In ‘08 I gave my notice to Parsons and went to work for an Iraqi company called Leadstay. Leadstay was the outfit that provided all the heavy equipment and operators we employed at Camp Wolf in Anbar Province. They worked under the direction of our EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) guys, (Tetra Tech) helping them to locate and destroy the UO (unexploded ordnance) that Saddam had so graciously left behind.
The project, USACE CMC (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Coalition Munitions Clearance project), was a noble one and I worked for them two years, “Kicking bombs” as my IT guy referred to it.
Previously I had worked for Parsons on the USAID (U.S. Dept. of State) Rural Water Project. We built water treatment plants for rural villages all over Iraq providing clean potable water to people who had never put lips to same. Spent two years doing that. I was in the ‘Construction’ business. At CMC I had moved into the ‘Destruction’ business, or for you literary types: ‘deconstruction business’. The circle was now complete.
CMC was winding down in ’08 after having destroyed roughly four hundred thousand short tons of old live ordnance during the five years they had been ‘kicking the bombs’ which the bad guys would surely have turned into IED’s.
I needed to find a new gig.
Through my connections with Leadstay I was hired on as ‘Business Development Manager.” They paid me fifteen thousand bucks a month (In cash if I so desired) plus two percent of any new contracts I landed. Potentially very lucrative.
The Leadstay ‘Man Camp’ was in the ‘Red Zone’ just outside the wire of Camp Victory, which bordered BIAP (Baghdad International Air Port). Electricity was hit or miss. The power grid from Baghdad was kind of like Texas weather; “If you don’t like it just wait a minute and it’ll change.” We had backup generators, but they were only for show. The shower in my hooch often gave me little shocks, reminding me that “OSHA does not live here.” All the Iraqis (and some of us) were armed. I wasn’t, but I had my eye on an AK-47 for sale in the duty-free shop Ahmed owned. Mostly the Duty-Free was a liquor store. We were only allowed to drink booze on Thursday nights. (Of course we mangled that rule, being ‘By God Americans!”)
I lasted about a month.
The primary reason I left Leadstay and returned to Parsons and CMC was because of the way the Iraqi Leadstay folks treated the Filipinos. (Not the only reason, mind you; I am not that noble. Actually I guess I am) Some Iraqis can be major cruel and prejudiced, especially toward Filipinos.
The thing that got under my skin (more on that metaphor later) was that Ahmed (The CEO and owner of the company, a Kurd) had inherited all his shit from his papa, (Net worth: about a hundred fifty million: pounds, sterling. He took his education at Cambridge.) who once fought the Iranians and was friends with the now-president of Iraq, (also a Kurd) and he was an unscrupulous pompous asshole, and more.
When a new-hire Filipino came to work for Ahmed the first order of business was the confiscation of his passport, for ‘safety and security.’
Bullshit. ‘Indentured Servitude’ hits closer to truth.
Anyhow, Ahmed allocated the Filipinos $350 per week for food.
For twelve Filipinos that was adequate, but just barely.
The un-funny part is thus:
All us “‘Mericans” had to eat on that too. Or we could eat for free in the main dining hall with the Iraqis. There were six of us. The Filipinos were not welcome.
I did not relish, no pun, eating with the Iraqis, although I had a major crush on one of their “serving wenches.” Nothing to do about That. I was not stupid enough to risk literally losing my head over some romantic overtures made and requited. During my misspent youth I would have, but this cowboy has learned a thing or two in his travels.
I preferred to eat with the Filipinos. The food was better and the company familiar.
To save money and get more mileage out of our grocery buck, we weekly ventured deep into the Red Zone.
Now I am certain you know the major difference between the “Green Zone” and “The Red Zone.” If not, the major difference is ‘Red Zone’ can quickly morph into ‘Dead Zone’. The ‘Green Zone” was all happy happy, with Mac Donald’s, Subway, KFC, Green Bean Coffee, Gyms, DFACs, hot showers, and lots of U.S. Military with guns to ensure the busses ran on time, no one littered, and that the coffee was hot and the ice cream was cold in the DFAC. (Dinning Facility)
There was a little village about ten miles from BIAP which had several markets and a butcher shop. This is where we would go to restock our pantry.
On time I witnessed an Iraqi blow up (not what you are thinking) a freshly slaughtered goat. (“RIP Dear Goat”)
He cut the skin off the ankle of this goat, placed his lips over the naked hoof, and blew up that goat, repeating this for all three remaining goat legs. Really! Oh! and there were flies! Flies the likes of which you have never seen. Flies that would carry off little children.
The object of the game was to force the skin away from the meat.
He succeeded and quite elegantly too.
He then proceeded to skillfully butcher the departed and roast some of the meat for me and my Filipinos while we were shopping for dead chickens in his shop.
Now, say what you will, but that Iraqi Butcher was top-shelf in my opinion. And I love goat meat cooked and eaten in what was once one of the most dangerous places (for Americans) on Earth.
We had lunch and spent about $300 on various sundry items in the village.
I got my hair cut there as well. (But not by the butcher) Iraqi barbers have a novel way of ‘trimming’ the hairs in one’s ears: They take a long cotton swab, dip it in rubbing alcohol, ignite it, and then thump the burning end onto the ear. Works great, singeing away all that unwanted hair. Hurt? Naw.
I respectfully declined his offer for a shave with his straight razor.
Was I scared?
But that was what made it all so enlivening (and right up my alley).
I miss Iraq. I truly do. Wonderfully hospitable people, Iraqis.
See? I told you he was slime. I know the two Parsons’ folks, but they left the project shortly after I arrived on board. A very honorable man took over after that and I call him “Friend” still today.
AFP reports that three men have been charged with conspiring to defraud the US government over a kickback scheme involving contracts for ammunition disposal in Iraq.
Briton Ahmed Sarchil Kazzaz and his business, Leadstay Company, were charged in federal court in the southern state of Alabama along with US citizens Gaines Newell, 52, and Billy Joe Hunt, 57, who were US government contractors.
Kazzaz allegedly “paid more than $947,500 in unlawful kickbacks [to Newell and Hunt] in order to obtain lucrative subcontracts for himself and Leadstay,” the Justice Department said on Tuesday.
Newell was the program manager in Iraq for the unnamed California-based prime contractor to a US-funded munitions-clearing program, while Hunt was the deputy program manager.
Kazzaz, 45, was arrested in California in February.
The contracts were issued as part of a munitions clearance program operated in Iraq by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Huntsville Engineering and Support Center (HESC).
The HESC was tasked with storing and disposing weapons seized or abandoned in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and awarded a contract to perform this work “to an international engineering and construction firm headquartered in Pasadena, California” where Newell and Hunt worked.