Iraqis vs. Indians in Iraq

5 min

As I reflect on four years working in Iraq as an Iraqi American, I’ve come to a realization about certain sociocultural trends with regards to the workforce that are profoundly intriguing to me. There are some things I must express about Iraqi workers in Iraq.

It is my observation and strong belief that Iraqis are good workers.   They are honest, hard-working, optimistic dreamers who wish to create a life of freedom, independence, opportunity, and cultural acceptance for themselves and their families. Of course, not every Iraqi fits the bill, but to stereotype against an entire culture when there are only a handful of bad eggs is, in this day and age, baboonish.

The irony, however, is that Iraqi companies don’t hire Iraqis unless they can exploit them through poor working conditions, low pay, and unguaranteed contracts. Iraqi companies will further go on to claim that Iraqis have mastered the art of getting away with not doing any work, as if there is a secret society of manipulative Iraqis who share stories and tricks on how to take full advantage of Iraqi employers and abuse the work system.

That is to say, Iraqi companies have come across the handful of lazy Iraqi workers and have concluded through generalizations that it makes perfect sense for them to hire non-Iraqis instead. For example, an Iraqi super market owner will hire Indians instead of Iraqis. I caught up with such a fellow last week. My curiosity on this subject made for an interesting conversation.

Why aren’t you employing Iraqis?” I asked the supervisor.

His reply was…“why should I employee Iraqis?! The Iraqi employee will be calling off every a few days with an excuse to not come to work. One day, it’s his mother. The next day, it’s his son. Next week, it’s his mother in-law…until all the excuses run out of all family members. But then, he’ll start them again. Plus, I hear complaints all day from Iraqis. ‘This is too heavy’. ‘My back is stiff’. Or, I will see them being unproductive and hiding in some corner just to run the time. What’s worse is that they’ll make these excuses and do a half-ass job, but they still have the nerve to ask for a salary raise. I got so tired of them and started to employee Indians.

What about these Indians employees?” I followed up.

He continued, “These Indian guys will work 10 – 12 hours day…will work six days a week. They will never complain. And mostly, they will never call in sick with an excuse to not show up at work. Some of them are so dedicated that they come here early and leave late. In a way, I feel I can be free of preoccupations with their productivity because I hold their passport, which obliges them to remain productive and obedient.”

As the supervisor was talking, a few thoughts came to my mind.

Maybe there is some truth to what the supervisor is saying. Maybe because non-Iraqis are in an uncompromising situation, they must work diligently and strictly abide by all policies. They can’t take the chance of half-assing their jobs because they will fear being deported. Iraqis, on the other hand, can be a little bit more lax when working. Because of this, Iraqi companies realize this and therefore, prefer to hire non-Iraqis because they can exercise more power. Iraqi workers, likewise, can exercise more freedom working for non-Iraqi companies that may not seem as tyrannical to them.

The perception of this apparent feud has inevitably created a burgeoning hostility between Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers that is noticeably real.

The majority of Iraqis who worked for foreign companies, at least those whom I have spoken with, will eagerly accept a pay cut to work for an American company than to stay at home in Iraq.

A foreign company has outsourced the hiring process to an Iraqi subcontractor – basically acting in a capacity of an Iraqi labor force recruiter. It is in this class where I’ve formed relationships with several Iraqis, gaining insights on their career perspectives and surveying them on their interest in working for American companies.

I asked them why they feel working for a foreign company is most desirable. They had much to say, but here are their main points:

First, if they get sick and bring a doctor’s proof to management, which oftentimes is not even required, they will be treated with sympathy and will generally still get paid time off. This is not true in Iraq, for if they work for Iraqi companies and miss a day for being sick, their pay is cut.

Second, Iraqi workers don’t want to be hired by middlemen recruiters because they won’t get the benefits and guarantees that they would working for a foreign company directly.

