When I landed Iraq’s capital Baghdad in the last week of July, I had the feeling of both uncertainty and insecurity. Given my conversations with various diplomats based in Kathmandu and Kuwait, I prepared myself to deal with any kind of situation on the ground. As one of the main objectives of my mission was to see the overall situation of Nepalese working in Iraq and their safety, I started conversations with Iraq’s foreign ministry officials and South Asian diplomats based in Baghdad about the state of the country.
According to an unofficial estimation, there are around 10,000 Nepalese working in Iraq and half of them are in Kurdish province, the capital of Kurdistan province and half of them are in Bagdad. After meeting a few Nepalese workers in Baghdad and other cities and holding consultations with Iraqi officials, I drew the conclusion that Nepalese working in Iraq was safe. In Iraqi capital Baghdad, most Nepalese work as housemaids and they live in green zone, one of the safest areas. As they work there illegally, they rarely come out to the market. One of the problems in Baghdad is communication. There is no social media and it is very difficult to get the mobile phone. Although I landed during the period of Ramadan, I was able to find out something about the situation. When I was in Mosul, the place was much safer and free to walk. The communication is relatively easier.
My office proposed that I lead a mission in Iraq. I accepted the proposal despite knowing that it was a difficult and risky mission. On top of that, it had security risks. I left Kathmandu just a week after the decision of the government. During the week, I contacted diplomats based in Kathmandu. Along with achieving mission’s objectives, my worries and concerns were also the security of my mission staff. Before leaving for Iraq, I met ambassador from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sri Lanka. In my conversations, all diplomats repeatedly used one phrase: be safe. Take enough safety measures. These words were at the back of my mind during my whole trip. Although I left Kathmandu with full confidence, personal safety haunted me during the whole trip. I left Kathmandu on Tuesday, and left Kuwait on Tuesday and left Iraq on Tuesday.
Sri Lankan Ambassador to Nepal helped me a lot to understand the ground reality of Iraq as he came to Nepal after establishing Embassy in Baghdad. He gave me a brief on the ground situation. His advice helped me to a lot. I stayed a few days in Kuwait due to political situation in Baghdad. It was a boon for me as I met an Iraqi working in ICRC who briefed me extensively about the state of Baghdad. He told me things with political perspectives in Baghdad. During my stay in Baghdad, I also visited the market places. Although there was a certain uneasiness for foreigners, the life in Baghdad was normal. There were explosions but the life went on. What I can say is there was normalcy in an abnormal time.
(Mainali is Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As told to New Spotlight)