Letter from Baghdad
by Joseph Wechsberg
The New Yorker - Issue of 1952-09-13
This week in the magazine and here online (see Fact), Jon Lee Anderson reports on the mood in Iraq as anxieties about an American invasion mount, and on the country's past. In this article from 1952, Joseph Wechsberg takes a look at Iraq as it was half a century ago, and discusses what then seemed to be the uncertain future of its oil industry and its government, the frustration felt by young progressives, and the Iraqis' feelings about America.
As a man gets along in years, most of his youthful dreams are bound to fade, but I suspect that almost everyone, no matter how advanced his age, upon hearing the word "Baghdad"—the city that is now the capital of Iraq—still thinks of minarets and mosques silhouetted against a turquoise sky, sinister figures slinking furtively up twisting alleys, and, of course, harems—pungent with incense and inhabited by concubines lolling on overstuffed divans. I was idly conjuring up some such dream myself the other afternoon, on a regular commercial flight into Baghdad from the Persian Gulf, when I noticed that the pilot, a seemingly lackadaisical Iraqi, was showing what I felt was far too much interest in a young lady passenger from Denver and far too little in the operation of his plane. Shortly afterward, we ran into a sandstorm, and I was relieved to see that the pilot returned his attention to the controls. As it happens, that brief interlude of dalliance approximated Occidental fantasies concerning the East just about as closely as anything I have since encountered here in Baghdad.
The pilot guided the plane through the sandstorm with reassuring adroitness and we continued on our way over the alluvial plain, flanked by the Euphrates and the Tigris, that the Greeks called Mesopotamia, meaning "the country between two rivers." It is a dry, barren, desolate countryside, and I found it hard to believe that scholars have picked out this region as the probable site of the Garden of Eden. (In Biblical days, it was indeed a lush terrain, but through the years nature has altered the courses of the Tigris and Euphrates, increasing the distance between them, and invading armies have destroyed the network of irrigation canals that once linked the two rivers.) Presently, the pilot, who was proving to have a better grip on himself than I had supposed earlier, announced that we were flying over the ruins of the six-thousand-year-old city of Ur of the Chaldees, where the Prophet Abraham is said to have lived, and a little later the plane circled above the remains of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon. Soon the winding Tigris became dotted with strange sailing craft that looked like circular rafts, and then we began to see roads and bridges, and tiny villages nestling in large palm groves, and at last, directly ahead, spread out like a vast palette daubed with white and yellow and brown, we saw Baghdad.
The plane lost altitude so rapidly that my eardrums snapped, and was brought expertly, if abruptly, to a stop. I confess that as I made my way to its door, I felt another of those faint thrills of anticipation that recalled the imaginings of my youth, but it promptly subsided when I saw the dismal group of white buildings of the Baghdad Airport. Then it occurred to me that airports are the same everywhere, and that even in Baghdad one would hardly expect to see a control tower shaped like a minaret, with a wind sock flying from its peak. An American friend whom I had notified of my intended arrival was waiting for me, and he saw me swiftly through the passport and customs formalities. Five minutes later, we were sitting in his station wagon, caught up in the sort of traffic jam that would have caused no surprise on the West Side Highway on a Sunday evening in summer were it not that camels and donkeys were plentifully represented. Buses and fishtail Cadillacs battled the animals, and all of them battled us. But the riders on and in these belligerent conveyances looked extremely happy. "They're all coming back from the Al-Mansur race track," my friend said as he swung the wheel to avoid being run down by a Bedouin in a Lancia. "Everybody here goes to the races. Everybody is an expert on Arabian race horses—Kuhaylan and Saqlawi and the rest of the thoroughbred types. The horse is the thing. The bettors don't care whether it wins or loses. That's why they all look so cheerful."
As we crawled along, I saw no mosques and minarets, but there were plenty of gas stations and soft-drink stands, and small white houses, looking like those in the less fashionable suburbs of Los Angeles. In their midst stood a low modernistic structure, and my companion told me this was the government's latest architectural achievement—a combination hotel and air-and-rail terminal, now almost completed. "The Iraqis are very proud of it," he said. "They hope it will make Baghdad the stopover place in the Middle East. They're jealous of Lebanon's new airport at Beirut, which now holds that distinction."
