22 June, 2011


I arrived at the Al Gazlani military camp towards the end of February 1970 with my bed roll on my shoulder. My friend and I were left by our minder, the Kurdish sergeant, at the gate of the camp which was the HQ of the First Iraqi Army Division. There were three logistic companies at the camp that were responsible for the provision of mules and the companies had some two thousand mules in total. The camp was basically a place where the animals were rested and allowed to recuperate(R&R) as, before the days of gunship helicopters, the army used mules to transport guns, supplies and ammunition to the inaccessible mountain areas. At the time the army was constructing small forts on the tops of the mountains and hills in Kurdistan that were to be used by soldiers to control the surrounding area and to watch the movement of the Peshmerga These forts were called ‘rabeia’, meaning high plateau in Arabic, and were simply observation posts for the bigger military camps situated in the valleys or lowlands. The mules were used to take supplies up the mountains to the rabeia from the main camps and the poor creatures were given a month of recuperation after two to three months on active duty in hard conditions.

Some of the animals never returned from active duty as they had been killed during fighting or blown up by mines so the soldiers used to bring back the halters and chains used to tether each animal to record each mule killed on active duty. It was our job to tend to the wounded mules that were returned to the camp. In the month that the mules stayed in camp they were fed well with ample rations of good quality crushed wheat straw and each animal was given a kilo of slightly salted, soaked barley every day. Their feet were checked and each animal was re-shoed by the Farrier (blacksmith) before leaving the camp on its next tour of duty.
We had the task of replacing the mules that had been killed and a purchasing committee used to buy mules from Kurdish villages and bring the animals back to the camp. We then had the job of tattooing its army number onto the upper gum of each mule and to castrate the male mules. The male mules had to be castrated as the intact animal could be very difficult to control, particularly when so many mules were congregated in one place. The number, colour and place of purchase of each animal were well documented in a ledger books, including the mule’s service record, and these records were checked regularly by the Major our company commander. I often thought that they did not keep such accurate records for the soldiers in the company.

The way in which the animals were castrated is something I will write about later and some people may question why it was done. As a short explanation I should mention that a mule is the result of a male donkey or jack ass mating with a female horse or mare while the reverse mating results in a smaller animal, the hinny. However a donkey has 62 chromosomes and a horse has 64 chromosomes and as the offspring receives half of its chromosomes from each parent then a mule has 63 chromosomes. This means that the majority of mules are sterile and it is only in rare cases that a mule has produced offspring. However the mule does produce sex hormones and the female goes into oestrus, (i.e. goes ‘on heat’) and the intact males will endeavour to mate with any female in heat. I seem to remember that there was a mule foetus that was a few months old as a preserved specimen in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Baghdad

Our company was at the far end of the camp, senior officers of the HQ of the First Division of the Iraqi Army did not want to have a company of mules near them because of flies and the smells from the animals. In addition a great deal of dust was created twice a day when the animals were taken to the water troughs to drink. The mules were also taken every morning for two hours exercise when most of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers would quite literally ‘go along for the ride’. Naturally the best mules were always reserved as mounts for the officers

Mules are always described as stubborn animals but I do not agree. During their morning exercise, or the short trips these animals had from the stables to the water trough, they were chained together in parallel sequence to form groups of six animals. Each group followed the group in front in a long, well organized column. The order taken for watering was organized according to the platoon, each platoon had a large stable block and the storage facility for animal feed and tack. When the mules went out for their morning exercise the soldiers and non-commissioned officers used to ride the first animal on the left in each group.
The stables were built from mud and straw and were maintained by using the same material, well mixed by soldiers, naked to the waist, treading the thick sticky mud and straw and then using it to repair the muddy stables. It was ever continuous, hard work for this group of soldiers and initially I thought that these half naked mud workers were prisoners being punished by the company for some wrong doing. Then one day as I passed by them to enter one of stables I heard them speaking Kurdish and it was later that day, when finding the opportunity to speak to them, I discovered that they had done no wrong and had to do the work simply because they were Kurds. I still remember their faces and how happy they were to discover the new veterinary doctor was like them a Kurd, even he was a simple soldier and not a lieutenant as was the other veterinary doctor who had been with the company for the last two years and was always addressed as ‘Sir.’ They told me that most of the soldiers and the saddler, the latter were given the rank of sergeant, were all Kurds as in Iraq it was mainly the Kurdish villagers who kept mules. Most of the Kurdish conscripts were taken to the mule companies as muleteers. I noticed that they spoke Arabic with me in front of the Arabs as they did not want the others to know that I was a Kurd. We Faili Kurds were brought up in Baghdad and it was difficult for an Arab to recognize us Kurds because of the pure Baghdadi arabic accent we used when speaking.

