February 25, 2007

On My Way to Iraq

I’ll be spending some quality time in Iraq over the next two and a half months doing consulting work, journalism, and video – first in the northern Kurdistan region and then in Baghdad and the heart of the Sunni Triangle.

Sign Pointing Toward Baghad.jpg
Photo copyright Patrick S. Lasswell

My first job starts two weeks from now and will be another private consulting gig in Kurdistan with my business partner Patrick Lasswell. This will be my fourth trip to the region, which is becoming a regular beat for me now. I’m more comfortable there than I was when I first visited. The people, the terrain, the logistics, and the job are all familiar. The learning curve has flattened out, which means I can multitask now.

Last time I went there as a consultant I had no time for reporting or writing. This time I will because I know how to squeeze it in, even though my first obligation will be to my employers, not to my blog. I won’t be able to write full time, but I will be able to give you something now and then.

This time I’m going to give you some video as well as writing and photographs. Stay tuned for taped interviews with Kurdish civilians and officials, and also some video postcards of what this place actually looks like. Kurdistan always shocks people when they see it for the first time. It doesn’t look anything like the hellish images that come out of Baghdad.

Kurdistan Between Suli and Erbil.jpg
The Mesopotamian plain gives way to the mountains of Kurdistan

Utah of the Middle East.jpg
Suleimaniya, Iraq, the Utah of the Middle East

Large Houses Dohok 2005.jpg
New houses in the city of Dohuk

I’ll be there for a month or so, then will come home for a short break. Then I’m off to Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle for two weeks with the American military.

I’ve been coordinating a trip to Baghdad with the Department of Defense for months now. If the original plan worked out I would have been home from Baghdad already. But DoD is a bureaucracy at the end of the day. The troop surge means I'm even lower on their priority list — which is, of course, understandable. My schedule keeps getting pushed back, but they promise to fly me there and provide me with as much access as possible. Theoretically now I’m going at the end of April. Hopefully the trip won’t get postponed again.

I need body armor and combat zone insurance for Baghdad. And I’d like to pick up a new handheld video camera for Kurdistan. I want to give you the highest quality video footage possible over Internet broadcasts. Spending 10,000 dollars on a professional camera would be a waste of money for Internet video, but it would be nice to pick up a 1,000 dollar camera if possible. Best not to waste the opportunity using a cheap one with a small cell phone camera sized lens.

Any donations you can send my way via Pay Pal will help me give you the best content possible, and will help keep me alive and insured when I finally make it, and long last, to Baghdad and the war.

(Email address for Pay Pal is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com)

Here are some still shots I took on my first couple of trips to Iraqi Kurdistan. Imagine what these pictures would look like if they moved. Help me buy a good camera and you will get some pictures that move.

Boy Erbil.jpg
A young Kurdish boy in the northern city of Erbil

Erbil Sheraton.jpg
The fake “Sheraton” hotel in Erbil that isn’t really a Sheraton

Woman Naza Mall Erbil.jpg
A Kurdish woman enters Erbil’s new Naza Mall

Khan Zad Lobby.jpg
The lobby of the Khan Zad Hotel overlooks the mountains near Gaugamela, where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire’s Darius III. The Battle of Gaugamela is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Arbella (Erbil).

Kurdish Family Iraq Iran Border.jpg
Patrick and I shared tea with this Kurdish family in the shade of walnut trees just a few feet (literally) from the Iranian border

No for Violence Kurdistan.jpg
Political murals espousing liberal-democratic values are everywhere in Iraqi Kurdistan. This mural is painted on concrete bomb blast walls erected to protect civilians from possible terrorist attacks from the Sunni Triangle.

Making Bread Kurdistan.jpg
Young men make bread at a popular stop on the road between Erbil and Suleimania

Ziggarats at Lalish.jpg
Ziggarats at the pagan temple of Lalish where the Yezidis say the universe was born

Kurdsitan Child Lalish.jpg
A shy child at Lalish

Men and Women Suli Street.jpg
Pedestrians, downtown Suleimania

Plasma TVs Dohok.jpg
Plasma screen TVs for sale in Dohuk

Man with Baby Kurdistan.jpg
A man comforts his infant while taking a break from a long cross-country drive

Flower Kurdistan Mountains.jpg
A flower somehow survives the punishing heat of July in the Kurdistan mountains

UPDATE: My Kurdistan business partner Patrick Lasswell kindly adds the following in the comments section:

When you give Michael the means to report interesting and important stories, he reports interesting and important stories. We're going to try to do more than we have before this trip, while still providing our employers exceptional results. Our wives are alright with us going out and working ourselves to exhaustion in far off places because we married well and got lucky besides.

As understanding as our lovely wives are, our mortgage companies are less cordial. While we would love to pay for the best reporting gear out of our pockets, the guy with the forclosure notice simply ruins our shopping.

If you value independant reporting, I urge you to support Michael in his efforts to provide exceptional writing with exceptional media. I'm not just saying that because I get to play with the new gear, honest.
He does too want to play with the new gear. So help both of us out, and yourself as well, by donating money for a good video camera so you can see Kurdistan and Baghdad move instead of only through still shots.

(Email address for Pay Pal is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com)

If you would like to donate money for travel and equipment expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, please consider sending a check or money order to:

Michael Totten
P.O. Box 312
Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

All photos except otherwise noted copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 25, 2007 7:33 PM

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