In the end I find myself sitting on the bed in my hotel room in Baghdad with my mobile phone in my hand. My hand is trembling. I want to call the editorial department in Hamburg but I keep pressing the wrong keys. The phone rang just a few minutes ago. “Hello”, said an official from the Federal Police Office in Berlin. This is state protection. “There is a warning for you and your photographer about a possible abduction.” The kidnappers, he says, will be aware of our names and our hotel. He said he didn’t know who poses this threat. Nor did he know when they would try to kidnap us – it could be any time. We pack our passports, notebooks and cameras in extreme haste. The fastener on the rucksack is stuck. I keep pulling on it. I hear steps the other side of my door. I listen. The footsteps move away. I go up to the window and see a group of young men at the entrance below looking up. They are laughing.  When I look again a few moments later, they are gone. The German embassy says they are considering sending an armed convoy to rescue us. This is how our investigation ends. 

For years now trips to Iraq have been journeys into a world of disintegration. And yet never have I found a journey to this country so disturbing. Baghdad, once a great city with 7 million inhabitants, has now become a frontline city. The main routes abroad are either blocked or extremely unsafe. The Islamic State (IS) fighters are besieging Baghdad to the west and the north. They have murdered thousands of people, and just a few days ago they wreaked devastation in Hatra, an ancient fortress city. Their bulldozers reduced the ancient structures to dust. 

What often appears from the European point of view to be a battle between fanatic and moderate Muslims is in reality a conflict between the two major sects of the Islamic religion. Only the Sunnis that fight for IS; the most important Sunni tribes have formed an alliance with the fanatics. The Iraqi army in which followers of both sects served together has largely dissolved because most Sunnis have left their units. The task of defending the capital city has been taken over by a hastily assembled army consisting of Shiite militias. They halted the advance of IS and are now getting ready for a counter-attack. There is an imminent danger of a great catastrophe in the Middle East: the final breakup of Iraq – open war between Sunnis and Shiites. Every victory in this war would be a defeat.

Two weeks before the day when we learned that we were to be abducted we saw for the first time the street which is referred to so benignly as an avenue as it is lined with trees but which is in fact a road of fear. In the west of Baghdad it marks the line which is tearing Iraq apart – the division between Sunnis and Shiites, the division between those who prey three times a day and those who do so five times per day, between those who pray with their arms by their sides and those pray with their hands folded in front of them, those who believed hundreds of years ago that only one relative of the Prophet Muhammad could become the successor of the founder of the religion and those who considered that to be heretical. The avenue already mentioned is the border between two suburbs in the west of Baghdad, the Sunni neighbourhood and Shula where Shiites live. The caliphate set up by IS starts just 10 km from here. The further along this road you go, the more madness seems normal and normality appears to be madness. And the more logical appears the madness which drives so many Sunnis towards the IS. 

At the entrance to the avenue a policeman is jumping about obliviously with outstretched arms; he has a Kalashnikov strapped to his back. “Come!”, he shouts. “Come on!” He swings around, skips along on his boots, waves the traffic through and laughs. He looks happy as Larry as he stands between the concrete blocks of his checkpoint which is frequently the target of attacks. “Drugs”, says Moataz*, our driver who is really much more than a driver. Moataz takes us in his yellow taxi away from the city to the end of the road – not too fast, not too slow so as to avoid attracting attention. Moataz is 31. He is good-natured and also so fat that he can barely get behind the steering wheel. He lives in the area and he knows it and its dangers. The avenue is less than ten metres wide. It is lined with palm trees on both sides. At a glance the houses on the left in which the Sunnis live don’t look any different to those on the right where the Shiites live. Brown single-storey buildings with small gardens and large roof terraces.

Hardly anyone crosses the road. We go past a football stadium which was built in 2012 on the Shiite side as a symbol of reconciliation but which was never used because no one dares play there. We pass by a Sunni mosque with walls damaged by shells. Shiite militias fired at it in 2007 because Al Qaeda snipers were entrenched there. The Imam was recently shot in the street, and now his successor fears for his life. Muktada who is 25 lives on the Shiite side. He is one of the inhabitants of the border road who dare to talk to us. In a few days Muktada is going to be married. He needs to buy furniture, bedding and jewellery. “There’s nothing for you to be afraid of”, says Muktada to his bride who is going to move into the house after the wedding. You will be with me, I will protect you.” We will meet him, like all of our contacts, in a different neighbourhood, a location which is safe for all parties. As reporters we are afraid of being kidnapped. Our contacts are afraid of being seen with us. Rumours might soon start to the effect that they are operating as spies for western secret services.

