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Our man in Baghdad
By Mark Baker
April 30 2003
Sydney Morning Herald
No expense spared ... a giant oil painting of seven rockets blasting into the stratosphere dominates one of the rooms in the massive Republican Palace.
Andrew Goledzinowski sits at a desk in a cavernous ante-room decorated with marble panels, ornate hand-painted ceilings and silk curtains.
Mr Goledzinowski - Australia's top man in Baghdad - and his desk are the room's only contents.
Across an adjoining domed foyer, with a portrait of Saddam Hussein toiling improbably as a bricklayer's assistant, and down a hallway decked with crystal chandeliers, is a conference room with intricate marquetry tables that would dwarf the chambers of the United Nations Security Council.
Beyond another concourse, with Arabic tablets recording the thoughts of Chairman Saddam (sample: "Your conscience and your brain are your rulers, not your tongue or your desires"), is the ballroom where he once held court with visiting dignitaries.
The measure of the man in his vulgar castle is a giant oil painting of seven rockets blasting into a cobalt stratosphere.
Welcome to the Republican Palace, the administrative and ceremonial centre of Saddam's regime. Welcome to the headquarters of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA), the interim coalition administration in Iraq. Welcome to the new digs of Andrew Goledzinowski.
But before Mr Goledzinowski's colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Department in Canberra consider pruning his travel allowance, they should take a closer look at conditions in the heavily guarded palace compound beside the Tigris River, dubbed "The Four Seasons" by its new occupants - a reference to the four overblown busts of Saddam that dominate the roofs.
On Sunday the head of the ORHA secretariat had his first shower in four days. He sleeps in a makeshift dormitory with bomb-shattered windows in a city swarming with mosquitoes and lashed by regular storms of desert dust. Lunch is hamburgers and hot dogs; dinner is MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat), the execrable American military field rations. Portable loos have replaced slit trenches as the convenience of necessity.
Like the rest of his colleagues, Mr Goledzinowski is forbidden by the military commanders in charge of security from leaving the palace without a flak jacket and helmet.
But he is maintaining a rough-shaven stiff upper lip.
"Hot showers are not a high priority. Standing up the Ministry of Justice is a high priority," says the career diplomat who was previously seconded to the office of the former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson.
As the ORHA's effective chief of staff, Mr Goledzinowski sits at the right hand of Jay Garner, the retired US Army general charged with rebuilding Iraq's battered infrastructure and steering the country towards democratic elections.
Mr Goledzinowski is the most senior of an initial group of seven Australian military personnel and public servants working with the ORHA in Baghdad. They include specialists from AusAid and the departments of Treasury, Energy and Foreign Affairs.