Friday, August 17, 2007

An old neighbor ends up in Arbil, Iraq

A neighbor of mine (well, he recently moved to Virginia) has ended up doing microfinance consulting with a bank in Arbil, Iraq. He's been sending us amazing missives about his life in the compound. They're in MS Word format, and I'm trying to convince him to turn it into a blog (maybe he doesn't have good enough Internet access for that).

Anyway, I thought I'd share his latest note.

Friday 1 PM

Hi everyone,

We work Sunday through Thursday so today is my day off and I slept in. It is approximately 112 degrees outside. I wanted to address the security issue. I’m getting some inquiries and people are wondering if I am in harm’s way.

Search the internet for a good map of Iraq and look at the top of the country. Kurdistan is sometimes confused with the "northern provinces" and the media continues to not distinguish between ethnic Kurdistan and the northern provinces. Mosul is violent and is up north, yes, but way east over near the Syrian border. Kirkuk is dangerous and there are lots of "incidence" down there and that is why we never entered the city. Even though the micro finance bank that I am consulting for operates there, no westerners in my parent organization enter the city. Everyone thinks that after the November election ( here ); Kirkuk will be ethnically cleansed and all the Arabs that Sadam moved in, will be kicked out…. or whatever. The Kurdish paramilitary is ready and they want the city back as well as the oil.

Anyway, Kurdistan is the three or four provinces that form a little icecap across the top of Iraq and border Turkey and Iran. The nasty genocide that occurred two days ago, for example, was outside of true Kurdistan but the area is obviously still populated by Kurds. The distinction is critical to understand, just because some bombs go off, and it is "up north" and some Kurds die, does not mean it is in Kurdistan. This may seem like trivia but I am depending on it. This city, Erbil, has a ten foot moat, or ditch, dug all the way around it to stop vehicles from entering cross terrain. The only way in is on the paved road, through multiple checkpoints guarded by the Kurd Army and the paramilitary. Voila ! No ethnic Arabs allowed. Period.

Nothing is perfect, and that is why I cannot leave the compound. It ( the compound ) is in a suburb of Erbil somewhere near the airport, and is occupied by a variation of religion that I am not sure of, I think there are Christians here or something. The suburb itself is surrounded by walls with watchtowers and guards. I live in a compound within the suburb that, as you already know, has blast walls, only one vehicle gate in and a different one out. The road to the gate has concrete diversions so an approaching car has to go really slow or it will crash. Everyone stops at the gate and the guards run a mirror under 360 degrees of the car, then the sniffer dog does it again. All supervised by Triple Canopy staff ( Google “Triple Canopy” and you can see the level of security that is provided to westerners ) No bombs allowed ! Worst case scenario is that somehow a person gets in past the gate and starts shooting up the place. They would last about one second. There are literally hundreds of armed people here including heavy duty westerners ( South African mercenaries ), not just the Kurds. Or, if someone drove close enough to the suburb, they could touch off some mortar rounds, but that would be so inaccurate that I don't even think of it.

Sorry for all the details, but information can cause relaxation, and that is what I am trying to convey. After all, there were drive by shootings almost every night on the commute path I took through north Oakland when I came back from the bank in Fremont. One of our friends was held up twice on the foot path between the BART station and his house in North Berkeley. So “safe” is a relative term.

It's noon and I am leaving the house to get lunch. Tonight I am hoping to get a security guy and go out of the compound for dinner. If not, then I will stay here, locked up like a caged rat. There is a big citadel about a mile away ( in the suburb ) and it old and famous. Maybe I can include that in my adventure if and when I can arrange an outing.

Best Regards to all

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