- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

BAGHDAD — The lawyers are fiddling with the language formalizing the transfer of power to Iraqis on Wednesday, but that doesn’t keep Bob Frye from working to make it all look good and go smoothly.

Mr. Frye, chief of protocol for the Coalition Provisional Authority, realized months ago that the nebulous act of transferring sovereignty required a tangible act that high and low alike could watch and applaud.

“This is being timed for the early morning shows on the East Coast [of the United States],” Mr. Frye says. “I keep telling the lawyers: It’s an event, a performance. You have to give me something. Just pretend.”

And so the physical manifestation of Iraq’s renewed sovereignty will be a royal blue leather folio embossed with a rich gold border. Inside, the words ending the military occupation of Iraq will be printed in Arabic, Kurdish and English.

In a building deep inside the Green Zone, Iraq’s chief judge either will receive the leather folder from outgoing administrator L. Paul Bremer or simply pick it up off the table.

It is not yet official that the chief judge will read aloud the enclosed “letter of sovereignty.” But when the judge hands the folio to Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Mr. Frye says, the process will be complete.

No fireworks are planned. No raising and lowering of flags. The idea, as U.S. officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks, is for something low-key and secure.

For Mr. Frye, 59, the ceremony Wednesday will cap a seven-month adventure that stretched the notion of protocol — a highly formalized system of etiquette used in diplomatic, political and business settings — to the edge of reason.

Recruited by the Department of Defense primarily to coordinate the visits of congressional delegations to the CPA, Mr. Frye realized he needed to organize an entire protocol department to properly receive foreign dignitaries, prominent Iraqis and the occasional celebrity.

That meant mastering a complex system of secure military communications and throwing out good habits such as advance planning in exchange for the ability to adapt to ever-changing security threats, delayed meetings, diverted helicopters, frightening intelligence and unforeseen glitches.

None of the 259 visiting lawmakers — accustomed to more luxurious treatment — has complained about inconveniences, Mr. Frye says. Neither have the foreign or defense ministers from a half-dozen European nations.

Nothing in his corporate experience with AT&T; or Lucent Technologies prepared Mr. Frye for the stomach-sloshing flight into Baghdad, the rudimentary living conditions and the obsessive concern for security that dictates every aspect of VIP visits to the Green Zone.

The job required much more than finessing the seating chart and hustling food and tea to the table to keep Mr. Bremer on his distinctly efficient schedule.

“I don’t yet know how I feel about this experience,” Mr. Frye says, acknowledging that he often turned to his son, a Navy rescue pilot, for strength.

“I’ve never felt the intensity I’ve felt here,” the protocol chief says. “Security drives everything, makes it difficult to manage. The personnel problems have been phenomenal. It’s highly emotional, stressful, and it comes out in different ways. I’ve been through tremendous peaks and valleys. I’ve been very scared.”

By far his most moving experience was escorting a congressional delegation on the flight to Amman, Jordan, and discovering that a “fallen hero” would be on board.

“The congressional delegation was asked to stand at the back of the plane and be part of the honor guard as the casket was moved onto the plane,” Mr. Frye recalls haltingly, his eyes filling with tears.

“And we were sitting there for an hour, looking at it. The worst part is, after the casket, they put his luggage on, and you think ‘Someone is going to have to unpack that.’

“Oh, man, it punctuates what is going on here, what is at stake in trying to build a democracy here in the Middle East,” Mr. Frye adds. “The [congressional delegation] felt it, the tremendous stakes.”

A trim man with orange hair and an unnatural ability to make a blue blazer look comfortable in Baghdad’s blistering heat, Mr. Frye says he happily extended his mission four times and will stay on to ease the arrival and transition of incoming U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte.

“But that’s it, it’s driving my wife batty,” he says over a cup of flavored coffee in his plywood-paneled office.

Mr. Frye’s home is South Coventry Pa., a place where dust doesn’t get into everything and custom body armor is never in fashion.

Although plans are not complete, Mr. Frye knows that his boss, Mr. Bremer, likely will leave Iraq on a C-130 cargo plane Wednesday night or the next morning.

Mr. Negroponte will arrive a day or two later to present his credentials and formerly reopen U.S.-Iraqi diplomatic ties after 14 years.

“The day after June 30 is something no one is talking about yet,” the protocol chief says.

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