Chapter 2 - Iraq and Baghdad.

Fiction by ghill

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Chapter 2 - Iraq and Baghdad.

Postby ghill » Thu Feb 18, 2016 11:17 am

Paddy had phoned up early Monday morning just after he'd come back from taking the kids to school, apparently a slot had just opened on a job in Northern Iraq, he didn't ask how but assumed the worse, Penalty clauses in Armbursts' contract meant they were paying through the nose every day the slot went unfilled so Paddy had been told to get it filled as soon as possible no questions asked which meant Holden got the phone call.

The kids had thought it was really exciting, they'd seen the old pictures of him in uniform around the house and now daddy was going off to be a soldier, he didn't bother to correct them when they talked about him seeing them at the weekend. Paula had held out pretty well until they went to bed, then had been all tears, he gave her pretty much the same spiel he'd given her before..."He wouldn't be going out looking for trouble, he wasn't going to take unnecessary risks, he'd be working in a quiet part of the country, he'd be back soon and they'd be able to pay off a load of their debts. He didn't tell he thought he was replacing someone who'd caught a packet, some things he decided were best left unsaid.

Two days later he was standing in Istanbul International Airport's arrival hall, his old DPM Burgan at his feet and a new sand coloured daypack slung over his shoulder, waiting for the Armburst driver to take him to Armburst’s Istanbul office. Paddy hadn't given him much time to get his kit together and despite his best efforts not to outfit himself as a gun for hire, it soon became apparent by the tattoos and haircuts every 'Soldier of Fortune' off to work in Iraq was dressed in desert boots, tan cargo pants and t-shirt just like himself.

It was probably the clothes which gave him away to Pat. Pat Lowe was thirty had served twelve years in the army in the Royal regiment of Artillery but had left five years ago and had been working for Armburst ever since. It was Pat’s second trip to Iraq, he reckoned after his last tour in the south of the country the Kurdish north would be pretty much a breeze.

Paddy had met them at Armburst' Istanbul office, a small villa on the coast just outside the city. In a well equipped briefing room Paddy gave them a quick but detailed brief them on the job which amounted in his words to "wiping the arse of an overpaid executive trying to bribe an engineering contract out of the Kurds." They then spent the afternoon sitting on the villa's patio drinking beers and sorting out their paperwork.

Holden hadn't been able to find out the reason why, although he largely suspected it was down to cost, but Armburst didn't fly its contractors into BIAP. Rather than fly its contractors into Baghdad and then transport them north into the Kurdish territories they were driven over the border from Turkey into the Northern part of Iraq. It was cheaper and in retrospect Holden realised probably safer. The ethnic Kurds who made up the majority of Iraqi’s in the region were no friends of either the Baathist freedom fighters or Islamist jihadi, so this area of the country was considered fairly safe, at least when it was compared to the rest of Iraq.

Their driver for the first part of their journey was a young Turk called Mustafa. Mustafa’s driving style was unique, in as much as he was as happy using his knees to steer as his hands and obviously didn't feel in any way obliged to watch the road while driving as he would happily turn to his passengers in the back seat either to explain how much better off Turkey would be in the Kurds all buggered off and lived anywhere else other than Turkey, or how Manchester United were the best football team in the world if you excluded Galatasaray.

Pat, a Leeds supporter had felt obliged to tell Mustafa his own opinions of Galatasaray. Holden with no football loyalties to defend had simply sunk back in his seat switched on his Ipod and settled down to sleep through as much of the journey as possible. He'd woken four hours later to find a much subdued Mustafa, it was only later that Pat told him their football conversation had become so heated Mustafa had felt he needed to stop the car beside the road while he fought Pat for the honour of his home football team. As Pat described it he'd been forced to teach Mustafa the error of his ways.

At the town of Diyarbakir they'd swapped drivers. A sullen and bruised Mustafa had thrown their bags into the boot of a tired and battered looking silver BMW, driven by middle aged Kurd by the name of Babik. Babik's English was far better than Mustafa’s and it came as no surprise to either of them that Babik’s former job was as a school teacher, apparently cronyism meant he'd lost his job to a younger teacher who had connections in the PPK. Not that Babik minded, the smiling Kurd was now now earning three times his former wage working as a driver and fixer for Armburst.

Babik drove them South East to the border crossing at Zakho in Iraq. They'd arrived in the early hours Babik had told them both to sit tight then jumped out with all their paperwork, from the back seat of the car they'd see him running from one building to another building as he followed the Byzantine process of getting their paperwork approved and all the necessary stamps.

He came back an hour later all smiles and drove them through the Turkish side of the border only to drive fifty yards before pulling over at the Iraqi immigration and customs section. They had to get out of the car while the Iraqi or rather Kurdish soldiers searched the car and their bags for contraband. The immigration officers made a perfunctory check of their passports before stamping them and they were through. From the border crossing it was only a few short kilometres to the city of Zakho. They'd had breakfast at the side of the road just outside the border town, hot sweet tea in small ornate glasses accompanied by a large plate covered in small pastries which the three of them had eaten with gusto before heading off to Dohuk to meet the rest of the team and the principle.

