Day 8 Samarra, Kirkuk and Tikrit
Today’s drive to Samarra via Kirkuk and Tikrit was amazing – not the scenery (dull, dusty and dirty) but the level of bureaucracy needed to get through dozens of checkpoints, even with our new police escort. Several times we sat for over 30 minutes waiting for a higher up to give permission for us to pass through, which put us and our escorts in unwarranted danger.Local police refuse to accept any responsibility for decisions and always want an officer to rule on our passage.
We stopped for tea at Tikrit, Saddam’s home town, previously off limits to foreigners. Saddam’s palace overlooks the river and is surrounded by high fences and companion palaces for his cronies.
It’s now the President’s home, so no photographs are allowed. Saddam’s tomb is also here but it’s forbidden for us to go there. G tells us how he once managed to get into it but his local guide then got into serious trouble for letting him in, so we’re not even going to try to talk our way through. The town has suffered for supporting Saddam and is very poorly maintained.
We intended to stop only briefly at the Caliph’s Palace to take some photos but were made to wait 40 minutes to get in and then another 30 to get out because we were told we didn’t have enough police to escort us to Samarra, which was too dangerous. As there has been no fighting recently, this was a surprise.
At the Samarra Minaret and Mosque the situation worsened when the custodian initially refused to let us in. He argued that because renovations were taking place it was too dangerous, so G gave a counter argument about how we were all archaeological experts and we knew how to be careful. The custodian then decided that we should be excluded because our photography would jeopardize the workers’ safety. We gave assurances that we would not photograph any of the workers and our minder then managed to talk him into allowing us through the perimeter gate. The custodian then refused to allow us to walk towards the minaret, so G went tactically ballistic. We were only allowed free reign after $30 changed hand on top of an entrance fee. Blatant bribery on a UNESCO site.
I only managed to climb half way up the minaret because it was well over 100 degrees and the narrow path is very steep, with no outside barrier. My partner and I sat mid-way in the shade and waited for the others to come down, all sweaty and overheated. We were unable to get to see much of the mosque because of the renovation work but the minaret is a justified Wonder of the World.
The Jausaq al-Khaqani Palace on the Tigris River was next. This was once used as a police barracks and is now in a dreadful state. Some of the original stucco walls have been deliberately smashed and the walls have been daubed with graffiti. Beautiful, yet sad.
More endless checkpoints: Some just waived us through and others were more rigorous. Even with our several police escorts, passing us on like parcels to the next hand-over point, our passage is difficult because we’re something unusual and they don’t know how to deal with us. If something later goes wrong I suppose they fear they could be blamed. After a 15 hour day we’re exhausted.