The people of planet earth tend to disagree about a lot of things. From what to teach in schools to the best economic system to what we should have for dinner, we’re always fighting, arguing or just plain ole disagreeing. But if there’s one thing the overwhelming majority of us can readily agree on, it’s that politicians are slimy folk.
A while back, I wrote about one of the most corrupt men I have ever met–the Chief of Police of Diyala Province in Iraq. General Damouk. (See this post for more on him.) The short version was that he loved catch-and-release programs, where, as a strong political Shi’a Muslim, he would round up Sunni Muslims from his Province and throw them in jail until someone paid for their release. He was also fond of doing the same to Sunni politicians.
Some of the prisoners who got released, though, were actually in there for real crimes, just without enough evidence (or jail space) to keep them. In these cases, General Damouk would hold prisoner release hearings to let these guys go. When he did, he had to have signatures from himself, an American representative, a village elder to vouch for the prisoner’s good behavior going forward, and a local politician. I got to sit through a couple of these with my boss, and they were always loads of fun (note the sarcasm).
One particularly memorable day came in the late summer, just when Iraq was at its hottest. Even with a/c, it was warm in the General’s office. I was parked on a couch, already uncomfortable, when the token local politician plopped down next to me. It quickly became apparent that he was far more interested in me than in the proceedings.
That was not entirely unheard, but a couple of things made this instance a little less pleasant than most.
- Most Iraqi admirers just gawked. This one wanted to talk.
- It was Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. When you fast, one of the unfortunate side effects is halitosis.
- Iraqis can often be close talkers. As in, inches-from-your-face close talkers.
- Having a mint or gum during Ramadan counts as breaking your fast. As a cultural advisor, offering a mint was wildly inappropriate, no matter how badly I wanted to (and I did want to, very, very badly).
The conversation went something like this, in whispers, when shushing failed to work. WHILE the prisoners are being interviewed in front of us, no less:
“Are you married?”
“Shh.” <He stares at me for a long moment.> “Ugh, yes.”
“Where is your husband?”
“Ah, well you should forget him and stay here in Iraq. We could find a better husband for you and you would live like a queen, with a big house and servants, a beautiful car, many vacations, and you would never have to work.”
“I rather like my husband. We should be paying attention.”
“Eh, it is not that important. But you, you do not know what love is. Here in Iraq, we know what love means. We can show you. Like now. Are you hungry? We can go get you something to eat. Though I cannot eat, I know you are not Muslim and I will still buy you some food to show you how we will talk care of you. What love is.”
<I shake my head and point at the prisoner.>
“Ah, that is okay. To show you what love is, I will go get you food, right now, so you can eat. That is lo…”
Without warning, a third voice cut in oh-so-casually at that point.
“If you do not stop hitting on my girlfriend right now, I am going to throw you in jail.”
I looked up to find General Damouk looking straight at the politician next to me with a mild expression on his face (and also now ignoring the prisoner who was left to stare back and forth at us all). The politician laughed, then nodded to the general and slid away from me with a grin. A somewhat nervous, forced grin. General Damouk stared at him a moment longer without saying a word and turned back to the prisoner.
The corrupt police chief had just rescued me from the slimy politician.
The worrisome part was that, in his own mind at least, he hadn’t been joking about any of it. But, admittedly, I felt a bit safer.