I spent last week at UN security training to prepare for some potential trips to the south of Iraq. My job is cool in the sense that it allows me to travel from Amman to Iraq and take pictures and talk to people, which really are my two favorite things. Nevertheless, the security situation in Iraq now is precarious to say the least, and there has been an upsurge is widespread, coordinated attacks since April of this year. In fact, just two days ago a bombing in Baghdad killed over 60 people. The violence is sectarian, and has a lot to do with the country’s history of Shia-Sunni tensions and now spillover from what is happening to the west in Syria. In fact, over 4,000 people have been killed in Iraq since April, with 804 deaths last month alone. Call it what you will, but the situation is undeniably escalating.
As Richard, the ex-UK military sergeant running the training, told us: “you’ve picked an interesting time to work in Iraq, folks.”
All 15 of us arrived early last Monday for training, ready and nervous for the week ahead. The first thing that happened was the UNAMI security officer collected a strand of hair from each of us – “in case we have to identify you at some point in the future,” he said reassuringly. We spent two days in the classroom learning about hostage situations and IEDs, as well as getting certified in emergency first aid. Then, we strapped on our bullet proof vests and helmets and spent the rest of the week “in the field.” I’m not going to talk too much about this, but basically we were put in a series of makeshift (but realistic) dire security situations and told to just sort of…handle it. From being shot at, to held hostage, to having grenades tossed our way, to encountering people bleeding profusely, to overtly aggressive checkpoints, we were certainly tested. Some people unraveled under pressure, some kept it cool; I might have cried a little bit when someone put a sack over my head. It’s fine. The main point is that I made it through, and now I feel equally prepared and frightened for any upcoming trips to Iraq. Who can triage casualties? Who knows the proper position to take when a grenade goes off? And the NATO phonetic alphabet? These people.