Chapter 3 - Fallujah

Fiction by ghill

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Chapter 3 - Fallujah

Postby ghill » Fri Feb 26, 2016 4:50 pm

Which is why after three intense weeks of convoy duties Holden and half the team found themselves standing outside BIAP's arrival terminal waiting while the rest of the team went inside to pick up Herr Junzt. The airport was bustling with security contractors, businessmen and NGO's all under the watchful eye of ex-Ghurkhas employed by the Iraqi government.

The other half of the team came out of the airport terminal, with Pat pushing a trolley on which were two canvas holdalls and a camera bag, walking beside him cigarette hanging from his mouth was the German Holden had last seen two months ago sitting by the side of the pool at the Baghdad Hilton. When the German saw him a smile crossed his face, he stopped and took the cigarette out of his mouth. "Aaah the historian". Holden responded with a smile indicating the open door of the car. Herr Junzt dropped the camera bag onto the back seat before climbing in himself and sliding across, behind the drivers seat. Holden went to get in after him as Pat barged into him while muttering "historian my arse", Holden threw his team mate the bird with a smile then climbed into the passenger seat. Pat threw the rest of Herr Juntz's bags into the boot, then climbed into the drivers seat. As Pat pulled away from the Kerb, Holden began to brief HerrJunzt on what to do if they were attacked while travelling to the hotel, however almost as soon as he started talking the German interrupted him.

"Before we head to my hotel I have some business to conduct, I would like to go to the Iraq National Museum. I can give you directions if you do not know where it is."

Holden looked at Pat who shrugged before he started to pick his way through the US Army checkpoints and onto the Baghdad Airport Road, the infamous Route Irish. The museum was fairly close to the safety of the Green Zone, which would mean they would be stuck in traffic along with lots of irritable Iraqi's forced to drive around a large chunk of their own city in an unavoidable detour. Holden picked up the radio to inform the Armburst Operations room of the change in their plans, then settled back to watch for those tell tale indicators in the daily life of Baghdad which might mean an attack was imminent.

As they drove to the museum, Holden thought about von Junzt's previous CP team, wondered whether he'd listened to their advice, or dismissed it as easily as he'd just done Holden's. At the museum it was Pat and his half of the team which stayed outside with the cars while Holden and the others went inside, with the temperatures rising with the approach of midday Holden was glad to be inside. The other two team members both former sergeants Jock Grant with the Black Watch, Dennis Johnson with the Parachute regiment took up positions front and rear while Holden as designated bodyguard walked beside Herr Junzt. He was surprised when the German started talking to him.

"When I came here, it was days after the Americans liberated the city, the floor was literally covered in pieces of broken pottery. The looters had simply gone from shelf to shelf, pulling down the statues, the pots the amphorae priceless antiquities of from every age Iraq's history. They were poor men they didn't understand some of those pieces were more valuable than the gold and jewelry they were looking for...of course they took the gold as well".

The German stopped for a moment taking in the exhibits he walked over to a half empty display case, small white cards were the descriptions of the items which had been looted. The German sighed.

"This was once one of the world's best collections of pre-Hellenic statuary, gold jewellery, and cuneiform writings in the world. The Iraqis did this to their own history, when I arrived there were still no American soldiers or policemen to guard it, just the bullets cracking over our heads because the locals were fed up with the looters and had decided to take matters into their own hands." He paused "Look at this."

The German leant forward to pick up a massive hunk of pottery in both hands; he carefully tilted it so the delicate patterns catch the light. "This was originally part of a jar, it was smashed... its Assyrian. they ruled 2,000 years before Christ. To a historian priceless, to the majority of those who looted this place it was simply old junk with no value"

The German placed the massive piece of pottery carefully back on the shelf then moved on. They walked together down a side corridor guarded by broken statues, at the end the German waved at Jock to lift a rope barrier to let them all past.

"To reach the storerooms, the mobs had to break through a massive steel door, which implies somebody had done some planning. Some of the items stolen had never been on display, weren't mentioned anywhere and would only have been valuable to a small and very distinct group. It will take decades to sort through what they have left, the broken pots, the statuary, the treasures, the jewellery, the books."

The German stopped below a huge stone statue of a winged bull as a young Iraqi approached. The German and Iraqi clasped hands and exchanged greetings in Arabic. "This is Abdul al-Tikriti, he was one of my students when I was Professor of Antiquities at Berlin University, now he is doing me a small favour in providing me with some information."

Holden and Abdul shook hands, then the German and the Iraqi turned their backs on the team and started talking rapidly in Arabic, the conversation lasted several minutes at the end of which the two exchanged papers or more correctly Abdul handed Junzt a small slip of paper while receiving in return a brown envelope obviously full of cash.