Across from the big hotel-and-terminal was the old railroad station. As we passed it, I saw a train with two royal-blue Wagons-Lits and a dining car—a reminder of the Berlin-to-Baghdad Railroad, originally envisioned by Kaiser Wilhelm, as the backbone of his Drang nach Osten strategy. (Actually, the British built most of the eastern end of the line, during the First World War, and the Iraqis finished it, in 1940, but the Kaiser's dream of through service to and from Berlin never materialized.) This train was the Taurus Express, which twice a week runs from here by way of Mosul and Aleppo, to Istanbul, where it connects with the Simplon-Orient Express for Paris. "It takes eighty hours to Istanbul and approximately a week from here to Paris," my friend said. "I made the trip to Istanbul on it a month or so ago. It was great fun. I was the only passenger in my sleeping car. The service was excellent. The chef in the dining car came out of the galley and asked what I'd like him to cook. The train was slow, of course, but that gave me a chance to see the countryside." He went on to say that everybody in Baghdad derives a certain satisfaction from being on a sleeper route to Paris. To the younger Iraqis, the line symbolizes their country's link with Western civilization, and the Europeans and Americans in Baghdad feel a little more secure at the thought of those Wagons-Lits. They still feel cut off, though. Since arriving here, I've heard several of them complain because one can telephone from Baghdad to New York only at a specified time each day.
By now, we had reached the center of town, an area of wide tree-shaded avenues lined on both sides with open-air cafés such as one sees in the shabbier districts of French industrial cities. Yellowish clouds of dust hung over the street. "The dust never settles here," my friend said. It seemed quite hot to me, but he assured me that it was a pleasant afternoon for Baghdad. Sometimes during July and August, he said, the thermometer goes up to a hundred and twenty degrees in the shade. In those months, the few well-to-do people who don't leave town sleep on the roofs of their houses, under mosquito nets, and the poor sleep in the streets. In winter, it gets so cold that the rich shiver in their inadequately heated homes and a good many of the poor freeze to death. In the spring and fall, moreover, the rich and the poor are drenched by rains, harassed by floods, blinded by sandstorms, bitten by mosquitoes, and tormented by locusts. (I learned later that a few days before my arrival there had been a plague of locusts and the health authorities had posted warnings to the populace not to eat any of the insects, "either dead or alive," that were being offered for sale in the markets, since they might be tainted with a new insecticide, called aldrin, that planes of four nations, including the United States, were spreading in an effort to fight the pests.)
I had become pretty well resigned to Baghdad as it is when my companion announced that we were entering Al-Rashid Street, named, of course, for the famous old caliph. However, it proved to be just another dreary thoroughfare, with neat but ugly houses, hotels, department stores, arcades, and semi-modernistic office buildings reminiscent of the more hideous specimens of Mussolini-Italian architecture. None of the beautiful white, red, blue, and gold found in Arabic mosaics was to be seen; instead, the prevailing color was a dirty yellow—the color of the Tigris, which runs through the city.
We cruised along Abu Nuwas Street, which is Baghdad's Broadway and skirts one bank of the river. As it grew dark, strings of colored bulbs were lighted up, and there was juke-box music in the cafés—noisy, bad jazz. The terraces of the cafés were crowded with men—only men, and thousands of them. (Like all other Moslems, Iraqi men feel that the place for women is in the home.) They were sipping coffee or soft drinks and carrying on vigorous arguments—most of them probably about local politics, my companion said. The river was full of boats and on one of them some men were holding a muzgoof—an open-air fish roast at which quantities of shabbut, a Tigris fish that is highly rated locally, are consumed. In the "Notes for American Visitors to Baghdad," published by the American Embassy, I read that, according to many connoisseurs, fish at a muzgoof "is enjoyed most when eaten with the fingers." (Other practical hints for visiting Americans: "In the movie houses Americans usually sit in box seats. . . . There are various Arab-style cabarets but it is recommended that you visit them in the company of Iraqi friends. . . . Baghdad taxis have no meters, and you should bargain with the driver regarding the fare before you get into the cab.")
