A Serious Attack of Iraq Proves the Disease is Chronic

“Jesus Christ Almighty!” Gretchen wailed, “not that guy again!”
“He called me at home and I quoted him five times my usual hourly rate,” I pointed out, “and he paid it, up front and in cash, via wire transfer directly to my business bank account. It’s a done deal – he’s coming here Saturday at three o’clock.”
“Well,” she huffed, “if he’s coming here Saturday at three, I’m leaving at twelve!”
“Sure,” I agreed, “no problem, you can leave at noon. Only before you go, just be sure to follow the same protocols we always have with him – cover the couch and chairs with clear plastic, put six new filters in the ventilation system, turn the external exhaust fan on ultra-high and set the timer to run all weekend, make sure we have at least six hermetically sealed heavy duty plastic bags on hand to put the used air filters in, with four more for the plastic furniture coverings, and…”
“I know, I know, Mr. Collins,” she interrupted. “Don’t make any appointments on Saturday after two o’clock, or on Monday morning before eleven. Then I come in early on Monday and replace all six air filters, spray the office down with air freshener, and make sure to schedule a special toxic waste pickup for no later than seven o’clock.”
“Right,” I chided, “not so bad, huh?”
“Not so bad?” Gretchen objected. “Are you kidding? Do you know that I have bring a change of clothes Monday morning and come in wearing an old T-shirt and blue jeans? That afterward, I have to put that T-shirt and blue jeans in a plastic trash bag, inside another plastic trash bag, and then throw the whole thing away in the dumpster in the alley? That not only do I have to wear heavy-duty neoprene gloves to change those air filters on Monday mornings after that smelly bastard visits your office, the first time I did it, I was gagging so badly my eyes watered? So you know what I did? I went out and bought a gas mask at Ranger Surplus – with my own money, not petty cash, Mr. Collins – and I’ve been using that along with the gloves every time since! And did you know that the third time that reeking weirdo was here, that Monday morning, the toxic waste pickup guy took one look at me wearing that gas mask and took off! I had to call them up and talk them into sending another truck! So now, I have to take the gas mask off every time, right when the toxic waste guy shows up. And do you know what happened last time? The toxic waste guy accidentally tore one of those bags open and I swear, Mr. Collins, after one whiff of what came out, he turned green – literally! Then he puked all over the hallway outside the reception room door and I had to spend forty-five minutes with a mop, bucket and a gallon of Lysol cleaning up the mess!”
“I’m so sorry,” I told her. “You really should have mentioned those things when they happened. Um… how about I keep all this in mind when I make out that check for your holiday bonus next December?”
“Yeah, I guess that might help,” she grumbled. “It’s just that it’s been over two years since that stinking creep came here, and I thought we’d never see him any more, that’s all.”
“Frankly,” I admitted, “the hopes on my part were exactly the same.”

This being Washington – and Latin American, French, Eastern European, Russian and various third-world diplomats being what they are, I always keep a tin of pathologist’s camphor in my desk. If a dab under each nostril can allow one to work for hours in the same room with human corpses in a state of extremely ripe and advanced decay, it can certainly be expected to work wonders for a sensitive American nose forced to keep company with folks from foreign lands where hygienic customs differ markedly from those practiced here. And come to think of it, camphor comes in pretty handy when dealing with the hordes of summer tourists who visit the Nation’s Capital, too. But for all its virtues, in “Ahmed,” camphor has, alas, met its match, and unassisted will eventually be overcome. Knowing this, I typically prepare myself for encounters with him by also eating something with lots of garlic and onions in it just prior to our meetings, and, immediately before smearing the camphor on my upper lip, I blast a mist of clove oil tincture all over my olfactory receptors. Not a perfect system, to be sure, but serviceable, nonetheless.
“Tom, my good friend,” he effused as he swept into my office in his trademark lilac burnoose. “How long I have missed seeing you!”
“You have been missed greatly also,” I lied.
“Everything here always so nice,” he commented as he nestled into the plastic covered couch and helped himself to box of Turkish delight I had bought and placed on the coffee table to distract him from stirring up air currents by moving around the room too much. “My dear friend Tom, he is so thinking of me, always.”
“Of course,” I prevaricated. “How may I help you today?”
“Ahmed very sad,” he confided through a mouth stuffed with Turkish delight. “When last we meet, you say, ‘Ahmed, you go become man in the middle for American contractors in Iraq,’ and Ahmed do this and it work like magic. Ahmed make much baksheesh, arranging for friends in government of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hassan al-Maliki to do business with American friends all over Iraq. But now, l-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām comes to Iraq and causes much trouble, and so Ahmed comes to you for to know what to do next.”
“So,” I presumed, “ISIS is putting a cramp in your style?”
