Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mr Dan and the Dams of Kurdistan, 2

by Dan Coakley          © 2012

I took the lift to the foyer where I saluted the Mukhabarat (Saddam's secret policeman), whose job was to monitor all who entered and exited the hotel lifts. Like all his colleagues in the Hotel Babel (Babylon) he was well dressed and very courteous though distant.  He had none of the brooding menace of his equivalents (ex-KGB) in Kiev.  While there, an informer in an Artioma Street apartment building we were visiting contacted the immigration police and reported that foreigners were visiting an apartment in the building. In Soviet times each apartment block had its own commissar whose duty it was to report suspicious or anti-state behaviour. So the former commissar in this apartment block was loath to give up his position of power and persisted in carrying out his policing duties right into the post soviet era. In Artioma Street many of the apartment buildings had their doors in the back and had to be approached from a commonage, via an arched opening off the street. All doors opening on to the commonage were permanently open and the snow would form drifts in the hall in the night temperature of -200C. The street, commonage and the hall were in pitch darkness and we had to pick our way through the snow drifts with torches that were mandatory. On entering our friends' house one night we noticed two men on the stairs above us furtively examining the numbers on all the apartment doors. Shortly after we got into our friends' apartment via the double steel security doors someone was banging loudly on the door and yelling in Ukrainian. As there were four of us in the room we were confident that we were able to look after ourselves so we opened the doors to be confronted by the two men we had seen on the stairs. One was dressed in a leather hat and long leather greatcoat and the other was armed and wore a leather jacket and long leather boots. They were immigration police and when we could not produce our registration documents were clapped in handcuffs.  At the time the USSR had just disintegrated and I reckoned that the Soviet prisons had not caught up with the new political realities. I pictured myself being shipped off to a gulag in a cattle wagon. However a quick-witted member of our group, Michael Crowley of Mallow Co. Cork, saved the day by phoning Uri, our liaison contact, behind the policemen's backs.  Uri, who had previously worked in the Immigration Department, contacted the relevant government official who ordered our captors to free us. This they did after a long one way interrogation when they insisted on asking the same aggressive question again and again despite all our answers "Where are your registration papers?" We were euphoric when we were left off the hook as the photo below demonstrates.

A very relieved pair, Louis Healy left and the author right show off after being informed by Kiev Immigration Police that we were no longer under suspicion.

Back to the Hotel Babel in Baghdad, I was quickly located by my driver who introduced himself as Ayad H. Humayde. The UN has a custom of recruiting local people with university degrees relevant to the work of whatever UN agency that employs them. In the Electricity sector therefore this meant that most of my Iraqi staff were engineers or had technical degrees. Hence Dr. Ayad who had been an electronics lecturer in the University of Baghdad became one of my drivers. I felt like the proverbial "Pukka Sahib" as I seated myself in the white air-conditioned land cruiser waiting for me in the car park, with the letters "UN" emblazoned on its side.

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