The car bomb sounded like a car backfiring. I heard it, dismissed it, and went back to sleep. It was only a few hours later, as I sat at the window of Erbil’s Hotel Merci, looking out over a two-story image of Leo Messi advertising Pepsi, that I realized how close I had been—too close for comfort—to the city’s first bombing in nearly a year. It had exploded only a few blocks away.
It was August 2014. I had arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan a few days earlier, without plans, without press credentials, and with only a handful of contacts. There had been confusion on the Turkish side of the border—my Turkish e-visa couldn’t be confirmed at passport control and I had to visit the police. As my bags were searched for journalistic paraphernalia, which I had managed to leave on the bus, I asked an English-German archaeologist to translate the message that I was merely a reckless tourist, but he declined. In the end, however, they bought my story. “Good luck,” the border guard shrugged.