They walked back through the museum in silence, the German obviously deep in thought occasionally slowing as he took time to glance at whatever was written on the piece of paper. As they stepped outside Herr Juntz stopped. "We can go to my hotel now I will not need you again until tomorrow."

Glad to find his day was finally ending by the time he thought to ask what they were going to be up to the following day Junzt's was already climbing into the car. After telling Pat and the Armburst Ops room they were heading to the hotel he turned to the back seat.

"Whats the plan is for tomorrow sir, so we can tell the Ops room and make any necessary plans"

"Naturally, of course, of course it will be a long day tomorrow, we must go to Fallujah."

Holden felt that twinge in his guts which he knew were nerves, but could have sworn there was a hint of amusement in the tone of the German's voice.

The next morning found Holden stuck in the ageing 4x4 as it raced through a gap in the slow moving traffic, creeping along the main road into Fallujah, occasionally Paddy mounted the curb or crossed the central reservation and drove down the wrong side of the road. In Holden’s mind it made them stick out, made them more of a target, but company policy was for the vehicles not be static in traffic.

Paddy drove one handed. One hand on the wheel, the other hand alternating between gear stick, the horn, or making rude gestures to other slower drivers on the road. Holden smiled as Pat practiced his limited repertoire of Arab swear words, and the heated exchanges of Arab male voices would fill the car. Later he would explain to Pat the reason the Arab taxi driver had laughed at him was because the vile acts he was describing, were acts he claimed his own mother practiced not the taxi driver's. All in all it was not the most pleasant experience, but it wasn’t the worst of his experiences he’d had since he arrived in Iraq and driving in Iraq was one Holden had grown to live with.

Their journey had been meticulously planned; the route as well as possible alternatives mapped out. The whole team had been involved in the planning, every potential threat had to be taken into account, which meant phone calls had to be made and Intel gathered. The team needed to know which roads the military were currently designating “red routes” because they were dangerous either, because of recent IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs), suicide bombings (by car or on foot) or attacks by gunmen. The list of possible threats changed on a daily basis and the team needed to get the most up to date information

Getting to Fallujah had been remarkably easy, Holden had half expected, half hoped to be turned away by the military long before the they got anywhere near entering the town. But at each checkpoint Herr Junzt had got out of the car and after talking discretely with whoever was in charge they had been waived through, at the dozen Iraqi police checkpoints Holden had assumed Junzt was simply dropping bribes, but he'd done the same thing with the US Marine Captain who originally adamantly refused to let them through.

Under normal circumstances the Armburst close protection teams would drive around in armoured Hyundai Tuscon 4x4's. Holden didn't like them, while the Hyundais were able to go cross country unike some of the armoured vehicles other companies used, they had no speed or acceleration due to all the armour they were carrying. Holden’s personal preference would have been for a Land Rover or Range rover, but Armburst simply weren't going to fork out the cash. By far the worst thing about driving the Tuscons rather than the knackered saloons they normally drove, was the fact they screamed "Hey look at me I'm a westerner" and as they entered the slums of southern Fallujah that morning attracting the attention of the locals was the last thing Holden wanted to do.

As they drove through the near empty streets, Holden wondered just who Junzt was working for, he certainly didn't seem like a typical academic.Juntz’s behaviour and his reticence to talk about anything he was doing, made Holden and the rest of the team wonder whether he was involved with the intelligence community, but Holden couldn't help but think of him as an overweight and slightly criminal version of Indiana Jones.

Von Junzt had given them general directions for where to go in Fallujah, but once within the confines of the town he started to give Paddy more detailed instructions, Holden noted he did this without notes which meant he either had a really good memory for directions or he had been here before. The directions took them into South Fallujah through neighbourhoods which were uniformly horrible. The houses here were smaller than those in Baghdad and far more decrepit. Nearly every house displayed some kind of battle damage; concrete walls stood apparently at random like some kind of tombstones, garbage and rubble spilt onto the roads in equal quantities. Holden was reminded of some kind of Mexican shantytown.

An American Marine he'd got chatting to at a bar in Camp Victory had told Holden there simply wasn't any real economy left in Fallujah most businesses had simply up and left when all the fighting started and never came back; unemployment here was as high as fifty per cent. It was no surprise he said that during periods of heavy fighting there were more insurgents in South Fallujah than elsewhere in the city, not because the inhabitants held strong ideological or political views but simply because Al Qaeda was paying cash and most of the inhabitants had no other source of income and needed the money to survive.

Finally Junzt indicated for Pat to stop outside what looked to be a small factory. The second car pulled up some distance behind them and the team climbed out each man taking up his pre-arranged position besides or near to the car which meant someone was looking in every direction. The exception was Holden who stood next to Junzt, who now pulled open one of the steel the gates into the factory.

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