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'Coyote' part 17 "They're gone"
From the Author
This week has been a hard week. It's been hard to write the story this week, I think you'll see why as you read it, but one thing I will say beforehand is please don't judge people by what you read here, you just don't know what you'd do in the situation.
All I ask is that next time you see a man or woman who looks like they're not from 'round these parts' just think of how they might have got here.
Maybe their story has a bit of this one in there somewhere?
What a glorious sight
A rude awakening
“What the heck? Who's banging on the gate at this time of the morning?” Tariq threw the mosquito net back, planted his feet on the floor, and made his way to the wall. “Ramazan” he shouted in Arabic, “who's out there, making the racket?”
“Sorry Mr Tariq” The guard peered round the wall of the guard hut, “ but you've got a visitor, and he says it's important” he shrugged his shoulders, next to him stood one of the American workers from another organisation that worked in the town.
“Mike” Tariq began, it's not even”
“I know what damn time it is” the other guy cut him off, “get your ass down to 'Shelter Now's compound ASAP, we've got a problem” the pitch of the voice said he was stressed to the max, that was unusual, Mike didn't get stressed easily, which was probably a good thing as he worked with the local medical people sourcing medical supplies for them, at least when they could get them he did.
“Okay, okay, keep yer 'air on” Tariq didn't realise he'd dropped back into his Northern English accent, something he did when frustrated or stressed, “what's it about?”
“I'll tell you when you get there okay!”
“No” he shot back, “you'll tell me now, what the problem?”
“Are you for real?” Mike was incredulous, “didn't you hear? The Military evacuated this morning”
“What?” Tariq was stunned, “don't joke around like that Mike, they wouldn't leave”
“They have” Mike shot back, he was still at their gate, shouting over the top of the wall, they were on the roof of their house, just like in Bible times, when people slept on the roof, that way the cool night air helped people sleep, that is if you could close your eyes, as some nights the stunning sight of the milky way stretching above, with the frequent shooting star had a habit of keeping people awake most of the night.
“And you know this because?” Tariq asked back, doubt dripping from every syllable.
“Because I just caught them up crossing at the Turkish border!” Mike was getting fed up with the questions, “I'll answer the rest at the compound in half an hour, BE THERE!” he'd climbed back into his Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4 slammed the door and took off.
They stood there stunned, their world literally 'coming apart at the seams’. Neither of them knowing what to do, everyone knew this day would come, they knew that one day the foreigners would have to leave, God had even told them they would only be there a while, but no one expected it to be so brutal, with the idea of leaving the locals to such an uncertain future.
Samir and Sara
“Samir” Sara woke with a start, “you hear that? It sounds like trucks moving slowly” which was strange as they didn't live near any main highways, they lived near the centre of town, in the old Jewish quarter, the nearest place the truck's could be was two kilometres, or a mile and a half away, the only other place with heavy vehicles was where the soldiers were.
They were on their roof, but Samir had put a curtain up round their sleeping area. He got up and peered over the curtain, the first rays of the sun were beginning to creep into the eastern sky, it'd be a good half hour before it actually showed up over the horizon, shadows could be seen, but the strange ones were the ones moving without any lights.
“What's going on?” Sara asked again, “is it Saddam?” The fear coming out in every syllable.
“No” Samir replied, “I can see shadows near where the soldiers live, they're Humvees moving out, the soldiers are on the move!”
“Where? How?” she was beginning to panic.
“Stop” Samir was scared, but had to get control of the situation, he couldn’t let her go down that path, he had to think fast. “Pack everything up and get into our safe room” he spoke gently, but the voice of authority was unmistakable, “Be ready for if we have to move, I’m going to check with Mr Tariq and see what he knows, if we need to run I’ll bring the Dodge from the Garage, meanwhile, get everyone calm and ready”
“You think we might have to”
“I don’t know” he cut her off, “I can’t see where the soldiers are heading, so just head to the safe room, just in case, Okay?”
"House hunting' Kurdish style
In ‘Kurdistan’ you don’t look for a house with a nice view, you look for a house with a room that’s totally safe, one that’s preferably got four concrete walls, at least six inches thick, and a steel door. Those houses are the sought after ones. Six inches of concrete will stop almost any bullet and all fragmentary devices, they won’t stop a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG7) but if someone’s using that against your house you’ve probably got bigger problems as a Tank might just come crashing through at any moment, the safe room was literally that, the safest room in the house when fighting started, that’s the first thing Samir had looked for in the house, and he’d modified it slightly to make it even safer than it originally was.
