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Meeting with General Petraeus
Saturday, 23 June 2007 13:37
by Dal LaMagna

While in Baghdad, seeking ways to end the violence there, I met with General David Petraeus, the commanding general of the Coalition forces.

For the past few months with the help of a friend of mine who has access to General Petreaus, the Commanding General of the Coalition Forces in Iraq, I have been trying to facilitate a meeting between him and Mohammed al-Dynee. 

For reasons unknown to me at the time, the General agreed to meet with us in Baghdad at 11:20 am last Wednesday, the day we would arrive in Iraq.  To make this meeting, we needed to be on a plane in Amman at 7 am and hope it wasn’t delayed.  It wasn’t. 
Mohammed and I disembarked from the plane and were ushered into a private office that turned out to belong to the Airport Director. Right away young male servants rushed in with tea, water and offerings of candy.  A large screen TV was on in the background, showing customized Hummers and SUVs at a show in the Las Vegas Convention Centre.  It seemed rather bizarre to view Las Vegas from Baghdad. 
After a half hour passed, I began to get antsy. It was 10:10 and our meeting with the general was in little more than an hour.  I started complaining, so we got up and started moving out. 
The minute I stepped out of the terminal, normal reality – at least my version of it – disappeared.  We weren’t going to be jumping into a waiting cab.
Instead, we walked over to the parking garage and watched as four large SUVs pulled in.  A security specialist stepped out of one and offered us flak jackets.  Mohammed refused his, but there was no way I was going to refuse mine.  I just wanted to know whether to put it on over or under my sports coat.

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“Your choice," I was told.  I shrugged off the sports coat and put on the flak jacket.  It weighed a ton and I could barely breathe, so the officer loosened it. 
"Fill your lungs," he said.  I did, and then he tightened it again.  But this time when I exhaled, I was more comfortable.
We got into one of the SUVs.  Former American soldier Stuart and former Ukraine soldier Corey – now working as private security contractors – loaded their guns and pistols.  Stuart turned to us and said, “If we run into action, I want you two to get down.  This vehicle is fully armored and unless we get a direct hit, while we might get shook up, we will be okay.  And do not leave the vehicle unless we pull you out.” 
I wondered if this was the time I was supposed to begin worrying.
It was about a mile and a half from the terminal to the entrance to the Green Zone.  I felt as if  I had dropped into a Mad Max movie.  All kinds of tanks and unusually outfitted vehicles where crossing over or running on the road.  Everything was heavily armored.  
When we arrived in the International Zone (Green Zone), Stuart turned to me and said, “Congratulations you have just successfully passed through the ‘Irish Highway,’ presently the most dangerous road in the world.”
Being escorted into the Zone with a Member of Parliament got us reasonably quickly through endless checkpoints, but we barely made it to the entrance of the Embassy in time for our meeting with General Petraeus.
Mary Kohler, General Petraeus' executive officer, met us at the gate as planned.  She told us an emergency had come up – which we later discovered was the second bombing of the Golden Temple Mosque in Samarra – and that General Petraeus had been called away.  General Newton would be meeting with us instead.
I conveyed my disappointment, but told her that I certainly understood.  I explained that we were also trying to get together with Ambassador Margaret Scobey who was expecting us, and asked Mary if she could help.  I was startled by how helpful she wanted to be and in fact, how helpful she was. 
(As an aside in the story:  People constantly complain here that they are not able to get meetings with the decision makers who are here.  The reality, though, is that the decision makers work 18 or more hours a day, running from crisis to crisis and they can never know if they are available for a sit down even in the next hour.   Exacerbating that is the problem with communications.  There is no Internet service for us on the outside.  Everyone communicates by cell phone.  But sometimes, they don’t work.  So it is often difficult to get in touch with people and see if meetings can occur. But, complaining about not getting meetings helps nothing.  Being prepared to meet when the opportunity presents itself is what’s needed.)
Mary brought us in to the Embassy and gave us directions to the offices of the schedulers for the various people we hoped to meet with.  Then, as we were walking to our meeting with General Newton, which had expanded into a meeting with General Lamb as well, opportunity presented itself and General Petraeus with a group of soldiers walked by. 
“General,” I called out.  He stopped.  I introduced Mohammed and myself.
Our stand-up meeting lasted about 15 minutes.  The General has requested that what we discussed be off the record.
I’ve been asked what I thought about the General from our brief meeting.  You should know that since last August, when I first became active as a “citizen diplomat,” I have heard from Iraqis I’ve met that General Petraeus is highly respected.  Having met him myself I can understand why.  He is very direct, personable, and one gets the sense that he is truthful.  The fact that his Executive Officer was so helpful to us also reflects his personal style. He is not dismissive and is willing constantly to “show up” to work toward finding some solution. He means what he says and says what he means.  For the kind of work I’m trying to do, this is enormously helpful.  We don’t have to consume endless hours discussing what he might have meant by what he said because he says it clearly and forthrightly the first time around.

On Monday, I’ll report on our hour-plus long meeting with Generals Lamb and Newton.


Dal LaMagna

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Comments (1)add comment

a guest said:

Now if we could only have a similarly up front guy in Washington we might get somewhere - preferably somewhere out of Iraq.
June 24, 2007
Votes: +0

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