I was supposed to be the company veterinarian responsible for treating the mules. There was another qualified veterinary officer in the company, with the rank of lieutenant, and over a dozen auxiliaries who were non-commissioned officers. After the morning exercise all the veterinary corps attended surgery in order to treat injured animals, carry out castrations and tattoo numbers on the new animal ‘recruits’. The lieutenant would attend for a few minutes and then hand over the responsibilities to me as a qualified vet. That was the dilemma that Saddam Hussein had created, I held no rank that allowed me to issue orders to a dozen non-commissioned officers, the lowest rank among them was a sergeant. Readers of this note may not fully understand the difficulty I was in unless they too have served in a third world army. I was a soldier; quite simply I could not tell the non-commissioned officer what to do because I was a much lower rank, on the other hand as a qualified veterinarian I had to supervise their work. Simply that was against all rules and discipline even by the standards of ancient armies. This is what Saddam Hussein was doing.

 The clinic was a simple small room with an earthen floor and a roof of corrugated iron covered with a layer of mud and straw that had been built by the company’s ‘mud boys’. The equipment consisted of a few pairs of forceps, some large needles for suturing wounds, one large tool for castrating the mules, a tin dish, a spirit lamp, a tooth rasp, mercurochrome for disinfection and plenty of sulpha powders.  It could hardly be said that the clinic was furnished with all the modern facilities of the day. The clinic faced the stables and was adjacent to two larger rooms of the same construction that were used to accommodate the veterinary auxiliaries. My arrival caused the immediate dilemma of whether I should be billeted with soldiers in tents or with the non-commissioned officers who were the veterinary auxiliaries.  It was after much deliberation that it was decided to put me in with the latter.

My daily duty was to look after the welfare of the mules. As the word went around among the Kurdish soldiers my clinic room also became a first aid center for the soldiers who suffered cuts and bruises from working with and riding the mules. The veterinary auxiliaries turned a blind eye to what was going on, simply because an injured soldier was never given permission to see a doctor in the Division’s headquarters. In addition the Division HQ was too far away and you could not expect arrangements to be made to transport a Kurdish soldier to the clinic in HQ, could you? As time went on I treated a variety of health problems in those soldiers with the resources supplied for treating mules, I even had to give what help I could to soldiers who were infected with tuberculosis or gonorrhoea.

On 11th, March 1970 a peace agreement was struck between the late Mulla Mustaffa Barzani and Saddam Hussein. I thought that the mud boys would be released from their daily toil. Instead the only change for them was to be allowed to sleep in tents, as did the other soldiers, instead of sleeping in the lice infested cells of the company’s jail. Unfortunately the mud boys were still hard at work when I left the camp in October 1970 after paying 100 Iraqi Dinar to be released from service. That was a lot of money at the time; at least it was for my family. I bought two months of freedom for a hundred Iraqi Dinars.

In March 1970 I left the camp without permission and eventually I reached the HQ of the Peshmerga in Galalah, where I met my brother Adel. I stayed in Galalah for two weeks and one of the humorous moments I had there was an encounter with Shakeeb, who had a closely shaved head forty years before the style became fashionable.  Shakeeb was  in charge of intelligence in Kurdistan and we had a talk about the army’s mules. I understood then the damage the mule was doing to the Kurdish resistance in those days. After two weeks in Galalah I returned to the camp to find no one was bothered about my absence! The army really was in chaos.

Exchanging notes with other university graduate soldiers who I used to meet in the city of Mosel on our Friday afternoon break, I noticed that our company was more organised than other troops stationed at the big camp. The mule company was copycat of the British muleteer (mule men) army units dating back to before 1916 and in 1921 the British army had 15,000 muleteers who were mainly Cypriots. Two years later I arrived at Liverpool University in Britain to study for a Ph.D.  I still treasure the day when I met Dr Frank Jordan, the eminent poultry disease specialist and the Head of the Poultry Department in Liverpool’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. He was a Welshman who had been a military veterinarian in the war against the communists in Malaya. He told me how he had to cut the vocal cords of the mules in order to keep them quiet when moving the animals through the jungle. Exchanging notes with this pleasant man I realized that two decades later I had been doing more or less what he had done in Malaya, but my main surgical procedure was castration.


Within the next few days the post of the 8th, DG for FAO (UN) will be put to the vote in by more than 180 countries. Since the establishment of FAO in October 1945, the years that the recumbent DG remained in office changed and in the last three decades it reached two digit figures. We are all hoping that the new DG will stick to the rules ,as the SE of the UN did, and stay in office for less than 10 years

Past DGs (FAO) and Length of Service

1.     Sir Jon Boyd Orr         (UK)                 1945-1948       3years
2.     Norris Dodd               (USA)                1948-1953       6years
3.     Philip .V. Cardon        (USA)                1954-1956       2years
4.     B.R.Sen                      (INDIA)            1956-1957       1year
5.     A.H.Boerma               (NETH.ND)    1968-1975        8years
6.     Edouard Saouma  (LEBANON)  1975-1993   18years (Two digits)
7.   Jacques Diouf         (SINEGAL)    1993-2011   18years (Two digits) 

19 June, 2011


Anyone can say what their ‘visions for a new FAO’ are, or promise to make changes. The comments here are based on many years of experience in the field and in the office of RNE and encompass the views of many members of staff who endeavoured to work under a management system that had lost track of what was required of both the organisation and its staff.

