Saddam’s Ghost and a Federal Future in Iraq

Gary Kent remembers a weekend in Baghdad and makes the case for federalism in Iraq.

Four years ago I joined a Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) delegation to Baghdad. We took a military flight from Kuwait and a Puma helicopter from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone. The chopper flew low and fast over Baghdad to prevent rockets arming themselves before hitting us. An armoured bus took us to the Embassy for a sobering security drill. We already had our flak jackets and helmets. I am a professional coward so self-medicated to get me through the first night in a pod with sandbagged roofs to stop mortars but which was rather flimsy against rockets on a horizontal trajectory.

Our first day was punctuated by a dozen mortar rounds, one of which came very close. By the time we met the PM and Islamic Dawa Party Leader, Mr Nouri al-Maliki we were slightly rattled but an accidental mistake broke the ice.

The translator unknowingly described Maliki as the General-Secretary of the Ba’ath Party – former owner Saddam Hussein. The leader immediately interjected “Dawa.” The translator looked puzzled but not scared. Mr Maliki then quipped that the interpreter would have been executed for this in the old days.

This vignette came back to me on reading the Guardian’s recent editorial, Iraq: back to the future, which said that the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s authoritarianism has some way to go before he matches Saddam Hussein’s terror – but the charge sheet is growing.

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