“Yes, yes, I am thinking this,” he nodded. “First ISIS, what you call them here, they invade where the Kurds live, where Ahmed do much baksheesh business with Kurds and Americans, but no more. The Iraqi Army, they have big, big troops there. How many, you know?”
“It’s been reported the Iraqis had on the order of six entire divisions,” I responded, “including heavy armor.”
“Yes, yes,” he agreed, “they have many tanks, many artillery guns, many Humvees, many, many weapons. But when ISIS come, the Iraqi Army, all six divisions, as you say, they all run away!”
“So it says in the news,” I concurred. “They outnumbered ISIS ten to one, they had billions of dollars worth of American weapons…”
“Yes, and well I know this,” he interjected, “because Ahmed, he is man in the middle for many of these weapon sales! They run, the Iraqi Army, they run! They run like little children afraid of their father’s beating of their little behinds with a little wood stick! Tell me, my good friend Tom – there are ten of them for every one of the enemy! They have all the big, powerful American weapons! The ISIS, they have, how you say… the Toyota pick-up trucks and some even riding on camels, with nothing but the AK-47 and prayers to Allah to fight the big Iraqi Army with… and look what happens! Tell me Tom, my dear friend, what kind of men are these? How they even call themselves men? Six divisions, Tom; six divisions of women with those American weapons, they could kill all the ISIS, wipe them out in one single day! So how the Iraqi Army can be such… such… how you say… lily livered, yellow belly scum-sucking cowards?”
“Perhaps,” I speculated, “it was a failure of leadership.”
“You mean,” he interpreted, “that the Iraqi soldier, he sees ISIS coming, so he call his headquarters on the radio to ask for orders, what to do, how to attack, and nobody answer?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, “that sort of thing.”
“And then he poke his head out the top of his tank, and he look around,” my guest continued, “and he see his officers in command vehicle, driving south, away from ISIS, as fast as they can?”
“Exactly,” I replied. “A lot of that going on, was there?”
“My associates there,” he slowly intoned, “they tell me, yes, Tom, this is what they saw.”
“Well,” I concluded, “while it’s difficult to understand how six divisions of soldiers might all be inexcusably craven cowards, it’s not particularly difficult to understand how cowardly the Iraqi officer corps is. In fact, that’s more or less a military legend of long standing, and very well known to all of the American, British, European and Australian officers who either fought them in the war against Saddam Hussein or served in Iraq alongside them afterward, during the occupation. And let’s face it, if their officers won’t put their lives on the line to stand and fight ISIS, a bunch of largely uneducated, unsophisticated boys from the farms and back streets of Iraq certainly aren’t likely to do so.”
“Ahmed understand now,” he sighed. “Ahmed think you are right, Tom, what you say. Iraqi officers, they like to put on fancy uniform with much braid and medals they give themselves, and walk around like peacock bird, yell orders at poor boys, make big show, but inside, they have no… no, guts, yes, that is word. ‘Iraqi officers gutless wonders,’ I remember now, how American contractor tell me once. Like that – he sees real fight where enemy can kill him, Iraqi officer make big, wet mess in fancy officer uniform pants and run home to mother, crying like baby. And now, ISIS come south from where Kurds live, set fire to oil refinery at Baiji, where Ahmed have many, many friends and make very much baksheesh – now all gone! Also airport at Tal Afar, where Ahmed also have many friends and make much baksheesh, nothing this week, nothing at all! And President al-Maliki, he say, President Obama, you send American soldiers, with American officers – who are not cowards like Iraqi officers, and will fight ISIS and kill them – and American helicopters, American fighter jets and American bombers and American drones, that will explode ISIS from the air – you send them now, to stop ISIS before ISIS come to Baghdad and cut off President al-Maliki’s head! But Obama does not send American soldiers, American helicopters, American fighters, bombers, drones – American cruise missile! Why he not sent cruise missiles from American Navy ships? Why President Obama not help his friend, President al-Maliki?”
