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Leader Stifled by War's Reality

Obstacles Confound Md. Lawmaker's Tour of Duty in Iraq

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page C01

BAGHDAD -- If the United States were at peace, Del. Anthony G. Brown would be making deals in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Instead, Lt. Col. Brown is sipping sugary tea in a bureaucrat's cubicle here, trying to wrest a tangible accomplishment out of his year in Iraq.

On a crisp morning early this month, he sits down with a senior official of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, which Brown serves as a U.S.-appointed consultant. He wants the ministry to support low-cost housing for uprooted Iraqis in the north-central Diyala province. A nonprofit group has arranged funding for a pilot project.


Brown and son Jonathan, 4, are shown in July spending time together a few months before Brown deployed for duty as a lawyer in the Army Reserve. Brown also has a daughter, Rebecca, 10. (Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)

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Full Report

The official doesn't like the plan. He thinks the mud-brick building materials will be of poor quality. Brown, a lawyer in the Army Reserve, is blunt: "My interest is to turn some dirt in Iraq. We've got to build houses."

The official relents with a saccharine smile. "I will be happy," he says.

Brown's tour of duty illustrates the complexities, the contradictions, at times the folly of the American experience in Iraq. With no knowledge of Arabic, no background in the Middle East and no expertise in refugee issues, Brown has had to rely on his political, organizational and leadership skills to advise the ministry.

These qualities have served him well at home. A Democratic delegate from Prince George's County and majority whip in the House of Delegates, he is seen as a potential candidate for state attorney general or lieutenant governor next year. He says he can marshal the votes to be the next speaker of the House.

On Feb. 28, Brown will become the first House member to give the traditional Washington's Day address from outside the chamber. His 14-minute, videotaped speech will be projected on a large screen.

An aspiring politician since his boyhood on Long Island, N.Y., Brown, 43, joined the Army ROTC as a sophomore at Harvard University and spent five years on active duty before attending Harvard Law School. He has an officeholder's zeal for showing quick results to voters, and he saw his year-long deployment with the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, based at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, N.Y., as an opportunity to meld his role as a soldier with his experience in government. He arrived in Baghdad in September.

His enthusiasm often has turned to frustration. He has learned at the ministry that the United States is more feared than loved and that an effective democratic political system is a mature one. Iraq's is neither.

The elections last month gave Brown a sense of euphoria and renewed his determination to get something done, but the obstacles the United States faces in Iraq and the atmosphere of almost constant threat have sapped his energy.

"You can't make a democracy in this kind of environment," he said. "It is going to take much longer than I ever anticipated to reestablish an Iraqi government, the organizations, entities and bureaucracies that are going to have to sustain this population."

His estimate: five years.

"Things just move very slowly."

Workouts and Churchill

Brown's home, the U.S.-protected Green Zone, is a patch of about five square miles at the center of Baghdad, bordered by a bend in the Tigris River and barriers erected by the U.S. military: concrete walls, concertina wire and checkpoints.


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