July 30, 2004

Donkeys In The Desert

John Kael Weston is the Fallujah based founder of Donkeys in the Desert, the Iraqi chapter of Democrats Abroad. He's attending the convention as a guest of the Democrats Abroad delegation, and I caught up with him just before the floor was closed to hear his first hand perspective about what's going on in Iraq.

Donkeys in the Desert was founded last October with 6 members, and has now grown to around 30. The group includes members whose ranks range from Sergeant to Lt. Col., including some serving in Baqubah, and a gentleman who goes by the name of Mike the Marine.

Weston will be staying in Fallujah for the next year, after staying in Baghdad for the last 9 months. The group was featured in the June issue of the New Yorker, and they released an editorial this past Friday sharing their perspective with the world and their fellow Democrats. They will soon have a website to facilitate communication between Americans in Iraq and the US.

Weston's trip into Baghdad to leave and attend the convention was attacked by RPG fire, but he said they were lousy shots. The rockets went over their convoy.

Fallujah

Weston says Fallujah is not easy, and "probably the most anti-American city in Iraq, [and it's] hard not to think about the contractors. ...[I] Don't think we've given up, but [there's] no movement into the city." Explaining that part of the ceasefire deal included a complete American pullback, he described it as a "black hole" where Americans have no idea what's going on.

He says that several thousand Marines are stationed outside. They're mostly the ones who were doing the fighting, and were then pulled back awaiting orders.

Weston describes the the area where the camp is as a "no man's land", with the liaison camp their only way to keep in contact with the Fallujans. It gets mortared a lot, but they want to continue talking.

Baghdad

"Hot in every sense of the word." Weston says that all over the city is a certain unpredictability, where it's easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he added, "Baghdad is not Fallujah."

Weston thinks there's been a shift in the mood in the capital. He says, "We had a window of opportunity, [and] I'm not sure if that window is open anymore." The major issue is infrastructure, water, and electricity; everything we take for granted.

Weston says that he doesn't think Baghdad residents are thinking about waiting to vote in the next election. He says it's a worthy goal, but that right now they seem to be thinking about "how steaming hot it is and how they can't get their kids to sleep." He says the real measure of progress there is "whether the power goes off every three hours," adding that this civil infrastructure is exactly what the insurgents are targeting. They know it can make it more difficult to win public support.

Says Weston, "it's hard to be an insurgent if you have a job and see the economy moving," but that in the current situation there's less of a barrier for people to picking up a gun and fighting. He says that you can't fix the economy without fixing the security situation, but that it's hard to fix security without a better economy.

Not All Doom, But...

After all that, Weston says "it's not all doom and gloom, but it's a big challenge ahead. ...The thing that it's hard to convey is that there's a lot of weaponry, it's a very violent place." He noted that he does work in the Sunni triangle, though, and that the whole country isn't like the places he's been.

Weston says he trusts the American ability to muddle through, and believes that Americans' very pragmatic nature would be a help. He says that "it's in our interest to make Iraq work," but that it isn't clear how to "get from A to B."

To Weston, the election is about agreeing to disagree about why we got there, while saying that he thinks most Americans understand the need to follow through on commitments. He says that even many of the members of Donkeys in the Desert has several members who are very anti-war. However, he says, "I think we'd rather be b*tching in Baghdad" where they can do something to try and make it work, rather than complaining from a cafe in the U.S.

Weston says that the "repercussions if we fail are pretty severe, [and it's] not really an option to pick up and leave." Of the U.S.' standing in the world as a result of our actions to date, he says that American credibility isn't lost entirely, but "damaged? Certainly."

Weston thinks Kerry is the right man to take things forward, explaining that a "lot of our members feel there's nothing like first-hand combat experience to understand what's at stake."

Posted by nat in boston at July 30, 2004 02:01 AM | Elections | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |
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