The Great Escape

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

I won’t tell you exactly how I know about this story, let’s just say it was recounted in great detail by a very good friend of mine who, whilst he wasn’t part of this particular adventure, was also the unwilling recipient of Saddam Hussein’s hospitality for a while back before the first Gulf War in 1990. My thanks to him.

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 the United States, Britain, and their allies decided they would have to help out the Kuwaitis (it’s like they had oil or something, eh?) and they started to make very public plans to liberate that country. This would obviously involve attacks on Iraqi troops and on Iraq itself.

Saddam Hussein thought a good way to dissuade any bombing campaign against his country was to use American, British and European citizens who had been working in Iraq, as a ‘human shield’ against the bombs. Highly illegal and breaching the Geneva Convention and all that, but it was Saddam Hussein and what did he care about rules.

The workers were duly rounded up by Saddam’s men and either put under house arrest or confined in small compounds. They weren’t mistreated and had a limited amount of freedom, but still in the back of their minds they feared they were about to be used for real as that human shield and they knew that when the war started in earnest the bombing would be a necessary part of it.

Most of the ‘hostages’ sat tight in the hope that diplomatic negotiations would succeed and they would be released, which in fact is what did happen.

But a few intrepid souls, who worked for a construction company, decided that they would mount an escape and head for the border. Maybe they had been watching a DVD of The Great Escape or something the night before, I don’t know.

They gathered up supplies of food and as much water as they could carry and in the dead of night they set off. It was relatively easy for them to get out of the hostage compound because the Iraqis knew that no one in their right mind would try to escape, especially on foot. The only thing outside Bagdad was desert, and lots of it.

In what passed for a plan, the would-be escapees had figured that their best bet would be to head for Jordan. Syria was deemed to be too unfriendly and would probably shoot them or send them back to Iraq. The border to the north was far too far away and the terrain was harsh. And the border between Iraq and Iran they reckoned could well be mined because of the war that had just ended less than two years previously between the two states.

So west it was, a long journey, but they set off in good spirits and their confidence level high.

Because of the heat during the day they had decided they would make the best progress if they walked by night and rested by day. A sensible enough strategy. And so that is what they did. Night after night after night they walked and in the daytime found a place to shelter and rested as best they could. They also made very sure that they rationed their meager supplies of food and especially water.

Although none of them really knew what they were talking about, they figured that it would take a week to ten days to make it to the border. But what they had not figured out was that travelling by night is a very different proposition to the daytime.

Still, on and on they went until almost a week had gone by. Their supplies were dwindling fast, but they were still okay for a few more days at least. Then, on the eighth night, they had a remarkable stroke of luck. They came to a high wire fence. They had made it to the Iraq/Jordan border AND they had done it a couple of days quicker than estimated.

They were jubilant.

After congratulating each other all over the place, slapping backs and so forth, they set about digging their way under the fence. They hadn’t any tools with them, but it wasn’t a hard job and after twenty minutes or so they had cleared enough debris to allow them to slide underneath the wire, one at a time, and cross over into Jordanian territory.

When they had crossed the fence there were more celebrations. Then they rested for a little while, but not long. They were safe now, but the adrenalin boost caused by making it safely into Jordan was pulsing through their veins and they all agreed that they should press on and sooner or later they would encounter Jordanian border guards or make it to a village. Either way they could replenish their supplies and get a much needed clean up.

Sure enough, less than an hour or so later, as it was getting light they spotted an army jeep in the distance. They started waving and shouting and eventually the soldiers in the jeep spotted them and made their way over to where they were. A soldier, who they supposed was the officer in charge got out of the jeep and walked over to them.

The leader of the escape gang, who spoke a little Arabic, welcomed the soldier, and as best he could explained that they were hostages and had just escaped across the border after several hard days and nights travelling through the desert.

The soldier grinned and then started to laugh. He said something to his comrades and they too began to laugh. The intrepid escapees joined in, not at all sure what they were laughing at, but assuming the Jordanian soldiers were happy that someone had pulled a fast one over the Iraqis.

Everyone was so happy.

The Jordanian commander told one of his men to send a radio message and a few moments later another jeep and a small canvas topped lorry arrived. The soldiers indicated that the six escapees should get into the back of the lorry, which they duly did and sat down three on each side on the small bench. Two of the soldiers got in along with them.

And off they went. They drove for about ten minutes and then made it to a hard surfaced road. About another ten or fifteen minutes after that the escapees started to notice buildings. They had never seen a Jordanian village, but they assumed this was what they looked like. Then a short time later the lorry stopped.

The two soldiers jumped out first and indicated that the escapees should follow, which they did. But when they were on the ground and had gathered their wits about them they saw that there were a lot of people around, but they were all in uniform. There didn’t seem to be any civilians around at all.

Maybe they had been evacuated because of the imminent hostilities? They couldn’t really figure it out.

But then the penny slowly started to drop into place.

Our intrepid escapees had not made it across the border.

Nor were they in a Jordanian village.

What they had managed to do was march for days through the desert, probably in all directions but a straight line, and ended up still in Iraq.

Not only that but the fence they had encountered and carefully dug their way under was not the border fence between Iraq and Jordan, it was the fence surrounding an Iraqi army camp. And that’s where they now were! These soldiers were Saddam’s troops, not Jordanians.

I really wish I could have seen the look of disbelief, confusion, disappointment and incredulity on their faces.

The Iraqis could have shot them. But they were so busy laughing they would probably have missed. Instead, after the hilarity had passed, they allowed the escapees to get cleaned up, probably more for soldiers’ benefit rather than the would-be escapees, and then put them on another lorry to be driven back to Baghdad.

The great escape was over.

Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

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