On the outside of the box I used the black magic marker to write “ATROPINA” in three inch high letters and drew several paw prints. I wiped Atropina down with a damp towel (my wet swimsuit had been wrapped in it), releasing dirt and grime from his coat. He played with my hand through the blotchy towel.

Two days later, someone had added a pristine, white clock box (a box that clearly had come with a wall clock inside and had a clock printed on the outside) to the top of the roof making it look like a watch tower.

I added pieces of butcher paper I’d saved from belongings shipped over by State (I know my cats love that kind of newsprint paper).

Three days later, more additions. A cat’s face had been drawn into the middle of the clockface on the box. Each side of the cat door had a twelve inch high pencil drawing on cardboard: a cat in a Peruvian guard’s uniform, packing firearms. In one the cat says, “Show me your badge”, in the other he holds a dead rat on a string. Really brilliant. My fellow caretaker(s?) remains unknown to me but since I’ve not met him during my visits, it’s safe to suppose he’s on night shift.

Comments, questions, musings? Criticism, opinion, declaration? Wishes, blessings, prayers?

Have at it: leave note in "Comments".

~ Carol

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Provincial Reconstruction Teams: PRTs

Iraq’s eighteen provinces, from south to north, are: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, Maysan, Najaf, Diwanyah, Wasit, Karbala, Babil, Baghdad, Anbar, Sallahdin, Diyala, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniah, Dahuk (the latter three comprise the Kurdistan region). My “portfolio” (DOS term for area of responsibility) is the southern half of Iraq (including southern half of Baghdad), plus Kurdistan.

I’ve traveled to all of my provinces except one in the south, and am now far enough into my tour for return visits. My role is to support the members of the teams, to advocate for them at the Embassy, and to simply be available to anyone with something they want to talk about. The PRTs are [Department of] State-led teams comprised of foreign service officers (and contractors) who cover that province’s economy, business development, rule of law, governance, public diplomacy and agricultural issues. Teams include a USAID representative, several bilingual-bicultural advisors (BBAs) and interpreters; the deputy team leader is a military officer.

• First established in Iraq in 2005 and inaugurated by Secretary Rice in November that year, the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) initiative is a civilian-military inter-agency effort that is the primary U.S. Government interface between U.S., Coalition partners and provincial and local governments throughout all of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

• As of mid-December 2007 there were 28 PRTs located in all 18 of Iraq’s provinces -- 15 embedded with military units -- staffed by approximately 700 people. Since 2003, the U.S. Government has spent $32 billion on reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Iraq supported by PRTs.
• The PRTs are an important tool in helping Iraq achieve economic and political stabilization by bolstering moderates, promoting reconciliation, fostering economic development and building provincial capacity.
• They do this by assisting provincial and local governments to deliver essential needs like schools, roads and sewage and water services. A major focus is to build local and regional capacity in governance.
• All provinces in Iraq are now served by a total of twenty-eight PRTs, with the majority of Iraq’s population served by ten full-sized teams stretching from Mosul in the north to Basrah in the far south. Coalition participation includes the British-led PRT in Basrah, the Italian-led team in Dhi Qar and the Korean-led team in Erbil. The PRTs work closely with a U.S. or coalition military unit in their area to build capacity in their Provincial governments.
• Ten of the twenty- teams are the new “embedded” PRTs formulated as part of President Bush’s New Way Forward strategy. These civilian-led teams work hand-and-glove in BCTs (Brigade Combat Teams) or Regiments (U.S. Marines) to support the military surge in Anbar Province and the greater Baghdad area.
• Manning of the PRTs is diverse: Department of State, USAID, Coalition military personnel, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Gulf Region Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contract personnel. The Office of Provincial Affairs within the U.S. Embassy Baghdad provides policy guidance and support to the PRT program.
• PRT support comes from a variety of sources, including Coalition partners and donor nations with the majority coming from the U.S. Principal programs associated with PRTs include U.S. funded CSP (Community Stabilization Program); the PRDC (Provincial Reconstruction & Development Committee) program; the LGP (Local Governance Program); the Civil Society Program; and the INMA Agri-business Program.
December 17, 2007)

Brief observations of those I’ve visited:

Basrah – Iraq’s sole sea port, currently under the protection of the British, who are to be withdrawing from Iraq “soon” (three, six months?), in big oil territory; was the home of the “Reed People” until Saddam drained the swamps, and 40,000 people ("internally displaced persons" or "IDP") relocated northward.

Muthanna – in the south, on the border with Saudi Arabia, largest and poorest of the eighteen provinces, home of the famous Ur Ziggurat. Aaron Snipe is a public diplomacy officer for Team Muthanna. See his stellar blog:

Dhi Qar – Italian-led, under a strong Italian female; like the British, the Italians are said to be leaving “soon”.

Maysan – remote, hard to reach, to the east on the border with Iran.

Diwanyah (aka, Qadisyah) – south of Baghdad, used to be Polish-led, they left a few months ago, now the American are there; heavily agricultural, I met a team of consultants from Texas A&M’s Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture.

Karbal’a – southwest of Baghdad, very small, a curious mix of U.S. military, coalition guards, and the Iraqi Army; sat in on a press conference for local press about the impact of the rule of law in that province (for example, the PRT attorney is training local law enforcement, attorneys and judges on forensic evidence collection and preservation)

Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniah ("Kurdistan") – in the north, border w/ Turkey and Iran, the three PRTs are co-located in a Christian neighborhood in Erbil, stable, near mountains; Dahuk (to the north bordering Turkey) and Sulaymaniah (southeast bordering Iran) are remote, hard to access. Erbil has an "international" airport with direct flights to Europe.

The PRT web page now has over 100 articles. Check them out at

Blogs are written by PRT Team Leaders especially for Real Clear World as part of a blogging initiative arranged with State Public Affairs. They are very excited about it and hope to continue in the future, perhaps with other sites, such as National Review Online.

Comments, questions, musings? Opinions, statements, declarations? Wishes, prayers, blessings?

All welcome ~ click on "Comments" below.

~ Carol

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