From My Vantage Point
“When is your flight scheduled to leave?” the gentleman sitting on the barstool opposite me asks. “Saturday night,” I tell him, “3:45 in the morning.”
He looks down and shakes his head.
I inquire why he wants to know and what the source of his disappointment is. What he tells me is entirely unnerving.
“They just announced that all flights leaving Iraq over the next two days have been canceled.”
The setting is in an Iraqi city on the eve of the parliamentary elections; the location is [what I assume to be] one of the few alcohol-serving pubs in the country. The man seated on a barstool opposite me is a Kurdish-Iraqi local whom I’ve come to know over the years, a “fixer” for journalists who is well connected with government officials.
Well, the best case scenario according to him? The delay lasts no longer than two days and I make my flight to Istanbul and from there to Israel to report on the US embassy move to Jerusalem.
An unpleasant though entirely likely scenario? Fighting across Iraq intensifies, and flights remain canceled for another few days. In this case we would hang tight and hope for the best.
Worst case scenario? A war breaks out between Iran and Israel and no-fly zones are declared throughout Iraqi airspace. In that case, the head of our security team explained, we would need to appeal to the Iraqi officials in the hopes that they’d approve a five day travel permit for our group, which we’d use to either drive south and cross the border into Kuwait, or west and cross the border into Turkey. Once in either country we’d be able to catch flights back to the US. (Jordan, it was explained, would not be an option, as many of the roads leading there were either under ISIS’ control or subject to possible ISIS attack.)
In the end, while fighting between various Kurdish militia groups did break out and clashes between government and pro-government forces and ISIS did intensify, the city of Erbil, from whence we flew, remained mostly spared from violence (in defiance of predictions suggesting otherwise). After a flight delay of no more than seven minutes we were airborne and on the way to Istanbul.
No one would know just how close our team was to being stranded. Let them find out in the pages of Ami Magazine once it was all over I figure.
From My Friends’ Vantage Points
“Turx, why aren’t you in the White House during the week when President Trump announced that he’s ditching the Iran Deal?!” This is what I was asked throughout the week as pictures of my trip to an “undisclosed country in the Middle East” made its rounds. (Oh, it turns out that there’s better Internet in the barren roads of Iraq than in the swathes of cornfields in some parts of Iowa.)
As far as my friends knew, I had chosen to take a random vacation at a really bizarre time (spoiler alert: I hadn’t and it isn’t). As far as they didn’t know, I’d be spending my time, among other things, in villages not far from the Iraq-Iran border. I’d be spending time wandering the marketplaces, speaking with locals and attending rallies from political parties running in the Iraqi elections, including the pro-Islamic party (represented by the color orange) and the pro-Iranian “Goren” (Change) Party (represented by the color dark blue).
I’d spend time discussing their feelings about the elections, the future of Iran and Iraq and the Kurdish bid for independence. I’d find out that local grievances and general fears over Iran’s growing influence over Iraq trump concerns about a war breaking out between Iran and Israel.
The possibility of canceled flights is the very least of anyone’s concerns—anyone’s but mine. Safety at the polling places, inter-party skirmishes and a free and transparent election are on the forefront of peoples’ minds. ISIS holdouts and the plight of refugees, not as much.
Turns out, I’d be exploring Iranian perspectives unbeknown to anyone. Almost.
From My Wife’s Vantage Point
“Don’t worry,” I reassure my wife, who is hosting her parents halfway around the world, “we’re going to have an awesome Iraqi Shabbos.” I let her know about my undertaking to find ingredients for cholent at the bazaar in a town an hour’s drive from the Iranian border. I also tell her that we’ve been granted special permission to daven in the oldest shul in Iraq.