Thursday, January 15, 2009


I went to a meeting today at the Al Rasheed Hotel.  This was once a 5-star hotel, now grown a bit shabby but still pretty nice, particularly for a place like Baghdad.  The Al Rasheed is one of the places that all the news crews lived and worked during the war.  These days, it's packed with businessmen from around the world, coming in to land contracts for rebuilding the country and providing any kind of services.  It's also the prime meeting area for westerners and Iraqis.  It's in the IZ, so it's pretty well guarded, and it's Iraqi-owned, and it offers upscale food, drink, ambiance, and some shopping.  The Ministry of Construction and Housing was hosting a conference in the large, elegant ballroom today.  It seems that the hotel lobby is a prime meeting area, as every group of couches had a collection of businessmen earnestly engaged in conversation.  As we conducted our own meeting, I wondered, how many billions of dollars of deals had been negotiated on the very couch where I was sitting?

It's proper form, in meetings in Iraq, to have a drink of chai.  Chai is tea.  At the Al Rasheed, upscale place that it is, they bring it in cups shaped like tiny little vases.  Iraqis like their chai with sugar.  Lots and lots of sugar.  I watched the gent across the table from me dump in four heaping spoonfuls.  That's more than I put in three big ol' cups of American rotgut coffee!  But he downed his chai pretty quickly and showed no signs of a sugar high afterward.  Amazing.

I've been talking with my Foreign Service friends about the upcoming elections.  They're two weeks away now.  These elections are an international Big Deal.  In the last round two years ago, many Sunni parties boycotted the elections, and as a result, the Sunnis have been relegated to the sidelines while Shi'ites and Kurds exercised more influence than their numbers might suggest.  So this time, the Sunnis are participating.  

Another difference is that, this time, they're really electing people.  Last time the elections were for slates, essentially parties or micro-parties.  This time it'll be more like a normal parliamentary election.  (Side note: how come whenever we help set up a new country, it always has a parliamentary form of government?).  

We get Iraqi, Saudi, and other Middle Eastern stations on our TV feed.  I was channel-surfing last night and came across a series of ads that were telling Iraqis to get out and vote.  There were several ads with different themes.  Bouncy music, images of ancient architectural remnants of great Iraqi civilizations, happy/proud/strong young people, a young man riding his bike through Baghdad's streets and checkpoints, finally to end up at a polling place.  At the end of each, they held up their finger that had been dipped in purple ink to show they had voted.  As far as I could determine, these ads weren't for parties or people, they were just telling everyone to get out and vote.  And then they returned to their normally scheduled showing of an episode of 24.

One of my Foreign Service friends was noting that there are no polling services in Iraq like there are in developed countries.  Consequently, no party really knows for sure where it stands.  Every party says that they have the support of a big chunk of the population, say, 70%.  Well, if you add up all of these chunks, you wind up with a lot more than 100% of the population.  What that means is that all of these parties, even the ones that do well, are going to be rather shocked at the final numbers.  What do you want to bet that they'll be crying foul?  Except there are going to be several hundred thousand election monitors all over the country.  I think it'll be a reasonably fair election, except that nobody will like the results.  Unfortunately, if somebody doesn't like something, there is always the possibility of violence.  

Another thing.  In elections in America, the talk often gets very divisive and nasty.  Remember Bush/Kerry, or Bush/McCain, or any number of other elections.  We've been doing this for over 200 years and we're still not civil about it.  Iraqis are learning from us.  But if you say things about somebody here like our politicians do at home, you're likely to get shot.  So far there hasn't been very much violence at all.  We're just hoping that, as the clock ticks down, it stays quiet.

Meanwhile, hey, it's Thursday, meaning that it's the weekend.  Let's go clubbing! 

Oh, yeah ... we can't ....

1 comment:

SillyLittleLady said...

Chai is by far one of my most favorite drinks, there are so many different varieties of it though, sometimes you just come across a bad blend. But its right, oh its SO right!