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True Identity (Excerpt 24)
A Azad Khebat Story
Mujo entered the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil. He preferred to work alone and anonymously and so had left his associates behind in Baghdad.
The local and international press reported that President Sandoval was staying in the city as he prepared to make a speech, allegedly pledging American economic aid but known by some to be more. Mujo knew he would need to get close to the president if his mission was to succeed, so he headed to plan and learn the layout of the area.
On his way, he couldn’t help but admire the accomplishments of the Kurds over the last two decades. Given safe haven and self-rule by the NATO no-fly zone of the 1990’s, they had moved to develop the institutions of democracy and civil law. This process accelerated after the American invasion of Iraq, as the Kurds pushed to solidify their gains in the newly formed federal republic. In the last nine years, they had developed their economy and trade relations with other countries to such a degree that they were a fully functioning state in everything but name. They had their own parliament and judiciary and negotiated the sale of their oil with multinational companies, independent of Baghdad. While much of the rest of Iraq struggled to solidify the benefits of its liberation from Saddam Hussein and dealt daily with terrorism and sectarian strife, the northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan was relatively calm and tolerant of all ethnic and religious groups. In their hearts, the Kurds were pro-Western while the leadership of Baghdad collaborated with the mullahs of Iran. This last point troubled Mujo, but he could find satisfaction in the fact that even the Kurdish leaders were having to be cautious and accept the growing presence of Teheran, following the withdrawal of American troops. The concern among some though was that President Sandoval recognized this, too, and was ready to reverse America’s decline in the region.
Like many a discerning traveler, President Sandoval would be staying at the Divan Erbil, a twenty-four-story luxury hotel in the heart of Erbil. Located on Gulan Street, the Divan Erbil sat on a 462,700-square-foot oasis of pools, fountains, and olive trees. Many had said it resembled a modern interpretation of an emir’s palace. Inside were 227 guest rooms, ten meeting rooms, five restaurants, four upscale boutiques, a bar, and a lounge. As the most visually striking structure in Erbil, it had become a local landmark that would provide a majestic background for the American president’s speech.
Sami Abdul-Rachman Park, the largest park in Iraq, sat directly across the street from the hotel. Every day, its placid lake and fragrant rose gardens charmed local residents and visitors alike.
He stopped and parked his car a short distance from the hotel, choosing to walk and thus avoid the valet and any record of his presence. He would not need to be a guest of the Divan Erbil to gain access to President Sandoval. Rather, he had an alternate strategy that would give him even greater proximity.
He was immediately welcomed by hotel staff upon entering the hotel lobby with its elegant marble floors in shades of mocha, cream, and bronze; brass-lined columns; and large crystal chandelier that illuminated the entire room.
“Choni...Will you be staying with us?” asked a young woman who had stepped forward to greet him.
“No, not today. I’m just here to meet someone,” Mujo replied, taking notice of the fact that she had used the Kurdish “choni,” rather than the Arabic “salaam” to greet him.
“No problem. Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked.
“No, I’ll just wait in the lounge, but thank you.”
He chose to sit alone at a table in the corner of the room where he could observe and go unnoticed. Like any experienced warrior worldwide, he never turned his back on a crowd where he could be vulnerable to attack.
“Can I get you a drink?” asked a waiter working his way through the tables.
“Just juice,” Mujo replied. “I have business to take care of.”
Although he didn’t completely abstain from alcohol as called for by Islamic tradition, he did make it a practice not to drink while on an assignment. He needed to be completely alert and sensitive to the smallest detail in order to avoid making a mistake. His reputation and even his life required it.
He sat and waited, watching for the Muslim woman that Hassan had scouted out earlier and told him about. She was a large-boned, slightly obese woman in her late forties. A traditional Muslim, she dressed in a black burqa and refrained from talking to others, especially men. Thus, she was a perfect candidate for him to remove and assume her identity without being noticed.
As predicted by Hassan, she showed up a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. to begin her duties as a hotel maid. Due to her quiet nature, she was assigned to the upper-level presidential suites, whose guests appreciated staff that was anonymous and respectful of their desire for complete privacy. Blending in himself, Mujo simply watched and waited for her to complete her shift and return home
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