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Leader Stifled by War's Reality

"The Iraqis," countered Brig. Gen. Steven J. Hashem, Brown's commanding officer, who directs civil military operations for coalition forces, "are using access as a crutch for not being able to deliver."

A Walk in the Desert

One day at the ministry, Brown met a woman in a black abaya, the full-length covering that some Muslim women wear in public. An official suggested that Brown might be able to help her.

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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"She was sitting right next to me," Brown recalled. "I turned to her and focused on her, and I could see she was just really, really upset. Her eyes were just swollen with tears."

Through Brown's interpreter, the woman told her story. During the fighting in Fallujah in April, U.S. tanks drove across her property and began firing. After the shooting stopped, the woman's twin daughters were dead.

Brown thought of his own two children. The woman handed him a copy of a claim for compensation she had filed with the U.S. military. She said she was poor, had little family and needed help.

The interpreter gave her the equivalent of about $60 in Iraqi dinars. Brown handed her everything he had at the time: $18. He also promised that he would make sure her claim was filed.

On Jan. 20, Brown visited the National Iraqi Assistance Center, set up by the coalition so Iraqis can check on the status of claims, see whether relatives have been detained or apply for employment.

The center is in the Green Zone. To reach it, Iraqis must pass through three body searches. They risk being marked for death as accomplices of the Americans. Brown can drive from the palace in about three minutes, show his ID and walk in.

At the center, an Army major in Brown's unit apologized. Because of a Muslim holiday and security concerns related to the elections, all of the center's Iraqi staff were on leave until early February. The Iraqis keep the files, so there was no way to check into the woman's claim.

Brown winced with exasperation. Even something as simple as checking on a claim was a walk in the desert. He asked the major to make a copy of the woman's paperwork and keep it in case it had to be refiled.

"So," Brown said, "this is another bust."

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