Letter to a Friend (Iraq)

I’m at the palatial estate of the Hamdani Tribe right now, in the town of Mahmudiya, 20-minutes south of Baghdad. It’s a trip, walking around this place and bumping into and “chatting” with (bumbling through misunderstood words, really) a bunch of men wearing dishdashas (man dresses) and turbans, many of whom are considered minor royalty. Last night Mohammed (one of my hosts and the son of one of the central Hamdani sheiks) took me to his cousin’s house for dinner, where we first we ate ice cream and drank fruit drinks in the garden. The cousin’s house reminded me a lot of being in Florida. It was a bit humid and the evening was cooling off nicely as the sun went down. The house was made of block, like they are in Florida, and palm trees—big ones—dotted the lawn. We came back to the Hamdanis estate, afterwards, and a group of sheiks was sitting in a semi-circle in plastic chairs on the lawn, as they do every night, discussing the day’s events, politics, etc. A quarter moon was nestled in the sky, propped up by a number of sprawling palm trees in the yard, the temp was cool and perfect. It was my vision of Arabia, to a tee.

(24 hours later)

Alright, I’m picking up where I left off, yesterday. A lot’s happened since then. There was a firefight here on the Hamdani’s property yesterday, between the Sons of Iraq (the civilian army being paid by the government to fight against al Quaeda and insurgents) and some unknown entity. I heard the firefight but didn’t think much of it as I’d heard gunfire several times in the two days I was there. Three hours later though, I was sitting in the diwan in the main guesthouse when the Iraqi Army showed up—guys from Second Battalion, where I’ve been staying for the past month. I was like, “Ahmed, what’s up man?” and he was like “Pack your bags, man, you’re coming with us.” I asked if everything was okay and he said, “Just get your bags.” I went and packed my shit up—fortunately I got to talk with Sheik Hamdani before I left, a benevolent man with a PhD from the University of Utah—and minutes later we were packed into three Humvees and heading back towards the town of Mahmudiya.

Somebody died in that firefight, which was enough of an excuse for Colonel Wisam (the guy whose base I’ve been staying on) to send for me. Truth is, the Iraqis weren’t altogether comfortable with me going to the Hamdanis (actually, they aren’t completely comfortable with me going anywhere outside of their care). In fact, the intelligence officer and The Three (their third in command) warned me not to go there at all. Colonel Wisam signed off on it though, so I thought it okay. When I was at the Hamdanis, I felt completely safe. I guess it’s the area around the Hamdanis that’s not totally secure. I talked to a sergeant in the American Army today and he said their intel is that Al Quaeda’s pushing to take the Hamdani’s estate—which I find a bit dubious. It’s so hard to tell over here. The danger seems so far away sometimes, but there’s always a hint of it just around the corner. And nobody that lived through the hell of ’04-’08 is going to believe it can’t come roaring back if given half a chance.

Whatever the case, it made for a nice change of pace—an exciting evening. After being whisked away form the Hamdanis, I was taken to meet Colonel Wisam for a teeming dinner at the house of the sheik of the Al Obaidi tribe; they had some great doma there (which I’m just starting to appreciate).

One Response to “Letter to a Friend (Iraq)”

  1. Cameron Mays Says:

    Shane, what were you thinking? Staying with the Hamdanis? You’ve got bigger balls than me.

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