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The latest journey called, "The Last Lap" - IRAQ, 2015
© Jim Spiri 2015
Epilogue for The Last Lap …a section or speech that is at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened…” This is the accepted definition for the term “epilogue”. I am not sure if we should refer to my journey as a book or a play, but something for sure has “happened” justifying some kind of final word on this journey of mine now known as, The Last Lap . Today is August 5, 2015 and I am home now in my own dwelling for the past week. Jet lag has all but faded, a routine of sorts is developing once again and it is time to make the final entry for this journey. I like using the term, comment on what has happened” . It is always a tough go of it to come home, decompress and convey to those who want to know what happened and what was experienced. All I know at the moment is the journey was more than unbelievable in how it transpired and I am still in awe that I went to Iraq and came back from Iraq and pretty much did the impossible with very little in my pocket. Add to this, not a hair on my head was harmed and I was treated with the utmost dignity and honor by the local folks, more than anyone could have ever have imagined. That was in Iraq . Now, at home, it is a bit of a different story. It has taken me a while to contact particular people and inform them of what I have done and where I have been and to help me get the point across as to what I have found out to be the case currently in Iraq at least from what I have seen through the viewfinder on my camera and heard via the microphone on my audio recorder. Not many want to hear and even fewer want to listen. However, there have been a chosen few that have taken an interest in the journey and some that have actually inquired as to what I may have seen, heard and/or experienced. It is very difficult to decompress from such a journey. I am convinced that the Italians for sure know the reason red wine was developed for such occasions. I am thankful for a glass or two or three in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep trying to digest all I’ve been through and seen and heard. One person in particular took a bit of an interest in my journey and decided to do an hour long segment on his radio show that has the potential for a national audience. This person is an old school real global journalist whom I used to listen to thirty years ago and appreciated his work. I was startled to say the least that he actually knew where I had been, knew the story I was trying to convey and picked up on the subtle innuendos I had been making as to how “journalists” such as myself are not actually encouraged to be in Iraq by my own government. In fact there is a not so subtle push to keep guys like me out. This is why the journey having gone it alone was more decisive than most previous journeys I’ve embarked upon. What I learned first and foremost is this: As usual, something is being untold about what is going on in Iraq currently and for that one reason I had to go to Iraq, just to see what there was to be seen that no one really wanted me to see” . I am sure I have stirred up the hornets’ nest a bit, but at this time in my life, I don’t worry about that so much. The second thing I learned is the first thing I learned nearly 30-years ago when I embarked upon my first journey to war zones. That is: “never believe anything you read and only half of what you see”. Unfortunately, this still is true and having now been on the ground at the level I was at while in Iraq, I am more than convinced that there is an effort somewhere hidden very deep, to keep those of us who have inquiring minds concerning Iraq, in the dark as much as possible. I know what it sounds like but that is of no concern to me anymore. I know how difficult it had been made for me to get there (Iraq) and to come back. It was not necessary for this to have been the case, but, having said that now, I am more than content that I did it the hard way and learned firsthand from the people I lived among what the story was about in this village called, Dholoyia in the very depths of Salah ad-Din province in Iraq. I learned what it meant to be in this place called, The heart between the ribs ”. The third thing I learned is perhaps the only thing most people will want to agree with me on. Iraq is in chaos . How it got that way and where it is going from here is the challenge facing some folks somewhere who are somehow doing something to change everything, at least that is what we are told might be happening. As I was arriving into Iraq in early July, soon to follow would be General Dempsey, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and soon after him was current Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter. Oh, let us not forget that the four Iraqi F-16 fighter jets that made all kinds of headlines arrived right about the time I was midway through my journey. I even got to see them fly overhead from the village I was staying in. I did wonder what strings were attached to this purchase of military hardware and thought back to a book I read eleven years earlier by a guy named John Perkins, Confessions   of   an   Economic   Hitman . I remember reading this book while I was actually working on the same flight line these F-16’s are now parked on. A little irony here so to speak. What I did not learn on this journey was what it was like to be under fire from ISIS. I did however listen for nearly three weeks to those warriors that did tell me what it was like and how their backs being up against the wall for reals, forced them to do battle and seek victory as their only option for survival. I have plenty of video on file now to verify these stories and I have no doubt that these warriors from Dholoyia played an integral part in the preserving of what is left of Iraq at the national level. The next stop on the ISIS trail had Dholoyia fallen would have been Baghdad. Why this particular story has not been told is the reason I am now telling it. A few knew. I did not know and had I known, I would have been in Dholoyia a year earlier. I am still mad at myself for missing that part of the history of Dholoyia. Better late than never is the phrase that keeps reminding me to push forward. This journey which I titled, The   Last   Lap , was intended to be the last time I venture out into the world of war zones to get that elusive photograph or story that always seems to be just over the next hill. I have said it more than once to my wife, Honey, I promise, this is the last trip ”, knowing full well I have no idea whether or not it really is. I am tired these days and my shoulder hurts a lot. The knees don’t bend as rapidly as they used to but I can still walk ten miles a day in the heat carrying a load on my back. I cannot run it, but I can surely walk it. The world has turned into (or always has been) a chaotic mess. For some reason I’ve ended up having a lot to do with this place called Iraq. A fair bit of my time has been there beginning in 2004. I have lost friends there and seen way too much of what man can do to his fellow man in the name of war. