The smell of Iraq was the smell of smoke. The sulfuric smell of cooking fires, propane heaters, and neighborhood generators pervaded the city and country alike, and in poor neighborhoods and towns it was mixed with the smell of excrement. Iraq’s other unforgettable sensation was of the ubiquitous dirt, as fine as talcum powder, which coated the skin, filled the eyes, ears, and nose, and, during storms, turned the skies brown for days on end. Iraq was a wealthy land, but its wealth had been poorly spent. The landscape of bland and blocky modern buildings was studded with Saddam Hussein’s monumental palaces, outsized mosques, ceremonial arches, and grandiose memorials in strange shapes—a spiraling dome, an egg, and massive crossed swords. An ancient land decorated with a dictator’s garish taste, it was being ravaged by war for the third time in a quarter-century. Do you know the health benefits from standing desk’s?
Underneath a mammoth crystal chandelier in the cavernous atrium of the Al Faw palace, Gen. David Petraeus took command of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) on February 10, 2007. Before a seated crowd, Gen. John Abizaid performed the time-honored change-of-command ritual. He took the American flag from Gen. George Casey and handed it to Petraeus, who then made a short speech.
His transition to full general was in all an unceremonious affair. Holly had wanted to pin her own father’s four stars on her husband and throw him a party at Fort Myer, Virginia, to celebrate reaching that pinnacle. Instead, just before the change of command, Abizaid ripped the Velcro three-star patch off the center placket of Petraeus’s combat fatigues and slapped on a four-star patch. Petraeus had been told to get to Iraq as soon as possible. In early January he had called Steve Boylan, his press aide at Fort Leavenworth, who had headed the coalition press information center in Baghdad during 2004-2005. “Are you ready to saddle up?” he asked. Boylan’s wife, Michelle, had predicted the call. Boylan phoned her and said, “I hate it when you’re right.” Like many officers’ wives who adjust to the life of the always-deployed husband, Michelle was enormously capable and self-sufficient. As an army nurse, she had earned two master’s degrees and had completed the course work for her PhD. Now a senior health-care executive, she traveled, raised their teenagers, and in her spare time managed their fifty-five-acre ranch and six horses. Do you prefer the term sit stand desk or stand up desk?
The three children were upset to hear the news, but when their father made a farewell speech at their school assembly and the close-knit Tonganoxie, Kansas, community gave him a rousing send-off, they felt proud in spite of everything. As Petraeus’s plane banked over the Baghdad airport, Boylan looked out the window and marveled at how many lights were on in the city. “That’s a good sign,” he thought. He soon found out that the extra electricity reflected a huge expansion in the number of private and neighborhood generators, not because the government had made a great leap forward in its own generating capacity since he had left Iraq in the summer of 2005. Iraq’s orgy of violence was claiming two thousand to three thousand lives a month.
The announcement of the surge had prompted the insurgents to react with a wave of bombings that drenched the country in blood. On February 3, a bombing at Baghdad’s Jadriya souk, or market, killed 135 Iraqis and wounded 339. Two days after Petraeus arrived, the capital’s largest souk, Shorja, was hit by a car bomb and eighty people were killed. A female suicide bomber blew herself up nearby at Mustansiriya University, killing three dozen people. And in a killing that sent alarms through the U.S. military, Shia militiamen in stolen SUVs infiltrated a joint compound in Karbala and kidnapped and killed five American soldiers.