1.    It must be accepted that FAO has veered a long way from the goals and concepts that the first DG announced in his inaugural speech. While a lot of water has passed under the bridge in the last 66 years Mr Orr’s views on food security have not been matched by the management of FAO in recent years. The new DG must recognise the initial mandate of FAO when it was created in 1945.

2.    FAO was established as an agency for development but it seems to have gradually moved into the field of emergency and in doing so it has stepped on the toes of other UN agencies and organisations that were set up to deal with emergency and distress. It is essential that the new DG sorts out the priorities of FAO and refocuses the emphasis on developmental activities and not emergency. My experience in Somalia during the first six years of the civil strife and as FAO Representative was that there was no clear distinction between development, relief, emergency, beyond development etc. in the instructions and feedback that were received from Rome.

3.    The present DG and his predecessor, who have run the organisation since 1975, have allowed the organisation’s mandate to change from that which was formed on the conception of FAO. Both these two individuals have remained for too long at the helm and many people world-wide liken such a reign in power to that of those presidents in our region who have recently been forced out of their seat of power by the populace. A new DG must, from the onset, establish the timescale for which he intends to remain in office and be seen to adhere to it.

4.    It is common knowledge that the number of staff in the FAO headquarters in Rome is higher than the total number of staff in both the regional offices and in the field. This brings to mind the saying, ’too many chiefs and not enough Indians.’ This situation should be reversed by the application of a real program of decentralization and concentrating on field programs and reducing bureaucracy.
5.    I worked for FAO for almost a quarter of a century holding posts as consultant, staff, FAO Representative and as a Regional Officer. I was also the head of several, professional staff associations within the UN organisation, including acting as chairperson of FUNSA(Federation of UN Staff Associations) in Egypt until my retirement 3 years ago. Much of the time I, and my colleagues, found ourselves having to adjust to numerous changes, restructuring and the implementation of yet more new jargon with the result that many UN agencies changed their mandates. Consequently duplication or overlapping of the mandates of individual UN agencies has occurred. For many years FAO has been beset with a management system that has been preoccupied with both creating and abolishing programs, establishing then moving around sub-regional offices and changing the numbers of countries under the individual regional offices. Yet while the organisation was preoccupied with these changes, the programs in the field which are the main mandate and bread and butter of the organisation were being drastically reduced. This has been particularly noticeable in the last two decade. The newly selected DG must put an end to this farcical situation and ensure the establishment and maintenance of regional offices in Asia, Africa and South America with a European based office in Rome. All recently established sub-regional offices should be abolished and FAO should no longer compete with other UN agencies in establishing offices. It is a ludicrous situation when the cost of maintaining an office in a country is more than the funds available for programs in that country. I was astonished to see that one of the candidates for the new DG post is publicising his involvement in reforms within FAO. Reforms there may have been, but were they practical?
6.    It is common knowledge within FAO that appointments to Head of Regional Office and Sub-Regional Office, FAO Representative, Directors, Chiefs and, to some extent, the appointment of the higher grade professional officers, are directly under the discretion of the DG.  It may be that such appointments follow a system of geographical distribution. I am not sure what is happening worldwide, but some North African countries are certainly getting the lion’s share of appointments, not only in FAO but in many UN agencies. An examination of the employment records for most UN agencies will reveal the degree of political influence and nepotism that has been involved in appointments. The new DG should take a leaf from the WHO regulations by which the Ministers of Health within a region select the Director of that region’s regional office and it is not an appointment made by the DG. Other posts should be awarded on the basis of qualifications and ability with the best candidate being appointed. There should be no concerns raised that some countries may be missed out by such a selection process as the number of highly qualified technicians is on the increase, even in the poorest countries. However continuing to use a system based on quotas and regional distribution in the selection of international posts will lead to the loss of talent.
7.    When FAO was established there was one veterinary college and one agricultural college in the Arab world. Today there are some 40,000 veterinarians in Egypt alone and there are a huge number of agricultural specialists across the region and worldwide. In my career with FAO I have had experience of the standard of performance, same frankly bad poor, shown by international staff in FAO. I came across many local counterpart staff who were far better qualified than the international staff, often with good connections, who they had to work with and who received salaries many times greater than theirs. The DG should emphasise the importance of local staff and HQ should not be involved in any appointment made outside Rome.
8.    Revival of the field programs and sorting out FAO’s priorities is a large task that needs to be undertaken urgently. FAO’s client countries have lost faith in FAO and its ability to perform. The new DG will need to consult immediately with a group of specialists, ( including eminent professors, experienced FAO staff, field specialists and NGOs etc), to discuss the priorities of the organisation and the challenges faced in providing food for the world’s ever increasing population and hence ensure that FAO is fit for the task ahead.
9.    Discontent among staff in FAO headquarters and in the field has been regularly demonstrated by personal communications and through staff associations. Staffs have often been treated disrespectfully or have been overlooked in promotion opportunities. There have been occurrences that in western countries would be recognised as staff harassment and would result in dismissal of the offender. Recruitment of staff from outside FAO to fill a high post that is vacant because of retirement is known as ‘parachuting’ and has become an increasing occurrence and it is the result of  promises made to countries to employ their nationals. The new DG needs to consult with FAO staff associations, review the staffing and recruitment policy and ensure implementation of non discrimination at all levels and end to nepotism.
10.     FAO was once a staunch advocate for small-scale poultry production and backyard poultry keeping. You will be aware that small scale poultry keeping is critical to people’s food security and livelihoods in developing countries and also to the genetic diversity of the world’s poultry breeds. It is therefore with great alarm that we see FAO now identifying backyard poultry as a problem in the control of poultry diseases and, in statements to the media and official reports, FAO supports a long-term restructuring of the poultry sector towards greater consolidation and industrialisation as a way forward. It appears that FAO’s stand here has been over influenced by the unsubstantiated claims that migratory birds are the principle vectors for disease spread and that factory farms are somehow ‘biosecure’.  It also contrasts to an increase in backyard poultry keeping in developed countries as a result of people endeavouring to improve the safety of their food. This is a link to a letter sent by GRAIN.org to the FAO Director General and which highlights the continuous shift in FAO policies, http://www.grain.org/m/?id=74
11.     Allegations are also made in another letter by GRAIN.org, ‘FAO DECLARES WAR ON FARMERS NOT ON HUNGER An open letter to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO’. The New DG should investigate these allegations.
12.    Again in a letter from Grain.org, ‘New Studies Contradict FAO Report and       Show That Genetically Engineered Cotton Fails to Benefit Farmers’. The new DG should ensure that FAO independently investigates the value of the introduction of genetically modified crops in the developing world.
13.     I attended five biennial regional conferences and in my opinion all were a complete waste of the time of those attending and a waste of limited funds. In addition the host country has financial burdens resulting from their obligation to provide facility for an event that has little substance. I have seen Ministers who arrived in the private jet, sat for the two hours of the DG’s speech, then flew home. On the other hand in WHO regional conferences that I attended the Ministers of Health were in attendance for four days and dealt with a detailed program, including the allocation of funding and even the election of a regional representative.