The only architectural remains of Baghdad's great days are the partly restored palace of a caliph; the Mustansiriyah, which was a famous college nearly a thousand years ago; and two ancient mosques, surrounded by tombs. (Archeologists can't even agree as to where Harun al-Rashid's palace, with its celebrated green dome, once stood.) In the light of the city's history, it is a wonder that even these few vestiges of the past still exist; over the years Baghdad has taken a terrible beating at the hands of its enemies, and it has also suffered from the fact that while in Syria and Egypt most of the ancient edifices were made of stone, which has easily withstood the wear and tear of thirty or forty centuries of weather, the favorite building material in Mesopotamia was sun-baked mud brick, which is hardly as durable. Baghdad was founded in the eighth century by the Caliph Al-Mansur—the one the race track is named for—and flourished for five hundred years, after which, to all intents and purposes, it died, not to be reincarnated as the unimpressive city it is today until the present century. There haven't been many cities in the Old World that have built up a comparable reputation over the relatively brief span of five centuries. During that time, as the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, whose power extended from the eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia, Baghdad was the only rival of Byzantium when the latter city was at the height of its dominance. Baghdad had one of the world's first hospitals, and contributed immensely to the sciences of algebra and astronomy. No Chamber of Commerce ever put out a better brochure than "The Thousand and One Nights." Sir Mark Sykes, describing Baghdad at its height in his book "The Caliph's Last Heritage," wrote, "The Imperial Court was polished, luxurious, and unlimitedly wealthy; the capital a gigantic mercantile city surrounding a huge administrative fortress; schools and colleges abounded; philosophers, students, doctors, poets, and theologians flocked from all parts of the civilized globe."
Mongol invaders led by Hulaku Khan, a brother of Kublai, overran Baghdad in 1258, destroying much of its grandeur and, in addition, most of the irrigation system on which that grandeur depended. As if that weren't enough, the city was sacked by Tamerlane a little more than a hundred years later, and, less than two hundred years after that, by the forces of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. At the beginning of this century—and, indeed, until after the First World War, in which British and Indian troops captured Mesopotamia from the Turks—Baghdad and its environs constituted a vilayet, or province, of the Ottoman Empire, serving as a sort of Turkish Siberia, to which enemies of the regime were exiled, and the town itself was little more than a wretched Arab market place with rickety mud houses built along crooked lanes. Together with two other Turkish vilayets—Basra and Mosul—Baghdad, in the early twenties, became a part of the newly created Arab state of Iraq, a constitutional monarchy, under the terms of the peace treaty the Allies made with Turkey, and the British were given a mandate over the infant nation. Soon afterward, King Faisal I, a statesman widely respected both at home and in the West, was chosen by referendum. He got along well with the British—so well that in 1932 they granted Iraq almost complete independence. A year later, Faisal died, and things have never been the same since. He was succeeded by his son Ghazi, who spent a good part of his life in fast cars and, in 1939, died in one. Ghazi, in turn, was succeeded by his three-year-old son, Faisal II, who, now seventeen, has been studying at Harrow and is currently visiting the United States. Pending the young King's coming of age, Iraq is being ruled by his maternal uncle, the Emir Abdul Illah—a colorless individual who holds the title of regent. The British have been faring worse and worse here since April, 1941, when Iraqi pro-Axis elements overthrew the pro-British government. British troops promptly landed at Basra, occupying it under a treaty agreement, and after some hard fighting they moved into Baghdad. The conflict lasted only thirty days, and two years later Iraq declared war on the Axis, but the local nationalists still remember the episode with bitterness.
Today, Baghdad, with its new business districts and residential suburbs, is an unpretentious city that is lacking in at least the more shocking contrasts between extreme poverty and ostentatious wealth one finds in, say, Egypt. There are well-to-do people here and very poor people, but I have seen fewer beggars in this city, and fewer palaces, than in several cities elsewhere in the Middle East. Some of the bigger houses are occupied by two or three families. Occasionally, one hears that a sheik has been seen shopping in the local French-operated department store and spending perhaps five thousand dinars (fourteen thousand dollars) on silks and jewelry, presumably for some pretty dancing girl, but it happens rarely enough to attract attention. There are only two big businessmen in Baghdad—an import-export man, who also owns some textile mills, and a building-supplies operator. (Baghdad's mercantile community was hard hit by the hurried emigration to Israel of most of its hundred thousand Jews in the spring of 1951, when it was proposed that their properties be nationalized. Their departure has left a vacuum; Iraqi businessmen complain of swollen inventories, lack of skilled traders, and difficulty in obtaining credit.) Baghdad residents who can manage to get away actually live in the city only a few months of the year, spending their summers and winters in the better climate of Beirut or the south of France. Throughout Iraq, as throughout the Moslem world, a male society prevails and the women have little say. In a typical house in Baghdad, the women's rooms are in the rear, separated by a corridor from the front rooms, where the men carry on their lives, the idea being that the men of the house and their visitors don't like to be bothered by having the womenfolk around, puttering away at their interminable chores. Under these circumstances, I've been told, the women aren't particularly interested in making their homes attractive.
