Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trade and Development Mission to Iraq- Day 5

Commissioner Staples left Texas on Sunday, March 22 for a trade and development mission to Iraq as an invitee of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M. This trip is hosted by the Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations in Iraq. The trip serves many purposes: to establish a trade relationship that will foster bi-national commerce between Texas and Iraq; to assist Iraqi farmers and ranchers by sharing ideas that can improve their agriculture industry; and to share the benefits of freedom and democracy. Below is a day-by-day account of Commissioner Staples’ visit to Iraq.

Watch a slideshow of his trip here:

Day 5
Today was a big day and the last day in Iraq. We left Baghdad from the Washington Landing Zone, which is across the street from the Presidential Palace. The Iraq Army guards weren't too friendly when I walked over to get a closer look while we were waiting for Brigadier General Smith to arrive in the Blackhawk Helicopters from Camp Victory. I don't even think it was my lack of Arabic speaking skills that was the problem. They just take security seriously, and for good reason.

While en route to the Regional Embassy Office (REO) Al-Hillah, we flew over the ancient ruins of the Tower of Babel, located a stone's throw from the Euphrates River. The ruins were only partially excavated. Archaeologists would have a field day in this country. I have been reading about the Tower of Babel in the Bible my whole life. I never thought it possible to see the remnants.

When we arrived at REO Al-Hilla, I was again overwhelmed when a group of Texas soldiers was on hand with a Lone Star flag they unfurled; we gathered around for a photo. These men and women are the best. Period.

We had a productive meeting with the director general for agriculture of the Babil Province, director of extension and several agribusiness men.

We later toured a state-of-the-art farmers’ market and met with an entrepreneur whose privately owned non-governmental agribusiness included the production of yogurt, juice and cheese. His staff included Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. Even the Americans who had years on the ground in Iraq were surprised to see how this diverse team was working together. Could it be this is the example of what progress can be made when people put aside their differences and work together?

We made it back in time to Sather Air Force Base, Camp Victory, Baghdad to make our flight to Kuwait. It only took us more than one-and-a-half hours to get through customs. Now, we are waiting for our ride to the hotel for the night. I would tell you how much fun international travel is, but I just can't.

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