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A memorable evening in Baghdad: a personal perspective on interim Prime Minister of Iraq Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

In early 2005, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, as the comptroller for the Joint Area Support Group-Central (JASG-C). This deployment provided me with one of the most memorable experiences of my career--a dinner at the home of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim prime minister of the Iraqi Transitional Government. The occasion was the departure of Colonel Neal Barlow, the JASG-C commander. The Prime Minister had invited Colonel Barlow and some of his senior staff for a farewell dinner.

When we arrived for dinner, we were shown into Prime Minister al-Jaafari's office, where we had the opportunity to talk with him for a while and hear a little about his life. He was a medical doctor and had lived in exile in Iran and the United Kingdom since the 1980s and had returned to Iraq after the 2003 invasion. He was very open with his opinion on the evilness of Saddam Hussein. During the evening, the Prime Minister also shared with us his views about his country's future. At that time, he was looking forward to the signing of the country's constitution, and he emphasized that Iraq would be governed by a pluralistic Iraqi government, not by one religion.

Although he had a translator with him, Mr. al-Jaafari spoke excellent English. I found it amusing to watch them work together because he very rarely waited for the translator to translate our comments from English to Arabic. Although Mr. al-Jaafari responded in Arabic, whenever his translator hesitated over the translation to English, Mr. al-Jaafari provided the English word. I don't remember his using the translator at all as we each were introduced, telling him the states and towns we hailed from. I was fascinated by the way he was able to comment about each state, whether it was a historical event that had occurred there, a famous attraction, or even a local sports team.

He mentioned some of the books he had read, one of which was a biography of former President Bill Clinton. Mr. al-Jaafari observed that when Mr. Clinton was younger, he looked a lot like Elvis. When Mr. al-Jaafari showed the book to us, I had to agree. In that particular picture, Mr. Clinton did look like Elvis!

Dinner was an alfresco affair. The weather was great; we could see stars in the sky, as well as lights reflecting on the water that was part of a large canal system running through that part of Baghdad and surrounding his house. It was peaceful there--except for the occasional distant sound of gunfire. The table was laden with different dishes, some of which I never did identify--but I tried them all. I recognized barbecued lamb, baked fish, pita bread, rice, hummus, assorted tomato and cucumber dishes, and Sprite. At the end of the meal, the Prime Minister presented Colonel Barlow with a large brass plate in recognition of all he had done. A consummate host, Mr. al-Jaafari also gave each one of us a box of Iraqi taffee.

As I read about current events in Iraq--many of which are very negative--I remember the people I met there who share Mr. al-Jaafari's outlook and enthusiasm for his county's future. I look forward to their succeeding!

Colonel Deborah Suski is the comptroller and director of financial management for the Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. Soon to become the deputy financial manager at Headquarters Air Mobility Command at Scott AFB, Illinois, she is currently a member of ASMC's Middle Georgia Chapter.
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Author:Suski, Deborah
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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