The gut wrenching decision
“Luka, can you get all our local staff together, as soon as possible” Tariq’s face was ashen, he hated this, but someone had to explain the situation.
“Certainly” Luka didn’t need to ask any questions, he knew the news had to be awful, the people at Op Mercy didn’t ‘rattle’ easy, and he could see they were all ‘rattled’ by what they had to tell.
Op Mercy had four international staff, three single ladies and Tariq, the three women were all qualified nurses essential to the programmes Op Mercy was running, and they were all American, prime targets for anything Saddam might try, it was clear they’d made a decision, and it didn’t sit well with any of them, least of all with Tariq.
Fifteen minutes later they were all there, nearly thirty local staff including Samir, Azeem and all the guards.
“Folks” Tariq began, “as you’re probably aware we got told this morning that the Soldiers here in Zakho pulled out, they didn’t give any warning” he couldn’t help the anger and frustration in his voice, “but they’re gone” he didn’t intend for the break, but the emotion was raw, and he was struggling with it.
“A friend from another organization caught up with them at Ibrahim Khalil” Jean cut in, “he said they’d been ordered to evacuate, but couldn’t find out who gave the order, all we know is what they told us!” she stopped for a moment. “All they said was something big is happening today, and they advised us to leave”
Tariq came back in, “we met up at the compound for Shelter Now this morning, we managed to get CNN broadcast from Kuwait, they said this morning B52 Bombers took off from Diego Garcia headed for Baghdad, along with cruise missiles fired from two missile frigates in the Persian Gulf”
They were greeted with stunned silence, these men and women they’d worked with for three or more years sat there totally stunned, almost unable to take in what they were being told.
“Is America going to invade?” it was Azeem asked the question, almost hoping against hope that someone would come to their aid, “are we going to be protected?”
“I’ve got no idea” Tariq replied, “as far as we know the ‘safe haven’ line still exists, and the no-fly zone is still being patrolled, but otherwise we have no idea, just that we’ve been advised to evacuate, and the girls think it wise we move to Diyarbakir” tears were rolling down his and Jenny, the youngest of the girl’s faces, they were having a hard time ‘holding it together’
“In the meantime, Luka” Jean spoke up, she normally had a great ‘poker face’ but even she was having a hard time holding back the emotion, “we’re asking you to take charge, the people at Shelter Now are staying behind for the time being, they’ll help in any way they can, but we’ll be leaving within the hour”
The official line on what happened
- 1996 cruise missile strikes on Iraq - Wikipedia
Even the Kurds had a hard time accepting that one Kurdish party was involved, but they were, and we had to pull out. It was called "Operation Desert Strike"
The meeting lasted another few minutes, then slowly everyone came to say their goodbyes, words were said like “only a few days” and stuff, but no one believed it, they knew it would be final, Tariq was actually weeping in the corner.
“You have to go brother” they all said it together, Samir, Azeem and Luka were hugging him, kind of strange really as both Kurds and Brits don’t hug naturally.
“I hate the idea” Tariq was almost protesting, “I don’t want to”
“We know” Luka cut in.
“But you’ve got four single women travelling in the East” Azeem took over.
“They need a ‘big brother’ to protect them” samir finished the sentence off, “anything else would be unthinkable!”
“No Buts” Luka insisted, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from you and the people at Op Mercy, it’s that we’re God’s children, and he looks after them much better than you can” his face was stern, “Now you must go, and may God go with you”
“Rabbina Maakum” Tariq replied (May God be with you all)
From the Auther
You know, after twenty years the pain of that decision is still there! I still question what the right decision was, were we right to evacuate and leave our friends at the time?
I'm not asking for sympathy there, just letting you know how hard it was, how hard it is to have to leave a place that came to mean so much, how much harder it must be for those who grew up there, and yet through no fault of their own, they're torn away from the places and people they love.
For me, the hardest part was that the Military, an institution I'd trusted for years left us without warning, and that was despite repeated assurances they wouldn't.
Then again< I had a way out, I still had a British passport, but what about those that didn't, what about my Kurdish friends?
Next time we'll begin to piece together what they did to get out.