Iraq: On the Ground

Noel Clay is a Press Officer and works in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. He is temporarily posted to the Embassy and will return to Washington, DC after his assignment where he will continue his Press Officer responsibilities in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Morning started today for me like many other mornings in middle “Mesopotamia”; I rise and shine at 7 a.m., even though work in the Public Affairs Section of Embassy Baghdad doesn’t officially start until 9 a.m., and in spite of living just a couple hundred yards from my office. Had yet another restless night of sleep due to the drone of helicopters flying overhead all night.

After making myself presentable, I begin my walk to work from my half of a yellow trailer (yes trailer, but smaller then one may think -- my side is only 11 by 15 feet). En route, I pass two very large Saddam Hussein busts which used to adorn the top of the former Republican Palace (now part of the Embassy compound). I begin to think about what is in store for me when I walk into the Press Office. What will the press focus on today? Bombings in Baqouba and Basra, Blackwater, al-Qaida in Iraq, or maybe the Iraq/Iran boarder crossing closures? As I soon find out, all of the above.

It’s busy, but not as busy as it had been the week before. Last week our office was inundated with inquiries from the press about the shooting incident involving Blackwater security personnel. The press devoted a lot of “ink” to the story, and the issue continues to simmer. Focus is likely to return to the story soon as the Iraq/U.S. and State Department investigations come to completion.

While making the eight-minute trek to the office, past the occasional palm and large eucalyptus tree, a good amount of time is spent thinking about my personal safety -- why wouldn’t it? Everyone here is very conscious of this. It’s no secret that the International Zone, like Iraq as a whole, is a dangerous place. The IZ, as we call it, is targeted from time to time by those who feel Americans, as well as our fellow Coalition members, do not belong here. There have been mortar and rocket attacks within the IZ that have been a little to close for comfort and have left me and many others extremely concerned.

As a person who, prior to coming to Iraq, was not accustomed to the whistling sound of rockets overhead, or being jolted out of bed by the sound and reverberation of a car bomb exploding outside the IZ, or the hail of celebratory gunfire raining down after a televised soccer match, I have conditioned myself to take each day however it may come. I also remind myself of the voluntary commitment I made to serve my country and to the commitment we made to the Iraqi people who need our continued help and support. Yes, the process is slow and frustrating at times, but I believe we owe it to the Iraqi people as they work toward building a more secure and stable Iraq.

While sitting today at my cluttered desk, amid the vast mint-colored “Green Room” with a soaring 30-foot ceiling -- a place that I’ve called home for the past 15 months -- I begin to read through our daily press clips in order to keep up on the latest news on Iraq. I usually try to read a good majority of the daily clips, but depending on the day, it’d be like trying to tear through War and Peace in one sitting. Moving through the day, I also work on a couple of regular internal documents that are intended to inform Embassy staff, as well as others personnel in Iraq, on what the White House, State Department, and Embassy are saying about topics and events that may have a direct impact on their official duties.

As the workday draws to a close, (we work far into the evening, at night, and on weekends) I’m looking forward to our office “Happy Hour.” No, we’re not going down to the local pub – there isn’t one. We’ve invited some of our Embassy colleagues and friends to join us here in the Green Room for a little socializing and group therapy. It’s one of the very few ways of relaxing and forgetting, even for a brief moment, that you’re so far away from home and so far from the comforts that come with it. Cheers!



September 27, 2007

Justus in Romania writes:
We, the Romanian people do not want the U.S. to attack Iran from our country! It is clear, or shall we make it clearer?

Florida, USA
September 27, 2007

Mary in Florida writes:
Dear Noel Clay:


I know how you feel as far as not having many Americans at your post... I spent two years in Hanoi recently! Thanks for describing life over there to those of us who may not ever be able to see that first-hand. You truly are a hero and a patriot, and you are appreciated.


September 28, 2007

Marc in Germany writes:
@ Justus in Romania -- What makes you believe that the U.S would attack Iran from Romania?

South Africa
September 28, 2007

Shunt in South Africa writes:
Hi there Noel

Now I have never left my country, but I have followed most of the news of what is going on at Iraq. How you have managed to survive those 15 months I don't know, but I do wish you a safe return home when your time up that side.