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to parents that lost loved ones in the war in Iraq on both the American side and the civilian side on the Iraqi side of things. The common thread is that losing a loved one hurts. I know this first hand. As I write this epilogue it is now early August in 2015. The United States keeps saying it is going to do something to help defeat this entity called, ISIS. All the people I talked to in Dholoyia plead with me to tell my government to send the troops back to help get rid of ISIS so Iraq can be the country it once was. These same people also tell me to ask my government why we gave Iraq to Iran on a golden platter. That question I have had a difficult time getting an answer to. I have contacted as promised, the offices of Sen. John McCain whom the people of Salah ad-Din province have a high regard of and respect for. So far, I have not heard back from McCain’s office even though I have tried repeatedly to make known to his staffers who I am and where I’ve been. For the record, I did work hard for the McCain presidential campaign back in 2008 and was fortunate to speak privately on several occasions with Sen. McCain. I also got to know his family a bit, including his mother, Roberta. I have always thought that McCain had a handle on things concerning Iraq. He stepped up to the plate in 2006-07 when many thought Anbar province was lost for good. Nowadays, I feel that the one following in McCain’s footsteps concerning Iraq is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Of all the voices out there in the political world, I feel Sen. Graham is the only one that sees clear enough on how to proceed at this point in time. Everyone else wants to close their eyes and live by the idiom, out of sight, out of mind when it comes to fixing the mess in Iraq. In other words, everyone in the political world as far as I can tell wants to completely wash their hands of this place called Iraq. The problem is, we did some damage in Iraq and we for sure created a vacuum that is why we are facing the problems we are currently. Everyone I’ve spoken with on all sides of whatever aisles are out there say that under Saddam Hussein, life for the Iraqis was at least better than it is right now. It has been asked to me on numerous occasions “Why did America invade Iraq”? Most of us state-side would say we were told about weapons of mass destruction. I remember working on the flight line in Balad when there was some talk of this missile on a cargo plane that was discovered in Iraq along with some others as it was being transported quickly and quietly out of the country. I remember seeing this piece of “cargo”. There are two trains of thought as far as I can tell concerning this WMD debacle. #1 is maybe there wasn’t any. #2 is maybe there was some and we removed it from Iraq under cover of darkness and didn’t tell the rest of the world what the contents were or where they actually came from. Some say that there were some serious chemical weapons that had their origins been traced deep and far enough back, it may have led to one or more western countries, perhaps including the USA. Who knows for sure is anyone’s guess. However, as I finish this last lap of this long endurance race, the kick at the end seems to bring into focus that if I can imagine it, perhaps it’s already been done. I’m just sayin’….. Finally, the people of Dholoyia, in the province of Salah ad-Din in Iraq are the ones this final story is all about. It is not about me. It is about them. But I had to go there and come back in one piece to prove that there are some folks on the other side of the planet who have endured the wrath of war mostly at the hands of my country who at this time have staved off the most vicious attacks of any group yet, the ones we call ISIS. Their village is secure at the moment. How long that remains is anyone’s guess. The remaining parts of Iraq that are under siege by ISIS are suffering daily due to this conflict. Fallujah and Ramadi are constantly in the center of it all and then there is the matter of the north of the country, Nineveh province to be exact, where Mosul is, has to be dealt with before any kind of sanity can return to all of Iraq proper. This is the goal but how and if that goal can or will be reached is the challenge at hand. In conclusion, America brought something to Iraq in 2003. I have been told that they gave Iraq an extra day off in the work week and taught the folks in Baghdad how to walk their dogs on a leash. That is what we called democracy for Iraq according to many folks I spoke with candidly in Salah ad-Din province. The electricity is sporadic at best. The country is in ruins. The strife from Iran has caused total unsettledness throughout the Sunni areas of Iraq. The most common employment for a man in Iraq these days is being an Iraqi policeman. Those that are employed as such in Salah ad-Din province have not been paid for over three months. This is compliments of the central government strong arming the Sunni areas. I’m not sure that we brought democracy to Iraq. What I am sure is that the result of what we brought and then left is total chaos and complete uncertainty for a nation that was once a leader in the region to what it is now, which is a total collapse of a nation state under severe attack by lots of extremists. America has some kind of responsibility regarding Iraq. Defining that responsibility is difficult to say the least. Those that are seeking some form of return of American boots on the ground are serious and standing in unity with our interests in the Middle East. Why those in control of policy making decisions are not capitalizing on this is beyond my understanding and the main reason I have chosen to do this Last Lap . After a long race, it is always best for the competitor to have a “cool down lap” so as to be ready for the next race whenever that may be. I have run the race as best I could and now have done the cool down lap. I am not sure what comes next. What I do know however is this….I went, I saw, I experienced and I reported on having gone to Iraq and lived among the local people who are of the Joubury Tribe. We have become closer than friends. We are connected by some strange turn of events. My country is once again in Iraq yet as to what extent that is, is rather unknown to most. I’m not happy about most of us being kept in the dark about what is going on in Iraq today. I am sure Iraq will still be a major issue in the 2016 US Presidential campaign. Perhaps my next race will be to pose a lot of questions about Iraq to those seeking the highest office in the land. We’ll see who answers straight up or who answers with a forked tongue. The best thing in my opinion would be for one of these folks that is running for President to give me a call and ask me what’s going on in Iraq and then have them come to where I’ve been and talk to the people I’ve talked with and to sit down and have a meal in the traditional way that I did. Then, let’s hear what these politicians have to say about how to fix a chaotic situation that we left in Iraq. Until that happens, I guess I’ll just have to keep in shape as best I can in the event I have to run, one more lap .