Whether trying trying in Britain to seduce your neighbour’s wife or secure an overdraft from your bank manager, you start the conversation with the unfailing subject of the weather. In Iraq, the subject is always water, the water level of the twin rivers, the Tigress and the Euphrates. Since the neighbouring countries, Syria, Turkey and Iran, started diverting great quantities of the precious water to their reservoirs, you hear them talking now about how low the water level has gone down but in the good old days, the subject was how high the river had risen.
Thus it was in 1938 that the Tigris River swelled to an unprecedented level. It smashed the flimsy dams, broke the back of the Nazim Pasha Embankment and raced rumbling into the streets, preparing for a final onslaught on the whole city of Baghdad.
The city was fast asleep, except for a few police officers on watch. The telephone rang. “Captain Muhiddin, wake up. The river has burst its banks. Get a few lorries and fill them with volunteers to block the flow of water with sandbags. A state of emergency will be declared.”
‘Sir, where can I find volunteers at this hour?’ asked the police officer. “It is past midnight and everybody has gone to bed.”
“I don’t care”, came the angry response: “Get them out of their beds. They will all drown and die if they don’t. The King will be furious.”
With these words, the Governor of Baghdad rang off and went back to sleep, leaving Captain Muhiddin in the lurch. Muhiddin picked up the phone and rang his wife:
“Darling, don’t wait for me. I won’t be able to come home tonight. Some very urgent business has cropped up. Baghdad is in danger of flood.”
The response was unsympathetic. “Now it is the flood! What next? Why don’t you admit it like an honest man and say you fancied another fat bottom in Kallachia and you want to spend the night with her?’
The Kallachia! Ay! The red light district. That is the place, Captain Muhiddin thought immediately. That is the only place that does not sleep at night; indeed it comes to life in the hours of darkness.
Captain Muhiddin wasted no time in ordering his men to drive the three available armed lorries to the Kallachia area and round up whatever men and women they found there – pimps, prostitutes, customers, barmen, restaurateurs and all.
It was not a very difficult task for the police. The old Mediaeval district, stretching back to the days of the Mongol, was a small labyrinth of narrow lanes flanked by scores of ramshackle houses.
Quite familiar with every nook and cranny of the district, Captain Muhiddin led the invasion and filled up his lorries with the willing and unwilling, dressed and undressed, men and women , some kicking and protesting as they were plucked away from the bosoms of their whores.
“Come along! Your country needs you”, shouted the young officer. ”I want my money back”, protested a young sherbet seller. At the edge of the Waziria District, they were given axes, spades and bundles of sacks. The men dug and filled the sacks with earth and sand, while the women carried them on their backs and heads, emptying their contents at the broken gap of the embankment. With enthusiasm and vigour the women ran forward and backward, singing, chanting and laughing loudly. By the time the izzan from the minaret, was heard calling on all Muslims to hurry to the nearby mosque for the dawn prayers, the women had man- aged to close the gap and stop any more waters rushing into the town. They sat and stretched on the ground, exhausted and breathless.
Later, back in Kallachia, Captain Muhiddin addressed them: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have just spoken over the telephone with His Excellency the Governor of Baghdad and told him of your good work. His Excellency is most impressed by your achievement and told me that in recognition of what you have done, all the men standing here are entitled to buy the sexual favours of any of the women they chose at government expense. You, the good procurers and madams, please submit your bills directly to me to have them settled immediately. God bless you all.”
At the end of the fiscal year, the budget of the Governorate of the Metropolis of Baghdad included this item: ’80 Dinars expense of sex provision pertaining to flood defences being 500 Fils per intercourse.’