The first three months on the job were relatively straightforward they drove the principle Monsieur Bernard from one pumping station to another. Typically the pumping stations were well out in the countryside and well away from any hot spots. Monsieur Bernard was close to retirement age and had spent his whole life in one trouble spot or another. He didn't take risks or at least not unnecessary ones and while he was more than willing to express his displeasure or impatience he was equally willing to give praise when praise was due. So apart from a couple of scares, the biggest hardship was the fact electricity was in desperately short supply and finding the boiler had generated enough hot water for a hot shower typically resulted in a minor riot around the bathroom. This peaceful if slightly smelly existence, wasn't to last. Holden and Pat returned from their first leave only for Paddy to inform them Monsieur Bernard had declared he needed to head south to Baghdad and they were going with him.

Baghdad had been a lot worse than Holden had expected, he'd been thinking Belfast during the 'Cowboy Years' of the 1970's; as it was much, much worse. The day they arrived in Baghdad three car bombs were detonated outside the Buratha mosque in the north of the city, they left 90 people dead and over 150 injured. Those casualties were hardly a blip in the daily statistics, ethnic cleansing was going on big time. Shia and Sunni militias shot it out with one another over control of street corners, dead bodies in the street were a common sight especially in those districts of the city with mixed Shia, Sunni populations. But if the militias were busy trying to murder one another you could rely on them along with the Baathists and Islamists to take time out of their busy schedule to try and kill foreigners.

Even time off duty wasn't particularly restful; all of the Armburst teams working out of Baghdad were based in a large compound. The compound was a large and attractive villa on the banks of the Tigris. At first it had seemed a great location; off duty teams would soak up the sun on the large patio, or sit on the villa's jetty with their feet in the cool waters of the Tigris. Under normal circumstances it would have been a beautiful place to stay and certainly the accommodation rivalled any hotel within the Green Zone. Two weeks after they arrived they stopped going down to the jetty after they found the first corpse, hands bound and gunshot wounds to the head and bearing the signs of torture washed up against the jetty.

A few days after that and it became apparent the locals had worked out who was staying at the villa and from then on they would take regular pot-shots from the other side of the river at anyone sitting on the patio. They screened off the patio and moved inside but the compound still regularly came under fire, those members of management who'd argued Armburst's offices not be in the Green Zone, lest they be walled off, literally and psychologically, from the real world in Baghdad were soon regretting their decision. They also found offices for themselves inside the Green Zone.

Outside the compound contacts became an almost daily occurrence, just about every faction in the city seemed prepared to take a break from killing one another to try and kill the foreigners. It came as no surprise when after one particularly hair raising day Monsieur Bernard announced the engineering firm he worked for had decided the climate in Baghdad was too risky for him to do business and they had called him back to the France. Armburst however weren't prepared to have a bunch of their contractors sitting around and immediately secured a contract for convoy security.

Convoy protection was a horrendous job, probably the worst in Iraq from the point of view of PMCs. Everything from loo paper to main battle tanks came into Iraq on the back of a truck. The largest convoys could number over a hundred vehicles and were typically escorted by the US military or one of the larger players like Haliburton. The convoys Holden's team were escorting were considerably smaller, typically comprising no more than twenty flat-bed trucks, each truck carrying half a dozen concrete sewage pipes bound for a water treatment plant in Northern Baghdad. It didn't take long to work out why Armburst had been able to secure the job, nobody else wanted it. The sewage treatment plant was to the North of Baghdad and as much of their route as possible skirted around the city, but eventually they had to pull onto the sole road capable of taking the weight of the laden trucks, a road which took them through some of the nastiest districts in the city.

ON a good day the team would be up before dawn, meeting the trucks as they crossed the border with Kuwait, if they were lucky the traffic jams would mean they’d reach Baghdad by midday. On a good day the trucks simply attracted the attention of stone-throwing locals, the trucks would all be delivered and unloaded then parked up to be returned on the next day. On a bad day, and honestly they were nearly all bad days, there would be multiple contacts. Holden and the others in their lightly armoured SUV's would spend their entire day racing back and forth along the convoy, fighting off attacks, pulling injured drivers from their wrecked trucks and shepherding the remaining trucks through the ambushes. On bad days Holden and the others would be lucky to return to their bunks before the wee hours of the morning, only to be up again a few short hours later, ready to repeat the process all over again. It was hard, stressful and extremely dangerous work and Holden mentioned none of it in his emails home.

Holden had been on a rare rest day sitting in the Armburst Control room, swapping war stories about Northern Ireland with Danny the watch keeper and former company sergeant major with the Ulster Defence Regiment. When Paddy had walked in and sat down beside him on the desk.

"Hello mate, enjoying your rest a job for you babysitting a representative of the German government looking into the care and preservation of antiquities, I've told him in light of what happened to his last protection team Armburst will assume the contract and your team will provide his security"

"I know it’s out of character for Rupert like me to ask awkward questions, but what happened to his last CP team then". Holden asked without looking up from book and snatching away his cup of tea as Paddy leant forward to grab it.

Paddy grimaced. "They're all dead mate, got a bit sloppy with their vehicle drills and an roadside device took them all out. Luckily for him the 'principle' got out almost without a scratch, blown out of the vehicle I think they said. Not to worry though mate, you can use both the armoured wagons for this they're just out of the shop and there's a pay bonus for the whole team to sweeten the pot. Compared to the alternative which is convoy work it'll be a walk in the park you simply act as....." Paddy paused as he flicked through the paperwork "Herr Junzt's armoured taxi cab as he visits all the museums and historical sights and does whatever it is he does. Simples!."

Word Count: 2361/5062
Chapter 2 - Comments and Comentry
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