Third, and most importantly, during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, the foreign companies understand the Iraqi culture. The way employers are lenient, understanding, and respectfully cautious with pregnant women about to go on maternity leave, or with their staffs during Christmas break, I have noticed, and these workers have confirmed, that supervisors don’t assign heavy-duty tasks during the month of Ramadan. In contrast, working for an Iraqi company, an employee requesting such a consideration will probably be on the receiving end of a callous managerial response such as, “You are fasting for God and for us!

As an Iraq-American who has both lived and worked in Iraq as well as America, I can say the following. Most Iraqis are NOT lazy. They are hardworking people. And Yes! They would rather work for a foreign company more than Iraqi company. This is because they feel more respected by foreign companies. They are treated better and have more a sense of individualism and work/life balance working for foreign companies.

How depressingly ironic it is that Iraq is finally a free country, yet Iraqis don’t want to work in Iraq and Iraqi companies don’t want to hire Iraqis?! This is quite a dilemma.


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Working with Mr. Corporate A?

2 min

I’ve met many people during my life and employment years. Some of them were A$$.  It was easy to eliminate A$$ from my social circles, but working with one can be a real challenge, especially, if Mr. A is your manager or boss. I understand that feeling.

Not all corporate assholes are equal. The spectrum can vary from one with a Tasmanian devil energy going all directions to someone sending peeved emails like machine-gun fire, asking exigent questions before he gets an answer to the previous ones. Here is what I felt and went through when worked with Mr. A.

In certain moments, it felt just short of putting me in an early grave. Every time he walked into the office, his face indicated he had just made a devil’s pact.


Almost every time I talked to him; I felt his personality represented a mixture of bullying and barking orders. His dialogue was empty of “thank you”, “please”, “could you”. As for his barking orders, they came in form of “Do this…”, “bring that…”, “finish those…” And his maniacal attention to details was overwhelming in micromanaging.

In the corporate ladder race, his real forceful attitude was hidden from upper management. But every time he came to the office after meeting with his superiors, his true nature came alive. The people on the team had to put a show of surface geniality that barely hid the impatience in dealing with him.

Constant vigilance is the trademark for Mr. A. When he walked into the office or meetings, He gave the impression that his sole purpose in working inside a team or coming to the office was to monitor its members for any unintentional mistake to report or gossip about.

Mr. A was the type of guy that will share jokes, stories, funny mistakes about people, and contribute to them. Yet, he went documenting and complaining about those individuals whom he conversed with.

On a few occasions, I had to have lunch with him to discuss work. I heard him share personal stories. I felt some of them were fake and others were exaggerated. I wondered in my mind, did he think I am stupid to believe all this? He was insulting my intelligence. But I helped him believe his own lies.

Also there was a social tax I paid when associating with Mr. A. I felt my stock went down and a few people stopped associating with me.

Impulsiveness is part of my character. I can mange and control it; I did my best to avoid Mr. A during working hours all in hopes of escaping the agony of insincere chatter.

Mr. A was the type of person that made me fully appreciate that sometimes to not act is a man’s greatest triumph.

My story in dealing with Mr. A at work is paradoxically consoling. It helps me feel protected in comparison with future personalities – documenting every interaction with such people in a way to protect yourself. Maybe use an Excel file? :-)


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A few missing thoughts about ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror

7 mins

Casually perusing through books on Amazon, I noticed a New York Times Bestseller with a scary, and yet very appealing, cover of the ISIS Army coming from both sides to get us. The thought that instantly came to my mind was the magnum opus of ISIS – “Inside the Army of Terror”. I had to buy this book. I had to read it.

The book attempted to answer a few questions, “Where did ISIS come from? “ and “Seven months into its concerted multination air campaign, backed by the provision of arms to selected allies and proxies, is it winning or losing?”

ISIS Inside the army of terror

It seems the book was written before the ISIS crisis in Iraq and that it was continually updated as time went on. This made the book seem too contrived as it was based on initial ideas and themes that continued to evolve. A large portion of the timeline of the book covers the time period when the American Army was present in Iraq, leaving out the part of the book covering the list of terrorists and their group’s biography, stories, and fratricidal bloodshed. The Arabic names and words used made the book sound bombastic.

