USIP's Iraq program aims to reduce interethnic and interreligious violence, speed up stabilization and democratization, and reduce the need for a U.S. presence in Iraq. As part of this program, USIP has maintained a small office in the Green Zone in Baghdad since early 2004. Rusty Barber, a former political officer in the Foreign Service, has run the office since March 2007. His regular dispatches offer a lively and sobering insider's view of the promise and peril facing U.S. efforts in that country. We'll update this section each week, making only minimal changes for security reasons.
Here are two major events of the last week to report. The first, and most important, is that Baghdad staffer A—'s family members were released by their abductors, who took them at a checkpoint along the northern road from Baghdad. His family paid a heavy ransom, but all are now safely back in Baghdad. Their kidnappers informed them that had the captives been Shia, instead of Christian, they would have been killed regardless of payment. Such are the perversely drawn distinctions of the criminal-extremist element that has made violence against civilians a justifiable occupation. We are all greatly relieved on behalf of A— and his loved ones.
The other big event since our last report is the direct fire mortar attack on our compound last Wednesday. Of the 13 hits sustained that day in the IZ, five landed in our compound. One exploded just outside, sending shrapnel through the large picture window behind the desk. Mercifully, the only immediate casualties—in addition to the window—were a standing closet, the sink, a small fridge, and a mattress that had the misfortune to be stashed against a corner of the window. My monitor is embedded with tiny bits of glass and glistens when the light hits it in the early morning. I was in the office at the time but managed to move away from the window and into a galleyway after the first direct hit.
As sobering as this event was, it is even more sobering to remind oneself that for Baghdad's residents—our staff included—calamities like these, and worse, are so common as to be routine aspects of existence.
U.S. Institute of Peace Baghdad Office Hit by Shrapnel
News Release, May 16, 2007
View the damage to USIP's offices: