Iraq throws a party for its 'guest' hostages

November 05, 1990|By Chicago Tribune

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The most ghoulish thing about the Halloween party at Villa Park, an Irish club in the Baghdad suburb of Mansour, was the ironic status of the "guests" -- all 200 or so of the partygoers who drank and danced until the early morning were "guest" hostages of the Iraqi government.

Otherwise, it was as good a Halloween party as you were likely to find anywhere -- outrageous costumes and even an excellent Irish rock group, formed by a group of Irish hostages.

The 8,000 Western, Soviet and Japanese hostages in Iraq -- "guests" as the Iraqis insist on calling them -- are perhaps the most bizarre players in the strange drama unfolding in the Middle East. These guests are the lucky ones: About 600 other Westerners have been seized for use as human shields and are living at strategic military sites.

For the hostages in Baghdad, however, captivity means a life of sunbathing, swimming, drinking and partying. But they cannot leave, and they have no way of knowing if they ever will.

"I've got a lovely villa all to myself, a huge garden with roses, a barbecue, a car -- in many ways it's great," said a British engineer as he sat sipping beer on the lawn of the British Embassy, watching the embassy's weekly cricket match.

"And yet I'm a prisoner," he said.

Life for the Americans in Baghdad, a relatively small group, is somewhat different. Unlike most other nationalities who move freely around Baghdad, the Americans, who consider themselves at special risk, have taken refuge at U.S. Embassy quarters around the city, where they live comfortable but dull lives.

Most of the Americans and other hostages are men whose wives and families were allowed to leave in September. There is, however, a sizable group of female Irish nurses trapped in Baghdad, which is why the Villa Park club has turned into such popular party spot.

Many of the hostages say they have contingency plans to run into hiding when the first bombs drop. Their main hope of survival lies in a lightning U.S. victory, they say.

Some are finding it difficult, however, to get used to the idea that they may lose their lives at the hands of their own government for the sake of higher policy goals, said Roland Bergheer, a 62-year-old engineer from California.

"It's like being on an extended vacation. Only I'm tired of drinking and lying by the pool and watching bloody videos -- I'm so sick of Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds," said Frank Boering, a Dutch contractor.

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