It is very easy to know the list of terrorist groups operating in any country. There is no need to emphasize, even proclaim, that an intense effort took place to [draw] on dozens of original interviews conducted with former US military intelligence and counterterrorism officials and Western diplomats“. Wikipedia and Google could have provided me with that information just as well.

The book is partial in its judgment, and the authors do little of explaining the geopolitical tension between countries that led to the rise of this “Army of Terror”. It seemed the focus was on Iran’s support to the proxy militia groups, such as Shia Iraqi Jaysh al-Mahdiand Shia Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

BUT when listing the Sunni terrorist groups such as Ansar al-Islam, Jabhat Al-Nusra and others, the authors depicted them to be only a pivot or a franchise of Al-Qaeda. The authors stopped short of mentioning that some Sunni countries were behind these groups – as if these groups never got support from Sunni countries. The authors implicitly stated that the Sunni countries did not have a hand in instigating conflict, even though that is obviously not true.

The pompous authors claimed they interviewed countless people, asked pinpointed questions, and conducted an extensive research. Yet, they could not even provide a list of Arab countries supporting these terrorist groups. Let’s say, maybe Qatar or others?   It seems their questions were not only esoteric but qualitatively SELECTIVE.

The political reality is that the war in Syria is a proxy war between regional and international countries. ISIS is only a proxy to this war. The axis of this proxy runs through Iraq dividing Iran, Syria, and Russia on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and America on the other side.

Another issue the book failed to explain clearly is the very question it presented at the beginning: “How did ISIS manage to do so much damage in so short a period of time?” The succinct answer is that the road between Baghdad and Damascus was unsupported. The Sunni people were ignored for years – they were totally marginalized.

After the American Army withdrew from Iraq, it created a major void to be filled by all the fugitive terrorists, who were able to escape from the sustained and successful pressure of the American forces in Afghanistan. Terrorist groups and individuals around the world had motive to funnel into Iraqi territory and play on the chaos of Syria and Iraq, which has led to the rise of the “Army of Terror”.

Iraq and Syria are the Yin and Yang of each other. In Iraq, the Sunnis have been marginalized since day one from the liberation of Iraq. In Syria, the Sunnis have been marginalized for years. Saddam ignored the Shias of Iraq. Bashar and his father ignored the Sunnis in Syria. The Sunnis and Shias oppressed by their opposite sides ignited the 1500-year-old sectarian violence in the Middle East.

Let me quickly address a few more areas the book failed to explain. How did ISIS manage to sell oil for months and years? Who are those vendors and countries?

And did a few hundreds ISIS terrorists really manage to “[overthrow] a city in central Iraq guarded by as many as thirty thousand American-trained Iraqi soldiers and policemen in Mosul?” The explanations were naive and without any political ground. Is it because maybe the people of Mosul wanted to shelter them?   Were there unrecorded voices heard on the streets from the Mosul Sunnis saying things like, “We rather put our hand with the Devil than Nouri al-Maliki”? Did the formidable forces of ISIS bring Nineveh Province to a downfall? Might Nineveh Province have been sold?

Next, the book talked a bit about the Kurdish city in Syria named Kobani and explained the philosophical Islamic prophecy, but stopped short of explaining Turkey’s position. Turkey remained silent and didn’t interfere to liberate Kobani from ISIS. Turkey kept its borders loose for years for all these terrorist members to ride their subway system. Turkey has much to blame in playing same role in Syria as Syria played in Iraq.

(Below YouTube video recorded by an Iraqi showing two ISIS members riding the Metro in Istanbul. (Pay attention to the hidden T-shirt)


Moreover, for many years, there were numerous international meetings supporting the opposition regime of Syria, but they failed drastically to unite and form a coalition government. They couldn’t come up with ONE agreed upon strategy. It seemed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the only guy who had a strategy and united the “embattled Sunni minority” much faster than any coalition.

