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Published: December 1st 2011
Inside the CompoundI'm still somewhat chastened by the HUGE response to my posts about Manila
Looks pretty nice! But note the T-walls all along the side of the walk-way. This is protected by wire and weapons.
- 80,000-plus hits and more than a thousand comments, 99%!a(MISSING)greeing with me, the rest mildly offensive (I publish those with real names attached - most don't have them) and a tiny minority of four girls, Filipina rich kids, resident abroad who were so egregiously abusive I was lost in despair at what they represent.
What also amazed me is the number of folk who had the time to comment on what was essentially a trivial moan after a bad trip... but then again, you could ask the same question of me. Why bother to write this stuff?
Actually I only do it for fun when hanging around in a Costa Coffee shop at some airport like I did the other day in Dubai International Airport. Terminal 1 is a bit scruffy around the edges (Terminal 3, dedicated to Emirates, is really superb) but it does the job well - unlike Manila NAIA.... whoops -
I must stop being obsessed with that subject! Get over it you Grumpy Old Man!
As I sat drinking a very acceptable coffee in a nice comfy chair (no, it was NOT
Erbil City Centre
Free and (fairly) safe.
business class, neither did I have to pay any extortionate fee for a special place to sit) I reflected what it was like to get back to what we inmates of the secure Sallyport
compound in Baghdad call "The World". Because being behind the wire in a place where the Coalition of the Willing (basically the US Government and its allies) has spent trillions of dollars
and countless lives
(not least Iraqi lives) is pretty unique.
It's either (a) like being in rather nice prison, except that the bad guys are all on the outside
of the razor wire, the T-walls
and the machine guns, or (b) being in a secure home for the male elderly; looking around the DFAC (all semi-military establishments rely on acronyms - this stands for D
ility) one sees all these grey, mainly male, heads. A few women, but they are the exception. These folk are the specialists and experts who are willing to put themselves in harm's way just like the military to continue to help rebuild this frightfully damaged country.
Of course the real
soldiers are the true heroes, no question of that and many of those are draftees, but it's worth remembering that
The Citadel - Erbil
Erbil in Kurdistan is one of the oldest inhabited city sites on the planet. A great tourist attraction.
there is a large voluntary
contingent of civilian experts from lawyers, educators, medics, economists to us agricultural folk who are in a front line that is all around us as we go about our normal work. An IED (Improvised Explosive Device) cannot discriminate between a military target and a civilian specialist. So this has always been a different kind of war, where every night one listens to the "crack and thump" of bombs, RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and AK-47s and wonders if there will be an attack on the compound. Every night you wonder if this is the day that you'll cower behind other, braver people as they fight off folk we thought we'd beaten a long time ago. Not so.
The fact is that today, almost 2012, we still leave the compound in heavily armoured cars with all the war gear, helmets, flak jackets and armed PSDs (private security details - mercenary ex-soldiers hired to protect us). Great guys; I cannot express my admiration for the job done by these men from Sallyport and G4S
. And that's just for a short run to the airport!
The tragedy of Iraq is that according to those who know (I spoke to one so-called "governance" expert, in-country since 2003) is that it's actually worse
now than ever before. Yes, "democracy" has been brought to the grateful masses, but they largely seem to have missed the point. Saddam is more popular than ever before (at least in Baghdad and the Arab-speaking part of the country) and many local people say they feel things were better when he was in charge. Eat your heart out George W.Bush! Go figure.
I know I'll get a backlash from Iraqi readers about this statement, but it's what people I spoke to said to me, not
my own analysis (for one written piece check here
). Like Stalin (another dead maniac making a posthumous comeback in Russia) people tend to forget the mass murder and repression and remember the full-employment, full bellies and public services that work.
This isn't the case in the north. The so-called Kurdish Regional Government (KRG
) dominates a non-Arab (so fortunately not beset by Shia-Sunni conflict
that affects Baghdad) effectively autonomous region that pretty much has its act together. Trade with neighboring Turkey prospers (despite political disputes). I enjoyed a week there at the somewhat over-priced ($25 for the buffet!) but good enough Erbil International Hotel
(formerly the Sheraton). One could walk the central city bazaar and have people come up and shake one's hand and say "Thanks for what you all did" - remember Halabja
? For the nay-sayers: whatever the overall outcome, and yes, it's still a real mess, the Coalition brought an end to such massacres.
So I return to The World, family, girls in short skirts, shopping, my comfortable office and nice home........ The odd thing is that I kind of miss my little room in the compound with its old-fashioned box TV and dirty carpet. The guys in Petra House (the residential villa inside the compound where I was billeted) were like a collection of old gunfighters; grey heads and moustaches and beards from all over the globe, lots of ex-wives and colourful stories. Really very pleasant company and no B...S.... about what we have actually achieved or indeed could possibly achieve; but everyone tries to make things in Iraq better even if it is occasionally pushing water up-hill.
Spare them a thought - whatever the politics these guys are the salt of the earth and they risk their lives EVERY day. I miss them. Perhaps even on a short mission I got institutionalized.
If you want to contact me directly, please do so via email@example.com
. I publish ALL comments except
those that are anonymous. If you don't have what it takes to sign your real name, then I don't have the time to listen to what you have to say - and your comment won't make it to my blog😊
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Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin
Email from a Fellow Inmate
I got this email from the very cool gentleman I shared an office with in the Sallyport compound in Baghdad. I thought it should have a wider audience: "Geoff, As one of the Grey haired residents of Petra, with several ex wives, that you referred to, I enjoyed your blog. You possibly made it sound more romantic an adventure than it is. At 75, this has to be one of my last Hurrah's, and it would be incorrect to say that I won't miss it, when this kind of life is over for me. It keeps you thinking that you are still young and full of piss and vinegar. Thanks for sharing it with me. Al Williams"