Of Chocolates and Katyushas

It was late afternoon on Thursday, 29 October 2015, when I asked Khalil, the driver on duty, to pass by Naqla before he takes me to my quarters inside the Green Zone. Naqla is the grocery store right across the Babylon Warwick and is just about five minutes from the Embassy.

It is the only grocery store in Jadriya that we declared safe enough for us to go to from time to time for a quick resupply. On this particular afternoon, I had a sudden craving for chocolate. I badly needed some. And Naqla was along the way to the Green Zone.

It started to rain as we turned right to Karada Street towards Naqla. Thunder started to roll as we came in to park. “Not again, please,” I told myself as I recalled the violent thunderstorm in Baghdad the previous night that kept my plane on the ground in Erbil for hours.

It started to rain as we turned right to Karada Street towards Naqla. Thunder started to roll as we came in to park. “Not again, please,” I told myself as I recalled the violent thunderstorm in Baghdad the previous night that kept my plane on the ground in Erbil for hours.

I jumped out of the rented Land Cruiser as soon as Khalil hit the brake. It was going to be quick. I knew where the chocolates were. I wanted to get the Galaxy Jewel chocolates that I first sampled a few days after I arrived in Baghdad. These individually wrapped assorted chocolates come in a plastic container.

Just as I was reaching out to get one,  Khalil came rushing in.

“Sir, we have to go!”

“But Khalil, we just got here,” I told him as I went on to take one of the containers.

“Rockets, Sir!” he said. “Most likely fired towards the airport.”

“What rockets?”

“What you heard before we got here, that boom, boom, boom! Those were multiple rocket explosions.”

“Oh, Katyusha. I thought it was thunder,” I said as I quickly placed the container back into the shelf. “We better get out of here!”

Khalil led me to the vehicle and immediately sped off towards the Green Zone. We were there in no time. Upon reaching my quarters, I made some phone calls. Khalil was right. Multiple rockets were indeed fired towards the Baghdad International Airport but the target was the former American Camp Liberty that was occupied by the Mujahedin-e Khalq or the People’s Mujahedeen Organization, an exiled Iranian dissident group.

IMG_4830

News reports said at least 26 dissidents in the camp were killed in the rocket barrage  that I initially thought was rolling thunder. The attack was said to have been carried out by one of the many pro-Iranian militia groups in Baghdad.

I may not have been able to get my chocolate but, at least, I was safe.

That was until 5:30 a.m. when a loud explosion nearly threw me out of bed. Unlike the previous night’s rocket attack, this one was dangerously close to my quarters.

“That certainly was not a rocket,” I told myself.  “It was most likely a car bomb.”

I waited for the usual blare of sirens from first responders that always follow every explosion in the capital. Except for the pitter-patter of the rain on my window, it was all quiet. I waited five minutes. Nothing. I went back to bed.

If I mistook the Katyushas for thunder last night, this time, I was certain. What I just heard was thunder. And I was really sure about it.

If I mistook the Katyushas for thunder that previous night, this time, I was certain. What I just heard was thunder. And I was really sure about it.

Later in the evening, I had dinner at Dojo’s with my Jordanian counterpart, Ashraf Al-Khasawneh. I told him about the rocket attack and that I was at the airport hours before the incident,  having arrived from Erbil in the morning after thunderstorms prevented our plane from taking off the night before.

“My friend, I was there  inside the airport terminal when the Katyushas started falling with the rain,” Ashraf told me. He said he was there to send off a visiting delegation from Amman. He took out his Iphone and showed me a video he said he took of the rocket barrage. I saw multiple flashes from the explosions as the rockets hit land.

ASHRAF2

Ashraf was laughing after I told him how I mistook the successive booms that I heard near Naqla that same evening for thunder.

“And then there was that big bang early this morning that woke me up,” I said to him. “I thought it was a car bomb but it was just thunder so I went back to bed.”

“Oh, I heard that, too,” Ashraf said. “And then shortly after, I heard the US Embassy sound off its warning for everyone to take cover and to stay away from the windows.”

“But I was in the shower, what was I supposed to do?” he added.

“Really? I was actually waiting to hear that but I did not,” I told Ashraf, the former spokesperson of the Jordanian foreign ministry, who was staying at their embassy located just across the US Embassy in the Green Zone.

I left for home wondering how I could not have heard the US Embassy alarm that I have heard at least once before.

I left for home wondering how I could not have heard the US Embassy public address sytem that I have heard at least once before. I was there across the Tigris when I heard the public address system sound off immediately after the suicide bombing at the Babylon Hotel five months ago.

Perhaps, my friend got confused and got the day wrong, I told myself. Upon reaching home, I turned to Google. Ashraf was right. There were two detonations in Baghdad on Friday morning that never made it to the news. The first bomb went off in an area in a neighboring district just outside the Green Zone.

Hay naku. And I was even sure what I heard that morning was just thunder. Now I really am confused.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s