The Day I met Papa Saddam.
I write this story for posterities sake, and to give you all a glimpse into the character of the egomaniac that was Saddam Hussein.
The year was 1989, June as I can best recall. It was around the end of my second academic year at Baghdad College. I must have been 12 or 13 years old, I don’t really care to remember.
The day started like any other school day - I woke up at 7am, got ready for school and walked the half-mile to the school bus collection point. I got on my number 14 school buss - just one of the 20 or so busses that belonged to the college and which did the daily students pick and drop runs from all over Baghdad. At 8.45 am we arrived at Baghdad college as per-usual. So far, an ordinary day all around.
Baghdad College, as most educated Baghdadis know, is the foremost boys secondary high school /college in Baghdad. It was established by American Jesuits in the 1920’s and its curriculum and standards of teaching are the highest in the land. The college itself has usually over 2000 students from the ages of 12 to 18. Basically you were there until you got into University --- But I digress.
A few hours and a couple of lessons into the day and everything is as per-usual. Suddenly, at around 12 noons, the head teacher walks into our class and tells us all that we are to get back onto the busses as we are going to go see Papa Saddam.
Wow, We were going to go meet our beloved papa. What great deed did we do to disserve this high honoured misfortune?
This was the man that we were forced to praise every single day of our school life, the man that if you were clever or patriotic enough and particularly skilled at writing a nice Poem or Prose essay about, would get you an A grade pass in your final year exams and maybe even get you a final year full pass without having to sit the exams at all (But you had to be very special or your father very highly Bathists connected, to get such a pass).
The education system in Iraq revolved around the principle that the most gifted kids were the ones that praised Saddam the best or the most beautifully. I used to be particularly good at that, and I had nurtured a talent of coming up with beautifully rose and unusual prose, which a lot of the teachers really liked.
ALLASS…It’s a talent I have lost over the years…(OHH what a shame… LOL)
What was I going to say to him if he asked me a question about my father, whom only a few years before had escaped the ‘Mughabarat’ (secret service) and was now living in the UK as a political refugee?
Even at that age I knew this could be very dangerous for a member of my family. I’d been told on many occations by my relatives to keep my mouth shut and to never ever say a bad word about Saddam or the ‘hizb el-Ba3th’ party (even though we would call them all the names under the sun privately at home).
So here we were, 2000 Baghdad College kids going to meet papa Saddam and like the good young Batrhist students that we were groomed to be, we followed our orders and marched straight onto the busses. The drivers turned on their engines and the convoy headed off. But something didn’t sit right with me. We were not heading towards the Palace (the green zone as currently known); instead we were driving towards the airport. And the strangest thing of all was that Baghdad College was not the only school on the road. There were Hundreds of other busses – EVERYWHERE!! There were thousands and thousands of other school kids as far as the eye can see. Some of these busses had already offloaded their cargo on the side of the highroad, which stretched the 10-15 miles from the airport to the palace.
What was going on?
There were thousands of us, from every school and college and university in and around Baghdad. The powers that be had apparently ordered us all to gather on the highway for some special event. And this scared me.
Here we were, being offloaded in the desert, told to just hang around, with no explanation what so ever.
Now, I must remind you that this was the month of June, and as many of you probably know by now, June is the start of the extreme summer season in Iraq where temperatures can easily reach well over 40 C in the shade (let alone in the heat of the desert). We had no water and only the busses themselves for shelter. Pretty crazy huh…..
We waited and waited...1 hour 2 hours, 3, 4, finally after 5 hours had gone by we get the order to stand by the side of the highroad; Papa was coming and we can hear him coming nearer just by the increasing loudness of the chanting. And it was nearly our turn to show our appreciation in the way all loyal Iraqis had learned to do so well. Saddam’s convoy was almost upon us and we began to shout that famous Iraqi chant “Bil rooh, Bil Dem, Nifdeek ya Saddam” (with life, with blood, we sacrifice for you Saddam).
His open car convoy approaches slowly, His special bodyguards line up next to us pushing away any over excited kid who might in someway pose a danger to papa. His convey gets nearer and nearer and I’m gripped with both excitement, fear, and curiosity, Then I see him in his open hood car sitting there no more than 5 or 10 meters away from me, next to him this strangely dressed Gulf Arab Sheik. Who is this other man I thought immediately?
The convoy passes by and the moment was gone forever. A few minutes go by and we get back to our busses. Our teachers gather us back onto the busses and we head back to college. Of course we had to wait for a couple of hours more for the ok from the security/ army people that the road is finally clear. And with the ok given the thousands of students and the hundreds of busses began their jostle back to Baghdad,
I got back home around 9pm at night. My mother was worried and in fits of tears, she thought I was kidnapped or killed or something. A natural instinct.
So who was that man and what really was going on?
It turns out that the King of Saudi Arabia was honouring us with his visit, and naturally to honour this esteemed guest back, Papa Saddam had decided to demonstrate his power, and the love of his people, by lining the whole of the 10-15 mile highway with children and school kids.
. I still remember that day so vividly. And as I remember it today, the sight of those thousands of kids shouting in unison for that man makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. I hope they leave him in the desert one day, just for one day.
Still.. I met my first girlfriend on that highway that day………...so in a way…….…………….Thank you Papa Saddam…;o)