There was a brief period of peace in Iraq from September 1988 to August 1990. Just two years. After eight years of constant war with Iran, the Iraqi’s took a two-year break, during which time Saddam Hussein decided he had the green light to annex Kuwait. Their brief period of peace ended with the U.S. “shock and awe” that turned Saddam back to his own land and left Kuwait ablaze.
The eight-year war with Iran was straight out of Orwell. Massive defeats were proclaimed to be victories. Young-men-turned-soldiers died inglorious deaths by poison gas on a scale not seen since 1918. Massive posters of Saddam were everywhere. Billboards on the side of the road showed him in a military helmet. Posters in stores showed him sporting a turban. Every home had pictures of him kissing babies, and generally looking lovable.
When I asked Iraqis why there were so many pictures of Saddam, they all replied with the exact same phrase: “Because we love him.”
Crazy. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.
I was there once during the last year of the war and again during the brief period of calm before the Kuwait invasion. It was a memorable place, and although I was warned not to walk around on my own, I did it all the time. I wanted to spend as much time with the Iraqi people as I could. I was there to facilitate the sale of passenger car tires to the Socialist government of Iraq, but I took the opportunity to visit Babylon and the National Museum of Antiquities.
I mention all this because it explains why I had two Iraqi visas in my passport when I got in trouble at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). While the United States was bombing bridges, roads and telecommunication centers in Iraq, I was on a business trip in Japan. In fact, I had mostly moved on and forgotten about my business dealings with Saddam’s government. I was in Japan doing some kind of business deal involving collectable antique autos.
When I landed in LA on my return from a week in Japan, I noticed there was a dog running loose in the airport, near the baggage claim. I thought that was strange, so I watched him running around from person to person. Then the little dog came up to me and started sniffing around my ankles and the one bag I had picked up from the carousel.
Then just as suddenly as that dog appeared, he ran off in another direction. Again, I thought that was weird and I was sort of amused at the thought of a dog loose in the airport. That’s when I noticed a beagle sniffing my shoes and legs and my luggage. I thought, “Holy cow, another loose dog in the airport!”
Just then, my last bag came off the carousel. I grabbed my bag, turned around, and the dog was gone. I got my things and started walking to the customs area when I felt someone grab both my arms and pull me away from my luggage.
Two big drug enforcement guys didn’t handcuff me in front of the big crowd, but they certainly had a hold of me and told me to go with them. They took me to a long metal table in full view of people lining up to clear customs. I was embarrassed for sure, so I asked them what was going on.
“You don’t ask us questions. We ask the questions here.”
They searched my briefcase and my wallet before searching my luggage. They took my passport and started going through it. “Why were you in Japan?” Business.
Holy Cow! They saw the Iraqi visas in my passport and turned up the heat. “What were you doing in Iraq?” “Do you have friends in Iraq?” “Why did you have to go to Iraq twice in such a short time?” They didn’t seem to really listen to any of my answers.
“How much money did you take to Japan?” Two-Hundred Dollars. “You only have $140 in here now, what did you do with the other $60?” I really can’t say. I was there for a week, maybe it was food.
These guys were all business. I’m 6 foot 3, but they all seemed taller and stronger than me. They were irritable, bossy, and suddenly I found myself sweating there at that table. I don’t know who had access to my bags. No, I didn’t have them locked. Yes, it’s possible that someone put drugs in my luggage.
They pulled a week’s worth of dirty laundry out of my bags and across the table for all the world to see. I wasn’t allowed to touch anything. They saved the suitcase the dogs were most interested in for last. They asked me one last time if I had any contraband in there. I told them no.
Then they opened it and started dumping my stuff out on the table. They found a plastic bag full of Andes Mints and asked me what that was for? I told them I was doing Weight Watchers and when the hotel left those on my pillow I was saving them for later.
They all looked at each other and told me they were done with me. That was it. No apology. No help re-packing my stuff. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible so I didn’t say another word to them.