JimSpiri ”THE LAST LAP #8”
The latest journey called, "The Last Lap" - IRAQ, 2015
© Jim Spiri 2015
July 18, 2015 It is Saturday morning around 8:15 am. I have been seriously sick for the past 36-hours. I believe I contracted a form of dysentery and it has completely knocked me back a bit. Not since my travels to El Salvador have I had this problem. Coupled with this, the temperature outside is well over 120 degrees and dehydration could become a problem if I am not careful. Yesterday was the first day of Eid. There were all kinds of meals spread about in celebration of the event of which I attended one with the Governor of the province I’m in. There was no way I could even have one bite of the food. I was just too sick. I had managed to muster up enough energy in the morning to attend a 7:00 am memorial and then go on to the home of the director of economic development for this province who happens to live here in Dholoyia. He was hosting the Eid morning meal for the Governor. The night before I had been an invited guest at his home which is beautiful. It is something akin to a modest palace with everything in excellent order. We talked at length that evening about investments in this province and who some of the major players are. I learned a lot about things this night and I was exercised greatly to listen and take in many things. I had to wear my “economics” hat this night. What an education. He invited me to his home for the event that was hosting the meal for the Governor, Dr. Raeed Ibrahim, the following morning. I accepted knowing full well I was not feeling good. Going back to the evening discussion at the home of the director for economic development, I want to say that it was one of the most informative talks I’ve had in my life. The man knows his stuff, speaks good English and has a task ahead of him that is gigantic by any standard. He came into this position about a year ago and was handed a plate full of disaster and told, “here you go, fix it”. The matter of economic development in Iraq, and for my purposes, Salahuddin province, is something that has many facets to it and many obstacles as well. Of course, security is a problem for any business adventure. But then I ask myself, “what is there to invest here in this province that would draw global entities to come”? Of course, it’s oil. This province contains a lot of oil that for the most part has been untapped. One of the big players showing great interest is Crown Energy. I was told that the folks speaking with them are from Canada but my brief research cannot pin down which corporate office of Crown Energy we’re speaking about. Here is what I found on the internet about this contract and license for drilling operations Crown has for this province that I am in: In November 2013 Crown Energy acquired Tigris Oil which holds the PSC for the area of Salah ad- Din in northern Iraq. The license covers the entire area of the Salah Ad Din governorate in northern Iraq, an area of approximately 24,000 square kilometers. The license contains a number of existing discovered oil fields, with multi-billion barrel potential. Despite the apparent large and commercial discoveries, only limited production has occurred from just one field. Activities over the last 20 years have naturally been limited due to the political instability. As far as I can tell, they do have offices in the UK, Oklahoma, Sweden, some places in Africa and other places. The point about oil exploration here in Salah Ad Din province is that the reserve potential is enormous and there are forces within the Central Government that just do not want this province to become more or less, self sufficient economically. As is always the case in global economics, there are many sides to getting something done. The easy and straight-forward way is something that is completely elusive this day and age. I asked the about other energy alternatives such as solar power. I explained that the state I’m from is a leader in solar energy and that Iraq surely has an incredible amount of potential in this arena. So far, no one has shown great interest in this field but I was told that some were interested in wind energy development. I just could not get my head wrapped around the fact that no one on a global scale was seriously interested in solar energy here, a place that has more sunny days per year than anywhere I have ever been, except maybe the outback in Australia. Oil is obviously king and the big global players know that. They also know how to play this game, and for sure, it is a game. Problem is, so many lives end up suffering during this game. I am now beginning to understand just a little bit about the place I am in. I have learned in multiple conversations with people here, from all walks of life that are highly educated, that this particular province could carry its’ own weight if it were allowed to do so. This is a Sunni area and there are forces from multiple angles that do not want to see this happen. Remember, where I am in this town, was the scene of ISIS having been defeated. The banner from which the defenders of Dholoyia fought under was none other than the Iraqi flag. Iraqis stood their ground under their flag. This is something us in the west failed to hear about. After the evening discussion with the economic development director, we came home as I tried to digest all I had been told. I hit the sack early because we had to leave the house at 6:30 am the following morning and it was already midnight. I knew I was not feeling well and thought that a good night's’ sleep would help. I fell asleep immediately after having coordinated all my things, got batteries charged up and did some uploading and downloading of material. I knew I had to be on top of my game the next morning. The morning started by driving to the cemetery where the governor was participating in a memorial. I’ve now been to this place several times. In a way, it is like Dholoyia’s version of Arlington. It is hallowed ground. There were some media folks from Iraq attending this as well. The Governor showing up was not out of the ordinary. He is well known here and comes from the Joubury tribe. He’s a young man, 37, and a former director of health for this province. He had quite a few security folks surrounding him as well as a few other folks that also had coat and ties on. He was introduced to me for a moment and I asked him a brief question. He answered appropriately and I told him we could later after the event was finished. He agreed and shook my hand. Now, I must say, I have taken a liking to this governor just as I have my own governor back home. Both treated me with a great deal of respect; both allowed me to come up close and personal; and both answer questions I pose to them straightforwardly. I now feel I have a little input with two governors on the planet. After the memorial, my host drove me to the home of Amar Jabar, the director of economic development for Salah al din province. This was the place I was at the night before. During the day, it is even nicer to see. The lawn area had been set up for a large gathering of people with long tables taking up a large portion of the area. We were taken inside and given a seat. The room was beautiful and the event brought out the best in traditional clothing among the host, local officials and others in attendance. I was wearing a clean white shirt and clean khaki pants