Lastly, I am still wondering how a book could proudly claim to be a New York Times Bestseller and pretentiously have a title: an INSIDE of the Army of Terror, yet fail to even mention Turkey Albin’aili (البنعلي تركي ) who is Bahraini born, commander of the ISIS religious endowment, the producer of ISIS content, and the vocal leader and idealist motivator of suicide operations? Simply put, he is the religious center of ISIS and his name was absent from the book.

The book should have been titled “ISIS: Terrorist groups and leaders bios”.

As mentioned, one of the co-authors is a native born Syrian. He said, “The book is personal.” Allow me to add my Iraqi native Christian perspective. If Bashar al-Assad is removed, ISIS WILL conduct an ethnic cleansing against all the Christians from all their Syrian villages. The current state of the Christian minority in Iraq is vivid proof of that – case closed.

Christians and other minority groups would rather live under Saddam or Bashar dictatorship than under so-called “Islamic Democracy” or “Arab Spring”.

It is not about name dropping, but what do I know?? I am just a guy………who lived in Iraq through American liberation, pre-ISIS, through ISIS, and…post-ISIS.

ISIS is marionette……And regrettably, Syria ended up on the wrong side of history.

As for one of the earlier questions, is ISIS winning or losing? It has been more than a year with 6,000+ air strikes of coalition resulting in killing more than 15,000 fighters. YET they are/were able to recruit. Their numbers might be between 20-30 thousand fighters. They are able assault quickly, reorganize, reconfigure, integrate, pivot, with extremely powerful social media reach! ALL in real time! I wonder if ISIS has the chance to write books to the American public, ISIS will have 10x BEST SELLER.

What type of an organisation can do such a thing without any support from any country(s)?…I don’t know…Maybe it’s the rebirth of “Exorcist” in city of Mosul.

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The Other Girl

The Other Girl - Final-WEB

August and Impulses of Resilience

* 2 mins

With the taste of Cabarnet on my tongue, I see the half empty bottle of red wine on the end table. The cork rests aside the bottle, next to the wine glass. Half of my clothes are already packed snuggly in my suitcase. The others lie on the bed, awaiting some folding and rolling. At this very moment, Alan Roubik’s “Spirit” is playing in the background. It is 11:37pm. I sit in my chair and look around my room, seeing the bottle as half full, and the bag as half packed. I’m in such a good mood right now.

“It is August again!” I say to myself with a rousing feeling.

glass of wine

The month of August has a very special meaning in my life. I experience three major anniversaries in this month.

For starters, it was in August 20 years ago when I first arrived in America – when I was born into a new world. It was a rebirth and a fresh start to my life. This year I will turn 20 American Years old. August 21st, 1995 is my American birthday.

During my past 20 years in America, I have gone on amazing journey. Imagine that I am driving on a highway called life. Well, I have cruised, braked, swerved, curved, called roadside service, offered a helping hand to others stranded and in need of a tow. I have found myself taking many turns and exits, which have triggered some pivotal moments for me.

August 1st this year marks my 10 year anniversary of serving the U.S. Army mission in Iraq. On the night of August 1st, 2005, I was flying 3000 feet above Baghdad in a C-130 military aircraft preparing to land. It was dark and cold inside the aircraft. As the soldiers and I sat wedged together, I felt like I was in one of those Hollywood movie actions about to start a major operation. There was so much action which I won’t even go into the details about right now, but let’s just say this was no movie. This was the real deal. And I am proud to be able to view that as another pivotal moment in my life because I never knew what to expect from that experience, but it has certainly stuck with me and made me grow stronger and wiser as a person.

Ironically, August 1st also signifies another anniversary for me: the day I leave the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after almost four years. I just ended a long chapter in my life. The past years, the embassy has been a home for me. In fact, it is a home for those who left their own homes for a noble reason and have continued to work there for years. It was there, at the embassy, where every part of me was tested. It was there when I was driven to the extreme of every psychological, spiritual, physical, and mental edge. It was full of nights where I cannot lift my face off the pillow wondering how I can go on when I feel I might not have it in me. And that I could collapse in the heap of a car bomb.

