Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ali-Catraz vs Hotel Rwanda

If anyone asked me before if I will be able to spend time in a confined space, and give up my “independence and sovereignty”, I would have said “No way Jose!” It is now my third week in this place and time is flying. Being in a cocoon, surrounded by events just behind “the wall” that we can only learn about on CNN…this is a crazy concept. No major incidents happened –yet- but we hear explosions, bullets and helicopters flying continuously. We are made to believe that “outside” it is the law of the jungle and a no go zone. How can we believe this when the 100 or so ICs (see list below) leave everyday to go home and come back every morning? When we discuss it with them, they talk to us of a city struggling to continue normally with life…shops open for business, traffic jams, schools full of students. Despite everything, Baghdad lives. People tend to overcome everything in the hope that tomorrow will be better.

Back to the inside, I had already nicknamed this place Ali-Catraz: now am having second thoughts. The other day we had to participate in a drill simulating an attack on the compound. Each of us had to gather in the designated safe space at the sounding of the sirens and wait for the PSDs to come and direct us to safety. All goes well up to the point when the PSD team arrives and looks at the people gathered in the safe place (the second floor of a two floor villa), and says: “Clients only to the second floor, other people downstairs in the kitchen”. When I ask why upstairs for some and downstairs for others, the answer is in case of an attack by insurgents, it is easier to protect us when we are upstairs, as attackers will need to fight them first before getting upstairs. What about the people in the kitchen? Well, the answer is simple: ICs can be in the danger zone, but “clients” cannot. Their job is to protect the clients first (of which there are a few Iraqis holding other passports) then…if it works, they can also save the locals. This brought back to my mind images of Hotel Rwanda. A foreigner’s life is more valuable than any local. I saw scenes of us being rushed to helicopters while people we work with everyday are left behind to their fate…so: what do you think? Ali-Catraz or Hotel Rwanda?

P.S: During the last security briefing, we were handed out a list of acronyms. Here is a few of the oddest ones:

IC – Iraqi civilian
AMZ- Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (thought he is gone)
PSD- Private Security Detail
UB- Unidentified Body
IZ- International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone)
HVT- High Value Target (us in other words)
FRE- Former Regime Elements
CPX- Complex attack – Two or more weapon system