DFLer goes to Iraq for facts, risks becoming a statistic

DFL state senator and blogger John Lesch of St. Paul is supposedly on his way home from Iraq after a shorter than expected, self-sponsored fact-finding trip that has earned him more than a few incredulous looks — and a couple of official butt-chewings according to an article in today’s St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

Lesch set off with a few contacts, a satellite phone, a laptop, no visa and barely any cash, making his way to Baghdad via Amsterdam and Damascus – spending some tense hours with Syrian security police before being allowed on a flight to Baghdad. Upon arrival there he was almost immediately deported by Iraqi officials before getting permission to enter the country. He’s been reporting his misadventures on his blog, Down the Rabbit Hole, but his hopes of going largely unnoticed while in country seem to have failed.

State Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul reportedly left Iraq after a lecture from an angry Iraqi official — and just a week after he flew to the Middle East to tour the war zone on his own.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, confirmed Monday that Lesch had left, but offered no further information about where the 33-year-old, two-term DFLer was heading. Neither Lesch’s brother, Jim, nor friends in Minnesota who had been in contact with the lawmaker knew his whereabouts Monday.

But Iraqi and U.S. officials expressed their relief he had left the country the United States invaded in 2003.

“This grandstanding has no place here,” Johnson said. “Stay home.”
Had something happened to Lesch, he added, untold numbers of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers would have been obliged to endanger themselves to help him.

Mithal Alusi, founder of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, said he spoke with Lesch shortly after he arrived last week in Baghdad and quickly reprimanded him. Alusi has been a victim of violence since the invasion and has dodged several assassination attempts. His two sons were slain in January 2005. “Do you know what would happen if the terrorists took you as a hostage? Kalashnikov to your head. You with your passport, crying. And all of the world in danger. Just because of you!” Alusi recounted in an interview with Knight Ridder.

“I told him, ‘You are crazy.’ I don’t like to talk to politicians this way, but he made me very sad.”

Alusi asked if Lesch had any hobbies and said Lesch answered that he liked watching movies: “I told him you have watched too many James Bond movies.”

Alusi said that had a U.S. state lawmaker been taken hostage, it would have exhausted the country’s strained resources.

“We are so lucky he didn’t die” here, he said. “Can you imagine what will happen here? … I told him, ‘Don’t do it again!’ “

After reading Lesch’s blog posts I can tell you that he is an excellent writer — and an idiot. His account is both funny and as horrifically compelling as watching a blind child trying to cross the interstate. It will also convince you, if you had any doubts, that there is a God as Lesch constantly ran into people who went out of their way to help him out and tried to keep him alive. While he did take some precautions he largely abandoned his fate to the winds.

While the U.S. authorities have confirmed Lesch has left Iraq, no one is certain if he is indeed heading home. Given his posts so far, it is not unimaginable that he might still try to get to Mosul or Kirkuk. If I were to run into him in St. Paul I don’t know whether I’d kick his ass or buy him a beer or both, but I sincerely hope his adventure is short-lived. Better it than him.


The link to Down the Rabbit Hole has been fixed.


The PiPress has an update. According to a spokesman, Lesch will not try to re-enter Iraq and will instead spend time travelling in Europe before heading home in time for the opening of the legislative session March 1. My guess is he might run into more than a few Muslims there – or he might want to check out New Brighton.

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