From the car window we can see on the Sunni side the house where a woman lives who runs a nursery school. She is very busy at the moment. It’s the start of the new year at the nursery school. She wants to have a party to welcome the 200 new children and their parents. “The party”, she tells us, “is going to be perfect.”

The road divides two districts which once aspired to be part of a proud nation. On the left, on the Sunni side, is Ghazaliya, the “city of peace”, a name given to the district by the former dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. It has 100,000 inhabitants. Single-family houses with well-maintained ornamental gardens which lend Ghazaliya all the charm of a pleasant American suburb. Militias and academics lived there before the US invasion. Ghazaliya was constructed along the lines of an organisational plan by the Iraqi state. There were areas for pilots, nuclear technicians, journalists and guards for the presidential palaces. In those days to it was mainly Sunnis who lived here.

To the right of the road, on the Shiite side, is Shula, “the torch”, a suburb where poor people and manual workers live, built for the employees of the big brick factory in the capital. It has 200,000 inhabitants. It’s the Harlem of Baghdad. Under Saddam the Shiites were excluded from most political offices. They rose again and again against the dictator who had tens of thousands of them killed. And yet Shiites and Sunnis lived alongside each other in many streets in Ghazaliya and Shula. This coexistence continued even after the US invasion, but in the beginning of 2006 an attack destroyed the Golden Mosque in Samarra north of Baghdad dad, one of the great Shiite shrines. Suspicion fell on the Sunnis. A large number of murders began on the same day followed by a series of mutual revenge attacks. In the next two years thousands died in Ghazaliya and Shula alone.

The city was re-constellated. Sunnis moved in with other Sunnis and Shiites moved to areas where other Sunnis lived. During the American occupation the US troops blocked off parts of Ghazaliya with concrete walls, the overall length being 32 kilometres. They try to isolate the hatred just like the nuclear industry isolates radioactive waste. They buried it in concrete and hoped that it would disappear.

Around the edge of both districts are illegal settlers whose slums surround the outer edges of the city. Most of them are refugees. There are more and more every day. The Sunnis amongst them settle on the edge of Ghazaliya whilst the Shiites live on the periphery of Shula. In the zone where the illegal settlers live the Iraqi state is in the end stage of collapse. The lawlessness of the wooden huts surrounds the city’s suburbs dangerously and uncontrollably rather like a meteorite belt.

In the last remnants of civilisation, the city council on the Shiite side, we find Muktada, the bridegroom-to-be, behind a wall of sandbags. He speaks good English and his hair is gelled back. Every day Muktada hears the complaints of the refugees from the contested provinces. Muktada is a gatekeeper for the Iraqi bureaucracy; he issues new settlers with a registration form. A Sunni woman in a black chador is standing in front of him gesticulating. Muktada says: “I can’t give you any papers without your husband!” She tells him she is on the run from those who are besieging Baghdad. She says her husband has not left the village because IS won’t let him.” How do I know he isn’t fighting with IS?”, says Muktada with a smile.” My husband is not a terrorist!”, says the woman and starts to cry. “I don’t know you”, says Muktada and waves her off. Sometimes he surprises himself with how hard he can be. “That’s my job”, he says. Muktada’s life is governed by strict procedures. He never enters the Sunni neighbourhoods because he fears that someone might identify him as a Shiite. He always drinks tea in the same cafes where he always meet the same friends – people he can trust.

There is an equal degree of fear on both sides in the avenue. Muktada tells us about the kidnappings when we meet him outside the district. The times when the key issue is friend or foe, Shiite or Sunni, are long gone. In Iraq the practice of kidnapping has grown into a criminal industry just like drug trafficking in other places. Muktada tells us about a day when three people were kidnapped near his house. A broker who they abducted from his office, a 12-year-old boy who was ambushed on the way to school and a former officer who was walking down the street. The kidnappers put a mask over his head and threw him in the boot of their car.

