Monday, April 12, 2004

Faces of the CPA

Within the Basra CPA, there are a variety of people assigned to different jobs and functions. The majority of the CPA personnel are British, to include the Ambassador and his staff. However, a multitude of other nationalities can be found throughout the CPA. There's a contingent of troops from Nepal and contractors from Fiji who provide the majority of our perimeter security. These folks man our gates and watchtowers 24 hrs a day, alongside British soldiers and Iraqi Police (IP) counterparts. There are a dozen or more Dutch and Finnish Police Officers who conduct basic law enforcement and human rights training at the Al Zubayr Police Academy in Basra during the day. They too return to sleep behind the walls of safety at the CPA nightly. Small groups of Italian soldiers and Caribinieri (Italian National Police) make their way through our chow hall on a regular basis while conducting business with the CPA staff. A further look would discover folks from Romania, Scotland, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, all here to support the efforts of the coalition provisional authority.

As you wander the makeshift office spaces among the trailers scattered about the CPA, you will encounter dozens of American contractors from Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), who provide the majority of our logistics support, from fuel to construction. The KBR staff has a varied background. Many are retired service members seeking the travel and excitement once offered through their military service. Others are young folks from the Texas who signed on with KBR for the tax-free cash advantages of serving overseas. Many just wanted to do their part for the coalition without having to join the military.

In addition to coalition personnel, a number of local Iraqi's do their part to assist in the daily operations of the CPA. They arrive daily before 7 a.m., and conduct many of the more menial tasks at the CPA, from grounds keeping to laundry service. There is the Iraqi barber who cuts our hair for free. A two or three dollar tip is common practice, though some of our cheaper residents have actually stiffed him without a tip. During my last visit, I asked him how long he had been cutting hair. In broken English, the barber replied he had been cutting his children's hair for years, but that he was actually an engineer by trade. Prior to the Gulf war, he was charged with building highway bridges and roadways in Iraq. However, he had not been able to return to his engineering job following the embargo and now holds three different jobs to support his family.

Two Iraqi sisters used to work in our laundry room, which is nothing more than a CONEX box, or metal shipping container similar to those found perched atop large merchant ships. Their CONEX box had been fitted with an air conditioner recently to keep the box cool during the stifling heat of summer. The sisters, Lika'a and Shaimaa, had worked at the CPA for over a year and were paid approximately $350.00 a month by KBR, a handsome salary for most Iraqi's these days. Every morning, Lika'a and Shaimaa would show up at the CPA by taxi before many of us were awake, on the job no later than 7 a.m. Neither Laika’a nor Shaimaa would leave their post before 7 p.m., at which time the laundry closes for the evening. Unlike most of the Iraqi's who work at the CPA, both Laika'a and Shaimaa spoke fluent, though accented, English. Apparently educated and well spoken, Laika'a and Shaimaa worked 12-hour days in a CONEX box because there are few jobs in Iraq available to educated young women.

On Wednesday evening, Laika'a and Shaimaa were murdered on their way home. According to information we've received, unknown gunmen stopped their taxi and opened fire on them, shooting them each over ten times. These girls were only teenagers, and their only "crime" was befriending American's inside the CPA compound. Everyone here was affected by their deaths in one way or another. Having spoken with Shaimaa just 3 hours earlier, this is the first event that has truly gotten to me since being here. A sense of sadness hangs over the CPA like a fog.

While we expect a soldier to be injured or killed by a roadside bomb or an attack against a coalition convoy, we rarely stop to think of the other lives affected by the violence in this country. For the life of me, I will never understand a people who preach violence against all who don't believe, act, or behave the way these mindless Islamic fanatics do. Murder for associating with westerners, death to the infidels! All in the name of Allah! I just don't get it.

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