There is something about being Western here than flings doors open for you. Quite literally. Yesterday evening as we returned home we past a large heavily guarded party for about 1000 people. There were as many guards, soldiers, range rovers and mercedes around which we know immediately means government. Having decided to run the gauntlet we marched straight to the entrance, through the amassed forces waving our cameras ahead; sure enough we were let in. We had entered Presidents party.
Straight onto the dance floor with cameras rolling, we then jigged and jived with the cream of Kurdish society. It took only 15 minutes for security to bundle us out though and we were roughly turfed back onto the street. Rick was forced (again) to delete his pictures though this time I remembered to swap out my tape and give nothing.
Later in the night we joined the far more inclusive street party as people here continued their election celebrations. Once again we found ourselves surrounded by soldiers, accused of various things, and man handled by a crowd of both angry and jubilant iraqis. Once again though we made it out. There were of course continual scuffles as opposition supporters clashed with kurdistanis, and certainly there were some tense moments throughout the evening but although there were fireworks, they were not of the violent kind. Some idiot lit a box of rockets upside down and they veered towards us. No sooner had we scattered and hit the ground, than people ran back to do it again.
It seems now as if the squabbles here are among the leaders and their milita rather than the supporters, who are content with to have watched the democratic party. At one point we hopped into the back of a pickup truck for a ride elsewhere and were amazed to see flags from both parties trailing from the windows. The car was full of friends supporting different parties: but no one cared, the only wanted to celebrate
We also saw the American special forces again, patrolling the streets and moping in dark corners - this time we were given nods though we can still not ascertain if they talk. At the end of the night when everyone had shouted themselves to sleep we befriended some local soldiers and got driven home in military convoy. Browning 50 cal machine guns on the roof, sirens blaring and 100 miles an hour down the wrong side of the road. I could get used to this.
This morning we had trouble getting to Erbil so stayed in Sule. I have been asked to appear on the panel for a political show so will try to make it tomorrow instead. Today though we drove up into the surrounding hills for a better view of the city. So much sand has been picked up in the surrounding deserts that all we could see was a blanket of yellowy grey. We passed couples kissing in cars (taboo), saw Talabani’s city compound (a city in its own), played football with some bottles and then smashed some glass (which seems to entertain people here for hours).
We also received some breaking news about party politics. Goran radio announced that the KDP will be offering only 12 of its 56 seats to the PUK. This may have serious repercussions here. They had entered the election as a 50/50 coalition, but the KDP place all blame of their poor results firmly in the hands of the PUK. This may well result in a split within the coalition and if this happens and if Goran joins forces with the Socialist / reform party, majority leadership will change hands. In a matter of 10 days the political arena here has been turned upside down and the Kuridstani coalition may be imploding. Although they won't let that happen.
It is rumoured also that the PUK has been sacking some of its people and blaming them for the loss. We have heard about editors of their papers and other people in charge of propaganda being the first to go.
But once again there was no sign of political disruption today in the bazaar and almost no military presence. The usual gaudy pointed bras were on sale, along with the awful designer knock offs, the football paraphernalia, the nuts and the toys. Labourers with their own pneumatic drills lined the streets waiting for work and people were as welcoming as ever. On the surface at least normality seems to have returned. Parties are expected again tonight so we shall see if PUK / KDP tensions flare.
Rick found a t-shirt in the Bazaar that said “I’m back like cooked crack”. Bizarre bazaar.