The closer the chaos and fighting comes to the city, the more kidnappings there are. A senior government official say there are 70 cases per day. Most people who are abducted are set free when a high ransom had been paid. There are days when Muktada likes being in his street. The family of his fiancée, an 18-year-old Shiite, lives just a few doors away. “You are the first woman in my life”, he tells her. A necessary lie. His first girlfriend, he admits to us, was a Sunni. They met at the university. She had a sweet face, he says. And she was clever. But the family was against the relationship. When Muktada leaves the administration building and returns to his district, he goes to the house where his fiancée’s family live. They hold hands and the mother makes tea for the young couple. Before the engagement the girl had only seen a photograph of Muktada. She liked him. And he has a regular income. After the engagement it took three days until they started to talk. “I will call you the silent girl if you carry on like this”, he said with a grin. She laughed. The ice was broken. On the journey back to our hotel in the centre of Baghdad there is an explosion just 500 metres away. A mushroom cloud of smoke rises into the air. Burning cars make the cloud turn darker and darker. The first plume of smoke gives rise to a second and a third. Then the wind blows it away and turns it into black streaks.

Moataz, our guide, later discovers that the bombs killed seven people. A police station was attacked. We cannot find anything about it in the press or on the internet. The Iraqi government wants people to believe Baghdad is a safe place. For a couple of years it looked as though relations between Shiites and Sunnis could normalise. The Sunnis from Ghazaliya started going to the market in the Shiite territory Shula again where vegetables are especially cheap. The Shiites from Shula to go to the Naffla market in Ghasalija, a Sunni area, which is known for its large selection of textiles. However, the hatred between Sunnis and Shiites flared up again on 28 February 2013. A bomb exploded in the midst of the spectators in the central stadium in Shula. The game to decide which team takes third place in the local cup had just ended. Seventeen people died, mostly children and young people, and hundreds were injured.

The Shiites assumed that those responsible could only be Sunnis. Their militias streamed towards  Ghazaliya, kidnapped dozens of people and took them to Shula, released some of them in exchange for a ransom and killed others. The Sunnis call the Shiite area on the other side of the road “the town you don’t come back from”. The murderers usually throw their victims onto a piece of land next to the motorway, covered with garbage, rubble and animal bones; the police find dead people there nearly every day. Last week, we are told, 13 men were bound and executed. For years Sunnis in Ghazaliya have felt like second-class citizens. They accuse the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government of discriminating against the Sunni quarter. In the Shiite Shula area there are public waste collections but not in Ghazaliya. In Ghazaliya the inhabitants carry their waste to the periphery of the district and burn it. The Shiite Muktada from the city council says that it has nothing to do with discrimination: “Our refuse collectors dare not go to Ghazaliya.” This is because the refuge collectors are Shiites. The council in west Baghdad does not employ any Sunnis, and that even applies to refuse collection.

There is no hospital in Ghazaliya and the clinic in Shula is deep inside the Shiite district which means that Sunnis dare not go there. Consequently, they take their patients to the hospital in Yarmouk which is an hour away to the south, even those who are seriously wounded. Some die on the way. As an expression of their hatred, the Sunnis fire shells at Shula – always on Fridays, the day of prayer. And in this way they fuel again the Shiites’ thirst for revenge.

“Ghazaliya must be cleaned up” says Scheich Ahmed, the leader of the Shiites militia, at his headquarters in the inner city of Baghdad. His militia is one of dozens of groups of Shiite volunteers which have formed in recent months. In the summer of 2014 Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, called upon all Iraqis to join the battle against IS. Whilst the Army shrank within one year from 210,000 men to just 48,000, the number of armed militiamen increased to an estimated 120,000 after the call by the Ayatollah. Sheikh Ahmed claims to command 12,000 of them. Many of his fighters come from the Shiite Shula area. This sheikh walks with crutches, he recently stepped on a mine. Fortunately, the doctors managed to save his leg. He has a grey beard, a white turban and a patchy uniform. I’m now a Major General”, he says .”I lead a division.” He was previously a mercenary in the Syrian civil war where he fought on the side of the Shiite dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad.

Six of the sheikh’s bodyguards are standing in the foyer in new protective vests supplied by the US army, all in black. The sheikh sits behind a desk which is nearly empty. The Iraqi flag to his right is something he bought specially for the photograph in the newspaper ‘Die Zeit’, as he explained beforehand on the telephone to our driver Moataz. The villa in which he receives us has also been procured just for our visit. Sheikh Ahmed lists the battles in which he has achieved success against IS. He pauses and touches his back where two fragments of the mine are lodged. Right near the spine, he says. He asks if we know of any clinic in Germany which could do an operation for him.