Once one gets outside Baghdad and its suburbs, most signs of Western civilization disappear. By far the greater part of Iraq is inhabited by tribal groups, the members of which live as they did a thousand years ago. Some of the tribes are semi-nomadic; others are pretty much settled. In the countryside, a man never leaves home without his rifle; even while squatting in the dust for a sociable chat, he keeps his gun resting on his thigh. Justice is rough. If a man feels he has been wronged, he takes the law into his own hands, and the government seldom intervenes. Iraq is a typical Middle East country, rich in undeveloped resources, full of unusual and unused opportunities, corrupt, and unstable. For the Western world, Iraq is a potential source of both wealth and trouble. Currently, there is a minor construction boom in Baghdad, but outside the city one sees little but poverty, disease, and misery. Over a million of Iraq's five million inhabitants are thought to be suffering from malaria, and at least fifty thousand of them die of it every year. Few Iraqis ever get a chance to eat meat. The customary diet consists of dates, vegetables, bread, and goat's milk. The Iraqis' average yearly income is said to be around ninety dollars, but most of the peasants make less than that—and the peasants constitute more than eighty per cent of the population. Iraqis working in the oil fields get big money—about eighteen dollars a month. The men who hold public office aren't paid enough to get by on, and this results in widespread corruption; a Cabinet Minister would be considered a fool if he didn't clean up on the side while in office.
Iraq's incidence of illiteracy is formidable even for the illiterate Middle East. It is estimated that only fifteen per cent of the city dwellers are able to read and write, and in the country the figure is perhaps three per cent. The national government makes a show of being concerned with education, but it leaves the job of building schools to the provincial governors, who don't take much interest in the matter. Iraqis outside the towns display an astonishing ignorance about the world. Many have never heard of Stalin and Roosevelt. An American anthropologist travelling up near the Turkish border discovered that fifty per cent of the people there had never heard of America. "What is America?" one alert village leader asked him. "Is it as big as Baghdad? Can I go there by train?"
Iraq's destiny is tied up with its two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. In the summertime, they are quite low, but in spring, when the snow melts on the mountains to the north, the rivers rise rapidly, the Tigris carrying ten times as much water as it does a few months later and the Euphrates, some twenty-five miles west of Baghdad, carrying twenty. There is always either drought or flood in Iraq. Back in the days before its ingenious irrigation system—constructed by the Babylonians and improved under the caliphate—was destroyed by the Mongol invaders, Iraq was one of the world's great granaries. In the fifth century B.C., Herodotus wrote of the area, "Of all the countries we know, none is so fruitful in grain. It will yield commonly two hundredfold or, when the production is greatest, even three hundredfold." With a new irrigation system, Iraq could become a modern Garden of Eden. Plans have been drawn up for storing the snow water in artificial lakes or in the Wadi Tharthar depression, a dried-out natural lake north of Baghdad. During the summer, the water would be released to irrigate the fields and to keep the Tigris at a navigable level. The soil of Iraq is excellent, and agricultural engineers have estimated that nearly seven million acres could be profitably irrigated. They have also estimated that such a system would cost twenty million dollars.
Iraqi farmers raise grain, rice, tobacco, sorghum, and cotton, but they do it listlessly, paying almost no attention to fertilizer. Many of them cultivate date palms, because it is so easy—just a matter of growing trees. Iraq has thirty million date palms, representing three hundred and fifty varieties, and is responsible for eighty per cent of the world's date exports. Only five of the varieties are cultivated for foreign consumption—the Khadrawi, Sayer, Khastawi, Zahdi, and Hallawi, the last being the most popular in the United States. Date palms are grown mostly along the banks of the rivers. For a hundred and twenty miles, the Shatt-al-Arab, which is the name of the Euphrates and Tigris after they converge above Basra, flows through one enormous palm grove. The Iraqis use palm wood as fuel and palm fronds as roofing material. Dates are a staple food of hundreds of thousands of these people, and often their only food, but this does not mean that those who live on them are in danger of suffering from malnutrition. Dates provide the elements of a balanced diet—sugar, fat, and protein—and a pound of dates contains over thirteen hundred calories. A date palm appears on Iraq's coat of arms.