11 June, 2011


God created us as superior creatures and provided us with five wonderful senses but he also gave us another wonderful gift, a built-in system that allows us to forget stressful and frightening experiences. This important system allows the mind to forget, almost to a degree of amnesia, and we have a set of ‘delete buttons’ that remove memories of unwanted events. Over the years I came to understand this phenomena taking place when one is under stress and upset. I think that is why I do not remember anything of my journey firstly to the military recruitment centre in Baghdad and then to the training centre in Kut.

It was early in the morning of the first day of January 1970 and I had spent a sleepless night, every so often switching on my little transistor radio and listening to the happy New Year celebrations across the world. I was in a state of self pity and I am sure that my parents in the next room were not sleeping too. That night, before going to bed, my mother had prepared the only belongings I was allowed to take with me the next day when I joined the army. She prepared a bed roll consisting of a pillow, blanket and kleem, shoe polish and brush, a shaving set and because of the cold, some warm vests and underwear. Everything was rolled up and tied together with rope.

My parents must have been very low in spirits that night. One son had gone north to become a peshmerga in Kurdistan and now their other son was being taken into the army and sent south.

I cannot recollect anything about being issued with the ugly, stinking uniform or how I was taken from Baghdad to Kut, which is located some 160 Km to the south, and where our training would take more than 6 weeks. Kut, situated within a loop of the river Tigris, was the place of the famous Kut Al Amara siege of the First World War when the Turks took some 8,000 Indian and British troops as prisoners of war after a long siege which had resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers from both sides. Historians have described the Kut Al Amara siege as “the most abject capitulation in Britain’s military history.’