To you and your staff, I wish you all the best. I can but only imagine how it is over there, but will never truly know until I go there myself.

I know that most of the countries want the U.S. to pull out of Iraq and bring them back home. But I know that the moment that happens there should be a very big chance that Iraq will collapse and fall into a civil war. I don't think that the country will be able to stand on its own feet for atleast still a long time to come. I belief that the U.S. will be there until the country is more secure and stable.

Good Luck Noel

District Of Columbia, USA
September 28, 2007

Colleen in Washington, DC writes:
You are missed over here Noel! Keep up the good work. You make us all very proud.

North Carolina, USA
September 28, 2007

Jess in North Carolina writes:

Hey Noel,

I doubt if you have any idea how many times I have called and left messages for you, emailed you and wondered where the heck you were. I thought you were returning stateside in February...

I spoke with David T. a couple weeks ago and he informed me of yoru visit and apparently you had an outstanding new haridoo, haha! Thanks for getting in touch with me when you were home, grrrr!

I've subscribed to your blog so I am hoping to keep better track of you and I hope when you return we'll be able to get together. It's been far too long since I've seen you.

Please take care of yourself and know you are often in my thoughts.

District Of Columbia, USA
September 28, 2007

Chip in Washington, DC writes:
I am glad you are safe and sound. Looking forward to when you can return and clean out your closet!

Kansas, USA
September 28, 2007

M in Kansas writes:
I am glad you are there and doing your part in the "War on Terrorism" in Iraq. Thank you for your service.
Most everyone agrees (to include General Petraeus) now, that the military has done all it can to resolve the situation in Iraq and that the issues we now face are primarily political in nature. Since this is the case, what is the State Department doing to help Iraq get on it's feet "politically." I mean we "surged" an additional 30,000 soldiers into Iraq, an increase of more than 20%. I am no genius, but if the real battle is a political one, then shouldn't we surge about 50% more State Department personnel into Iraq for 15 months? The State Department employs about 25,000 persons, yet there are less than 200 (less than .8%) working in Iraq with you! Our country's main foriegn diplomatic effort should be Iraq and "finishing the mission" there, yet 99% of the State Department is elsewhere. I don't understand the logic.

Ahmad N.
September 28, 2007

Ahmad in Belgium writes:
Hey pal,

What read today in this blog made me sure that there is too many good Americans with great will to help us as Iraqis in spite of that I'm like any other Iraqi believe that U.S. administration carry the fundamental responsibility of our suffers today, but again people like you my friend Noel and others from the both sides (Iraqi-American) could accomplish something on the ground in a long term could heal the wounds that we had together in the last four years, as you knew I've been living in the same Bloody IZ like you and it was not safe at all for me as Iraqi and I can understand the shape of challenge you are facing as American who work and live there with all the risk, crap military things and stuff you knew and I knew you might face regular basics, but all what I can wish here is to see you again in safe where your country is proud of you and your friends as well.

New Mexico, USA
September 29, 2007

Eric in New Mexico writes:
@ Justus in Romania -- I think there's a greater chance that the Iranians would use Romanian soil to attack the U.S. or its EU partners than it would be for the U.S. to do what you suggest.

Massachusetts, USA
September 29, 2007

Magdalene in Massachusettes writes:
So THAT's what you've been up to! It's great to hear hear from you. I miss you!!

September 30, 2007

Nedhal in Amman writes:
Dear Noel : I miss you and all my other colleagues in Baghdad, it is your great soul and courageousness push you to help my country there.
God Bless you my dear friend.

September 30, 2007

Rocky in Colombia writes:
Noel: I guess this makes your home town sound tame by comparison? Stay safe.

New York, USA
October 1, 2007

Craig in New York writes:
Noel: I think of you often and have to say that I am in Awe of you and how you cope day to day. I look forward to the day that you come home for good. In the meantime, just know that you are missed and loved. Our friendship means the world to me (11 yrs). Hurry home :)

District Of Columbia, USA
October 1, 2007

Beth in Washington, DC writes:
Hey, Noel - Good to hear from you. Please remember to stay safe! Take care of yourself and hurry back to DC.

