Thursday, September 13, 2012

Safety and Security in Kurdistan

There are a million and one things I could blog about already and I've not even been here two weeks. From food adventures to taxi rides my first few days in Iraq have certainly been interesting. Alas, I don't want to give away everything all at once, so I'm going to just pick a topic and stick with it.

I know one the the major concerns of my family and friends when I told them I would be moving here was my safety living in Iraqi Kurdistan. That's part of the reason I simply said Kurdistan in the beginning. "I'm moving to Kurdistan" doesn't quite have the same jarring effect as "I'm moving to Iraq." But of course that's with good reason. That said, this is still Iraq even if it is an autonomous region of it.

However, I am safe. Honestly, I'm very safe.

There are two security guards outside my villa at all times. I use the same taxi driver to and from work every day and I believe he has been told he must call or text our reception whenever I get in the car with him. He seems trustworthy enough, but I think they just want to know whenever I leave my workplace so they know how long it should take before I get back. This way, if for some reason I don't turn up, they are on it.

Seriously, I am pretty sure someone always knows where I am. I don't really think anyone is keeping strict tabs on me, but it sort of seems that way.

Then there's general security throughout the city.

We went to Carrefour at Family Mall the other day. Family Mall is a mall like any other but there's a catch. When you walk in the building, you put your bags through a scanner, you walk through a metal detector and you may or may not get patted down depending on how the guards are feeling. Then there are guards throughout the mall.

Let me tell you, folks, these ain't your typical mall cops. Those guns are loaded and they know how to use them.

It's the same anytime you go to a bar. (Yes, there are bars here. More on that later.)

There's a local bar that has a trivia night every Monday. When you walk in, they check your bags and the guys can expect a quick frisking. The great thing about being a woman is no one dares touch you (except the woman at the residency office security booth...).

Then there are the compounds. Before I moved here, I thought a compound was only for the people involved with it. For example, the American compounds would be for Americans. That's not true. However, these compounds have unheard of (albeit warranted) levels of security.

We went to the U.N. Compound and had our ID.s checked at the entrance gate. Then behind the blast walls at a small trailer that served as a booth, our ID.s were taken and we were given a card with a number on it that identified us and basically gave us clearance to walk around but only with a sponsor who lives on the compound. Then we walked through several barriers surrounded by blast walls until we came to a security check point where they frisk people and check bags. Then there's another guy sitting at a desk in an office behind more blast walls checking the badge you were given (and should be wearing around your neck) and writing down your name (again) and your sponsor's name (again). Then when you go to leave at the end of your visit, your sponsor has to walk you back to this guy so he can mark you off and you have to go back to the man in the first "booth" to get your ID back. You're not allowed to go anywhere inside the compound without your sponsor.

The American compound is fairly similar except they take away your cell phones and cameras. No electronics for you even if they have decided that you're not really that suspicious. The Marine who checked us in when we went swimming at the compound was very polite to me though. Typical military manners.

So basically what I'm saying is, every where I go, there are a million levels of security. I'm no fool though, I know that only so much can be done. But that said, I'm way safer than probably any of you (or I) had imagined when I first told you I would be moving here. So, don't worry so much about me.

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