Iraq's plans for an irrigation system may soon materialize, provided several ifs don't work out the wrong way. The needed money will roll in, it is hoped, in the form of oil revenues. Iraq is one of the richest countries on earth in oil resources, but efforts to cash in on this asset have, in the past, led to its becoming the victim in a mess of international intrigue. Prior to the First World War, the British, the Germans, and the Dutch competed for Iraq's oil. After the war, the Germans were squeezed out, the British and Dutch stayed, and the French and Americans moved in. Iraq's largest oil company, originally called Turkish Petroleum, became the Iraq Petroleum Company, or I.P.C., and was divided up among British, French, Dutch, and American interests. Each national group now holds 23.75 per cent of the company's shares, the remaining five per cent being in the hands of C. S. Gulbenkian, the mysterious and ubiquitous Armenian entrepreneur who was one of the founders of Turkish Petroleum. I.P.C. hit the jackpot in 1927, when the famous Baba Gurgur well, near the city of Kirkuk, in northeast Iraq, came in, with a production of sixty thousand barrels a day. The Kirkuk field is sixty miles long and two miles wide—one of the greatest pools of oil in the world. Iraq also has vast oil fields near Mosul and Basra.
I.P.C. has always been a British-run enterprise, and until recently the British were inclined to be rather highhanded about operations of this sort. For over twenty years, everything appeared to be working fine—for the stockholders. I.P.C. had concessions running to the year 2000, the Iraqis were held to a ten-per-cent royalty on their oil, and if any trouble arose, Britain could count on its Foreign Office, its Military Intelligence, and local puppets to straighten it out. And, just in case, there was a strong British garrison in southern Iraq. All this was changed last year by the crying and fainting spells of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, just across the border in Iran. With what looked like more haste than dignity, I.P.C. revised the old royalty agreement to give the Iraqis a fifty-per-cent share. I.P.C. made other concessions, too, among them a promise "to accelerate the progressive increase in the proportion of Iraqis employed in the industry."
The horrid word "nationalization" is never uttered openly around the I.P.C. offices in Baghdad, but the threat hangs in the air over Iraq like the eternal dust. Already, the Istiqlal, or Iraq-for-Iraqis, Party has taken a few tips from Dr. Mossadegh, such as denouncing the royalty agreement and calling for nationalization. So far, though, the Iraqis as a whole have proved themselves to be more levelheaded than the Iranians, and have shown no eagerness to commit economic harakiri by trying to run the oil companies without the help of foreigners; like Iran, they have no trained technicians of their own, and they would also have a hard time marketing their oil. Under these circumstances, it seems likely that the Iraqis will go along for some time under the present setup, but just the same they are grateful to Mossadegh for the new royalty agreement. As one American in Baghdad said to me, "Iraq ought to build a monument to Teheran's greatest ham."
If everything goes according to plan, between now and 1955 Iraq should get something like five hundred and thirty-five million dollars in oil royalties, considerably more money than most Iraqis have ever dreamed existed. Thirty per cent of this amount is supposed to go into Iraq's treasury, to help out with the day-to-day budget, and the rest is to be used for long-range projects, under the direction of a National Development Board. The Board's chairman is Prime Minister Nuri el-Said, Iraq's leading citizen; serving with him are three elder-statesmen senators and two foreigners—Sir Eddington Miller, a British engineer, and Wesley R. Nelson, former Assistant Commissioner of the United States Government's Bureau of Reclamation. The Board has mapped out an ambitious five-year program of flood control, land reclamation, reforestation, road building, industrial expansion, education, airport construction, and public health, and it is expected that by the end of this year it will have spent around fifty-seven million dollars. (All of Iraq's oil income is in sterling, and therefore, whenever possible, the equipment needed for the projects will be bought in the sterling countries.) I asked several Iraqis what they thought of these schemes. The general reaction was summed up for me by a schoolteacher, who said, "It sounds too good to be true. But I admit that there is a promising absence of blueprints for palaces and monuments."
