Shaqlawa – Hawler

A short ride today in terms of kilometers, but an interesting one nonetheless.

I had just passed through the town of Salahuddin and enjoyed a couple of kilometers of hair-pin bends downhill, when I stopped at the road side before the next long climb to rest for a short while.
A car with two men, one in plain clothes the other in Peshmerga camouflage uniform, stopped next to me. They wanted to know where I was coming from and where I was going. No English was spoken, which made any further communication very difficult. The plain-clothes guys eventually introduced himself as ‘FBI’ and wanted to see my passport.

They then insisted on taking me (and the bike) back to a non-descript house in Salahuddin, non-descript except for the AK47-armed Peshmerga keeping watch outside. My initial annoyance changed to amusement and curiosity. I was brought to the ‘manager’s’ office and questioned by a German-speaking man in traditional Kurdish dress with a gun sticking out of his belt. They wanted to know where I had traveled before, especially in Iran, and where I planned to go. They asked me directly if I was spying for Germany and also asked if I was trafficking drugs from Iran. Hm.

So they were obviously Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence organization – counter-espionage and counter-drug trafficking are amongst their jobs.

I had to unlock my phone and it was passed around. I objected to them looking into my phone. Silence. Then, apologies. “It’s just our job.” I got my phone back and had to show them myself what they wanted to see, which was just the last photos taken and the last texts sent. They weren’t very thorough, and I managed to avoid showing them the daily GPS snapshots. I had no interest in explaining the existance of (somewhat) detailed maps and GPS tracks for the blog on the phone.

Eventually they were convinced I was no threat to Kurdish security and let me go. More apologies for wasting my time. They said they would have fed me some lunch had it not been for Ramadan – they didn’t have anything themselves. Hrmpf.

I’m in Hawler (pronounced Hauléhr) now, also known as Arbil, Erbil, or Ibil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital. Will probably stay here for a day or two and decide where to go next.

Cycled: 56km

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