Sovereignty Day approaches on winged feet and the hand off of authority by the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Government of Iraq may be moving forward.
When you see a reference to “the two guns” or “the guns”, that is the way I refer to the Ministry of Finance (MOF) agent and his Iraqi partner who are responsible for moving cash around the country for the Iraqi government. When I go into the Red Zone, I normally go with these two.
I have the lead on the hand off of Disbursing Office functions to the Iraqis. I’ve been trying to identify a person or general office to coordinate with for over a month and I’m getting nowhere. The American kids in the Coalition Ministry of Finance office, all brave young Americans who make daily trips through Baghdad city streets, just out of college and recommended for their positions by good Republican Congressmen who were probably draft dodgers in the 1960’s, say the Iraqi’s can’t make up their minds and are experiencing much confusion and internal disagreements.
We have two contract consultants in our own office, self-acknowledged experts in many disciplines and subjects, but mostly banking, with no experience or back ground in the Middle East, who persistently tell me I should talk to the people in our banking section here in the CPA Ministry of Finance. The banking section personnel don’t know anymore than the kids in the finance ministry and denied any knowledge of Ministry of Finance operations.
So, the three of us, the two guns, AKA the Insane Palestinian, Crazed Iraqi, and me, racked up miles driving between the Palace, the Central Bank Iraq, and Iraq Ministry of Finance trying to sleuth out the name of the official to be responsible for writing Iraqi checks on the Central Bank of Iraq. Somewhere between the staff at the Trade Bank and the Central Bank and the roast lamb sandwiches in Vender Alley, the two guns came up with a name: Adnan Dawood, Ministry of Finance.
Back at the Palace, the folks in the CPA Ministry of Finance all readily agreed that Adnan was the man. I later learned that some of his endorsers neither knew him nor had never heard of him.
Our expert consultants’ preferred approach to getting the job done is to wait on someone else, anyone will do, because the consequences of doing something include owning up to mistakes and the consequences of doing nothing is being able to claim that you were waiting on somebody else. In more than six months of never venturing outside the Green Zone, and knowing none of the Iraqi MOF officials, our consulting experts had formed expert opinions about many things Iraqi and the MOF was one of them. Upon learning that we had identified a possible contact, they went straight to the Colonel and predicted the end of the world if we initiated contact with this man. The Colonel, having full faith and trust that the United States of America would not disburse $5,200 a day of Iraqi money to consultants who didn’t know what they were doing, agreed with them that this was risky and wanted me to check with the CPA banking officials who had already denied any knowledge of MOF operations. I did and once again a tired U.S. Treasury official informed me that he knows nothing about MOF operations and has no idea as to who Adnan Dawood is.
The next morning, against the better judgment of our experts, the guns and I headed downtown to the Ministry of Finance and walked in on a gently obese gentleman with a few teeth named “Adnan Dawood.” Adnan is a polite man with a stomach to match mine and a tea stained starched white shirt. He sits behind a desk in a dimly lit, smoke filled, dust covered office, surrounded by a few dozen people whom he dispatches one at a time to accomplish unknown accounting requirements of the Iraqi Ministry of Finance.
And so he was when we stepped into his office: One fat old mustachioed American in need of a haircut wearing a blindingly bright Hawaiian Shirt, khaki shorts and combat boots, accompanied by a Palestinian and an Iraqi who were festooned with more guns and knives than the 1st Cavalry Division.
Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English.
The problem with using either of the two guns as a translator is that when their adrenaline is pumping, as it usually is after driving in the Red Zone, they can’t talk to people without yelling and snarling. To his credit though, during the course of this interrogation, I noticed that while Adnan appeared to be uncertain as to what we were talking about, he was also not intimidated or frightened. He suggested that I write a note as to what we wanted to accomplish with the handoff and include any suggestions we might have as to how to accomplish it. I tried to set a specific date and time but he insisted that he was always there and that all we needed to do was show up.
As we left, I noticed a neatly groomed Middle Eastern male in the corner who definitely didn’t look Iraqi, he had all his teeth, and I made a mental note to arrange for a translator who didn’t fondle his guns and knives while translating for me.
Thus, 2 June already had a history by the time 0001 hours rolled around. It was on this day that the Colonel, myself and the two experts were going to talk to the notorious Adnan Dawood. We were going via Army convoy and I was driving our SUV.
At six a.m. the earth moved a couple of times and I turned over and put my pillow over my head. I didn’t know where the rockets, mortars or car bombs were exploding but they weren’t anywhere close, so I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it. The alarm didn’t sound and the Giant Voice didn’t announce the obvious.
My wake-up alarm didn’t work and I overslept. Got to the office to learn that someone had taken the vehicle keys out of my desk. Having a primary suspect in mind, I hunted down a recently assigned Army sergeant and found him with his “pretend sister,” and took the keys and the vehicle. At 9am, me, the Colonel and two unhappy expert consultants were at the staging area for the Army escort convoy that was going to take us to the Ministry of Finance. At 09:15, the Army Lieutenant in charge of the convoy asked me when the others were coming. He had a list of names from our CPA Ministry of Finance. We tried to call, got no answer and proceeded with the mission.
The LT pointed me toward an area and told me to wait there for the gun trucks. I did and a few minutes later, 4 gun trucks pulled up and motioned for me to get in line. I did and we left. A couple of miles down a road I had not previously traveled on, they pulled to the side and asked me if I was going to Fallujah. No, I wasn’t.