Now, some 54 years after the siege of Kut Al Amara I arrive, Talib Murad Faili, recently graduated doctor of veterinary medicine, very physically and mentally tired and fed up! The army training center in Kut was not far away from the battle site and had been created to accommodate a few hundred Iraqi conscripts who had no formal or little education. Now Saddam used it as a ‘training’ camp for a thousand university graduates and an opportunity to humiliate and demoralize educated Iraqis. The camp had only three toilets for the use of its 1,000 trainees, each toilet consisting of a hole in the ground surrounded by corrugated iron sheets. The washing facilities consisted of a few cold water taps with no sinks or troughs to collect the water. The amount of mud around and under the taps was so great that it reminded me of the pictures I had seen of the battlefields of the First World War. Forced to use such facilities one felt degraded and it was impossible to keep clean in the muddy conditions. To humiliate us further the army rule was that our military boots (poostal) had to be always clean and shiny or you were punished. How could you keep military boots made of thick, grained leather clean and shiny when you walked in mud every day? We spent hours and hours brushing and polishing our boots and removing the mud from our clothes. We graduates, the future of Iraq, were humiliated systematically on the orders of a tyrant in Baghdad who had had no formal education himself let alone obtained a recognised university degree.

The training we had to undergo was farcical. The majority of the non-commissioned officers, from the rank of corporal up to warrant officers, could not read and write and they were like children with new toys to play with, only in this case the toys were one thousand university graduates the majority of whom had no affiliation to the Ba’ath party. It had already become the norm for those few graduates who supported Saddam to be quickly appointed to governmental posts and the mud of Kut was not for them. As for the rest of us, we had to endure the monotony of the mornings spent marching around the muddy camp in the cold rains of January followed by the daily instruction on taking apart, and then putting back together,  the few Siminoff, single shot rifles that were available to our battalion.

In addition to the daily marching and rifle dismantling our officers devised the ‘worthwhile’ exercise of ordering us to fill pre-dug pits with the camp’s rubbish, which was mainly food waste. The following day we would be forced to move the rubbish to another hole. This was the in the days before black plastic sacks and the rotting waste was stinking and muddy. Over the years I have seen many movies depicting army life and our training seems to have been unique, the closest comparison I have seen has been punishment duties. In addition to these demeaning tasks every day we had to endure ‘moral lessons’ from the sergeant major. He was a little strutting cock of a man who had a half a dozen gold teeth and a face that had been ravaged by small pox. I remember that one of his lessons, repeated on many occasions, involved him telling us that he was able to summon the jinns (demons) and that we, with our useless university degrees, definitely were not as talented as he was. At first we thought that this man was joking but as time went on we realized that he was serious and believed that he could conjure up these mythical beings!

In 1967 the Arab armies had suffered the embarrassing, big defeat at the hands of Israel in the 6 Days War. This humiliation and defeat ultimately lead to a series of suspicious coups d’etat and brought to power Assad , Qaddafi and Saddam. They all came into power by promising the Arab nations that, in no time at all, they would turn this defeat upside down with their modernised armed forces. So, here we were, in the mud of Kut, moving dirt from pit to pit, lunching every day on onion soup, and listening to our sergeant major’s daily criticism that we were failures who could not to communicate with the jinns. Was the sole purpose of this to prepare us to defeat the aggressive enemy of the Arabs? I never heard of a single trainee who succeeded in contacting the jinns but there were several who could have had a promising career in waste transport! One could say however that this experience had prepared me for the hardship I would have to face in the years to come.

When we completed our training we were told that we were all going to be transferred to active units. I was told that I had to go to the Second Mountain Transportation Company in Mosel.  The next morning, together with my friend Monaf Hussein, I wrapped up my bed roll and set out for Mosel under the escort of a Kurdish sergeant. The sergeant was given a short home leave in order to deliver us to the company headquarters in Mosel and he turned out to be a very easy going man and even allowed us to stay for a night in our homes en route.

It was in this way that in February 1970 I found myself once more in Mosel as a veterinarian, not in the university but this time in the army’s Al Ghazlani military camp. I now had a vital role to play in the modern army; I was the newest member of a logistics company, comprised of five platoons, and which could truly be said to have the biological weapon of the day. Mules! Six hundred of them!     

06 June, 2011


Following the encounter with Nahdim Kazar in August 1969 I continued to search for a job. An opening became available for a veterinarian in the head quarters of the Leather and Hide Organization, I applied and a few days later I was called for interview. I was interviewed by the director of the small organisation whose name was Samarae. He was a decent man and he asked me to prepare the documents regarding my qualifications and nationality as soon as possible so that he could officially appoint me to the vacant post.

It took a long time for the routine documents to be obtained as I was a Faili Kurd, whereas for many other Iraqis the process was much quicker. I recall that it took almost a month to finalise my file and as soon as it was done I rushed with it to the small office of the Leather and Hide Organisation that was located on Rasheed Street. On my way there I was thinking that if I worked at this office my transport costs would be low as the office was not too far from my home. Before entering the Director’s room you had to see a secretary/administrator and I told her that I had finalized my appointment papers ready for the director to appoint me to the post. She gave me a strange look but did not say anything to me. When I then entered the Director’s room it was not Samarae sitting behind the desk but a veterinarian who I knew from the stables of the Veterinary College in Abu Graib.