“Well,” I opined, “it might be that President Obama and the American government think that President al-Maliki and his government spend a bit too much time on baksheesh and not enough on things such as social justice, rebuilding infrastructure, encouraging commerce, reforming the political system – you know, things like that. Also, the United States is in sort of a pickle here, my friend, because right next door in Syria, there’s this fellow Bashar Hafez al-Assad, whom we profess to detest, you see, but who is, in fact, fighting a Sunni Moslem insurgency which Assad has been repressing with a ferocity worthy of the worst tactics of both World Wars I and II. And to further complicate matters, you see, the Shi’ite theocracy of Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel, a staunch and valued American ally, is backing Assad, whom the Shi’ite-controlled al-Maliki government also apparently supports, thus rendering a clear foreign policy decision on the situation…”
“Ahmed not like Obama government! Ahmed like Bush government much better,” he insisted. “Obama government talking, talking, talking, but not do anything! Obama government think too much! Bush government know, is dangerous to think too much! Ahmed not remember Bush government wasting time on thinking! Action much better – big action, how you say… bold action, yes… Boom! Big explode enemies, bloody pieces fly all over, birds pick at pieces after! Shock and awe, yes? That is foreign policy Iraqi people understand, Tom! When there was Saddam Hussein, he knows this – he give Iraqi people boot in behind, boot in face, boot on throat – then Iraqi people behave nice, make baksheesh to Ahmed and his friends! Bush government know that, too – put al-Maliki as President, and al-Maliki give Iraqis boot in behind, in face, on throat; people behave good, Tom, like supposed to, make baksheesh to Ahmed and his friends! That is America Ahmed like – Bush America. Ahmed like Dick Cheney. He know how bad Obama government is! He make big story and put in Wall Street Journal, say how Obama government think too much, but not kill enough people to get any respect! Dick Cheney know how to get respect – you kill plenty of Iraqis, then you get their attention. You believe Ahmed, Tom, when he say, no other way; Iraqis are like stupid donkey, you must beat, beat, beat, only then the donkey will obey and make baheesh to Ahmed and his friends; no other way! Tell me Tom, my friend, why America not make Dick Cheney President?”
“Now, there,” I allowed, “is an interesting idea. His health, however, would probably not be conducive. Anyway, the United States isn’t going to have a new president, whoever that may be, until January 2017.”
“By then,” my despondent client cried, “ISIS will rule Iraq! President al-Maliki – Allah be Merciful – will be living in Los Angeles, if not something worse! And Ahmed – by the Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Unto Him – my friend Tom, I do not know what will become of poor Ahmed!”
“Don’t despair,” I encouraged, “there’s a mid-term election coming up in November, and the Republicans, who are famous foes of the Obama administration, are odds on to increase their influence in Congress.”
“Your Congress? They do nothing! They are worse than the Iraqi officers who run away from ISIS,” he spat with a dismissive tone. “And besides, even if they decide to do something, with your elections in November, will that not be months and months from now? ISIS coming to Baghdad next week!”
“Then there’s always John McCain and his buddies,” I observed. “They might be able to spur Obama to some significant action. Not that Obama hasn’t at least sent some advisors and Marines in – about three hundred or so.”
“Three hundred is nothing!” he maintained. “My friend al-Maliki needs three thousand – no, thirty thousand! Thirty thousand soldiers who can fight! Thirty thousand Americans to wipe ISIS off face of earth and make Iraq safe once more for Ahmed and his friends!”
“Take my word for it,” I assured him, “that’s not going to happen, no matter how the mid-term elections go, no matter who gets elected the next President of the United States.”
My guest paused for a long moment, considering that advice. “Okay, okay,” he finally said, “if my good friend Tom says it will not happen, then it will not happen. But tell me, what will happen?”
“The Shi’ites in the south will fight to defend their homes,” I predicted, “and either stalemate ISIS before they can overrun the territory or, if ISIS does occupy the south, the Shi’ites will mount an insurgent resistance backed by Iran. In either case, a huge civil war will ensue as Iraq breaks into three separate states – one controlled by the Kurds in the north, a second by ISIS in the central provinces, and a third in the south, controlled by Iran through a proxy Shi’ite regime in Baghdad.”
“Ahmed’s” eyes widened with surprise and anticipation. “And everybody will need guns, bullets, explosives, bombs, grenades, money, trucks, tanks, food… medical supplies… whiskey… drugs… prostitutes… Oh, my friend Tom, thank you! Thank you so much for opening poor Ahmed’s eyes to see all the riches lying before him!”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“So,” he pressed, “what should Ahmed do now?”
“You should arrange some meetings with American, European, Russian and Chinese arms dealers,” I proposed, “many of whom you are already familiar with, as well as the usual bankers in Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands – all by Skype and telephone conference, of course.”
“Oh yes,” he agreed, “for some reason, that is the way they like to meet Ahmed best.”
“And make the usual arrangements,” I explained, “to ensure the… availability… of the necessary… strategic and tactical materiel to… all concerned parties.”
“Ah yes, I see! And Ahmed likes those words, ‘necessary strategic and tactical materiel,’ ‘ensure the availability’ and ‘all concerned parties.’ These will be good words to use, and I am most grateful for them, my good friend Tom. Oh, how can I thank you? Tell me what Ahmed can do,” he beseeched.
“Well,” I requested as the clove oil began wearing off, “if we could end the consultation somewhat… early… that would be… nice.”