A continuation... During the last episode I described the experience of waking up in an airplane hangar as a prisoner of Saddam Hussein. This article provides the detail of how I ended up there in the first place. |
Last week seemed like an eternity ago. Ernie and I flew into Baghdad from Bologna, Italy to confer with the Iraqi oil minister. It was Ernie's gig, not mine. I was supposed to head for Singapore, but Ernie talked me into making a detour and accompanying him to Baghdad. Thought I could lend him some kind of support during his negotiations since I was somewhat experienced in the Arabic culture. We decided to stop at our local office before checking into a hotel, and were there accosted by the Iraqi Militia who herded us and all other building occupants into several waiting buses. Arms and legs were shackled, and we were chained to each other when moving to and from the buses. Like us, the other building occupants represented either European or American firms, most having to do with oil drilling or servicing. Though most of us were westerners, the militia brought along our local staffs as well; anyone present at the time.
We had a small fifth-floor office normally staffed by an engineer, Flipos, an Iraqi Christian, Latif, an Iraqi Jew, and an Iraqi government specialist, Katani, a Shiite originally from Iran. Katani's Islamic status didn't seem to matter. Anyway, local staff members were not allowed to return to their families in Baghdad, but were sequestered with us. Of all of us, the local workers seemed most distraught, and we spent a lot of time comforting them--or trying to anyway. Some of Latif's relatives had been executed over the years, so the Iraqis' distress was from anticipation of history being repeated while ours' was mostly from fear of the unknown.
However, our bus did include one soft, fleshy, sniveling bureaucrat who said he worked for a US congressman from New England. Said his name like it should mean something to the rest of us. It didn't. He loudly denounced US attitudes about Islam and Iraq. Said he and his boss were advocates of Saddam. He went on to complain that he did not belong with our ilk, and demanded special treatment. (NOTE: Isn't it amazing that our elected officials and their staffs are increasingly turning into our perception of former Communist Party bosses and Nazi bigwigs? They demand entitlement. Orwell's "Animal Farm" comes to mind.) Actually, the bureaucrat did receive a kind of special treatment. He got it in the form of a punch in the face from one of the guards. Guard really leaned into it. Bureaucrat actually started crying. I could understand the fat-ass coward being frightened. Hell, we all were. But I also pegged him as one who would gladly throw the rest of us under the bus to save his own skin.
Our passports and all other possessions were confiscated. We were only allowed to keep the clothes on our backs, and our toiletries articles. After a bumpy and dusty ride of maybe forty-five minutes, we were delivered to an old airplane hangar (our new home), and told to align by nationality. We did some meaningless circling but remained with our office mates. The guards could have arranged us by using our passports, but seemed bored, so as long as we acted like we were obeying they seemed satisfied.
The guard, whom I learned later was Tariq, confronted Ernie and shouted, "What is your country?"
"Switzerland." That was true. Ernie ran our Italian operation.
"And you?" he said to me.
"Switzerland." Well, my family immigrated to America from Switzerland.
Tariq moved on...
Now it was the next morning after my sink bath courtesy of Tariq. The guards prodded everyone awake and motioned to a long table at the opposite end of the hangar from the big doors. On it were fifteen-inch rounds of pita bread, still warm, some baklava, Arabic coffee, and juice. After eating, mostly in silence, at the insistence of the guards ("No talking!"), we were shackled, and roughly man-handled into two waiting buses. Those who stumbled were rewarded with a punch or a kick.
Next time: FREEDOM!
Copyright by Gene Myers Author of "After Hours: Adventures of an International Businessman" web site: www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/AfterHours.html Also available on www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com and www.borders.com
Coming August 23, 2010 from Gene Myers and PublishAmerica: "Songs from Lattys Grove"
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