Moving Over (But Not Out)

04 February 2004

I arrived in Amman still wearing my desert fatigues and Kevlar vest.  The embassy hadnít received the message that I was flying a day early, so there was no one at Maarka airport to greet me.  That was okay.  As Iíd been to Jordan many times during my deployment to Iraq, I felt comfortable there. 

While the customs personnel processed my paperwork, some plain-clothed Jordanian army security officers invited me into a small office for tea and cigarettes.  The brotherhood of military service is universal and these men with weary eyes, friendly smiles, and bushy mustaches were interested in knowing what the situation in Iraq was really like.  I told them what Iíd seen and that, while progress was a bit slow going right now, I was optimistic about the future.  Either they didnít understand me, or they knew I was being somewhat disingenuous, for they nodded their heads and said, ďYes, it is very bad, very bad.Ē

I am in Amman for a second year of active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Jordan is a gateway to Mesopotamia and my new job as an economic liaison at the American embassy will take me back there at least once a month.  I hope Iíll be going even more often, because although the living conditions in the Hashemite Kingdom are very comfortable, I already miss the rough excitement of Baghdad. 

The soldiers and civilians shaping policy inside the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters are making history.  There is a sense of purpose among that crowd that I have not found elsewhere.  The soldiers on the ground and in the air all over Iraq are making history too.  They are fighting a guerilla war unlike any they had ever trained for.  The war in Iraq is not over; how many soldiers have to die since the Presidentís carrier landing before the language of politicians and journalists will acknowledge that?  It has simply shifted from a conventional, high intensity conflict to an unconventional, low-intensity one.  That is not to say that the coalition isnít winning the war.  Like the true professionals they are, they are adapting and overcoming.  In most cases, they are finding the enemy and striking him down before he can act. 

It is said you can lead a horse to water but you canít make it drink.  The same can be said of the people in Iraq.  Itís hard to make someone drink when the instinct of the majority is to spit.  So many have suffered for so long.  Despite the fact that most Iraqis are good-humored, polite, and kind, old scores need to be settled, and, come the transition to sovereignty on July 1st, that could be ugly. 

I have enjoyed writing these stories the past many months.  I would like to thank Ross Dolan at the Daily Star for encouraging me to do so.  There are a lot more stories I would have liked to have written before leaving Iraq.  The red cross against a white square background painted underneath the medevac helicopters ascending from their concrete pads bound for some unlucky soldier whose name would appear in the paper after his family had been notified would have been one.  The foreign businessmen looking to make their fortunes and the young journalists looking to make their names (both groups looking for the best hotel party on any given night) merited stories.  So too did the returning Iraqi expatriates; men and women whoíd left the country long ago and were now back to either stake their financial claim or shape the future government or both.  Then thereís the former NBA player now working as an Arabic translator for the army.  And, of course, there are the love stories.  Young American men and young Iraqi women doing what no general order to the contrary can prevent.  Who knows how many war brides OIF will produce, but perhaps this experience at least will soften a large population of American hearts towards the Arabs. 

I will make the most of my time in Amman.  There are plenty of adventures to be had here.  After all, this is the land of Petra and the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum.  Beirut and Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo are a stones throw away.  As for Iraq, well Iíll be going back there often, and when I do, Iím sure Iíll find a story to tell.