The work of the Development Board is to be supplemented by an American technical-assistance program under Point Four. Twenty American experts have already arrived in Iraq, and more are to follow. They are to advise the Iraqis on such matters as locust control, irrigation, highway construction, the growing and marketing of cotton, and public health and child care. UNESCO agricultural specialists are also on the scene, travelling up and down the country to tell the farmers about improved seeding and harvesting methods. Members of both these groups, in their enthusiasm to get on with the job, find the slow pace of life in this Biblical land almost intolerable. "Sure, the Iraqis listen to our advice," an exasperated American said to me. "But they like to think it over for a while—say, a couple of years. How do we know where Point Four will stand with Congress a couple of years from now?"
The farmers are not the only ones who stall the energetic foreign experts. Iraq's ruling cliques are also inclined to go slow on progress. The sheiks are in no hurry to raise the standard of living of their people, because, as one of them told me candidly, "it might give them ideas." For decades, the British policy in Iraq has been not to offend the ruling classes, but quite a few outsiders here now feel that Iraq might be saved from becoming another Iran if the sheiks could somehow be persuaded to break up their vast landholdings and lease them to small farmers. But the sheiks are hard men to persuade.
Regardless of how the sheiks feel about the matter, it appears that some of the farmers already have ideas. Skilled Communist organizers, camouflaged as nationalists, have taken care of that. The threat of Communism, however, is not one that many Westerners in Baghdad seem to take seriously. They point out that Communism, by which they mean dialectical Marxism, is unknown among the masses and that the government is fiercely anti-Communist. There are some people, however, who suspect that this is not the whole answer. These people are apprehensive because in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Middle East, Communism and nationalism are likely to go hand in hand (the local headquarters of the outwardly nationalist Moslem Brotherhood, for example, is known to be infested with Communists) and because they feel that the government is anti-Communist simply for its own protection, and not at all for ideological reasons. As for Iraq's leaders, they give the impression of being entirely unaware of the revolutionary and expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union. Communism is regarded by them as no more than a threat to law and order. Yet Russia is separated from Iraq only by Iran; jet planes could fly from Soviet airbases to Iraq's biggest oil fields in two hours. If Iran should become a Kremlin satellite, Iraq would find itself sharing six hundred miles of frontier with the Soviet Union. But the powers that be in Baghdad don't like to think about that. This is the Middle East, and so in Baghdad, as in other cities in these parts, the big concern is "the Israel threat," not Soviet Russia.
The nationalist movement is popular among a number of the younger educated Iraqis. (In addition to the graduates of Baghdad's five colleges, there are more than a hundred and fifty Iraqis who hold degrees from the American University in Beirut, and a few who are alumni of Cornell, Texas A. & M., and the University of California.) Some of these young people are already bitter and discouraged. They feel helpless to do anything toward modernizing their country's social and economic structure, because the government is mostly in the hands of older, less enlightened men; Iraq's senators, for instance, are appointed by the King from a list of "distinguished men"—a list that, naturally, does not include a great deal of young blood.
The decline of British prestige in Iraq left a gap that has yet to be filled. The United States, perhaps the logical successor, has lost much sympathy hereabouts since the Arab-Israeli war, when it became typed as the friend of Israel. Individually, however, Americans appear to be popular in Baghdad, possibly because up to now there are so few of them—perhaps a couple of hundred. Occasionally there is an anti-American flareup, such as occurred last April; at that time a van carrying a mobile motion-picture-projector outfit operated by the United States Information Service arrived in the main square of a small town near Baghdad just as a nationalist demonstration memorializing a local battle between the Iraqis and the British in their thirty-day war was getting under way. A mob besieged the van, throwing stones and damaging its equipment, and the Americans withdrew. (A few weeks later, after an amicable exchange of letters between the American Embassy and the Iraqi Ministry of Education, the U.S.I.S. was invited to send its van back to the town. When it arrived there, practically the entire population of the place turned out to welcome it.) But there have been few such incidents—to date. Iraqis of high standing in the Baghdad social set covet invitations to receptions at the American Embassy, which, architecturally, very much resembles the White House. On such occasions, guests and hosts wander amiably together through the beautiful oleander gardens that surround the building, highballs in hand and all but oblivious of the dust that never settles.