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Life of a Ugandan in Iraq

By Solomon Akugizibwe

RICHARD MAGEZI spent a year in Iraq as a security Guard, he saw it all and  did it all. He tells his story to Solomon Akugizibwe, which we are publishing in two parts.

Initially, I had a job with Kasese Cobalt Company (KCCL) as a security officer but when I lost it afterwards, life changed. I tried to look for what to do around Kasese town but failed. Life became so difficult; I had a lot of responsibilities but with no money to meet them. I decided to come to Kampala in 2001.

In 2008, an opportunity came in when talking with my cousin sister, the wife of a UPDF colonel (names withheld on request). She told me, that her husband was connecting people to go to Iraq. She asked me to also apply and go, if I was interested. I welcomed the idea; I would not let the opportunity slip through.

When I told the colonel that I too wanted to go to Iraq, he wondered why I hadnt informed him earlier. He told me not to worry because I was assured of going.

I joined Dreshak Security Solutions on May 27, 2008. I was introduced to the managers by the colonel and underwent training and medical check up at Case Clinic in Kampala, which I passed. I didnt do thorough military training because of my military background with G4S security company which I was working with at KCCL, I was passed when I presented my certificate. People who had no military background trained for three months.

After a week, I boarded a plane to Victory Camp in Baghdad about 10km from the centre of Baghdad town.

Boarding plane

All of us (230 people) boarded the plane to Iraq on June 30, 2008 at 2:00pm, but we were called the previous day at 3:00pm to Dreshak offices on Kyadondo Road where we were told that we were supposed to leave early. We slept in Dreshak compound, at 5:00am buses came, picked us and drove us to Entebbe Airport. I was so much excited when I heard of the information that I was leaving the next day because it would be my first time to board a plane and besides, I was going to see new places.Â

We reached Entebbe Airport at 6:30am, our luggage was searched thoroughly, we were cleared and filled forms but unfortunately, a message came from Iraq that there was a heavy sandstorm in Iraq and planes couldn’t fly, we had to wait for the sandstorms to cool down up to 2:00pm when we boarded a chattered plane direct to Iraq.

Arrival in Baghdad 

At Baghdad International Airport, we arranged ourselves in a single line formation parade and sat on the floor, our luggage was screened, all our passports were collected from us and taken to the immigration office and then given visas. We didn’t do any shopping because all the shops were closed.Â

Afterwards, we were directed to a parking yard underground in a single line formation still, it was very dusty and dark. We boarded buses to Victory Camp under the protection of Ugandan guards and Iraqi army. At the camp, all our names were read and everyone was present.  Â

We slept on either mattresses or stretchers but the climate was so harsh – very hot. We woke up at 4:00 am and had meals at 5:00 am in the dining facility. Accessing the dinning facility, one had to fully identify him/herself. The food was so good although we were not used to it. However, there were things we could easily identify and eat like boiled eggs and bread.

I had never seen other foods like Yakisoba, Chilli mac, Enchilada – food with too much cheese mixed with minced meat, and Crab legs which I couldn’t even taste because the crab legs looked like scorpions and were so scaring.Â

We spent two days in Baghdad, and thereafter we were divided into groups of 12 each and sent to US bases across the country. I was among the first group to fly to Normandy Base in Northern Iraq – 25km from the Iran border.Â

At Baghdad International Airport, we were all well protected, we were sleeping in tents surrounded with T-walls which were very tall and bullets couldn’t penetrate them.Â

It was a very big military facility under the US command stretching like from Nakulabye to Nsambya in Uganda. It has a dinning facility, Gym, Moral Welfare Recreation (MWR) with internet cafes, movie theatres far bigger than Cineplex of Uganda and games like darts and ping-pong’s. There were also night clubs where Ugandan guards could freely dance with American soldiers.Â

In Iraq we were guarding American bases and it was only the American soldiers who would go for operations outside the camp. Iraq police and army were based in their own bases and US army and Ugandan guards were also based in the same bases.Â

Ugandan guards would guard the entry points, dinning facilities, postal exchange (supermarkets), Moral Welfare Recreation centres, etc. We were also in every corner of the base at towers well equipped with our weapons and night vision equipments for those on night duty. The towers were very high, because we would see beyond the fence and report any suspicious activity. We were using AK-47 rifles and M4’s which were semi-automatic.Â

At Normandy base life was good, we were only 126 Ugandan guards, we could chat, share and joke which made us feel like we were at home. Â

But, before they could deploy us in the US military bases, we had to undergo another two weeks of military training because in Uganda we only trained to use AK-47 riffles. The training was to help us acquire skills to use other guns like M4, M16 and RPK.Â

Typical day

We were almost doing the same things everyday. I would wake up very early in the morning at 5:00 am head straight to the dinning facility and get breakfast at 5:30am. In the dinning facility, we were not allowed to wear civilian clothes. Civilian clothes were only allowed in the Gym and while jogging. Â

At 6:30 am, we were supposed to form up in platoons and the squad leader would always come and read the deployment. The shift leader would also pass on some new messages from the office. Afterwards, we would board the vehicles to the posts.Â

We would replace the guards we find there and had to be on duty for 12 hours from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm for day shift and from 7:00 pm to 6:30 am for night shift. At the post, the squad and platoon leaders would bring us food.Â

After work, we would head straight to the dinning facility and have a meal, after eating we would choose to go to the gym, internet café, bed or movie theatre. Every service was free except the postal exchange (supermarket).Â

Compared to Uganda, their internet was so fast because we would easily watch Television on internet, download movies and music with a lot of ease.Â

In movie theatres, we mostly watched American movies even live – the time they were premiering in Hollywood. The environment in movie theatres was very conducive only comparable to a plane environment. We also watched Iraq movies like the House of Saddam, which was talking about the life history of Saddam up to the time he was ousted by the US forces. Â

Interaction with Iraqis 

We interacted with Iraq interpreters who work for the US army and wear US army uniforms, but with tags clearly marked interpreters. They do not engage in military operations because they are not trained to do so.Â

We also used to interact with other ordinary Iraqis, especially those who would come every Saturday at the US army bases to claim for compensation for those killed or properties destroyed in military operations. Since we guarded the gates, we were the first people to receive them and record their complaints.Â

They were good people who used to laugh and make jokes, quite different from the picture I had of them when I was still in Uganda. I used to think, they are harsh and mean looking people who can easily kill anyone.Â

American soldiers

Generally, American soldiers are good but some were racists. We would freely share the same facilities like gym, dinning facility, showers, etc. Black American soldiers were also good and loved us, they used to call us their brothers because we were black like them.Â

However, there were some slight instances of racism, because some American soldiers would tell us openly that I hate blacks.

Ladies in the US army were also very social, but we had to be cautious of policies of the US government on sexual harassment when interacting with them. It would be very risky to bump into a lady and tell her issues of sex and love.Â

There were so many beautiful ladies in the US Army but male American soldiers used to warn us about them; their argument was that they are messed up because most of them were got from the streets. Most of the ladies had tattoos allover their bodies.Â

Missing alcohol 

Unlike Uganda, alcohol was completely forbidden in Iraq since it is an Islamic country. The whole one year I spent in Iraq, I never tasted it. I had even promised myself never to take alcohol again because I was already used and besides, life without alcohol was the best for me because of no hangovers and excessive expenditure, but when I landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, I quickly found myself drinking because of the excitement.

Indians and Pakistani 

They were contractors working for a company called KBR as cooks and cleaners. They were also doing renovation and construction work among others. But, most of the time, they would work as cooks and cleaners. They would also clean for black people and they were not stubborn at all as you see them in Uganda, they were very humble people.

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-Continues next week.

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