The Plank

Memo From Baghdad

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Greetings from Iraq. This week I've been traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, on a whirlwind tour that took us through Afghanistan and Pakistan before we arrived in Baghdad this evening. This installment of The Plank comes to you from one of Saddam Hussein's lesser palaces, situated on a stagnant pond where the dictator and his sons reportedly used to go fishing. (Most of the buildings around the compound are now named after places in Oregon.) I'll be writing plenty about this trip in the days to come, and in the print edition of TNR. But I thought I'd provide some context for what I see is the lead story on the Drudge Report: IRANIANS SEIZE IRAQI OIL WELL. This is much ado about nothing. We spent the early part of the day in the southern Iraqi port city of Basra, which is both home to most (I think) of Iraq's oil fields and also right next to the Iraq-Iran border. At an Army base nearby, no one seemed very concerned by the news; we were told that the well in question--which apparently lies on disputed border terrain--has changed hands several times. "They play capture the flag," one officer laughed. Literally. "The Iraqis will put their flag on it, and then the Iranians will come in the middle of the night and take it down and put theirs up." Senior U.S. military officials apparently don't consider this a high-priority concern, either.

But while the south of Iraq is generally peaceful, with the focus on political maturity and economic development, Iran is a real concern here. In a meeting with Iraqi security officials Mullen said that "Iran worries me a great deal," and one Iraqi general warned that he expected Iran to try and interfere with the coming March elections here.

But that oil well is not the precursor to a cross-border war.

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