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.

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