Nevada, USA
October 3, 2007

Ron in Nevada writes:
Heya... you're in my prayers every day. Keep your head down and I'll hope to see you in the Caribbean this winter.

Harold N.
October 4, 2007

Harold in Canada writes:
Noel: I am wondering if you are a cousin I have not seen in a very long time. I had been told that you had gone to work for the U.S. State Department and, in university, had followed a Political Science degree. Do your mom and brother still live in Huntington?

If you are who I think you are, I'd love to hear from you!

West Virginia, USA
October 4, 2007

Darlene in West Virginia writes:
Hi Noel: Great to read your blog. Stay safe and hurry home.

You probably don't remember me but I am your cousin Ronnie Blankenship's wife. Ronnie's son Patrick is over there as I am sure you know and my nephew Joe Alleman is also over there. Juanita sent me your blog and loved reading it.

If there is anything you need let us know.

Carter E.
Florida, USA
October 8, 2007

Carter in Florida writes:
A quick note.

It is said you are from WVA.

It is good to see and hear of sucess of a fellow West Virginian.

Be Safe and Do Well

David M.
Tennessee, USA
October 8, 2007

David in Tennessee writes:
Hey Noel,

Just want to say, I have enjoyed reading your posts and am very impressed with your service. If you don't mind me asking, what did you do before you decided to work for the State departments? Was it hard to get through the tests? I would love to work for the state department and do what you are doing!! Any info would help.


Oregon, USA
October 9, 2007

Mark in Oregon writes:

Thanks for sharing online. Sometimes it's easy to forget that all this stuff that's going on involves real people like you. I appreciate your commitment and courage. You're gaining a perspective on things that few of us will ever get.

Keep writing.


Ohio, USA
October 14, 2007

Kelli in Ohio writes:
Hello Noel, back here we are going about our day as normal, I did go to Bangalore, India in July for a few weeks with work. Getting ready for Halloween, my witches costume is ready...Take care, and get lots of pictures, and journal notes, you are experiencing what most of us read about!

Keep safe and Godspeed! We are ...Marshall!

October 29, 2007

James in Iraq writes:

Don't worry, Noel, you get used to the noise of the helicopters after a while!

Do you know if the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be one of the international testing spots for the Foreign Service exam in December?

Iowa, USA
November 11, 2007

Ryan in Iowa writes:

I'm thinking of starting the process with the State Department for a job in Iraq. I'm hoping that you can give me some pointers, good or bad on what I might encounter in Iraq.

Thanks, and stay safe.

December 10, 2007

Wong writes:

You are all war criminals.

Virginia, USA
February 6, 2008

Cadence in Virginia writes:

I would question to what extent individuals such as Wong have worked in Iraq, alongside the Iraqi people, to come to the conclusion that someone in your capacity could be classified as a war criminal. The vast majority of Americans that are working in Iraq are doing very positive things for the Iraqi people.

Maryland, USA
March 17, 2008

Hi Noel,

I'm so glad to see that you are alive and well overseas. I just wanted to wish you well and hope that you return home soon.

Regards, your former colleague from the Transcription Office,


Josh C.
November 13, 2008

Josh in Iraq writes:

@ Noel -- I just now came upon your blog, haphazardly, as I Googled: "Green Room" Baghdad Iraq. Yesterday evening I attended the "Green Room" turn-over event, as I received the invitation from Leslie. What a historic place!

You have been missed greatly since your departure and hopefully someday we can plan a reunion in a much safer place!

Take care my friend!

Best Regards.

Florida, USA
December 14, 2009

Seyed in Florida writes:

Dear Noel

It happened to come across your precious note while seek words about Camp Ashraf issue in Iraq and I would like to thank you for share your feeling! Observe lives of the others FORM life in each of us, and transmit our experiences in result beauty to others. Every moment of your day is your history and be part of our American wealth observe and share it and be happy of such value caring back home.

Have Joyful time in Iraq or if returned in State.

Posted by Noel Clay
September 27, 2007


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