with sandals. It was obvious I was the “new guy” in town. I was invited to sit right up front close to the Governor and accepted with all modesty. This is typical for everywhere I’ve been. After some chi and water, some local folks mentioned a few things here and there akin to what would be discussed at any town hall meeting in America. I watched and listened and peered the crowd for some familiar faces. At one point a discussion got interesting and some who have seen me around looked at me and smiled. There was that sense that the price for being in position of authority is that one has to go through this type of thing. I’ve seen it a million times back home as I returned the smile. Then, the crowd was ushered back outside where the morning Eid breakfast meal was prepared and spread across several long tables. I had been encouraged to eat with the Governor but I just could not touch a thing. I did my best to not offend anyone but finally got the point across that I was not feeling well and that I had severe intestinal problems this day, they understood. However, in all my life this was for sure the one time I wanted to partake in such an elegant buffet but I just could not for fear of embarrassing myself by getting sick. Wasn’t gonna happen this time. But the food was exquisite looking. After about 30-minutes the meal was consumed and we re-entered the room we had left earlier. A few questions were asked and then I was brought right next to the Governor and proceeded with a 15-minute interview. My host held the small video camera I have and I used my small audio recorder. I asked the Governor several questions foremost of which is “what is the current stability situation in his province at this moment”? He proceeded to answer me in English that for the most part his province is stable save for some areas near Beji, where ISIS has about 10% of the place, according to him. He also assured me that they will be removed in the near future. I also asked about the refugee camp here in the Dholoyia area and what will the status for the IDP’s (internally displaced persons) be in the near future and will they be allowed to go home. He explained to me that they will not be allowed to return home at this point in time as their names are being examined with a list on a database somewhere. What this means to me is the central government and the civilian defense forces (commonly known as militias) aren’t backing down at the moment and that the refugees, or IDP’s as they have now been granted their own acronym, are stuck in the middle again. When

The Last Lap #8

This is Abud, age 5.  He is my best friend in Iraq these days.  I have invested in one of his sheep. We are now business partners.  He is the nephew of my host and lives where I am staying.  This boy is the next generation I am here for.  I love this litt The Governor of Salah ad-Din province, Iraq.  He is the one with the sunglasses on.  He is 37-year-old Dr. Raed Ibrahim al-Jubouri.  He is the former director of health in this province.  This is where the morning memorial was held on the first day of Eid at about 7:00 am. It was to honor those who died protecting Dholoyia from ISIS.  The room where discussions were held in a kind of town hall atmosphere.  These five men are the ones leading the way forward for Salah ad-Din province.R-L, Security director Ibrahim Diab; Dr. Amar Jabar; Governor Raed Ibraheim al-Jouburi; Sheik Munir; and The Governor partaking of the meal. The exquisite meal on the morning of the first day of Eid.  The local Imam on the right partaking of the meal on the morning of the first day of Eid. Another view. After the meal, having discussions concerning life here in Dholoyia.  Sheik Munir making his point to the Governor. Members of the security detail. Enjoying a laugh with the security detail The Governor leaving to attend a gathering at the camp for the IDP's, the internally displaced persons, in Dholoyia.
A street near where I stay.
Street scene.
This is Abud, age 5. He is my best friend in Iraq these days. I have invested in one of his sheep. We are now business partners. He is the nephew of my host and lives where I am staying. This boy is the next generation I am here for. I love this little guy.
The Governor of Salah ad-Din province, Iraq. He is the one with the sunglasses on. He is 37- year-old Dr. Raed Ibrahim al-Jubouri. He is the former director of health in this province.
This is where the morning memorial was held on the first day of Eid at about 7:00 am. It was to honor those who died protecting Dholoyia from ISIS.
The room where discussions were held in a kind of town hall atmosphere. These five men are the ones leading the way forward for Salah ad-Din province.R-L, Security director Ibrahim Diab; Dr. Amar Jabar; Governor Raed Ibraheim al-Jouburi; Sheik Munir; and General Candel Halil, local police chief.
The Governor partaking of the meal.
The exquisite meal on the morning of the first day of Eid.
The local Imam on the right partaking of the meal on the morning of the first day of Eid.
Another view.
After the meal, having discussions concerning life here in Dholoyia. Sheik Munir making his point to the Governor.
Members of the security detail.
Enjoying a laugh with the security detail
The Governor leaving to attend a gathering at the camp for the IDP's, the internally displaced persons, in Dholoyia.
the Governor told me this he looked me in the eye and I could see a bit of stress on his young face. I had touched a very difficult subject. This is Iraq. This is what is going on. He is in a position to help but all he can do right now is be here in attendance and that he was doing. Later that day he would deliver 50-slain sheep as a gift to these people and they would be able to have a kind of Eid meal celebration of sorts, refugee camp style this day. The central government is weak and the militias are gaining strength all over the place. Just the way it is here. I wrapped up my chat with the Governor after a few more questions. My final question to him was, “how old are you sir”? He looked at me and smiled and wanted me to guess. I did not venture a guess. But I pressed him to tell me the truth. He hesitated and finally replied, 37. That is younger than my oldest child. I looked closely into his eyes and smiled. Without saying a thing to one another we both were saying to one another, “Yep. It’s a hard job and it ages you very, very quick. I know I look older, but I’m not”. At that I closed the interview and thanked him again for speaking with me. I hung around a bit longer and chatted with his security detail. They all wanted their picture with me and I readily agreed. It was a fun morning. I was tired though and really out of it by now. I was not feeling well but was pleased with the day’s event and interview. I like learning about this place Dholoyia in Salah al din province where the Governor speaks to a crazy looking old guy with long hair and a camera or two on his neck from USA. I didn’t need to do anything but show up and be a guest. They all were glad I showed interest in their plight. I remember one time having a difficult time obtaining permission to interview the mayor of Albuquerque, my home town. I had been told to leave by the police. I find it ironic that I come to Iraq in 2015 and be given an open door to anyone I want to speak with or interview, no strings attached. Life truly is stranger than fiction.