Between Iraq and a Hard Place // Alone with the Spy in One of Saddam’s Infamous Torture Chambers

RECAP: When Turx was invited to join a group of American journalists to cover the first Iraqi elections since the fall of ISIS, he couldn’t imagine how quickly matters would be plunged into utter chaos. Right from the onset, Turx felt he could trust “Jerry”—a longtime Kurdish contact whom he had never actually met before this trip—more than the group’s organizer, the trip’s sponsor or the local security men. During his first few days in Iraqi-Kurdistan, Turx would end up spending considerable alone time with Jerry. That was before “Abdul,” one of the Kurdish security members, would warn Turx that Jerry had been sent to spy on their group. And it keeps getting more and more complicated.

Spy and I, Phase Three:
Foreshadowing in the Shadows of Saddam’s Torture Prison

On the following afternoon Jerry and I slip away from the group once again. At the top of our agenda is a visit to the Amna Suraka—the Red Prison—one of Saddam’s torture prisons that had been turned into a museum. Perhaps the most infamous landmark in Sulaymaniyah, I find nary a local who isn’t chock-full of tales about close family members who had been interned there at some point during Saddam’s rule. Jerry, who happens to be a really good tour guide on top of all the other talents he claimed to have picked up as a refugee, tells me about his second cousin who survived the prison’s horrors.

The torture chambers are still intact, as are the bullet-riddled exterior and various guard posts. We step into a courtyard, where an array of Saddam-era tanks and artillery pieces sit around, more or less minding their own business, each piece rusting away at its own pace. Jerry now puts on a photographer’s hat and snaps pictures of me horsing around. Yes, he’s got a knack for photography as well. Not that I’m concerned about it, but should Saddam somehow be brought back to life/power, these photos of a Jewish journalist disrespecting his arsenal could get me into serious trouble. Most of the Red Prison’s inhabitants had been locked up for infringements of far less significance. Still, I take the risk and post the pictures regardless.

We get back into the car, and our next stop is to a well-secured private school, where Jerry’s children are sent to get their educational fill. It’s pickup time, and Jerry has promised his wife to collect their two boys. The kids jump into the back seat, and Jerry makes the introductions. The proud father then suggests I test their command of the English language, which is quite inadequate when considering that it’s one of the three languages (or possibly four, I forget) they’re being taught in school.

Whoa. Wait a second. What kind of spy is this guy, right? Honestly, at no other point in my life can I recall an encounter with a spy who takes the trouble to introduce me to his children and feels comfortable enough to let me take them out for ice cream. (I ordered a Coke for myself, despite Jerry’s assertions that a particular symbol identifies the frozen treat’s base ingredient as pure cow milk. Could it be that spy school also taught him about Rav Moshe’s heter regarding chalav stam as well?)

At one point, while Jerry prepares to step out of the vehicle so he can fill the gas tank, one of the boys leans over nimbly and nicks their father’s cell phone from his back pocket. At once, Jerry notices that his phone is gone, and the pair laugh hysterically as their confused and frantic father searches around the driver’s seat for the missing device. Thinking back, while it would seem entirely incongruous that a spy would introduce me to his kids, I find it entirely plausible that children who study three or four languages at a private school, and who are nimble enough to pick their father’s pocket unnoticed, might indeed be the offspring of a spy.


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