His name was Al-Doori, and apparently when he had joined the college he was already married with half a dozen children. All the veterinary students used to joke about this man who never appeared to have a function in the college, other than to put on a white coat and watch the classes in animal husbandry. Al-Doori had a small room in the stable block and even the Dean, Dr Sadeq Al-Khayat, was known to make derogatory remarks about him in front of students in the animal management classes taken in the stable block. Now it seemed to me that Al-Doori may be going to become my boss! Al-Doori looked at me and a sly grin spread across his face as he told me that, as the new director, he might consider my application for a post in his organization when I completed the compulsory one year military service. Without another word to me he then started scribbling on paper on his desk and did not give me another glance. (In those days, before the advent of mobile phones that could be used for the purpose, this was the signal that your interview was over.)

This was an example of the Ba’athists bringing in one of their sycophants to a position of some power in the running of Iraq.

 I had no alternative other than to sit in our local tea shop in Kefah Street, sipping tea, every so often playing dominoes with some of our neighbours, and wait until 1st of January 1970 and my call up to join the Iraqi army. My father and mother had had only two boys and, as my brother Adel had gone to Kurdistan from where the news was not very good, I could not risk doing anything that could cause my parents further upset.

It is noticeable that the armies in the Arab Spring uprisings have, in the main, reacted positively and stood with the people uprising in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. That has not been the case in Syria and I am sure that if Saddam was still in power and the Iraqi people had followed the lead of other Arab countries and had risen against him then the Iraqi army would have reacted in the same way as the Syrian Army has done. More than forty years ago the Iraqi and Syrian governments were both ousted by the Ba’athists. A few years earlier the Ba’ath party, in both countries, had endeavoured to take control but they had failed to hold on to power as the armies in both countries had turned against them. The Syrian, Asad family, had come to power in 1970 and Saddam and his cronies had done so two years earlier in 1968. Both were aware that if they did not act to control the respective armies they risked being ousted from power again by other ambitious officers.

Saddam acted very fast, recruiting party members with little or no education into the army and rapidly advanced them by a three to four months training programme, by passing the traditional requirement of secondary school certification and three years spent in a military college. Initially these fast tracked officers were not given the rank of second Lieutenant with a pip (star) on their shoulders but instead they were given a ‘tin strip’ on the shoulder. Iraqis joked about these officers and called them ‘razor blade officers’ as the strip looked like a razor blade that had been cut in half. These razor blade officers went on to become the Field Marshals and the Generals of Saddam Hussien’s army, they held the Iraqi people in their claws, they led the country into several wars but lost each one at the cost of countless lives.

The Iraqi army had been created by the British in 1921 from the remnants of the Turkish Empire soldiers who were Iraqis. Discipline and respect for both rank and file was introduced and hammered into this newly fledged army.  To be fair, the Iraqi army always stood with the people of Iraq until Saddam took over. Then the people began to learn to fear them, especially the Kurds and the Shia in the south. The officers of Saddam’s army, and his security forces were in the main  from Saddam’s area and the common soldiers were from the rest of Iraq’s peoples and were forced to serve for up to two decades.

As if the creation of the razor blade officers was not sufficient denigration of the army, Saddam went further by putting them in command over those officers who had gone through traditional military college training. In addition university graduates had to do 12 months’ national service and undergo training from illiterate corporals before serving as common private soldiers. The system had been that graduates were given the rank of second lieutenant in order to maintain discipline in the lower ranks but Saddam changed all of that. Now there was the farcical situation of a graduate from medical, dental or veterinary college, serving as the lowest rank private in an active unit but having to tell corporals, sergeants and warrant officers in the unit what to do! That was the ridiculous situation I experienced for a year.

 I was forced to wait until 1st, of January 1970  when I started my national service as a veterinary doctor, with the rank of a common soldier, in Saddam's idiological army.

04 June, 2011


In July 1969 I graduated with a degree in Veterinary Medicine from Baghdad University. All through the first four of the five years of study for my degree I stayed in the student hostel as the veterinary college was located in Abu Graib. Four decades later Abu Graib district became very famous for its prison and the allegations against the actions there of American soldiers. In the 1960’s Abu Graib was known for its military camp and the cluster of veterinary and agricultural college buildings.

In July 1968 Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath party had taken over the country. In that, the final year of my education, I had to live in the main university hostel in the Bab el Mu’azzam area of Baghdad. The hostel in those days was of four storeys, each floor had long corridors with shared rooms on both sides of the corridors. The hostel was used only for the final year students of the university’s faculties and was a cauldron of political conflict in that first year of the Ba’ath party’s regime, and when they had yet to achieve a firm grip on the country.

