Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Ghassan Charbel Reveals Secrets in His 'Visits to the Wounds of Iraq' Book

Ghassan Charbel Reveals Secrets in His 'Visits to the Wounds of Iraq' Book

Friday, 16 April, 2021 - 06:45
Visits to the Wounds of Iraq by Ghassan Charbel

My Colleague Ghassan Charbel has maintained a journalistic eye that allowed him to witness major shifts, and to become aware of all the details of what is happening in Mesopotamia.

Following his book "Saddam Was Here," which included many interviews with several powerful players in Iraq, he felt the mission was incomplete, so he decided to make more exciting interviews he released in his new book "Visits to the Wounds of Iraq" published by Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut. The visits offer tons of information that were long kept hidden and will make the core of this book.

Some of the details in the interviews are being disclosed for the first time, either because their keepers never had the chance to unveil them, or simply because they were never asked about them despite their huge significance.

Eight men, who played historic roles in Iraq, opened up about dangerous and brutal phases that didn't just make the history of Iraq, but also toppled a lot of dominos in this fragile region, and triggered turmoil in neighboring countries.

Jalal Talabani, Hoshyar Zebari, Nouri al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi, Hamed al – Jubouri, Abdul-Ghani al-Rawi, Ibrahim al-Dawood, and Aziz Mohammed… they all revealed secrets that drew the history extending from the collapse of Saddam Hussein until their interview.

Some were more honest like the late Jalal Talabani who was once a president. Unlike the other figures, Talabani had two interviews in the book, "The Kurd, the Arab Iraqi Player," and "The Years of the Palace."

The late Iraqi president opened up about the huge mistake committed two months after the liberation battle when the Interim Governor Jay Garner and Khalilzad met Iraqi dissidents and requested them to form an interim government, but they didn't respond. During a meeting with Talabani, Masoud Barzani, Ahmed Chalabi, Ayad Allawi, and Adil Abdul-Mahdi from the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, along with many others, Garner said: "You should form an interim government to run the country. You, the opposition we dealt with, should form a government from your side."

However, this historic opportunity was lost. A month passed and nothing happened, which pushed the Americans toward other options.

"I believe that the failure of the opposition in forming an interim government in Iraq was one of the major reasons behind what happened later in the country," said Talabani. Later, Garner was replaced by Bremer, who acted like he was "the deputy to the king of India."

The lost opportunities explored in the book are many. The constant confusion of the opposition when it comes to selecting the right people, slow initiatives, failure to seize opportunities, all were among the many complicated reasons that led to the tragedies we all know.

The interviews also unveil a lot about the Saddam Hussein era. One of the witnesses from that phase was Hussein's foreign minister Hamed al Jubouri, who denounced the toppled Iraqi president. He said in his interview that Saddam deeply hated Khomeini, but his biggest fear was "the idea of Iraqi Shiites leaning toward Iran."

"This might be one of the reasons that sparked the Iraqi-Iranian war, but, I believe that the main reason was Hussein's aspiration to become the master of the Gulf," he added.

When Saddam Hussein felt that Europe and the US wanted to contain the Islamic Revolution, he thought that facing Khomeini's Iran would pave the road for him to become America's first man in the region.

"Of course, an Arab leader played a major role in motivating Saddam to take this step, and promised him to win the West's support," explained Jubouri without naming this leader. In the same interview, the former foreign minister said that "the first tank shell in the Iraqi-Iranian war was launched by King Hussein of Jordan."

"This occurred on September 22, 1980, when Saddam and the king stood on a tank near the battle lines. The Jordanian king was an expert. He blessed the war with the first shell," he revealed.

For his part, Hoshyar Zebari, the most prominent foreign minister during the post-Saddam phase, recalled his political life before Saddam, highlighting how Iraq returned to the Arab world following the US invasion and spoke about his experience as a leader in the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Ghassan Charbel knows well how to comfort his guest, and how to get confessions. This is why it's hard to read an interview in this book without discovering secrets that you didn't know before. Perhaps, the most cautious speaker in this book was former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Yet, he admitted that under pressure, and despite that he never met him when he was alive, but he stood in front of Saddam Hussein's body after he was executed and asked him with regret: "What good can come from your execution? Would it bring back our martyrs and the country you destroyed?"

Among the most exciting things we read in this book is what former Prime Minister Abdul-Ghani al-Rawi confessed about his cooperation with the Iranian SAVAK, established by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to topple the Ba'ath Party in the early 1970s. But Saddam discovered the plot at the time and carried out a series of executions.

Let us not spoil the excitement of reading what these Iraqi figures revealed in their smooth conversations. But we can say that what Ghassan Charbel calls journalistic interviews also often reveal backgrounds, and try to form a picture of Iraq under the rules of Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam, and those who followed him, from a different point of view. Given that these figures come from different political backgrounds and affiliations, they can provide, combined, an almost complete picture of the general scene, which is one of the book's goals.

In his introduction, in which he seeks to briefly highlight the new Iraqi pain, Charbel believes that "newspapers are the guardians of the memory." So, these interviews come as another written version of a history that is still alive. The interviews were left intact, without trimming or editing, so future historians can "examine these testimonies to rewrite the Iraqi story."

These interviews are so valuable because they extract the truth from experts and decision-makers before they leave and take their stories with them. The third goal, according to the writer, is "providing this collection to colleagues who have newly engaged in the Iraqi matters, and missed the developments that led to the current situation."

Finally, the fourth goal, which wasn't mentioned by Charbel, is that these plain conversations with their simple yet exciting language, allow those who see a blurry Iraqi scene because of its many events and dense details, to reorganize the picture in their minds and see more clearly. They might also allow the reader to understand the complexities of this country through these different narrations, which ensures a level of objectivity that we often miss in the books that focus on one point of view. This lack of objectivity has become a serious problem for those who are seeking the truth.

Editor Picks