Live from Baghdad

My adventures in Iraq.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I'd like to clarify a few things regarding my last post. First of all, I'm NOT the Second-in-Command of the US reconstruction effort. I know this disappoints my parents and lets the rest of you breathe a huge sigh of relief. However, there's an Ambassador, a couple of generals, and several dozen colonels who would probably take offense at that implication.

I've also received some questions from many of you (okay, just one of you, but I like her so here's the answers).

* Does Iraqi electricity all come from oil or does any of it come from solar energy (or other renewable sources)?

Most, if not all, Iraqi electricity comes from oil. Generally, diesel powered thermal plants (i.e., steam driven generators). The newer plants, including the ones we're building, will be more efficient turbine-powered generators (like a jet engine). We are also studying the possibility of developing the natural gas fields east of Baghdad for use in power generation. Natural gas is much cleaner than diesel or turbine driven plants, so hopefully this is the future. Personally, I'd love to see some of these millions of dollars go towards providing every Iraqi household with a solar panel. Afterall, in addition to oil, sunshine is one thing Iraq has plenty of. The most vulnerable part of the electrical grid isn't the production (we'll get that fixed eventually) but the transmission. Two guys with acetylene torches can knock down a transmission tower in a manner of minutes. If every house was topped with a solar panel, that problem would go away. Unfortunately, Iraq also "blessed" with another thing in abundance, dust. Even a thin layer cuts the efficiency of a solar panel.

* While the rebuilding is a high priority and it sounds like it will progress very rapidly, what kinds of programs are being implemented to protect the existing natural resources?

As I'm sure everyone can guess, US environmental policies don't really apply over here. That being said, we have to conduct environmental assessments of all of our projects. Some cynics have suggested that the reason for this is to protect the US from future environmental liability by showing how messed up things are already. However, we are trying to instill an institutional awareness of environmental stewardship by showing the Iraqis how to contain spills at construction sites, report contamination, and consider the environmental effects of projects. It's working so well that we're running into problems siting a new landfill because the Ministry of the Environment won't let us put it anywhere near Sadr City (which raises it's own problems because if you put it way out in the desert, it becomes too expensive to haul the wastes.)

In addition, many of our projects are intended to protect or restore natural resources. The objective of our wastewater treatment program is to provide safe drinking water for the Iraqi people, however, it will have the ancillary benefit of cleaning up the Tigris and hopefully restoring some of the natural ecological functions of the river. In southern Iraq, there is a big project to restore the Tigris and Euphrates delta, a huge wetland that may be site of the Garden of Eden. This area supports a large fishing industry and a way of life for an Iraqi subgroup. These people rose up against Saddam after Gulf War I but because UN truce did not restrict helicopter flights, he was able to suppress the uprising. To punish these people, Saddam drained the marshes by diverting the river flow, effectivley destroying their way of life. Many of these people have since become refugees and fled to the cities where they join the Mahdi Army who are now anti-US. The hope is that if we can restore the marsh, the people will return, and stop shooting at us.

* Aside from "handing shovels" to Iraqi people, are there any efforts being undertaken to educate people about such things as running a power plant efficiently, keeping water clean, etc.?

Training is a major part of everyone of the reconstruction contracts. We are sending Iraqi engineers throughout the Middle East for training and to Europe and the US to meet with equipment manufacturers and universities. We are even constructing a Technical University in southern Iraq that will be staffed by Iraqis but supported by specialists from around the world.

Hope that answers your questions. I realize there's lots of rah-rah stuff in there, but for those of you that know me well, you know I'm an optimist (no that's not a guy that sells you eyeglasses). There's a lot of well-meaning people over here and we're trying to move things in the right direction. The US made a lot of mistakes after the invasion, but we are learning and applying those lessons everyday.

More pictures coming!