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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Old memories of times in Iraq


Recently while browsing the net I came across an article about the water quality of Lake Razaza, Iraq becoming more saline due to restricted inflow of water and immediately the floodgates of my memories opened up to the times i was working in Iraq.

After my engineering degree in 1979 I was working in one of the reputable companies in Bombay / Madras (now Mumbai /Chennai) involved in Mechanical projects. My discipline being Electrical engineering I was desperate to go back into that field and when I was offered a job as Junior Engineer Electrical with an Indian Company called Makers Development Services Private Limited(Builder and developers of Makers Chambers at Nariman Point ,Mumbai) who were contracted to build a township in Baghdad, Iraq. The lure of Petro dollars and the adventures to come by I grabbed the offer in spite of objections from my mother because of ongoing war between Iraq and Iran.

Reached Baghdad on 7th April 1981 with a group of 10 persons after traveling on road for over 20 hours from Kuwait since all international flights terminated there or at Amman in Jordan due to the war. I have written a incident which took place on our road journey in an another note called Carnivorous Brahmin about our dinner on the road side where I got to taste camel meat…an experience. Since I was part of the mobilization team we went direct to the camp area which is within the site premises and to my utter disbelief I found myself staring at few cabins which served as our accommodation and a huge barren tract of land with no buildings in sight and few kilometers away in the line of sight was the Baghdad International airport which was being used by the Iraqi air force at that point of time. The persons with whom I traveled from India were of my same age group and we became good friends during our stay there and we have gone around most of Iraq on sightseeing and fun trips.

Most weekends in summer we take local beer in ice box and travel to Razaza Lake for having a refreshing swim and beer on the shore. This was the second largest fresh water lake in those times and we used to drive 90 to 100 kms  all the way from Baghdad to Razaza lake through the holy city of Karbala and our normal mode of transport was a 3 ton single cabin dyna pickup with mattress at the back where 6 to seven of us would be seated or sleeping. One of such trip is etched on my mind because of the gruesome incident that took place that day. We were coming back from the lake and the roads had little or no illumination except for the headlight of the vehicle and at a distance we saw another vehicle parked on the side of the road with hazard lights blinking and a little ahead of this vehicle there was a dark shape on the road. My friend who was driving the vehicle stated that it is an animal hit by the vehicle and he would take this between the wheel base of the vehicle since we were traveling too fast to avoid it…he did that and we bounced a bit when we crossed over the thing but then we gave no thoughts of it till such time the vehicle started losing power and started stalling and making noise in the crankshaft. 

We then parked the vehicle on the side of the country road in twilight and started checking the crankshaft and to our horror we saw black clothe wound in the shaft..it was a piece of abaya normally worn by women in gulf countries and the underside of the vehicle splattered with blood, bone fragments and white substance which we later knew as brain. We were shit scared because the realization had just set in that we had driven over a women who was initially hit by the earlier vehicle and we were in a place where war time military rule was prevailing and if caught in the check post prior to entering Baghdad , we sure could kiss our ass goodbye forever. Well we pulled out the bits of the clothe tangled in the crankshaft and drove the vehicle in the muddy area beside the road to hide the traces of blood and flesh and then drove towards our camp in utter silence. Cursory check of our papers and we were through the check post with a sigh of relief and immediately on reaching the camp took the vehicle direct to the washing bay and washed the vehicle clean to avoid any unwanted question the next day.

We never dared to go back to Razaza lake for next three months due to the fear of being recognized by someone or the other. Thinking back I feel bad that I had to experience this incident for we never knew if the woman was already dead or was she grievously injured in the first place . Even today this incident sends a shiver down my spine !!!!