This is what happened yesterday morning when I headed towards Kut to get my salaries after months of paper work ( 7 months’ salaries!):
My father had some business in Kut so I awakened him up early in the morning and we headed towards Kut. I took my digital camera with me, as I thought I could take some nice and interesting pictures on the road. The first picture that I took was of the ministry of transport that is now under reconstruction after being looted and burned soon after the war.
Then I saw this sign that says, “This bridge was destroyed by the terrorists and it has been rebuilt by the 20th Engineering Battalion of the 1st. cavalry division as a gift to the Iraqi people”. I thought it might be seen as an interesting shot for some readers, and it was more than interesting, only not for the readers!.
After about 2 hours of driving we arrived at Al-Hai, which is a small town that lies about 60 km to the south-west of Kut on the road to Nassiriyah. This old, two track road is being promoted now to become a Highway.
After about half an hour of waiting and paper work, they gave me 5 of my unpaid 7 months’ salaries and said that they will pay me the remaining two with the next month salary. At last!
We drove back to Baghdad and I saw this caravan of camels on the road and I decided to take another picture of them.
As we entered Kut again I saw a group of American soldiers and IP guarding the main bridge on the road. I thought of taking some pictures for them, but I was sane enough to disregard it as I thought it was not a wise thing to do. However I was not that wise and did take a picture for the bridge just after passing by the soldiers. It appeared later that one of them saw me taking pictures and contacted the IP, gave them our descriptions and asked them to investigate the issue. I knew all about it later.
After few minutes and just as we were passing through the city, an IP patrol followed us and waved for us to stop. I thought that there was a mistake or something like that. We stopped and an IP officer stepped down from the car and headed towards me. He asked me to give him the camera, which was still in my hand, and I did. He asked me to step out of the car and asked me:
-Why are you taking pictures?
-Huh!? Because I want to!
-What are you looking for?
-Nothing, just taking pictures.
He looked at the pictures that I had saved and handed the camera to another officer, who looked at me and said:
-Why did you take pictures of the bridge?
-What’s wrong with that!?
-Don’t you know that terrorists targeted this bridge more than once?
- I know that, but I didn’t take a picture of any military facility, coalition soldiers or IP members. You can see that I only took pictures for sites under construction and some shots of the nature here.
-Where are you from and what are you doing here and why are you taking photos?
Here things started to look ugly, but I wasn’t worried and the IP guys were still polite, although very skeptic.
-I’m from Baghdad and I’m here to get my salary and I’m taking those pictures about reconstruction to put on in my website.
-What’s your job and where do you work?
-I’m a doctor and I work in Baghdad.
-You work in Baghdad and you get your salary from Kut?!
Now it was his turn for “huh!?” and I can’t say I blame him!
-Can you show me an ID, please?
I gave him an ID card, which I unusually (and luckily) was carrying.
-Where’s your union card? And this one doesn’t prove you’re a doctor.
-No it doesn’t, but it shows I’m an IRAQI CITIZEN and not a terrorist.
-Ok, ok, no need to shout. Please we need you to come with us to the police station.
-Why? What’s my charge!?
-There’s no charge, not yet. We are just going to make sure of your ID and what you said.
We were tired and my father was annoyed and started to lecture the officer about the citizen’s rights, but as it didn’t help much and was only going to keep us even longer, I tried to calm my father and convinced him that we better cooperate. One of the officers rode with us in our car and we headed to the police station. During that I was able to hear voices on the walkey talky telling other units about “2 suspects in a new white car. One of them has a camera.”!
As we reached the police station, they took us directly to the chief. He was a colonel. My father introduced himself and told him that he was a retired military officer. I don’t remember the colonel’s name, as I was thinking how strange and funny that I, among everyone else, become a suspect as a terrorist!! I thought about telling them that I was killing myself in advocating the war on terrorism and that I was called a CIA agent and a traitor for that, but I thought that I had said enough crap already.
The colonel was gentle and asked us to have seat, then the young officer who brought us told him about our “case”. The colonel said, “why did you bring them here? This is not my business. Take them to the headquarters”.
We went out and the young officer said that he was going to make a file for us and send us to the headquarters. I told him that we were in a hurry and that he can delete the pictures if he wanted. He said that he couldn’t do that “how do I know you’re not a terrorist or cooperating with them? I’m sorry but we can’t trust people this easy, not with all this strange information you’ve been giving us”.
Here my father was furious again and said to the officer:
-So you are fighting terrorism? You are terrorizing people.
The officer didn’t reply! A senior officer was passing by and stopped to see what was going on. We explained the whole thing to him and he took the camera, looked at the pictures and said” it’s ok, let them go”!! The young officer looked at him in doubt and asked “are you sure it’s ok, Sir?!” the senior officer confirmed it and apologized to us, so did the young one after that. My father was about to lecture them again when I stopped him, shook hands with the officers and asked them if I can take a picture for them. “Oh no, you’re going to make a scandal out of it in your site”.
As we drove again towards Baghdad, I noticed that my father was still upset so I said, “dad, take it easy! Just think what it would have looked like if it had happened at Saddam’s time”
“Nothing would’ve happened at those times, because you wouldn’t dare to take pictures in the streets”
Well, he was right. I didn’t take any pictures on the way back and as I was examining the camera to see if anything was damaged, I took a look at the pictures to see if they had deleted any, and God I felt lucky that they didn’t notice this!.