His mobile rings, a white Samsung phone. It keeps on ringing. So far, the sheikh has declined to take any calls but now, after glancing at the display, he asks us to excuse him for a moment and takes the call.

Our escort Moataz hears the caller say “We are ready for the money transfer”. The man speaks with an imploring voice “We’re ready to come to the agreed place.” “I’m working on it”, says the sheikh, “I have guests here.”

He ends the call, apologises for the interruption and says that the caller is a hospital owner in Kurdistan who has offered to remove the fragments for him free of charge.

Raihana who runs the nursery school lives in Ghazaliya on the Sunni side of the avenue. Moataz showed us her bungalow from the outside. In our meeting outside the suburb Raihana wears a brown suit which she combines with a brown headscarf. She has used a dark eyeliner. She says the bed is the place in her house where she feels most comfortable. She says she lives there for hours between blankets and cushions with the television on all the time. It is as though they might muffle the noises of the outside world a little.

It’s the last days of the holiday. Raihana talks about her planned party at the start of the new nursery school year. “We are the only nursery school in the area to put on a party like this”, she says proudly. She has written down on four pieces of paper everything she has to get for the big day. She says the work is the only thing that keeps her alive.

Although Raihana is a Sunni she was married to a Shiite man. The marriage ended 20 years ago, again because the family was always against the relationship. The son from that marriage fled to Jordan in 2007. Shiite militias burst into Raihana’s house to take pick him up. “To them he is half Sunni”, says his mother. She talks to him on the phone every other week. “Now there is just an empty house waiting for me. My life is one of loneliness.” Every night she takes tablets so that she can sleep.

Raihana is aware that IS is only a few kilometres away from her and that they might occupy Ghazaliya at any time. The Shiites would launch a counter-attack immediately. Raihana puts money aside every day to enable her to flee from street battles. However, she could not go to areas where Shiites live because there she would be persecuted as a Sunni, she says. And Sunni neighbourhoods in other parts of Baghdad are not an option either because IS has influence there as well. There would only be the inner city where relatives of both sects still live side by side.

And the threat posed by IS seems a long way away for Raihana in comparison with the hazards in the local neighbourhood. “You go out into the street and you think it’s safe. But suddenly something happens and you are abducted”, she says. A daughter of one of her colleagues was kidnapped on the way to school. The mother was able to buy the child back for 10,000 dollars. A week ago the police found eight kidnapped children in a house locked in the cellar. Raihana only talks about it briefly and then comes back to the subject of her party. It is going to be great. Tomorrow morning she plans to go to the market and buy two gold-wrapped boxes of toffees for the children. She also wants to buy 50 small candles, 200 paper plates and 500 balloons. “I want the children to know that it’s a special day.” She is going to pump up the balloons, tie them with a thread and hang them like a garland above the entrance to the nursery school. She’s planning to go to 4 different shops tomorrow to buy the items. She is also considering whether she will be able to buy everything on one day. After all, there are eight checkpoints on the way, each causing a traffic jam.

After the meeting our guide Moataz drives us to the hotel; it is late, he is tired. In the middle of the road a policeman is stopping the traffic to let a military convoy turn off into the road. Moataz believes the policeman is beckoning him to drive on. He accelerates instead of braking. The officer holds up his gun and points it at us. We shriek. Moataz stops. He curses. His face is pale. In Baghdad there are many paths to death, especially misunderstandings. Outside the city the advance of IS has stopped for the time being. However, the Islamists are still making new conquests; within two weeks two cities are expected to fall, each with 100,000 inhabitants. Even moderate Sunnis can’t hide their admiration for IS. “How do they do it?”, asks a man in the avenue. “They have dozens of battles at once and they are fighting against seven armies.”

In surprise attacks the IS fighters have taken huge cities, erased the border between Iraq and Syria and changed the map of the Middle East. Extremists from abroad who have publicity in the press across the world and make infamous videos only account for a small portion of the IS fighters. Most men are supplied to them by the large Sunni tribes. Since the US invasion there have been four resistance groups in Ghazaliya. They have now all merged with IS. It is early morning on the day when Raihana who runs the nursery school is going to buy sweets for the party and Muktada, the Shiite administrator, is going to take his fiancée to the jewellers. We leave the city for the day. We go with a military convoy of the Shiite Al-Badr militia to the Diyala province which connects Baghdad with the Iranian border.

