It was two decades ago. The night of the earthquakes. The night of fates and destinies that led Saddam Hussein to the gallows, overthrew the Baath regime, toppled the “eastern gate” and allowed the embers of the Iranian revolution to flow in the region.
The night shook the Iraqi maps and others. Al-Qaeda will emerge and wane. ISIS will emerge and wane. The victors will squabble over the spoils in a weak state where governments are only formed through the approval of Qassem Soleimani.
I was assaulted by those memories while in Baghdad. Believe it or not, the man seated in the president’s office is Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader. The man seated at the prime minister’s office is Ayad Allawi, who miraculously survived the president’s axe during an attack in London that took him a year of treatment to heal.
Allawi will be succeeded by Nouri al-Maliki of the Dawa party. Erbil will be ruled by Masoud Barzani, under the Iraqi and Kurdistan flags in line with the new constitution of the federal Iraq. Seated at the Governing Council were Ahmed Chalabi and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Kurdish opposition figure Hoshyar Zebari will make a name for himself at the foreign ministry.
No one had ever dared to dream such images. The leaders of the opposition had been exiled in several capitals: Tehran, Damascus, Amman, Beirut, London and Kurdistan in the north. They waited long to achieve their difficult dream. They aged as they awaited the demise of Saddam, who could not be toppled by wars, coups and uprisings.
The night of fates and destinies was almost two decades ago. Thousands of rockets were launched. The war had begun. That night a convoy returning from Türkiye made its way under pitch darkness. The negotiations with the Turks over the impending war were arduous. Ankara had demanded that it be part of the international alliance in sending forces to Kirkuk and Mosul.
Suddenly, the BBC reported that the war had started. In the vehicle, Talabani fell silent. He was accompanied by Barham Salih, who would later become Iraq’s president. Current president Abdul Latif Rashid was there, so was Zebari and several dissidents.
That night achieved Chalabi’s dream. He had sought long and hard with the US Congress members to persuade them to overthrow Saddam. That night in Baghdad, he told me: “Were it not for the Americans, the Iraqis would have lived under Saddam until his death and they may have later lived under one of his sons. Such regimes can only be toppled by a major power like the United States.”
Chalabi revealed that he had entered Iraqi Kurdistan on foot from Iran in January. He was accompanied during his Tehran trip by writer Kanan Makiya, Wafiq al-Samarrai, and Dr. Abdul Latif Rashid, the current president. The delegation met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and General Qassem Soleimani. Iranian authorities accorded them with a formal farewell at the end of their visit.
The night of fates changed roles, features and destinies. A new Iraq was born. Historic balances were shaken. The ring was opened to new fighters, some of whom were thirsty for power and unforgiving in wielding it. The night of fates also paved the way for two decades of the undermining of the state and public funds.