I think those four years are perhaps the most significant for me because all of these stories and feelings that have kept me so alive and invigorated have finally found their way to pages upon pages in my very own blog that I can share with you. Just writing about all of these things has permitted me more time to reflect on enriching experiences that keep my mind turning like an awesome machine and keep my thoughts abundant, yet focused. In the past four years, I wrote stories in feverish bursts believing they would together form the novel of my life. It was moments like these that will live forever in my memory: 400,000 pages in Baghdad, Camaraderie of “Red Solo Cups” in the world of contractors!, June 16, 2014 will live in my memory…U.S. Embassy Baghdad, World Cup, Michael Schumacher, Argo, From club hopping to embassy hopping…partying next to ISIS…my crazy future, and Say happy work anniversary…Three years at the US Embassy in Baghdad… Artificial automatic courtesies

I like to think that I communicate a message to myself and to my readers about these experiences. And an underlying theme in all this which is courage, resilience, and risk taking. I find these every time I put on my headset, press play, and set foot on the treadmill, running…and running…and running…away from the frozen pattern of “the everyday” and into a world of thought, reflection, and liberation. I find comfort in the drench of sweat. I find progress towards new goals through the rapid palpations of my heart – those impulses of hope. I am a running, writing machine. Maybe my pen needs its own treadmill and then we will race…me and my pen.

Anniversaries are blessings. We owe it to ourselves. And the underlying theme is we all owe it to ourselves.


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Part 2 – Standing sublimely on the edge of Malta

* 2 mins

Down the rocky beach, I walked as far as I could, to the outermost point, stepping atop the furthest stone I can extent my feet, at the edge of Malta, overlooking the great sea sprawling endlessly and creating a perfect horizon.

Malta is a wondrously beautiful country. A boat tour around complete Malta may only cost a mere $50, but the imagery is so splendid that it’s priceless. Malta is a small country that can be seen in a quick four days. Yet, the way people may find their favorite apple orchard or treehouse that they can sit in for eternity, Malta’s tranquility and serene views don’t invite haste, but rather a deceleration of all your heightened senses, and a pen and paper.

If I sat here today and tried to write to you about the natural beauty that adorns Malta, a dictionary would run out of adjectives for me to use. And it isn’t my intention to seduce your adventurous curiosity with my words the way tour guides and pamphlets do. Besides, you can always browse through TripAdvisor, vagabonder blogs, and travel guides to read detailed descriptions of Malta, with ratings and restaurant reviews as well. In fact, I have even provided my own reviews of many countries I have visited. Check out my TripAdvisor profile page for all my personal reviews

top 1 on travel

But one word I WOULD like to share with you. As I was traveling to Malta, I had

downloaded a travel book on my Kindle. I have always been drawn to scenic oceans and seas. Maybe it’s the sound of water flowing. Maybe it’s the fresh smell of the misty breeze at a waterfront. Maybe it’s the way the sun shines piercingly through the deep blue water. I’m guessing all three are responsible for transporting my mind from the normal thoughts and concerns of everyday life into a world of pure bliss and mental liberation. I was looking forward to experiencing this undisturbed awe again in Malta. That’s when I stumbled upon a new word: sublime.

Sublime is a concept that was originated around 200 A.D. It was attributed to a Greek author Longinus, but it had faded out of regular language. Yet, it was resurrected in the 18th century. The word describes the purest of feelings that emanate inside of us when we come face to face with oceans, mountains, glaciers….nature. In the past, I had felt these powerful emotions of mental escape and becoming one with nature. However, there was always a certain amount of effort I would have to put in to feel this spiritual joy. It was like I had to meditate in order to feel something. And I was now looking for a view that would be so powerful and intense that seeing that view alone would be sufficient enough to attain the height of sublime.

So, keeping this excitement in check, my main goal in Malta was to journey towards the Mediterranean and discover this view, and hopefully feel some sort of epiphany. The area described to me through the travel guide was extremely close to the InterContinental hotel at St. Julian’s area where I stayed. One of the days, I began my voyage.

