Iraq 2013: Farewell Baghdad

Day 21 Baghdad airport – farewell

We left the hotel at 6am. We’d been warned that the airport security rivaled Kabul; for good reason because 2 people had been killed in a bomb attack in May. Our coach dropped us at the first checkpoint (because you have to be specially licensed to enter the perimeter) and we were loaded into luxury taxis to babysit us through the next stage. They took us to the next checkpoint where we disembarked, leaving all of our bags in the taxis, so that sniffer dogs could check us and the cars out.

Then onto the next checkpoint where we alighted for the body searches (though I was just waived through by the female officials who were not interested in me). Then there was another checkpoint for our luggage, where female security officials had a cursory look through my handbag but the males had to empty out all of theirs.

At the next checkpoint we had to pay the luggage handlers who’d been taking our items in and out of the boots (we hadn’t been allowed to do it ourselves) and a nasty argument started when they tried to demand $20 per bag. This was eventually settled at $2 per item.

We were then snatched up by a separate set of porters and the one with our luggage suddenly ran away from the crowd and made the officials let us into the front of the queue. I was very embarrassed. Luggage, including waist belts, then had to be left in a long line and we were shepherded behind a bomb proof wall for another dog check. There were large posters everywhere warning people not to run (I suppose the dogs would give chase or you’d be shot). It was a bit unnerving having to leave everything behind, out of sight. After 20 minutes we were allowed back to pick up the bags and we double checked everything carefully to make sure it was all there and that no one had added anything to it.

We were then free to enter the terminal.

As we were checking in, the system crashed, just after the man dealing with us just walked off mid booking. Then we hit the real problem.

J had been through immigration first and we were suddenly aware that he had been stopped and was being questioned by men in black uniforms. N’s officer also refused to let him through. Then chaos descended as the man in charge refused to let our group go through because our exit visa permission was unacceptable. A higher up authority was summoned and an overweight man in a badly fitted suit turned up to display total indifference. As our man from the Ministry had failed to materialise at the airport (as previously agreed) and G was unable to get any of his contacts on the phone, it looked like we were in real trouble.

We were herded into a small room in the immigration area and watched other foreigners  also being denied exit. By now the Turkish Airline staff had realised that we weren’t boarding and they noisily joined in the argument. Failing to help, they then tried to snatch our boarding cards from us so that they could offload our luggage but we refused to hand them over.

10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave, the Ministry man wandered over (2 hours late) and calmly told G that there was nothing he could do to help. Immigration then asked for $400 for an emergency exit visa and we had a whip round to raise the money. The officials then changed it to $400 each and the atmosphere became explosive, especially as the Ministry man kept shrugging his shoulders (literally) and saying “just pay the money and then you can go”. We refused and told them we’d just sit there and refuse to move. At that point we won the stand-off, handed over the $400 for the group and were allowed to re-join the queues for passport control to have our visas stamped. The Turkish Airline staff hysterically, ran us through security to board the plane – only to find that we still had to wait for another 2 people having similar issues.

This has been the most memorable airport check in ever.

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