Three weeks ago the Shiites recaptured the territory from IS. Al-Badr is the most powerful of the forces, some say 50,000 men, bigger and more powerful even than Sheikh Ahmed’s militia. This is a military group which even operates its own television channel for their propaganda. “Relax!”, says an Al-Badr the cameraman in the jeep with us. “We’ve wiped out all the terrorists.” The Al-Badr journalists crack jokes and discuss the advantages of various types of cameras. But they all go quiet as we pass the checkpoint at the edge of Baghdad and leave the city.

This country has been damaged by many wars. The hilly area we are travelling through has a lot of concrete walls and earth mounds. We constantly pass watchtowers and police stations, often with burn marks from bombs. “This is the start of our victory! We are going to liberate one province after another!”, shouts Al-Badr General Muen al-Kadhimi to 80 newly recruited volunteers when we make our first transit stop. God and all the angels are watching over you!” In the course of their retreat IS blew up the bridges over the rivers. Our convoy crosses the rivers with improvised wooden structures. We see broken tanks which ostensibly belonged to IS but might actually have been the army’s tanks. In some tracks and in irrigation ditches we can see burned-out, US-made military vehicles. Everywhere we see the green and black flags of the Shiites, the colours of the victors – this part of Diyala was a predominantly Sunni area before the war. “Saddam had given them lovely houses”, says the Al- Badr cameraman pensively. “And we have to live in these wretched holes.” At the beginning of a side road we see the body of a man – there is now little more than a skeleton. A Shiite guard stands motionless next to the dead man and stares at our convoy. The villages we pass through have been plundered. Dead sheep lie in the rivers.

The general wants to show us a modern gas-fired power station built in 2030 by the French Alstom Group, taken by IS in 2014 and retaken three weeks ago by the Al-Badr militia. A small unit of the Iraqi army is now holding the hilltop with gas towers on top of it. The Al-Badr general announces victory here as well. He hardly lets the army unit’s officer get a word in. It is clear who calls the shots in this campaign: it’s no longer the regular army but the Shiite militia. The regular troops whose task is to guard the power station against IS with little more than Kalashnikovs whilst surrounded by open ground look frightened. Just hours beforehand there were three explosions on the road to the power station. They were evidently detonated by an IS commando with a remote device. We are told that a power plant service vehicle was hit. Four people were injured. The convey stops on the way back to take a closer look at the place where it happened. One of the drivers suddenly discovers a fourth bomb which is unexploded: a green plastic container in the ditch. There are two cables running between the explosives and the edge of the road. The general gives the order to drive on quickly. IS fighters might be watching us. They could detonate the bomb at any moment. In the meantime villages are burning on the horizon. We see columns of smoke rising in three directions.

Whole streets are on fire. “Evidently they had a short-circuit”, says the Al-Badr cameraman as he looks at the fires and laughs. A “short-circuit” is a particular expression in Iraq. During the first civil war in 2006 the police used the term short-circuit thousands of times in their reports as the cause of fires. But everyone knew that in almost every case Sunni or Shiite militias had started the fires in order to drive each other out of the suburbs. The general is not happy about this sight. He hoped this trip would discredit the accusations against his militias. The human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the Shiite Al- Badr brigades of systematically driving out the Sunni population. The events here in the Dijala Diyala mirror those in the province south of Baghdad where Al-Badr defeated IS six months ago. Since then tens of thousands of Sunnis have not been allowed to return to their villages. The militias say this is for security reasons. The reality is probably that they want to extend their Shiite settlement areas. More and more Sunnis ask themselves who it is worse to live under – the Sunni IS or the Shiite militias?