Down the rocky beach, I walked as far as I could, to the outermost point, stepping atop the furthest stone I can extent my feet, at the edge of Malta, overlooking the great sea sprawling endlessly and creating a perfect horizon.

The Poet William Wordsworth came to my mind. I had read that he preached through his poetry that nature was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by the life in the city. I felt the need for that corrective. After all, I have been in Iraq for the past three years – in middles of wars and ISIS crises.

Gazing into the sea, I allowed my mind to find its true balance, to hope, to feel, to wander wherever it so pleased. I reminisced about my life, thinking about my successes, failures, dreams, setbacks, conclusions, confusions, desires, envies, passions, and compassions…and the joys of realizing not everyone gets this opportunity to find peace at the edge of Malta, and taking pride that I was fortunate enough to experience this in my life.

I felt like time was endless as I sat there, like my time on this earth was as infinitesimal as the blue sea. I felt transcendent. Like nature had full control over the world and now I was unified with nature by simply sitting there. It was like I was swooped up through nature that it was almost supernatural. Like I was an eagle soaring through the sky on my first flight.

It was like the Mediterranean Sea was the fountain of healing and youth and life that made all my worries disappear. It aroused my mind to sublimity. I realized that in this precious moment, I can take a backseat to nature, that I didn’t have to be the driver, that I can just let go of all responsibility, if only for a moment, and breathe.

Fortunately, I didn’t completely let go of all tasks. I remembered to take a picture with my iPhone. I imposed myself digitally on this beautiful scene, (without any Instagram filters to modify its natural beauty), to bring home and remind myself of this sublime feeling anytime I needed to rediscover hope and let nature takes its course.




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Part 1- On the way to Malta

* 2 mins

One of the great pleasures in life is to travel the world. Many people plan their individual global voyages during retirement, in hopes to see every beach, rainforest, safari, and mountain, every skyline, hotel, restaurant, and bar, every new and ancient wonder of the world. That is my dream too. On the same note, I am very fortunate to have already had the opportunity to journey through so many beautiful countries, including the Great Riviera’s of France, Greece, Italy and Spain. The last country on my seemingly endless list was triggered by the countless inviting images I had seen from the Mediterranean. So, driven by my boundless curiosity, I finally booked my ticket to Malta, over 20 years after I knew of its existence.

Malta has a special memory for me. Way back in 1993, when I was an Iraqi refugee in Amman, visiting Malta had become a dream. But I never knew this dream could be achieved because Malta was one of the few countries that issued a travel visa to Iraqis, when almost all other countries didn’t. Malta had not yet been part of EU, and I just didn’t know how I would make my Malta trip a reality. Back then, I was planning to fly to Malta then find a way to get to Europe through Italy one of the fisher boats and apply for asylum in one of EU countries.

flag of Malta

Fortunately, in May of 2015, 23 years later, I found myself on my way to Malta. I had a six hour wait time connecting from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, and I had an interesting random encounter. I met a German newspaper reporter who was on the same flight as I was. He had been in Iraq reporting on the American liberation; his next destination was Malta to report on human fishing – fishing refugees from the sea. He explained to me how the collapse of Arab dictatorships and Syria war caused the biggest human illegal migration to the west, and he was determined to gather as much supporting evidence as he can to write a phenomenal, eye-opening story.

During our small chat, I explained to him that many of my friends and families came on boats from Turkey to Greece after the 1991 Iraqi-Kuwait war. “I could’ve been one of them”, I said to the reporter with a smile. Who knows, maybe he even wrote about his encounter with me…

After a long flight going from Chicago to Amman then Istanbul, I arrived at Luqa. After several hours, packed with emotions of excitement, fatigue, curiosity, and fatigue from being so curious, I landed in a country for the first time. As well-traveled as I am, this was a different feeling because I had never been to Malta. I could not tap into my visual memory like I can with other countries. I could only imagine that it would be similar to the way it was portrayed in images. Nobody here even knew my name, and I didn’t hear someone say, “Ninos” until I checked into the InterContinental and the hotel receptionist gave me a sense of belonging.


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