The Ba’athists had taken over power in very suspicious circumstances that coincided with many other military coups d’etat in the region. Opposition against the Ba’athists was very strong in those days and violence was used, particularly by one faction of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). Most of the political opposition was divided, including the Kurdish groups, so weakening the stand against the Ba’athists. One year in that hostel, with the situation as it was, made you look forward to graduation and to the end of studies. Graduation, and your degree certificate, was the only avenue to improving your life and getting out of the poverty trap, at least we thought so in those days.

Immediately following my graduation I started looking for a government job and the 36 Iraqi Dinars monthly salary that went with it. I desperately needed a job in order to help my family and to cheer them up as my brother had gone to Kurdistan to join the Peshmerga and we knew that the Ba’athists would be looking for him. In the early days of the Ba’ath regime the security apparatus was headed by the infamous, blood thirsty Nadhim Kazar.

Nadhim Kazar was then the head of the notorious General Security and he became so powerful that in 1973 he attempted a coup against President El-Baker and his deputy Saddam Hussein. When the coup failed, Kazar and his comrades were killed. Kazar and most of his lieutenants were Shia and this was the first evidence of the party’s division on the basis of religious sect. Most of Kazar’s henchmen were originally ICP members who, in the first Ba’ath coup in 1963, had been tortured and had implicated other ICP members and had become pariahs to their former comrades. Now these men, including my cousin Meero, had been recruited by Kazar. I was told by my father that Meero had replaced Nadhim Kazar in a cell when Kazar was in detained by the Arefs’ regime in 1964 or 1965. I still do not know how this could have succeeded as Meero was very fair skinned with light coloured hair while Kazar was a thin man with a dark complexion. I remember that following this incident my father was taken into custody for short periods on several occasions as he had previously paid bail for his nephew Meero.

In May 1969 Meero was shot while in a barber’s shop by the Aziz Al Haj faction of the ICP who also assassinated other ex-members of the ICP who they saw as Ba’athist collaborators. Meero was not killed outright but died in hospital a few days later and, as the eldest member of the family, my father had stayed in the hospital until he died. Nadhim Kazar was very fond of Meero and had been at the hospital too. A few days later Kazar encountered students gathering in the Saba’a area to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the pro-communist student union. At point blank range Kazar shot and killed several of these young men.

Jobs were scarce in those days and the Ba’athists started to systematically take over the country by appointing their cronies to any post that became available and they even created extra posts as “jobs for the boys”. The search for work took me to Mosel University in the north to work as a teaching assistant yet, before the end of the interview, I knew that the job was not for me as the interviewers knew I was a Kurd, a Shia and from a non friendly (to them) district of Baghdad. I left the interview sorrowing over the money that I had spent on my wasted journey from Baghdad. I had a bit of money left so I decided to buy a collarless, glossy, Mosul dishdasheh, ( so favoured by Arab men), and returned home.

It was very hot in that August of 1969 when I returned to Baghdad from Mosel on the 12th, of the month. (Ten years later is I was to marry Dianne in a village in the valleys of south Wales. I have very bad and a very fond memories associated with the 12th of August.) My family was disappointed that I had not got the job in Mosul and were further upset because my brother had left to go to Kurdistan. Some of our relatives and school friends, all Kurdish sympathizers, had been picked up by Nadhim Kazar’s General Security people and they had been taken to Qaser el-nahaia, (meaning the palace of the end, referring to the massacre of the Iraqi Royal Family in that palace, al-Rahab, in 1958.) It was common knowledge to most Iraqis at that time that the majority of detainees of Kazar taken to Qasar el-nahaia never returned home.

Our house was a typical Baghdadi house that we had bought from an Iraqi Jewish family who had been forced to leave Baghdad for Israel twenty years earlier. The house, like all houses in those days, was constructed of rooms and amenities around an open small yard or hosh. The roof of the house was used extensively, especially in the hot summer months as people used to sleep and even have supper there. As I was tired from the journey from Mosul and I went up onto the roof early and slept on my bed which was near the railing around the roof. I was roused from my sleep by someone roughly shaking me and shouting in Arabic, and I opened my eyes to see a large man leaning over me with his pistol to my forehead. In a distinctive Mosul accent he asked me where my brother was. I was so surprised that I could not answer him and he pulled me out of the bed, dragging me by my brand new dishdasha over to the stairway and down to the hosh. It was midnight. I could see that there were General Security people all over the house. I saw someone with a face that was swollen and bloody from beating, and I did not recognize him as my brother’s friend until he spoke to me. Apparently, under torture, he had informed Kazar’s men about my brother and the location of our house. I could not blame him, he was so badly beaten, I could only wonder what would happen to my family.

