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Dateline: Baghdad

Education Department’s Spokeswoman Serving PR Stint in Iraq

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Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey has traded an office with a view of downtown Washington for a desk in Baghdad and a flak jacket.

In mid-November, Ms. Aspey volunteered to go to Iraq to work temporarily for the Department of State at the U.S. Embassy there. She is part of a team that deals with press issues, in particular to help coordinate press matters for the Iraqi parliamentary elections last month.

Susan Aspey of the Education Department poses near boxes of Iraqi ballots.
Susan Aspey of the Education Department poses near boxes of Iraqi ballots.
—Courtesy of Susan Aspey

“I volunteered because I’ve been incredibly blessed with a talent that was needed and believe very strongly that to whom much is given, much is to be expected,” Ms. Aspey wrote in a December e-mail before the elections.

Ms. Aspey lives and works in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. She organizes press logistics so that members of the Western news media can see “the progress being made in Iraq,” she wrote.

Her positive assessment nearly three years after a U.S.-led invasion ousted the regime of President Saddam Hussein contrasts with reports on the continuing insurgency and polls suggesting American support for the war is eroding.

Ms. Aspey said the optimism she sees from Iraqis about their future is what has impressed her most during her time there.

She noted a discussion with an Iraqi journalist who works for a Western news outlet. He told her about the freedom Iraqis now feel to walk where they want and think and say what they want without fear of retribution. “Despite everything I’d read and heard about the previous tyrannical regime, I was still startled,” she wrote.

Ms. Aspey’s boss back in Washington, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach Kevin Sullivan, said Ms. Aspey will likely return to the Education Department at the end of January.

Ms. Aspey, 33, believes her perspective will be different. Her experiences in Iraq, she said, have been “life-changing.”

“I truly believe in our mission here and felt a calling to serve,” she wrote.

Vol. 25, Issue 16, Page 18

Published in Print: January 4, 2006, as Dateline: Baghdad

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