Waiting For Talabani

Dear Friends,

So I’ve spent more than a month in Northern Iraq, during which time I’ve had nothing published. One of the more historic events I’ve ever witnessed — the Iraqi elections — has come and gone and I don’t have a printed word to show for it. Time magazine takes my stories, edits them, fact checks them, and dumps them when pressed for space. Suddenly they sent me to Sulymania to get an interview with Jalal Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and probably the next president of Iraq. But it seems that I’m not the only one come to pay court. The hotels in town are booked solid, and my driver and I are moving from one flophouse to another in search of a room with a seated toilet.

In the meantime, I’m trying to get a sense of what kind of leader Mam (“Uncle”) Jalal would be if he won the post, and if the presidency had anything more than symbolic power. So far the signs are promising. If Sulymania is the future of Iraq, then the future’s in mini-skirts. And go-go boots. Yes, boots and skirts and sturdy pair of stockings is the look that’s taken Suly by storm this mud season. True, this isn’t swinging sixties London, but the Kurdish Twiggy costume is better than anything the winning Islamist Shia coalition is planning for Iraqi women. (Black: the New Black.) Yesterday, in the lobby of the Palace Hotel, one young woman dressed just so actually made eye-contact with me, and for a giddy moment such as I hadn’t felt since Election Day, anything seemed possible in the new Iraq.

Back home in Beirut this week, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon was blown up by a massive bomb outside a hotel where I often go swimming. Besides being a sign of bad things to come for the people of Lebanon, it was the biggest piece of news to come out of that country in the last five years, and I wasn’t there to cover it. On the bright side, my parents may be coming to terms with my unusual lifestyle choice. My mother sent me a note on Valentine’s Day: “Sorry you missed the assassination, Andrew.” It was my only Valentine.

If I don’t get the interview with Talabani, and if Time doesn’t throw me a bone, I’m afraid that you, my loyal friends and readers, may have to wait until mid-March before you see another Andrew Lee Butters byline. A new environmental lifestyle glossy called “Plenty” will then publish an account of my visit to a sexism re-education camp run by radical Kurdish feminist guerillas in the mountains of northern Iraq near the Iranian border. While you’ll be glad to know that the story has nothing to do with environmentalism, I must say it was interesting working for such a do-gooder publication. When it suddenly became clear to the editor of my piece that we had different ideas about the nature of the editor/writer relationship, she called me “an arrogant little fuck.”

Rest assured, I am YOUR arrogant little fuck.


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