We turned around and went back. We joined up with our escort and they got their escortee and we all departed in our appointed directions.
We headed out to the Ministry of Transportation, dropped off one of the convoy passengers and then headed east to the Ministry of Finance. On the way we passed through a business district where the folks smiled and waved and gave us thumbs up and a residential area where the same thing happened and the kids yelled “We like America” and “America Good.”
This being a formal occasion, I was wearing long pants and a dark Hawaiian shirt, the colonel was wearing a baggy Banana Republic Safari Shirt that didn’t hide his gun, and the two experts were wearing suits.
As luck would have it, Adnan wasn’t in. But, the well groomed gentleman with teeth who was sitting in the corner was. Turns out, he works for KPMG and is auditing their disbursement records. He introduced us to the man to see, Dr. Fahmi Jarallah Rabia, the Deputy Governor.
Dr. Rabia was waiting in the middle of his office to greet us and shake our hands. He’s an older man, a gray man in his 70’s and a long time Charter Accountant. He looks tired. He wore a nice suit, old and shiny in places but well pressed. The slacks ride low in the front and his stomach has folded the top of the slacks over the top of his belt. The right side of his face sags and his right eye looks like it is falling asleep. He has a good sized scar on the back left side of his head. Judging from the ragged shape of the scar, I ‘d say it was from shrapnel. His office TV was on and he had been watching one of the CNN Superstars and a couple of CNN experts. The thrust of the experts was that the handoff is a sham and that we’ll pass sovereignty to the Iraqis when hell freezes over. Superstar made a comment as to the legitimacy of the Interim Iraqi Government and one of the CNN experts expertly worked in something about how the Iraqi’s hate us.
The gentleman asked the nature of our business and the Colonel told him that we needed to talk to someone about handing over the functions of the CPA comptroller’s office. He looked at the Superstar and back at us and asked what a comptroller does. We told him that the thing we do the most is write checks and reconcile the Central Bank books with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. Our intent was to hand over accounting records and disbursing functions. He looked back at the Superstar, then at us, smiled and commented that they didn’t need to write checks if you, meaning us Americans, had all the money. The Colonel said we were giving them the money too, but that we had to know their representative in order to set things up with the bank in New York.
Then the old guy turned off the TV and invited us to sit at his conference table. He offered sweet tea to celebrate the occasion, said he is Muslim, and apologized for not having any alcohol. During our tea toast, he apologized for not being ready and added, without complaining, that they weren’t receiving much information and hadn’t heard anything much about the hand off. He looked once again at the darkened TV and shook his head.
We set up a training schedule for his people to come to the Green Zone to be trained on our duties and software and scheduled more meetings to work out the other details of the transfer. He pleasantly surprised when I told him that I would be in Iraq at least through the first week of August and that I would be available to come to his location to provide follow-up assistance.
He shook his head and commented about how dangerous Iraq is. I agreed. We shook hands. He and the Colonel spoke a few moments more and we left. Our experts expressed esteemed opinions that Iraqis are generally incompetent and venal an incapable of learning or performing proper procedures and can’t be trusted.
As it turns out, Adnan is a bookkeeper.
Back at the office, we learned that there had been a car bomb explosion in the neighborhood where the children had smiled and waived at us and professed their love of America. It went off a few minutes after we passed by so we didn’t even hear it. A few minutes after that detonation, as the first responders were arriving, a second bomb with much shrapnel exploded. There were many noncombatant casualties. CNN, Fox and MSNBC said that we were the target, but our translators are firm in their opinion that we were not the target. In their opinion the target was other Iraqis. CNN also reported this as an Iraqi Sunni neighborhood. One translator, whose Shite family lives there, explained that there are also Kurdish Sunnis and Christians living there.
There were also other casualties that day. A young American from the CPA staff went with 3 young Iraqis to the “car lots” to “hang out.” Unknown persons surrounded their car and emptied a number of AK-47 magazines into it. The two Iraqis in the front seat are dead, the American has been medevac’d to Germany and the 3rd Iraqi is in serious condition. The translators said that this was not the first time this quartet has done this. They all said that it was stupid and only a matter of time until this happened. They all emphasized that they can’t ever go outside of their houses at night. Mohammed, a tired looking man who looks like he could place defensive end for the Oakland Raiders, simply shook his head and said, “No one can go out at night.” And, that if they know you are working with or for the Coalition, and they can’t kill you, they will kill your children or wife or mother or father, or brother or sister.
When our expert consultants learned of the shooting incident at the car lots, they chalked it up to business as usual for a barbaric, ignorant people. One of them decided that his share of $5,200 a day isn’t worth the risk and he has informed us that he will only leave the Green zone if he is leaving the country.
Truth is, he’s not American and, to use a venerable southern proverb, he “ain’t got a dog in this fight.” I don’t blame him. On the other hand, if he’s taking Iraqi money as his pay, and he is, he ought to do the job he is being paid to do.
Somewhere in here, I found out that the reason the CPA Ministry of Finance people didn’t show up for the trip downtown was that none of the Iraqi day laborers showed up for work. This usually indicates a day of car bombs and ambushes.
And so it, went, 2 June, 2004.
Today is 6 June, the second anniversary of my marriage to the current and last Mrs. Morton.
(Authors note: This was originally published in an email and on my private webpage. I am republishing it here because of its insight into our operations in Iraq.)