After getting only three hours sleep the night before because I had to take the Rhino armored bus convoy in from Camp Stryker in the middle of the night, I woke up the next morning in the Green Zone in a bunk bed in the press room at the Combined Press Information Center, tired and hungry. "Got any breakfast?" I asked the sergeant on desk duty.
"Would you like some Cocoa Puffs?" she replied. Er, no thanks. "But lunch will be ready in about an hour." So I went back to the media room where I had set up a bedroom behind a blanket hung over the top of my bunk bed, and crawled into bed to wait for said lunch. But then suddenly the entire media room began filling up with Iraqi journalists.
"There's going to be a press conference here at 2:00 pm today," said one of the reporters. "An Iraqi admiral will speak." Cool. You learn something new every day. I didn't even know that Iraq had a navy.
Then another Iraqi journalist helped me get my thumb-drive's USB port to upload my photos and we got to talking. At first I completely hogged our conversation, telling him all about my family and stuff and how my middle daughter had just e-mailed me that I was a bad mother. Huh? It's not like she's still in diapers or nothing. She's practically middle-aged herself. She needs to get over it. It's not like she needs me to be back home to be reading her bedtime stories or watching Libra get evicted from Big Brother 10.
But then it suddenly hit me. "Here I am in Iraq, sitting right next to an actual real live Iraqi journalist! This guy must have seen it all. I should be interviewing him!" So I did.
"I'm currently working on an article about the Baghdad electrical system," he told me. "In some areas of the city they only receive electricity for one hour a day." I imagine that it's hard to keep ice cream cold in the refrigerator that way -- to say nothing about running the A/C. Then we talked for a while about the problems of getting the local power stations up and running. But what I really wanted to grill this guy about was how he felt about Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's current prime minster.
"What about Maliki?" I asked. "What can you tell me about him?"
"He pretty much has to do what the Americans tell him to do," said the journalist. "Plus there are Iraqis who he respects who come to him and ask him to do things that he doesn't want to do -- and he has to do them anyway because he respects the requesters, if not the requests." And apparently Maliki, like Karzai in Afghanistan, is more powerful in the capital than he is in the provinces.
Then I tried to take a nap before the press conference started but it was no use. "We have you signed up for the Rhino again tonight," said one of the CPIC press coordinators. Not ANOTHER night without sleep, I groaned to myself. But I was still glad that I had come to the Green Zone -- if for no other reason than to meet 25-plus Iraqi journalists, right here in my own, er, bedroom. Theirs is an extremely risky occupation and I admire them a lot. They do everything else that all the rest of us do -- plus they do it all in Arabic as well!
Then the press conference began.
"This day commemorates the 72nd anniversary of the Iraqi Navy, founded in 1937," said the moderator. Then an Iraqi admiral was introduced and a British navy dude too. The Brit was wearing tan camos. Hmmm. How come Navy camos are tan? If they were truly meant to camouflage anything out on the ocean, shouldn't they be done up in blue? Or green at the least.
"90% of the oil exported from Iraq goes through its ports, so the Navy is obviously important," said the admiral. And the British captain said that the Iraqi navy is being totally renovated and that the renovation is being financed by the nation's oil wealth. "The British are in charge of training young Iraqi naval officers." And apparently the US navy is involved in the training as well.
One journalist asked about the current state of the navy's vessels and also about its conflicts with Iranian vessels. "We have a small number of boats now," replied the admiral, "but we are planning to increase equipment and crews in phases. International companies will receive contracts for our new boats. But we must also have trained crews. As for the trespassing issue, we have had no assaults; only trespassing fishermen who are respectfully returned to their own waters."
I wish I could have asked a hot-spit question myself, but even though my father had been the head of the fleet post office in Occupied Japan after World War II and thus, theoretically, I should have salt water running through my veins, I just couldn't think of any -- except of course for the one about the navy's choice of designer colors for their camos -- so I kept my mouth shut.