I bid farewell to a moon in Baghdad That rises over the skies above Al- Karkh. Although wishing to part with life’s serenity instead. And the Baghdad moon appealed as well That I should not say goodbye. But need, at times Have greater ways of compelling. Mabruk al-Iraq al jadeed … Congratulations to the new Iraq …. Aash al-Iraq …. Long live Iraq.

Such was the speech of Paul Bremer upon leaving Iraq in June of 2004, only it was read out in good Arabic. I provided here the English translation. I was surprised. It is not often that I hear on the radio somebody from the American administration that touches my heart and stirs my emotions, I found a single tear escaping from its cell and running down my cheek before it was swooped off with a quick brush from my sleeve. “Is it possible that this guy actually cared?” … I found myself pondering. Later when I heard that Special Envoy who was in charge of Iraq in its first year of occupation authored a book I remembered that speech and decided to put my skepticism on the side and read it.

My Year In Iraq, the struggle to build a future of hope – My Year in Iraq

In between preparing for back to school, nursing my middle daughter who had a minor surgery and preparing numerous lunches and dinners, You would frequently find my nose firmly embedded in the book. As I was reading on our sundeck, my husband comes along and sits next to me attempting to engage me in conversation. I answer with yes or no answers and continue reading. Finally, my husband looks exasperated and tells me that chatting with my husband should be a higher priority that reading a book written by Paul Bremmer, he then tells me to put the book down and chat with him instead. I put the book down and start our chat with saying “You know! Paul Bremer wrote an email to his wife Fancie every single night before going to bed while he was in Iraq.” A hidden dig at my husband since I frequently complain that he doesn’t write or call enough whenever he travels with his work. My husband catches the drift and responds by saying: “He was probably afraid for his life and wasn’t sure if he would wake up alive or dead and that is what compelled him to write so frequently to his wife, when I travel for work I don’t have that same burden laying on my shoulders”. I respond by saying “I still think that it is sweet that he wrote so frequently to his wife, I am sure that she looked forwards to his emails every day”. My husband then changes the subject by talking about the tomatoes that he grew in our backyard. …… eh?

The book is a detailed account of what happened in Iraq the first year of occupation and how decisions were taken. Paul Bremer goes to great length to cite examples of the brutality of the Saddam regime, the mass graves and the torture chambers are described in different parts of the book, yet never are Iraqi causality of the American army even mentioned. The Abu Graib scandal is briefly mentioned in passing. It seems that Bremer’s heart bleeds for victimized Iraqis only when they are killed and oppressed by non Americans, however, when it is the American’s that do the killing and torturing Bremer is not able to see it. Kinda reminds of all those that claim to be in solidarity with the Iraqi people, but are only able to see the brutality of American administration but fail to even acknowledge the brutality of the Saddam regime. It seems that every body in the world suffers from Iraqi bleederitess “My heart bleeds only for Iraqis killed by those that I disagree with and when it is politically convenient for me.” Bremer’s book poves to be no exception to the Iraqi bleederites rule that is sweeping the world all over both on the left and the right equally. Over and over again, Bremer takes great pain to praise the “brave men and women” serving in the American army in their effort of “rebuilding Iraq”. There are so many paragraphs in the book praising the lowly American soldier that it gets nauseating. Not a peep in the book about the missing 9 billion dollars in reconstructions money that disappeared during his tenure, nor any reflections of doubt or remorse on decisions taken. In short, the book is biased, but then what did I expect from a book authored by somebody that served under Kissinger? Despite the negatives, I found the book an interesting read. The insider look into the decision making of that crucial year in Iraq’s history was enlightening. There were many things in the book that surprised me. For example the role that Sistani (Grand Ayatolah of Iraq) played was a huge surprise. Although I knew that Sistani had a huge influence on Da’awa party politicians from behind the scenes, I was surprised at the direct level he was involved in all the small details of the decision making. The religious clerk, who never once met directly with a representative of the American Administration nor wrote a single letter to them, had constant interaction through intermediaries with Bremer, passing verbal messages through third parties. In most cases Sistani got what he wanted and in frustration Bremer acknowledges that they had to do what Sistani wanted even after he changes his mind several times. I was also surprised at the conduct of members of the Iraqi General Counsel selected by the Americans. Although Bremer praises some of them that impress him, he describes most of them as a lazy bunch who never accomplished much and were more interested in advancing their own personal agendas instead of focusing on facing the difficult tasks the country needed. This is a huge disappointment to me as considering the crises Iraq was going through you would expect that any Iraqi would be placing the interest of the country ahead of his own private interests, especially that each member of the counsel was risking his/her own life by participating in it. Two members of the General Counsel were assassinated during that first year. Most of the book deals with the very delicate balance that Bremer attempts to strike between the ancient alleyways of the city of Karbala to the white house. Constant arguing and disagreements between the She’a, Sunnis and Kurdish leadership would be enough to drive any person crazy, but Bremer is able to diplomatically negotiate through all the hurdles without losing his sanity. I found that Bremer in his account displays good understanding of the complex and fractured nature of the Iraqi society. Off course, No book about Iraq is complete without talk about food and Bremer mentions the various Iraqi dishes he had while in Iraq including Fasanjoon …. My favorite. Below is a picture from the book of Bremer dining at the house of Hussein al-Sadr. It is my favorite picture in the book, Now that is a feast! IraqiFood

It turns out that the exit speech that impressed me so much was the clever idea of speech writer, I am still impressed that Bremer rehearsed the arabic well enough to be convincing. If only somebody would rehearse Bush to pronounce the name of our country correctly. Iraq … not Aiiii-raaaq. There should be an international law against people invading countries they can’t pronounce. All in all it was a worth while read. The average person might find the book boring because of the level of details, but for somebody like myself who is always interested in learning about the history of Iraq I think that Bremer’s book is a usefull source because of the insider’s advantage the Bremer has.

“Baghdad was burning” … is the very first sentence in the book. Baghdad is burning still, it breaks my heart, I wish we could say something different three years on.


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