What Exactly is a Geographer Doing in Iraq?
Geography is a diverse science and my time in Iraq has proven that. My work involved combining elements of tribal affairs, environmental geography, and even military geography. I had the opportunity to interface with Iraqi and American authorities to aide in reconstruction efforts. My duties included using GIS to find key access points for critical infrastructure, research on certain areas, and carefully explaining that I do not have divine powers to get jobs done instantly.
Where Was I?
All my time was spent in the Sunni Arab lands of Iraq. The majority of time was in Al Anbar provience with Salah ad Din coming in second. I briefly visited Ninawa and Kirkuk provinces. Despite plans I never went to Baghdad.
Was I Ever in Danger?
Yes. The scariest moment happened on a plane ride. All the sudden my little plane was forced two drop flares and do evasive action. The fact that I was near where two helicopters crashed made me realize the dangers of northern Iraq.
What Geography Tools Did I Use?
My main tactic for information gathering were qualitative: interviews and library research. When it came to actual tools I was surprised. While ArcGIS is powerful, few computers in Iraq have it and it is complicated to the uninitiated. So Google Earth was used for presentations while FalconView was used for cartographic creations. Also, I never once used latitude and longitude. I solely worked on military grid reference system (MGRS). I started listing off MGRS like mad to the point 38-Sierra seems like home... almost.
How Was My Arabic?
My Arabic has gotten better but I dare not use it without a translator on hand. Whenever I used my Arabic it seemed like everything stopped. Iraqis are still shocked that "average" Americans try to speak Arabic. I was asked multiple times "Are you a Muslim?" by Iraqis who were shocked/impressed by an American speaking Arabic.
Did I Meet Any Iraqi Christians?
Yes. The first two I met where Christians. Most Christians are either in Baghdad or up in Ninawa province. Christians are so rare elsewhere, especially Anbar, that several time I was told about the closest Christian: "Butros" a mechanic who fixed cars and lived over four hours away. Sadly I was unable to attend any Assyrian Church of the East or Chaldean Catholic Church services.
Where Was the Worst Place I Visited?
Salah ad Din province. Period. Indirect fire plus sandstorms plus being chased by bats. Yeah.
Tomorrow: Questions and Answers About Iraq and Atmospherics