Kazar’s men insisted on taking my father as a hostage until his son surrendered to them but I kept insisting that they took me to go with them instead and they eventually agreed. There must have been more than a dozen of them and I realized then how much they wanted to catch my brother if so many General Security men were in our home. I must admit that regarding Kurdish student activities in Baghdad I had been involved before my younger brother was, but our group had not been uncovered. I was grabbed again by my new dishdasheh and taken out of the house to the sound of the screams of my mother and the rest of the family. Cars were parked at the top of the alley way and there were more security people there too. I was put on the back seat of one car between two men. On the main road they turned left towards east Baghdad. Then they suddenly stopped the car and started arguing among themselves in their distinctive Mosel accents about the direction to take. I naturally volunteered my opinion, telling them that we had to go in the other direction but the only thanks I received were synchronized blows to the lower ribs from each of my companions. When I had been pushed into the car they had loosely covered my eyes and I was therefore aware of where we were going. By passing Nahdah square they stopped in the middle of the roundabout and getting out of the car started to beat and kick a solitary policeman who was standing there. They attacked him because a banner to mark the first anniversary of the Ba’athist government was dangling from only one of its ropes and the poor policeman was standing under it on that hot, dry night. That poor policeman had to take a beating for something he had nothing to do with. That sent me a clear message to me that I would have to give the answers they wanted when we arrived at the Palace of the End.

It was well past midnight when we arrived at our destination and I was pushed into the building and the blindfold removed. I entered a very large, high ceilinged room with seats and chairs arranged all around its walls. There were a few people in the room and to the left of the entrance was a desk behind which sat a thin man wearing a pair of thick glasses, Nadhim Kazar! When I entered the room a man got up from a chair in the far corner and came and tied a long rope around my hands and pulling it tight he returned to his seat still holding the end of the rope. Kazar called me to his desk and asked me where my brother was. When I said that I did not know I received a quick, hard, sideways blow to my right ear. It was not a western, boxing blow or an Iraqi slap to the face, it was a sideways blow from his fist. In 1981, when I had surgery in Wales to try to correct my damaged ear I suddenly realized that as Kazar had hit me on my right ear as he faced me then he must have been left handed, I think in boxing they call such a person a ‘south paw’.

I reeled from the unbearable pain in my ear. My eyes were now covered with a tight blindfold and I was taken to another place where it was cooler, my hands were tied behind my back and the rope was pulled to lift me up until my toes were just off the floor. The pain in my arm joints was unbearable and the tips of my big toes scrapped the floor. I was kept in that state for more than two or three hours, the cool air making me sleepy but the pain too unbearable to allow me to slip into unconsciousness. I was then taken down and hustled back to the big room and to Kazar’s desk. I was asked the same question and gave the same answer but this time I was on the receiving end of a slap to the face that was so strong and violent that Kazar’s thick glasses fell from his face and I think that they broke. I was asked the same question again and Kazar told me that I if I did not tell him what he wanted to know I would be taken back to the room and that they would know what to do to me there. I then told him that my brother was not in Baghdad but in Kurdistan, they were wasting their time to look for him in the city. Kazar then looked at me closely and said, “You are a Faili, aren’t you?” I said yes, and he then asked me where exactly I lived and I told him the name of our alley way. Then he asked me if I knew Sabah Mara’aee, a well known ba’athist in our area, and I said that Mar’aee lived not far away from our house but I did not know him.
The next question was, “Do you know Meero Ali?”
I answered, “Yeah, I know him, he is my cousin and my father is his uncle.”
Kazar asked, “Did your father visit Meero in hospital?” I replied that he had and the next question was, “Does your father wear a charawiah (traditional headdress of men in Baghdad)?”
            All eyes in the room were directed towards where I was standing. Kazar told me, “Go home. But when your brother Adel returns come and tell us.” Later that night I was told not to reveal ‘this little matter’ to anybody and was taken in the car they had brought me in and dropped some streets away from my home. So I arrived back in my home very early in the morning with my new disdashe that was now grubby, but with a throbbing ear that would lead to deafness and tinnitus I did  did as Kazar told me and kept silent over what happened in Qaser el-nahaia, though naturally I never told him that my brother had returned home in the afternoon of the very same day that Kazar’s men took me home. Next morning the whole family made sure that my brother Adel returned to Kurdistan as fast as possible, this time with our blessing! Forty two years later my family has been shocked to read this account that I have typed as a record of my encounter with one of the most feared men in Iraq and how the name of my dead cousin Meero saved me. This is a tiny episode in the huge catalogue of horrors that Iraqis faced under the Ba’aathist regime and I regard every year of my life since that day as a bonus. As to the man who wore the charawiah (my dad) he was killed in front of his home, in the very early hours of the morning of January 1st 1974 in a ‘hit and run accident’ arranged by Saddam’s thugs.