I had made the same mistake as a normally do when going to countries in the middle east and that is wearing jeans, the immense heat makes you feel that you are baking in the oven and jeans are the last thing you would want to be wearing. The air was fresh and this was the first time I laid my eyes on Baghdad airport in all its glory. The only time I had seen it previously was on the news during the invasion of Iraq.
In my previous visit to Iraq I had landed in Damascus international airport in Syria and then taken a 14 hour car ride from Damascus to the city of Karbala in Iraq. That journey was probably one of this most uncomfortable as the air condition in the car had broken down and so ensued 14 hours of finding every method on earth to stay cool. Here I had landed straight into the heart of Iraq I felt privileged to be in the airport and whilst talking to others in the group we were imaging how we would be received inside the airport. Would they shower us with flowers, would there be an official ceremony where we would feel welcome?
Perhaps in our naivety we had expected too much from a country still recovering from brutal dictatorship but I guess one can hope, what did happen however was that the majority of us had to wait for 3 hours as we did not have Iraqi passports. Those who did went through the security checks like running water but those who did not carry an Iraqi passport were made to wait as we did not have a visa to enter the country. One would think that a government backed initiative would at least inform the employees at the airport that they were expecting us.
I remember pulling out a photocopy of my father’s identity and passport and explaining to them that I was Iraqi, they had seen that my British passport said I was born in Iran and so felt a little hostile towards me. It was rather funny explaining to them that my father was an Iraqi and that I was one too, subtle discrimination and racism is still present and perhaps will be present for quite some time.
After about 3 hours a woman from the ministry of sport and culture arrived, the staff at the airport had been in contact with her and she had come down to our “rescue”. I was still confused as to why there had been a lack of communication but she came and apologised for the mishap, she was a bubbly figure full of energy and with her energy uplifted the group who were by now tired and frustrated at their expectations being lowered so early on.
We finally made to our coaches and to our surprise we were also escorted by a special SWAT team that had been specifically assigned to protect us, personally I did not feel we merited such a facade of a escort but I can understand that the government needed to ensure that our safety was their number one priority and this was evident here.
Upon arriving to our hotel I realised it was one of the main hotels in Baghdad it was heavily protected and we had to pass through strict security in order to make it inside and one of the comical highlights of the trip was that this was in a time where the Iraqi security forces were proud of their new found weapon against terror. It was a device that had an antenna that is similar to those that you would find in old fashioned radios. The purpose was to point the device forward and then walk past a suspicious baggage, if the antenna moved toward the baggage then the bag would be searched and opened and if it did not then the baggage was free to move. Instantly this device seemed to be a con and one that none of us trusted essentially it was a bomb detector that a BBC investigation would find it to be indeed a con, it was created by a man named Jim McCormick more information here
Funny enough my bag was caught red handed and so I was made to open the bag the security team were almost convinced that my bag did not contain any explosives but obviously had to follow protocol. When I asked them why it would point at my bag they replied that my bag must contain soap products or deodorant products as this was apparently a trigger for these devices.
No one really knows the damage caused by Mr McCormick but he is a man who has conned the people of Iraq and I have no doubt has caused bloodshed that could have been prevented this is currently the latest news on him. Here is the video report from the BBC and I will leave you to be the judge of this man.
We finally made it into the hotel and instantly gathered our keys we split into pairs and were hurriedly told to gather for 6pm for a meeting. In our desire to see a sight of a bed we rushed up to our room their we were in awe at the view from the balcony. It was truly a sight of beauty a vision of Iraq that I had never seen before and in this vision I envisioned the potential that Iraq held. It is sad to say that this was the first and last view from the hotel balcony that we would enjoy.
Next time: Part 3
- Meeting with Iraqi PM Nouri Malaki is missed
- Our hotel is attacked requiring us to evacuate to another hotel.
- Comedy show enjoyed