Yesterday had been very very long and I was getting ready for bed. Out of the silence their came suddenly a series of loud sharp cracks which jolted me back to life. I sprinted to the balcony and stood there, my heart racing, waiting for more. I ran back in grabbed the phone and called down to Rick. “Mate, did you hear that, did you hear that? I’m sure it was a machine gun”. But Rick had been listening to music; the police outside had not rushed away and my failed air-con unit was still making strange sounds. “Must have been something else” I huffed regretfully, “see you in the morning”.
We had spent three and a half hours earlier in the night having dinner on the central strip (Soholaca) waiting for some clashes. The mood had been joyous but not many people were out and we assumed the worst would come a few days from now when results are official. It was only this morning when we met our fixer that we found out the news. One dead, numerous wounded and clashes between police and soldiers just 500m from the hotel! Yet the 15 soldiers at the roadblock outside who we had spoken to just an hour previously had not rushed off; I had heard only one siren all night and the local tv was not reporting nothing. We had missed it by 15 minutes!
We spoke to some other journalists this morning who had been equally unaware. As they told us though, this is a game of luck and a waiting game. Right place, right time sort of thing.
This morning we delivered leaflets to the Children’s rehabilitation Center. We had spent a good amount of money making them and my sister had put in some hard work designing them. We were expecting a heroes welcome but instead the sour faced director looked at them silently then told us that one of the labels should have been bigger. A subdued handshake later and we were off, no gratitude at all. It’s the last time I do anything for them! So moving on…
We moved across the Ctiy to interview the head of the Islamic league party and a deputy director of the Socialist party. These two have been working as a coalition trying to get together more votes, but have lost out this time in a big way. In the past anyone upset with the government had few other options to choose from so they picked any alternatives they could. As such the Islamic party had done well in the last election but this year with the arrival of a serious alternative they received barely any votes.
They were not in the best of moods when we arrived, and with me asking pointed questions about their future the meeting became rather heated. Their voices got louder, their movements became erratic and suddenly they began to shout. To be honest it was really quite exciting, I have been trying to get a response from normally stone faced politicians all week and here it finally was: “Fraud fraud fraud”, they cried at one point as my softly spoken translator did his best to keep up. By the end I was unable to get a word in edgewise. They left in a huff to meet with Goran – presumably to decide how their parties might help each other in the future. There were many things I still wanted to know; such as how their close partnership with the Iranians would play a part in Kurdish politics, and how they would recover from such a horrible defeat. I am seeing them again in a few days and will not let them out.
What I did learn from them however were some interesting statistics. Of course these must all be taken with a pinch of salt but they told me that they had heard reports from kurdistani members that 693,000 illegal votes had been cast. Either by people voting twice or by people voting using the names of those who hadn’t reached the poles.
We had lunch with some friends from the Save the Children fund and along tagged and NGO worker from Texas. He cornered me immediately and talked all meal long. When I asked who he worked for he gave me his spiel in a rather high pitched strange sounding voice - he was weird. “We don’t like to believe that the way to rescue our communities at home is through pre-emptive strikes. We believe it is through pre-emptive love”. I wanted to burst out with laughter. Despite my outwardly calm face, I was finding it very hard to contain myself. Pre-emptive love??????? My next question was who funds you, but I already knew the answer was some Christian evangelical group. Sure enough I was right. The amazing thing to me is that all his congregation are the same people who backed Bush to the bitter end, yet they now feel bad about what his policies did. This is a world of contradictions.
After dinner tonight we broke back onto the roof as we have done every other night. This time there were 20 heavily armed special forces soldiers with sniper rifles. As we reached the top of the long ladder and poked our heads through they crowded round us wanting answers. Again, our student ids paid off. We arranged them in row, told them to smile, made them part of our footage and left quickly just as they began to cotton on.
Tomorrow we head to Kirkuk. xx