Tuesday, March 14, 2006

An Unusual Warning

I follow the litany of security reports in Baghdad just as I do the State Department's travel warnings to foreign countries. Both change regularly, both are mildly alarmist, and both generally discourage you from doing things that you would not do anyway.

I wouldn't travel to Doura or Taji, two of the hottest places in Baghdad, regardless of what our security advisors say. Similarly, on my recent visit to Sri Lanka, I didn't need the state department's travel advisory to discourage me from visiting areas of Tamil-Singhalese friction. Commonsense.

However, the recent security reports have caused my ears to perk up. Explosives, we're told, were found at Baghdad international airport. There's no definitive account of what happened at this point. Open-source media say that the only certain details are the official US warning. Word on the street is that an airline has made an official announcement saying that a cigarette box containing explosives were found on the plane. Our security staff, with their usual subtlety, has discouraged anyone from flying from the airport and hint at imminent death. Of course the explosives would down the plane, we're warned.

I think what I find disconcerting is that there's so little clarity about what happened. The security at Baghdad International Airport is tight, but not impenetrable. I chatted with some co-workers about which was more likely, an inside job from one of the many Iraqi security staff that work there, or someone from the outside carrying the explosives in their pocket. This whole story could be perpetuated on these unresolved water cooler conversations. Its not surprising that Reuters cites unconfirmed reports from private security contractors. Maybe there weren't any explosives involved at all. Still, I'm pleased not to be flying anytime soon.

A possible reason this is on my mind could be a recent security presentation that was forwarded to me. It presents all the ways that you might die in Iraq, complete with full-color pictures of rocket propelled grenades, Kalashnikovs, and land mines. This picture, of an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, was the most striking. It claims the most victims of any insurgent weapon and is the focus of a new strategy to defeat the insurgency. I learned what one looks like recently.

Our security manager has posted this image near the exit to our quarters, so we pass it every time we leave the compound to face this danger. I've discouraged him from doing this, saying that it isn't helpful. Why don't you tell me what I should do when I hear incoming fire or make sure that I know the emergency procedures? I ask because I'm uninformed about these issues, which I think are vital. He gives me a dismissive look and scoffs at the suggestion that I have any idea about these matters. To him, I know nothing, while he's an authority. After all, he's a PSD team leader with multiple years of work in Iraq who has been wounded by shrapnel from an IED.


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