When we return to Baghdad, in the Sunni area Ghasalija, Raihana who runs the nursery school reports that the four-year-old boys and girls have started to regard the Shiites as enemies. “Shiites are just like apes”, say the children. “Shiites have animals’ tails in their trousers.” They insult Ali, the Shiites’ prophet. When Raihana addresses the issue with the children, she often gets the response: “I’m allowed to say that, my father says it is well.” Raihana gives serious consideration of the question as to which child to reprimand. She fears the anger of the fathers.” You can’t trust anyone know “, she says.” Sometimes I think I can’t trust myself anymore.” On the other side of the road, in the Shiites area, a new market has opened. The people call it the “Daesh market”. Daesh is the Arabic abbreviation for IS. It is where the militias sell the spoils of war, everything they have ostensibly taken from IS.” Everyone knows that they are stolen goods”, says Abdullah, a taxi driver who also lives in the avenue on the Sunni side. Abdullah explains how the Daesh market has become a Shiite bargain market . They sell what they have stolen from the Sunni inhabitants in the villages: televisions, fridges, computers and cars. For this reason every market day in the Shiite Shula location is a humiliation for the Sunnies in Ghazaliya. The shells fired from the Sunni side at Shula often land in the market. In the Iraqi parliament Sunni MPs demanded weeks ago that the market be closed, but to no avail. 

It shouldn’t have come to this with the conflict between Ghazaliya and Shula, says Abdullah, a taxi driver. We met him in an ice cream parlour in the centre of Baghdad. “We really did have an opportunity.” When the killing was at a peak in 2007, the Americans went into Sunni Ghazaliya. They built three bases and recruited 450 Sunnis as police officers – the Ghazaliya Guardians. Abdullah was one of them. His eyes light up when he talks about that time. The Americans trained the police, gave them uniforms, vehicles and proper salaries. The Sunnis regained some power over their part of the city – the power the Americans had taken in 2003 with the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The Sunni police protected Ghazaliya against attacks by the Shiite militias and it protected the Americans against attacks by Al Qaeda. Many Al Qaeda fighters would have joined their forces. Abdullah says that most of them don’t believe in this Al Qaeda philosophy at all, they believe in money. The Sunni Ghazaliya Guardians kept the militant ones amongst the Sunnis under control. There were hardly any attacks. Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites abated. But in 2009 the Americans withdrew. “They abandoned us and left us to the mercy of the Shiite government”, says Abdullah. The Ghazaliya Guardians were disbanded. Many of their former officers were murdered. Abdullah was offered a job as a cleaner in the Ministry of Transport. He declined and became a taxi driver. The crumbling walls of the old US bases in Ghazaliya look like the ruins of ancient Rome – encampments and fortresses of a bygone era. The military bases were too big for the Iraqi security forces. You see them everywhere in the district, the remains of a lost empire. Abdullah, a Sunni, says he won’t fight against the Islamists again. He will come to an arrangement with IS. You can talk to them but not to the Shiite militias. They don’t negotiate with Sunnis, they murder them. “That’s the choice I have. IS it better for me”, he says and takes his leave so that he can go and collect his next passenger. The welcoming party which the manager of the nursery school has spent four days working for is over. In tears Raihana describes how it went: she opened the door at eight o’clock in the morning. New children came in in pairs holding hands. They were wearing their finest clothes – boys in black suits and girls in white princess costumes. Music was playing and the candles were burning. Plates with chocolate cake and bowls of sweets were on the table. Raihana made a speech. “My darlings!”, She said. She urged the four-year-olds to look after themselves, to keep their clothes clean, cut their fingernails and to apologise when they make mistakes. The party lasted two hours. Then Raihana went home, turned on the television and closed her eyes. Our guide, Moataz, drives us through the avenue again which is now quieter than usual. In the early hours unknown assassins shot a Sunni tribal leader in Baghdad. He had been trying to bring about understanding between the sects. He and his bodyguards were found dead under a motorway bridge. The Sunnis’ representatives blamed the Shiite Al-Badr militia for the murders. The militia denies it. There is a tense silence in the street. Everyone knows it won’t be long until the Sunnis take revenge which will in turn provoke further revenge by the Shiites. Hatred is self-perpetuating in Baghdad. In the afternoon on the same day I’m sitting on the bed in my hotel room holding my mobile phone. There is a call from the Federal Police Office in Berlin. Who betrayed us? The nursery school manager, Raihana? The administrator, Muktada? The two hotel guests who gave us such unfriendly looks in the restaurant yesterday evening? Moataz, our driver? He would have had so many opportunities to hand us over to kidnappers, but he didn’t. Not Moataz, no! Hopefully it wasn’t Moataz. Three hours later the doors of the German embassy’s armoured cars close behind us.

* The names and some details of our contacts have been changed