Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Two Weeks in Baghdad

by Robert Sinclair, guest writer at the Missing Man

I met Ryan [Manelick] in the Al-Hamra Hotel in the Al-Jadriah District of Baghdad.

Al-Jadriah District was then, in September 2003, a relatively quiet district in Baghdad. There was a police station about 100 metres away, which then was always lined with potential and hopeful recruits each morning. The Australian embassy was very close and as such there was sometimes a detachment of Australian troops in the hotel who would be guarding Australian Personnel. The Al-Hamra was the ‘other hotel’ that was largely populated by Europeans and American’s who were not in The Palestine or the Sheraton, both which were heavily guarded and hard to go in and out of. By contrast, the Al-Hamra was lightly guarded with only one or two guards at any time along with the inevitable bomb blocks and sealed and taped windows. The Al-Hamra provided a relatively safe haven for weary journalists and contractors. It had a relaxed atmosphere and each evening groups of dusty people would gather around the pool to eat, drink, to discuss their days and to bemoan certain happenings, restrictions and the inevitable security situation.

I was a ‘tourist’ in Baghdad. Ryan introduced himself to me on my first evening there. He asked what I was doing, I told him and he responded ‘Good luck. I have only met one tourist here before and he got shot a few weeks ago’. He laughed and bought me a drink.

Over the two weeks that I knew Ryan he came across as a very friendly and generous character. Ryan believed in living life to the full and he worked hard too. I had a huge respect for Ryan. He was young and was dumped into the middle of a dangerous situation to run a multi-million dollar business whilst his bosses were mainly in Turkey. He did have a ‘fixer’, who was the very able ex-colonel of The Republican Guard, Majid Kadom. I spent one day with Ryan, and he delighted in taking me to the airport Palace, which was of course then used by the American military. He knew that he should not show me some of the sights of the palace, but risked his status by driving me around the grounds, remarking that he was happy to show me something that very few people would ever get to see. That evening, I recall Ryan delighting in listening to a rendition of Ave Maria by a Canadian girl who was practicing for a charity concert she was to perform in. It was certainly a surreal experience hearing this whilst bunkered in the restaurant of the Al-Hamra, which was bricked up and had tape all over the windows, to counter the damage from explosive devices.

Robert Sinclair - waterskiing
Robert Sinclair waterskiing on the Tigris. Photo courtesy of Robert Sinclair.

I had decided to water ski on the Tigris and suggested to Ryan that he might like to come too. His enthusiasm was infectious; however, we had no skis. Ryan set a contact on to designing a pair of skis for us. When this failed, he ordered his contact to ‘procure’ a pair. This happened. Ryan then drove us, along with some armed guards, to the Tigris. Majid Kadom was very nervous about the whole affair. One bank of the river was safe for us, yet the other was where there were a lot of drunks and also Saddam loyalists – the bank that we were skiing from. It was only as we were getting into the boat that Ryan told me that he had never been on water skis. This amused me and I thought how typical of Ryan to risk being shot at whilst performing his debut ski. In the event, I am proud to say that Ryan managed to get up on one (!) ski for a few wobbly moments. I was very proud of him. He also boogey boarded along the Tigris.

In his typically generous way, Ryan organised for safe transport for me to leave Baghdad at a moments notice. He also offered to loan me some money, as I was short of cash. Ryan was an interesting and informed character, who was often smiling, was kind hearted and too trusting. His death saddened me – he was one of life’s givers and doers – a rare commodity. I remember him to have huge affection for his family and he often spoke of his Father. It would be nice to think that his murderers will be found and punished in that hot, dusty lawless country. He helped me to have two memorable and rich weeks in Baghdad.

Robert Sinclair, Ryan Manelick, and Majid Kadom were featured in an article in a popular British tabloid: My Waterski Hol on Saddam River by Philip Cardy, The Sun, September 22, 2003

See previous posts:


Waterskiing on the Tigris

Waterskiing on the Tigris - Part 2

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